God's Got Wheels on a Thousand Hills
“I hope the police don’t stop us,” I muttered to my husband as we rattled along in our old Land Cruiser on a deserted road in Uganda.
Just then, a policeman stepped out of the shadow of a large tree at the top of a hill, his arm extended in the “stop” position.
When dealing with the police in Uganda, you never know what to expect. Some are honest and amicable; others abuse their power by squeezing travelers for a bribe. The policeman’s partner stood in the bushes, watching as we pulled over.
As soon as my husband stepped on the brakes at the top of the hill, the engine choked and died. He glanced at me. “Not again.”
“Driving permit,” the policeman demanded after circling the car and peering inside.
My husband passed it through the window. The officer squinted at it in the glare of the blazing sun.
We waited, trying to imagine what false accusation he would charge us with in hopes of an easy cash bribe.
He handed it back and waved his hand, dismissing us. We were free.
“Thank you.” My husband turned the key. Wrrr, Wrrr. The car wouldn’t start. My heart sank as he cranked the engine again.
The policeman returned to the open window and looked suspiciously at my husband.
“Why isn’t your car starting?” He demanded. “You need to move away from here. Now!” His volume rose with each word.
The children and I sat quietly as the tension built. We knew it wouldn’t start. Our cantankerous, old rattletrap car always picked the most inopportune times to play its little games. We had put thousands of dollars into fixing it, but no one could pinpoint what was wrong.
First, the engine would randomly die when the brake was applied. Then, the brakes began failing. Once after a wedding at a local church, I set the car in reverse, trying to back up slowly. Instead, the car shot backward. I smashed the brake pedal to the floor, but it wouldn’t stop. Only throwing the car into “park” prevented us from bowling through the crowd of wedding guests, possibly hurting or killing someone.
Another time on a Sunday morning, we’d packed ourselves in the car for church, only to find that the Land Cruiser wouldn’t start. My husband, the pastor, had to jump on a motorcycle to get to the church on time. The kids and I got left behind. Six people can’t fit on one motorcycle.
Today the cantankerous Land Cruiser had stranded us in the middle of the African bush with an irritated policeman staring suspiciously in the window.
The other policeman joined him and glared. “You can’t sit here. We are going to push.”
They threw their shoulders against the back of the car. It inched along until we began to descend the hill in front of us. We picked up speed and left the policemen behind.
Thankfully, we had gained enough momentum to coast to a patch of shade at the bottom of the hill, stopping in the expansive silence.
I craned my neck and looked behind me. We were out of sight of the police, who were on the other side of the hill. Hopefully, they wouldn’t come looking for us.
We were sitting on a long stretch of road that ran through national reserve land. There was nothing and no one around. Just the two-lane road and the wild African bush.
Not knowing how long we might have to sit here, I took an inventory of what we had. I found a few snacks and most importantly, some drinking water.
My husband tinkered under the hood while I tried to keep all four kids, ages seven and under, calm and quiet. “Just relax,” I kept telling them as they complained from the backseat. “We will go soon.”
Ten, then twenty minutes passed. Occasionally, my husband climbed behind the wheel and tried to start the car. Wrrr Wrrr. No luck.
Not a single car passed as we sat listening to the birds, wind, and insects droning.
At the thirty-minute mark, my husband tried again, and the engine jumped to life without reason.
“Woo-hoo!” we shouted.
“Are we there yet?” a little voice called out from the back seat.
Thankfully, we made it home to the village without further incident.
We desperately needed safe, reliable transportation. But as a missionary family supported by the church, we didn’t have the money.
The broken car sat at home. And so did the children and I, frustrated as we missed many ministry opportunities.
Our troubles increased. My grandma went into hospice care and died. That same week, our sending church from America “broke up” with us over the phone. We were collateral damage from a disagreement that had nothing to do with us.
Through it all, we held on to Acts 20:24, “But none of these things move me....” The apostle Paul had written those words to show that he didn’t allow the hardships of life to discourage him. And we determined not to allow our hardships to discourage us, either. God saw our struggles. He would take care of us. We would press on even without a car.
One night, during that difficult season, I was drifting off to sleep when a ding from my phone aroused me. It was a message from a woman with whom I had attended Bible study in America.
"The Lord put you on my heart. I heard about your car situation, and I want to send you money to buy a new one.”
Shocked, I showed the message to my husband. Could it be true? She wanted to give us more money than we made in one year.
Days later, another donation came from another source. God was showering us with blessings!
Our situation felt surreal. God met our needs and provided abundantly above what we had dared to ask.
God’s provision led us to a slightly used Toyota Prado in excellent condition. It had low mileage and the suspension to handle our rough dirt roads.
Now, every time we drive, we thank God for shining His light into that dark season.
A new car is a simple thing for God. He’s got wheels on a thousand hills. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. Psalm 50:10 (ESV)
Janay Abale is an author, speaker, Bible teacher, and pastor’s wife. Janay lives in rural Uganda, where she has been a missionary for ten years. She often has to stop homeschooling her four children to chase the monkeys and baboons out of her backyard. Janay never goes anywhere without a book. She adds things she has already finished to her “to-do” list just to get the satisfaction of crossing them off. She enjoys the three C’s: coffee, cheese, and chocolate (when she can get them). Janay is working on her first book, Rerouted, a memoir of how God led her to become a missionary to Uganda. You can find Janay at janayabale.com.