Everything Will Turn Out Alright

We have a black Toyota Revo, a sort of narrow, miniature SUV that is admirably adapted to the streets of Davao City. We bought it from another missionary leaving for furlough in February 2013, and since that time, it has helped us have many fine adventures.

Unfortunately, getting the right papers for it has also been an adventure. Right out of the gates, there was a scare when we tried to register the car. The Pentecostal missionary who sold it to us had transcribed the license plate wrong on the handwritten bill of sale. So when our insurance agent Miss L submitted it to her computer, it showed up as a Honda Civic. The clinic director, Matt M, broke the news to me: “You have a hot car.”

I am accustomed to associate “hot car” with Ferraris or Lamborghinis, but our Revo is dull black and won’t win any concourse prizes. How could it be “hot”? Matt M explained that this meant “stolen”. This seemed increasingly likely since (1) it was from outside Davao City, and (2) the previous owner had never bothered to register the car in Davao, choosing to leave it as a Manila vehicle. And now the plates did not match the car. Near as anyone could tell, we had just spent five thousand dollars on a stolen car that we would never be able to register or own.

A day later, resigned to the loss, I had a sudden inspiration to check the bill of sale against the physical plates, and discovered that an F had turned into an E by a stray stroke of the pen.

So it wasn’t a stolen vehicle after all. I texted this welcome discovery to Miss L. She went down to the LTO, and initiated the registration process. We had already insured the car so we could drive it. That was in February 2013.

16 months later (Sept 2014, last week), we still did not have the registration and title to the vehicle. But now there was a deadline: Sora wanted to take the car to Tanauan, Leyte, for the grand opening of the rebuilt Cumpio Midwife Clinic. This would involve a ferry, and ferries will not take vehicles without registration papers — because, after all, they might be “hot cars”.

So I put Miss L on notice that we needed to get the OR and CR (original receipt and certificate of registration) by Sunday 9/14, and she promised to try hard to make it happen. The LTO had to do a title search in Manila before they could register us in Davao City, she explained. Sometimes this takes two years.

Here, I must beg my wife’s pardon. She is pretty close to being Superwoman. She can read much faster than anyone I know; beats me at all games; and can even deliver babies. She is also marvelously adaptable, and loves being a missionary in a foreign culture. (“What’s your superpower?”) But she is human, and the prospect of her travel plans breaking down because of a failure of paperwork was too much for her to bear. Besides, I’m told it isn’t good for missionaries to publish only their triumphs and hide all their weaknesses, sin, and shortcomings. So here it is: Sora started to worry. I could tell she was worried because she wasn’t saying anything about it. On Thursday, I asked her, “What are you going to do if the OR and CR don’t come in time? Have you considered other transportation?” She replied grimly, “I’m not ready to think about that yet.”

Finally, Friday 9/12 rolled around. This was the day of reckoning: Sora was to leave on Sunday, and the LTO is closed on the weekend. It was now or never. I texted one last desperate reminder to Miss L, and hoped for the best. Sora went about her day, shopping for food to take on her trip. Just before noon, while eating lunch at ArmyNavy, she got a text from Miss L that the CR had been signed, and that we were only waiting for the LTO to print out the OR. At that moment, she heard, of all things, the restaurant’s piped-in music. It was the Beach Boys singing:

“Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby
Everything will turn out alright

“Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby
Don’t worry baby…”

Surely a providential sign, right?

But 4:00 came. Then 5:00. The LTO was closed. Still no word from Miss L.

Here, I come to another weak missionary confession: at this point, we had a good old-fashioned marital spat. I will pass over most of it, but it started with Sora looking for someone to blame for the failure of her plans — and there I was, in the bedroom, the man responsible for dealing with the car paperwork! The spat ended with me shouting, “Fine. I hope you can’t make the trip!” and Sora storming out of the room.

Half an hour later, Sora came back upstairs, lay down on the bed, and said, “I’m sorry for blaming you, honey.” I replied, “I’m sorry for lashing out at you.”

And then, at that very moment, my phone chirped, and a message from Miss L appeared: “My helper has the papers, and will deliver them tomorrow.”

I have said before that God wants us to get used to trusting him. He also wants us to be patient with the different pace of this culture, and to roll with the punches. I’m not sure what moral to draw from this story; perhaps all of them. But this much is certain: it wasn’t our planning or our “get-things-done” attitude that made the difference in this case. Rather, if I may paraphrase Proverbs 21:1, “The heart of a bureaucrat is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it withersoever he wishes.”

Sora got the OR and CR, and I had a gas station attendant check the air pressure in all the tires, including the spare. She made her trip.

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(Some details of chronology and place have been corrected from the first appearance of this post.)

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Unplanned Canadian Vacation

On Sunday, we stopped in Buffalo, NY for a reunion with Fr. Paul Slish of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church. Fr. Paul and his small flock meet in the same building that he was in when we were members 12 years ago. Fr. Paul is as faithful and patient as ever — one of many good pastors the Lord has given us over the years.

On the way up to Buffalo, I was in the passenger seat, working on a sermon Fr. Paul had asked me to preach. The text was from Luke 16, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. At one point, I had just been writing about what it meant for the rich man to “fare sumptuously every day”, when I lifted up my eyes and saw that we were passing a Bentley worth more than my house:

After the service and a brief luncheon, we decided to go see Niagara Falls. As we neared the exit, we decided, on a lark, to cross the border and go to the Canadian side (better views). No sooner did we cross through Canadian Customs, than our car overheated and the power steering died – literally within two minutes of crossing the border! It’s as though our car was so thoroughly Yankee that it didn’t want to be in Canada.

Thus began our unplanned Canadian vacation. The first thing we did was sign Sora’s phone up for international data and cast about for a repair shop and a hotel. In the event, the closest one was just down the street, so we were able to limp the car to it. I deposited the key in a drop-box and we proceeded to a hotel – the Hilton Niagara Falls, as it turns out.

We walked down to the roadside railing across from the falls:

Sora had requested a single room with two beds for us and our four kids, and the hotel originally told us that they had a room on the city side of the building. But when this turned out to be a smoking room, they switched us to a non-smoking room on the side facing Niagara Falls. It was on the 17th floor. The view was spectacular:

And because the Lord ordained our car to break down on Sunday instead of a weekday, we were also treated to a fireworks display at 10:00 that evening:

At 8:00 the next morning, we called the repair shop and told them what was going on with the minivan we had left at their shop. It turns out that a spring-loaded serpentine belt tensioner had failed. They got the parts, and we were rolling again by 11:00. In the meantime, we went up to the top of the Skylon Tower:

(I’m pretty sure our boys were pretending to aim lasers or bazookas with those viewers.)

On the one hand, it was a bummer to have our van break down. On the other hand, it was probably bound to happen sometime. And if it had happened a day earlier, it would have seriously affected our work at deputation in Buffalo; a day later, and it would have affected our discernment conference at SAMS-USA. We had intended to pop across the bridge, see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, and come back to the USA within an hour. But God’s timing is best, and sometimes the best adventures are the ones you don’t plan.