Today, November 11th, has been dubbed “World Race Day.” The World Race is the epic 11-countries-in-11-months missions trip that I embarked on from September 2013 to July 2014. Beginning in January 2015, I have the joy of co-leading a group of World Racers for the first five months of their 11. To say that the World Race has greatly shaped and is still shaping my life would be a rich understatement.
Today, Racers are encouraged to share some of their most impacting memories from their journey, so I am.
On a bus ride through the lovely countryside of South Africa on the way to my team’s final ministry contact for our World Race, I received a phone call. It was my mom. She told me that my dad, “is now seeing Jesus face to face.”
In September of last year, my first month of my World Race, in China, my parents let me know that my dad was experiencing health challenges and couldn’t quite be diagnosed. But we all knew that I was right where God wanted me.
In October when I was in Thailand, the health challenges had a name: “Sarcoma of the Liver.” Yup, cancer.
In November, I spent two weeks in Cambodia and two in lovely Michigan, USA. My mom and grandma rigged a fantastic surprise to the rest of my family and flew me home for a bit. I’ll never forget the look on my dad’s face when he saw me walk through our front door. I’ll never forget the tightness of his embrace or the repeated, broken, earnest, “Glory to God…I love you Erika…praise God…” of his voice.
I returned to the field in December and was blessed to be used by God in Asia for two more months, Europe for four, and lastly, Southern Africa. All the while, I partnered with my family in prayer, expecting beautiful miracles for my Dad’s body.
And then, June 29, 2014, on that smooth bus ride from Durban, South Africa to Ladybrand, I hear my mom’s perpetually strong voice over the annoyingly weak international service connection on my little World Race team leader phone, “Hi Erika. I love you. I need you to know that Dad is now seeing Jesus face to face.”
It was dusk when the bus reached our stop; a slightly dodgy gas station on the border of South Africa and Lesotho. It became evident that I would not be spending this final month with my team, but would need to head back to Johannesburg to then fly home. The weight of this shift lay heavily. With tears streaming, we all began to pray.
Peace. Comfort. Jesus.
I noticed a young woman with her little girl standing near us throughout our prayer. About 40 minutes pass by and a man driving an SUV with a small trailer attached drives up. He gets out and gingerly approaches our group with, “…World Race?” (Racers are always fairly easy to spot. The six large packs we protectively encircled might have been the completely giveaway.) He was Pieter, our ministry contact, and planned to take us all to our ministry and lodging site; a couple of hours east through the mountains. We let him know of my situation then tried to plot the best and safest way to get me – with travel buddies – to the JoBurg airport area. (At least 10 hours away…). Traveling through the night would be too dangerous, but where could we stay? It wouldn’t make sense for us to drive through the mountains to our ministry site to turn around in the morning…
The woman and her daughter inched closer (having overheard practically everything which took place over the past hour) and said, “I’m waiting on my mother’s bus to arrive here and then heading to my home. It’s five minutes from here. Who ever needs to stay can. You can travel more safely in daylight.”
Silent (un-prayed?) prayers answered.
Pieter discussed some things with her as my team huddled together to see if anyone felt this unwise.
All green lights.
Moments later, another bus arrives, and this woman’s mother gets off. Pieter then piles us and all of our things in his trailer and follows the women to her home, literally, five minutes from the gas station. I say hard and heartfelt goodbyes to some of my teammates (two stayed with me), and we entered this women’s home. A God-send.
Peace. Comfort. Jesus.
This woman opens her home and begins making beds for us from her living room furniture. Before I know it, she’s also made us hot milk tea and a delicious chicken and rice dinner. We sleep. Well, dazed and heavy hearted, I think I entered that state of unconsciousness at least a bit. Morning comes. Her mother serves us eggs, sausage and juice. The woman comes through the front door and says, “Can you be ready shortly? My work partner and I have arranged some travel for you.”
We gather our packs and head out the door. Her vocation? She’s a border patrol officer for South Africa and Lesotho. Instead of driving us to the city center like we anticipated where taxis could pick us up and drive us to a bus port, they drive us all the way to the bus port AND have arranged our tickets to Johannesburg.
I am still completely in awe of the faithfulnes of my Heavenly Father and His provision for me that day. Through the unimaginably good and the excruciatingly hard alike, He gives us peace. His Spirit brings comfort. Jesus; He turns the bitter into sweet.
From my heart,