Have you ever needed help with something so you went asking for help from friends or other people but for some reason you forgot to ask God? Do you sometimes wonder if God really hears your prayers? Does it seem that you are just speaking words into the air and you don’t know if anyone is listening? Well God is listening! Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” He does hear our prayers and He delights in answering us. Sometimes his answers come in some rather unusual ways.
My name is Larry Nelson. My family and I have been missionaries in Africa for the past seventeen years. I want to share with you a real story that happened to me when we were ministering in Uganda and travelling from our small town of Kabale (pronounced Ka-ball’-ee) to the remote village of Ishaka which lies on the border of the war-torn country of the Congo (DRC). This was dangerous situation which God used to remind me and others that He is listening and only waiting to hear from us so He can provide the very help we need.
Our journey began well before sunrise at 4:30 in the morning. Our destination was a little more than 50 miles away, but the dirt roads had been damaged by the rains and we knew it could take us several hours to get there. I turned on the headlights of my 4 wheel drive Trooper and headed down the muddy, potholed road with our assistant, Pastor Wilson, and five other African preachers from our church in Kabale. I was expecting to return to my wife and children by late afternoon but little did I know what would happen that rainy day.
We arrived at our destination in Ishaka at about 9:00am only to be greeted by a small group of Wilson’s relatives who were concerned about the soldiers who were fighting in some nearby woods less than a mile away. The rattling sound of machine gun fire and occasional explosions convinced me that we ought to do our preaching and get out of there as soon as possible! They assured us that the fighting would remain across the border in Congo but that the Ugandan Army was not allowing anyone to travel out of the village after dark because it was too dangerous. By 11:30am we were finished with our preaching and were more than ready to be headed home. All the preachers excitedly jammed into the truck along with several huge packages and two large bunches of cooking bananas for Wilson.
As usual we stopped talking and bowed our heads to pray for a safe journey home. I then placed the key into the ignition switch and turned it, but nothing happened. The engine would not start! I jiggled the keys and tried it again, and again…only to be confronted with a deafening silence. Wilson and the others began to ask what the problem was. I was just about to say that I did not know…when I happened to notice that my headlight switch was still pulled to the “ON” position. I had forgotten to turn off my lights after getting out the truck earlier that morning! Immediately I knew that the power in the starter battery was finished, it was all used up. Now we would need another way to start the engine. But How?
The dead battery presented us with several problems. We were in a remote village where there were no filling stations, no garages, no mechanics, there was not even a another vehicle in the entire area! We did not pass any other vehicles while traveling there for the entire five hour trip. The villagers said they knew of only one small pickup truck, but the school teacher had taken it to another town for business! All we had with us was a small box of tools, battery jumper cables, and seven nervous preachers…Was that all we had? Was it? Surely I was missing something but what?
“What to do?” the Africans asked, “What to do, Pastor? What can be done? Can we do something? Can we do something quick before it is too late to leave? What to do, Pastor?” Then I realized that we already had the answer to our problem right with us! “Everyone get out of the truck and push.” I said, “If we can get going fast enough the engine will certainly start!” So they pushed, and pushed, and pushed but the truck would not start. There wasn’t even a sputter. Evidently, pushing was not the answer to our problem. Wilson’s brother then told us about a grinding mill where corn is ground into flour. He said the mill is run by using an old engine out of a car. He said the engine has a starter battery like the one in my Trooper. “Now I know what to do!” I said. I began to remove the battery out of the engine compartment. I knew that If I could get my battery connected to the grinding mill engine, the generator on that engine would be able to charge my battery and we would be on the way! Again, there were a few more challenges: We would have to walk to the grinding mill, It was 2 miles away, and it was now beginning to rain very hard. We were wet, tired and twenty dollars poorer after having the battery charged for fifteen minutes, but we were reassured that my truck would certainly start. This latest plan took over two and a half hours and time was getting extremely short. The charged battery was put back into the Trooper. With a smile and great confidence, I turned the ignition key and …still nothing! Every plan seemed to be destined for failure, but why?
Then one of the men asked a very good question: “Pastor, why don’t we pray?” I thought we had prayed. We could have prayed, we should have prayed but we had not prayed. We thought, we pushed, we walked, we planned, but we had not prayed. I was so embarrassed. How could a preacher, a missionary, a minister of the Gospel miss something so very basic and so important? So we gathered in a circle, took one another’s hands and prayed.
Before saying amen, we could hear the rattle and rumble of a small pickup truck coming down the muddy road in our very direction! I cannot imagine how the driver of that little truck must have felt when he saw seven men blocking the road and waving him to stop. He looked terrified, as though he thought that we were about to rob him. I came to his open window and introduced my self as a pastor and asked if I might open the engine compartment of his truck and connect my battery cables to his battery so my truck would start. He responded by saying that he had never heard of that before and asked if the procedure would damage his own battery or truck. I told him that in America we do it all the time. It is called “jump starting” an engine. He quickly said “No!” Then explained, “My truck does not jump! You cannot use my truck because it does not jump!” I told him that his truck would not jump, that was only a name. I only needed to borrow some power from his battery so my battery would start my own engine. After a great deal of thought he finally submitted to our request.
When I opened the engine compartment I was totally shocked at the condition of his battery. It looked like a small motorcycle battery with the battery cables only twisted at the ends. I wondered how it was ever able to start his truck. Now I began to doubt if it could possibly do anything for our comparatively huge but dead battery. It was getting close to dark. We could still hear an occasional gun fire from the nearby woods where the soldiers were fighting. I knew this might be our only hope of getting out and back to our homes. So I called for another prayer meeting.
This time we really meant business with God. We said amen, turned the key, and the Trooper started up just as if it had a new battery in it !!! The other man said, “It did not jump!” We laughed and thanked the Lord and on our way we went. Safely arriving back home just after midnight some five hours later!
This true story reminds me of a passage of scripture found in Romans 1:17 “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Just like that small little battery which seemed as though it could do nothing, yet it had just enough power in it to boost my larger but powerless battery. You never know what your little seemingly insignificant faith can do for someone else in a time of need, especially when it is in the hands of the Lord! Commit your life to Christ. Ask God to use you anyway He sees fit. Be willing to share your faith with others and perhaps you too can be a “Jump Started Christian”!
Missionary Larry Nelson Port Elizabeth, South Africa