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Thoughts on life by Teri McCarthy

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Can Angels Drive?

Posted by admin in July 29th, 2009
Published in faith, missions

A few years back I took a trip around the globe seeking the Church. I was trying to answer the question, “What is the role of the North American white male in 21st century missions?” Nowhere did this question need to be asked more than in Africa.

It was July. I purchased my ticket in Costa Rica, but there were no flights to Africa from Central America. None. I had to fly from Costa Rica to Holland and from Holland to Nigeria. This route tripled the distance for me. But there was no choice.

Once in Amsterdam, I found that the flight to Lagos had been delayed. All the African passengers resigned themselves to the bad news; we of the white race however were quite unhappy. One white guy continually asked the airline reps what was happening. Was there any news? When were we going to be able to leave? Could he use their phone? (I secretly wanted to ask the same questions, but the KLM women scared me).

We ended up with a six-hour delay. My flight, as I had informed my hosts in Nigeria, was scheduled to arrive at 6 PM Nigerian time. Instead we got into the Lagos airport just after midnight.

I’d never been to Africa before. But let me just note here: For several years U.S. airports actually posted signs stating that the State Department discourages any and all travel to the Lagos International Airport! Really. Not only is Nigeria a very corrupt nation, it simply isn’t safe. A friend of mine has been a missionary in Nigeria for 20 years. During that time he has lost 17 friends there—car accidents, robberies, civil unrest and disease all make life in Nigeria hazardous. I was resting in the fact that my hosts, both Nigerians, would be at the airport to greet me and once I was in their care, all would be fine.

But all was not fine. We landed in Nigeria at midnight. Before we even reached the gate everyone jumped out of their seats and started grabbing their things out of the overhead compartments. Hey guys, the seatbelt sign is still on! Hey…these folks are not following the rules! Then came the disembarkment. Wow. Everyone was eager to get off that stinkin’ plane. It had the urgency of fighting for a lifeboat on the Titanic. Pushing, shoving, yelling. Oh the humanity.

Greeters are not allowed to meet folks at the gate in Lagos. Of course not. Ya hafta clear passport security and customs first. A Brit on my flight helped me understand the system and graciously walked me through most of the process as we were pushing and shoving our way off the plane. Fun times.

The airport was dimly lit and dark. People were everywhere—a surprising fact since it was so late at night. Armed soldiers lined the corridors we went through to get to the passport control. There we stood in line—a very, very long line. We were instructed, in very difficult to understand English I might add, to have our passports, visas and tickets ready for the inspectors.

The passport inspectors’ booths were like none I had ever seen before, nor since. They were little cubicles spaced out on the luggage claim floor like toll booths on a turnpike. They had mirrored glass so the inspectors could see out, but we couldn’t see in. There was a thin shelf fixed halfway up the booth and just above the shelf was a half circle cutout of the glass; the kind you see when buying tickets at the box office or at an all-night gas station in a rough part of town. Through this little half moon cut out was where a person was to speak to the passport inspector—just this little half-moon hole.

It was finally my turn at the window. I stepped up to the booth and fixed my hair a bit in the mirrored glass and handed my documents through the opening. I knew someone was inside that thing because I saw his hand come out and take my stuff. Also, I could hear a voice in there, but I had no idea what that booming male voice was saying. I stooped down to the half-moon opening and politely said, “I’m sorry. I only speak English.”

Then the voice sounded a little angry, perturbed perhaps, “Madam I AM speaking English.”

“Oh, sorry. It’s just that I am having such a difficult time hearing you through this glass.”

“ARE YOU TRAVELING ALONE?” the voice was shouting at me.

“Uh, yes I am. But I have friends here to meet me.”

“Where is your return ticket?”

“Oh, well I don’t have a return ticket because I am not going back to Costa Rica. I am heading to Egypt next. And I’ll have to buy that ticket here.”

“Nigerian law does not allow foreigners into the country with a one-way ticket.”

“Really? No one told me that. As you see I have a sixty day visa.”

“Where did you get this visa?”

“From the British consul in Costa Rica,” I was trying to answer confidently.

“We do not recognize the British consul in Costa Rica.”

“Well, apparently you do because that visa is for Nigeria,” I smiled. I have learned that a smile can change things. Uh…well…not this time.

”Step aside.”

“Pardon me?” my voice was just a bit shaky and I felt like I was going to start crying. It felt like a really bad dream.

“STEP ASIDE I SAY! STEP ASIDE.” Mr. “hidden-behind-the-mirrored-glass” guy was shouting at me now.

I didn’t want to step aside. He still had my passport and my luggage claim tickets. I hesitated there for a moment, and then an armed soldier in field greens with black combat boots and a beret shifted his MK16 from one shoulder to the other and grabbed my arm pulling me out of the line. Let me just say here: this was not a good first impression of Nigeria.

Another soldier stepped out of the booth (there were two in there?) and they escorted me down a long, dirty, smelly, dark hallway. One in front of me with a hand gun holstered to his side and the other behind me with an automatic weapon. I had no idea where they were taking me or for what reason. My knees were shaking and I felt nauseous.

We stepped into a small windowless office. There was an old beat up gray desk, a ratty sofa, a metal chair with a vinyl cushioned seat with the foam stuffing coming out. “Sit down,” one of the soldiers barked at me. I was afraid to sit down. Everything was dirty and looked as if rodents were living in it.

“I have been sitting for several hours on the plane, if you don’t mind I prefer standing,” I replied.

“As you wish,” and with that he threw my passport and claim tickets onto the dilapidated desk.

“We do not allow foreigners into Nigeria if they do not have airfare or a return ticket to leave. Also, I do not like your visa,” the one without the MK 16 was talking to me.

I didn’t know what to say. Being the nervous Nelly that I am, I decided to tell him my story.

“Well, I’m traveling around the globe looking for what God is doing in the nations—especially in His Church. I’ve been in Costa Rica with Christian brothers and sisters there and after Nigeria, I am planning on going to Egypt. I didn’t buy my ticket for Egypt yet because I was waiting on the Lord to tell me how long to stay in Nigeria,” I smiled. There. That would fix everything.

“We’re Muslim,” he replied.

“Oh. Okay.” I’m so brilliant.

“Miss, do you have a credit card?” he asked.

“Yes I do,” I answered, but a little hesitantly. Why did he need to know that?

“Let me see it,” he demanded.

Now, I wasn’t sure if these guys were going to beat me, rape me, rob me or all three. If I screamed no one could hear me outside and who cared anyway?

“Why do you need to see it?” I asked.

“As proof that an airline tickets can be bought by you.” I felt odd about the whole situation. I mean these guys had guns. So I pulled out my American Express card and handed it to him. Then he asked if I had any dollars. I hesitated and then said, “Some.”

“How much?” he asked, his eyes constantly moving from mine looking over my shoulder at the other soldier standing behind me.

“Fifty dollars.” It wasn’t a lie. I had fifty dollars. Actually I had about $250, and 50 is a subset of 250. Right?

“Let me see it.”

“Why do you need to see it?”

“Because my brother here and I feel that you should give us a little gift.” He nodded his head at the other soldier, the one with the automatic weapon, “Isn’t that right my brother? Doesn’t Miss America owe us a little gift?”

I turned and looked at the man standing behind me. I wanted to see his face, to see his expression. He was smiling and his big white teeth were almost effervescent. “Yes,” his voice was deep and scary. Like Darth Vader’s. “I think she should give us a little gift.” And with that he laughed a very wicked laugh.

What in the world was going on here? Are these guys going to rob me? Are they asking for a bribe? Now ya gotta understand, at this point I truly believed that my hosts, Dr. Samuel and Sister Faith Ukaegbu, were right outside the doors of the baggage claim area waiting for me, so I had a little more confidence and bravery than the situation merited.

“Do you know Dr. Rev. Samuel Ukaegbu?” I asked. “Of Upper Room Mission in Festac Town?”

They looked at each other and then they looked at me and both nodded their heads no. They seemed a little confused by the question.

“Well, Dr. Rev. Samuel Ukaegbu and his wife Sister Faith have invited me to Nigeria to see what God is doing in their wonderful church and ministry here in Lagos. Now, this is my first time to your country.”

I am standing there with my arms akimbo and beginning to sound a little like a first grade teacher scolding a couple of unruly school boys.

“Is this how you welcome visitors? Is this how your mothers taught you to treat foreign guests who come to see your beautiful and wonderful country? I am not getting a very good first impression here gentlemen.” And without thinking or hesitating, I started picking up my passport, credit card and ticket stubs off the old, grungy desk and with each retrieval I was saying, “How-in-the-world-do-you-expect-people-to-change-their-opinions-of-Nigeria-when-the-two-of-you-are-acting-like-this?”

I gathered up my belongings, stuffed them into my handbag and walked right out of that office. I could hear them speaking in their native tongue and both came after me; I didn’t turn around, but I could hear their boots on the linoleum floor behind me. Were they going to shoot me? Were they going to grab me? I walked up to a customs officer, as people were crowding around the carousel looking for their luggage, “Sir can you help me please?” I asked him.

“Yes Miss, what can I do for you?” he responded very kindly.

“I believe my passport needs to be stamped verifying my arrival, could you handle that for me please?” I smiled at him and acted as if I knew what I was doing.

“Yes Miss, of course. I’ll be right back.” He spoke to me as if I were the Queen of England.

In just a few minutes he came back with my passport stamped and asked if there was anything else he could do to help. I thanked him and said no.

My luggage finally came around. I grabbed it off the carousel careful not to touch any of the wicker cages filled with live chickens. Yes. Live chickens.

The customs officers were arguing with a very royal-looking Nigerian woman. She was dressed in a beautiful Nigerian traditional dress and head covering. It seemed the chickens were hers, a very rare and exotic breed, and the customs officials were adamant that she could not bring them into the country. As they argued, I slipped past the confusion and walked through the automatic, steel sliding doors into a sea of African Muslim men—there were literally hundreds of them standing at the doors’ opening.

This is very shameful to admit, and hopefully I have learned better over the years, but I had done nothing to prepare myself culturally to visit Nigeria. I hadn’t learned their customs, their traditions, their do’s and don’ts. I just bought a ticket and got on a plane. This was a very stupid thing to do. My lesson was learned: when going to a country try to learn all you can about them. This illustrates to them that you sincerely care for them, but it also is a part of equipping yourself to be more effective for the Kingdom.

The stainless steel doors slipped open. I had a suitcase in each hand and I walked into this massive crowd of men. I was wearing trousers, makeup, jewelry. I had my hair down and my head uncovered. Immediately upon assessing my situation, I took a very American approach to handling it.

I looked each of those staring, gawking, gaping men right in the eyeballs! That’s right. I stared around the semicircle of hungry predators and I stared them down; I was letting them know that I was not afraid of them and that I was not intimidated by them. I looked around the semicircle and back again—I am woman hear me roar!

Suddenly, and thanks be to God, two women police officers came running up to me and each one grabbed an arm, “My sister, my sister,” one of them spoke, “what do you think you are doing?” She sounded merciful and appalled all at the same time; the way a parent scolds a child who has just crossed the street without looking both ways—relieved that she made it, angry that she didn’t follow the rules.

“What do you mean?” I ask ignorantly.

“You cannot look these men in the eyes my sister; only prostitutes do that. It is an invitation for a sexual experience. Is that what you want my dear sister?” One of the police women asked while the other looked on in sympathetic dismay just shaking her head.

“No! NO! I don’t want that. Definitely not!” I was almost crying. It was nearly 2 AM. I had been up for almost two days traveling. I was dirty. I was tired. But most of all I was scared. Dr. Samuel and Sister Faith Ukaegbu were nowhere in sight. I was alone in a far away airport, packed with Muslim men who now thought I was a prostitute.

“Dear sister,” they both began speaking at the same time. “Never, never look a man in the eyes. It is not proper. And these trousers…Sometimes people will make allowances for you because you are obviously a foreigner. But keep your head down, for a sign of modesty. Now where are you going?”

I looked at each of their beautiful black faces. Their shiny brown eyes were intently focused on me. “I don’t know,” came the answer. “My hosts aren’t here. The flight was terribly delayed.” They both nodded in sincere understanding.

“I guess I should stay at a hotel until tomorrow morning and then I can give them a call,” I said.

They both nodded in unison agreement.

“Yes,” they began, “we must get you a taxi driver. Taxis here are very dangerous so we must find someone we know.”

The smaller of the two thought for a moment, “You wait here with my sister,” she pointed to the other police woman, “I will go and find my brother. He has a car and can take you. He is very trustworthy.”

My! I thought. It is amazing to me how so many people here are related. These sisters didn’t really look alike and now I was going to meet their brother. Wow.

In just a few moments the police woman came walking up to us with a small, wiry man of about 30 years of age.

“This is our brother. He can be trusted. He has a car. He will take you to the hotel near town. Don’t worry. He is our brother.”

Again, no family resemblance at all.

The police officers shook my hand and wished me well. I carried my luggage and followed my taxi driver several feet behind. Not because I thought it was the right thing to do, but because he was walking so quickly and I was carrying two slightly heavy pieces of luggage. No offer to carry them for me. Of course not.

As we walked toward the airport parking lot I noticed how dark everything was. There were very few street lights and those that were working were a very dull yellow hue barely casting a shadow on passersby. I saw things moving on the ground. I smelled odors from every direction—strong unpleasant odors. As we walked, me still several feet behind, an occasional man would stop and ask my taxi driver a question and he would shake his head no and wave the inquirer away.

‘What do they keep asking you?” I shouted ahead.

“They want to buy you but I have told them you are terribly diseased and have come here to get medicine,” he replied. “With your head uncovered and those trousers, to most men from the bush you look like a prostitute.”

I know. I thought to myself. I get it.

Finally we reached the car. It was old, rusted and wired together. In fact, the car’s trunk was held shut by a coat hanger. He opened the back seat door and told me to get in and then, for the first time, he offered to take my luggage. “Uh, no thanks,” I stuttered, “I would like to keep my luggage in the seat next to me if you don’t mind.”

He nodded his approval and then told me once again to get into the car.

Well, his dome light was out and I couldn’t see into the car. It was pitch dark and I didn’t like the idea of getting into a car and not being able to see what was inside waiting for me. So I told him. “I can’t see in there.”

He laughed and pulled a flashlight out of the trunk and shone it in on the deep cavern of his little Opel four door. It was safe. In fact surprisingly clean. I threw my suitcases in and crawled in after them.

As we drove out of the airport we were stopped several times by armed guards wanting money for passing. The taxi driver took cash out of his shirt pocket and paid something at each stop. “Are you paying tolls or parking fees?” I naively asked.

“Welcome to Nigeria!” He laughed kindheartedly. “Everyone gets a gift whether he deserves it or not. Those who carry guns always get a big gift. It is the rule here.”

A hard, painful knot was forming way back in my throat. My eyes were tearing up, from the exhaust odor in the car and from the need to have a good cry. I was scared. I did not know where I was going. I did not know who I was with. I did not know why I was there. I wanted to go home—to be safe and clean and free.
I looked up and my driver was looking at me in his rear view mirror. The dim lights of the highway were casting just enough illumination in the car for us to see each other.

“Tell me my sister, where do you come from?” he asked kindly.

“I am from the U.S.” I answered, my voice breaking just because his voice was kind.

“Tell me my sister, do you know the Savior Jesus Christ?” he asked enthusiastically.

“Yes. Yes I do.” Now the tears were flowing. Oh. I’m such a baby.

“Then let’s sing His praises.”

And my brother the taxi driver began singing, “This is the day. This is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. I will rejoice. I will rejoice and be glad in it and be glad in it. This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. This is the day. This is the day that the Lord has made.”

And we sang together loudly and joyfully as we traveled on that long, dark highway heading far from the airport into Lagos. I clapped my hands and we got louder and louder and we laughed and we prayed and we worshiped together in that little wired together Opel.

Finally we reached the hotel. My spirits were much higher now. He carried my luggage into the hotel and found me a room. He walked me to my room and asked, “Who are your host and hostess, miss?”

“Dr. Samuel and Sister Faith Ukaegbu from Upper Room Mission in Festac Town,” I answered.

“Praise the Lord! That is my church. I will telephone them right now.” He walked over to the phone on the nightstand.

“Isn’t it too late?” I asked.

”Not tonight,” he answered, “they are up all night on Fridays praying for the weekend services.”

He called. He explained that their package from America had arrived. He told them where I was staying and he made arrangements for them to pick me up the next morning. “Yes I will tell her,” I heard him say.

“They are very glad you arrived here safely and welcome you to Nigeria.” His smile was radiant and brightened up the dingy hotel room.

“The bathtub faucet is a bit broken,” he said. “Let me show you how it works so that you do not call anyone from the hotel.” I followed him into the bathroom and he showed me how to work the quirky faucet.

“Now, when I leave you do not open the door for anyone until the Ukaegbus come for you tomorrow morning. Do you hear me? Do not open the door for anyone. In fact, when I leave lock the door and then put that chair up against the door knob like this.” And he showed me.

“You go to the church?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” he answered.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Everyone knows me because I have a car,” he smiled.

I tried to give him money, but he refused. “At least take ten dollars!” I insisted. “I mean you had to pay for all those bribes just to get out of the airport.”

So he took my ten dollars and stuck it in his shirt pocket.

“God bless you,” I shook his hand.

“And God bless you,” he smiled back.

He left the room and then quizzed me outside my door on the locking and propping of the chair. When he was sure I was securely fastened into the room, he left.

I had a hot shower. Crawled into bed and slept a beautiful peaceful sleep.

The next morning Brother Samuel and Sister Faith came to the hotel to get me. They welcomed me so warmly and sincerely. We took my things to their white minivan. Once we were in the van Dr. Samuel asked, “Who was that man that called me last night?”

“He said he goes to your church,” I explained. “He said he knows you very well. I met him at the airport. He said you know him because he drives a car and everyone knows all the car owners of the church.”

“No, I do not know him,” Dr. Samuel said. “Describe him.”

And so I did .

“Describe his car,” Dr. Samuel responded.

And so I did.

“No. We know all of the car owners at our church and he is not from our church,” Dr. Samuel insisted.

“But he had your telephone number memorized. He knew the church number by heart,” I explained.

Dr. Samuel and Sister Faith just smiled at each other. Nothing more was said.

On Sunday I looked everywhere for my driver. I looked at the dozen cars parked outside the church. I asked everyone if they knew the car or knew the driver. I described him perfectly.

Finally, one of the women from the church, whose husband has a car, said to me, “We know all the owners of cars here; they are useful to us and are an important part of our church family. I tell you there is no car such as you described and no driver like that who is a part of this church. You might begin to thank God for sending you an angel for that is no doubt what he was.”

And she said it as matter-of-factly as if she was talking about the weather.

Could it be? Could an old-maid missionary from Kansas who was trying with all of her heart to hear God and to obey Him, have met an angel unaware? Could God have provided an angel to get me safely from the Lagos airport to the hotel?

Interestingly, the song “This Is the Day” was never sung at any of the dozens of church services I attended during my stay in Nigeria. Not once. Peace.

8 users Responded In This Post

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165. deb said,
July 29th, 2009 at 9:38 pm

I remember when you told me this story a long time ago, I have never forgotten it and it still made me cry.

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167. jalling1@hotmail.com said,
July 30th, 2009 at 7:20 am

It sounds like the movie “Touched by an Angel”. Wow, what a hair raising experience. God does take care of His own. And to think I will see you soon.

Janis

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168. margaret said,
July 30th, 2009 at 8:44 am

love it! i love the adventures with a mysterious God!

margaret

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169. margaret said,
July 30th, 2009 at 8:46 am

Don’t you have a book being released in the fall that one could pre-order on Amazon published by IVPress? just wondering…

Margaret

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170. big sister said,
July 30th, 2009 at 2:43 pm

I’m with margaret. aren’t you taking pre-orders?

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171. peters7 said,
July 31st, 2009 at 4:32 am

I’m not sure if I will ever be able to read your stories without crying! What a wonderful story! What an amazing God!

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173. texas sister said,
August 3rd, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Wow!! I’d not heard this story before. I remember how funny you looked in the photos from Lagos wearing the dress and big wrap thing on your poor blonde hair that couldn’t hold it up. If I recall correctly this was where you could hear the lizards splatting on the ground when they fell off the walls at night! Yikes!

I have pre-ordered your book from IVP directly. Too bad all these blogs aren’t being recorded, bound and ready for publication.

I thank God for you often by name as well as the ministry and your family too.
connie

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419. Angela said,
June 25th, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I would love to leave a comment, but each time I start to tell you what an impression you leave on me…it sounds so lame…so I will just say…Praise God for the work you allow Him to do with your life!

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