Benin, Africa is a beautiful place. On a recent trip, my team and I traveled all over the country side – also known as the bush – delivering books about God to schools. When I say “traveled” what I really mean is, we “jeeped.” We were “jeeping” in the bush. Where I come from, “jeeping” is a Sunday afternoon in a beat up vehicle traveling dusty, bumpy, precarious roads and dodging obstacles – mainly trees, rocks, wild animals and sometimes each other. The entire goal is to make it home with a new dent, and a great story about getting stuck in the mud. I spent many Sundays as a child in the back of our jeep getting bounced around (no seatbelts) and being pretty certain we might not make it back home.
Jeeping in the African bush is really no different. Our vehicle was an old and beat up van that seated 12 of us in make shift seats (no seat belts). We were on precarious, bumpy and dusty roads and encountered many of the same obstacles in addition, overloaded motorbikes, goats with their babies, moms carrying loads on their heads with a baby strapped to their back, and semi-trucks (yep, you read that right). And this was in the middle of town.
By the second day, it was clear we would also be making it home with a few stories about getting stuck in the mud. In an unfamiliar land, getting stuck takes on a whole new meaning for me. I’m out of my routine, the sights, sounds, smells and sleep are all very unfamiliar. Unfamiliar can change the way I think, therefore, my logic and reasoning
have left the building. We turn off the bumpy road and all I see is bush. Tall, green, lush, THICK bush. I see before us a single muddy track, but can’t clearly see a road. My brain kicks into overdrive along with the cranky old engine in the van. Into the bush we go, deeper and deeper. Engulfing the van, the bush is getting taller and taller, the driver is pushing the pedal harder and harder. One single thought replays in my head “if we get stuck, we are never getting out of here.” “We are never getting out of here,” is still hanging in the air like a thought balloon when mud splashes up on the windshield and we come to a complete halt. The tires whir hopelessly.
“We are stuck, what are we going to do, we’re never getting out of here.” Panic, then, I have temporarily left my own body and envision my children at home hearing the news that they’ll never see their mom again because she’s crazy and does crazy things like agree to go to Africa on a whim. I see their little eyes tear up as they fall into their Dad’s arms and start to shake from grief. I see the ex-husbands family members shake their heads in disapproval, “now these poor boys will have to grow up without a mom and for what? Just so she could help some other children in Africa?”
I’m jolted back to the van with the cheering of the men. The men are cheering, wait, there are men in the van!! The men are getting out of the van, the men are going to push us out of the mud and get us unstuck! Yay! Let’s all cheer for the men who are happily tromping in the mud finding a spot on the van to push.
I get myself caught up in the moment of cheering and pushing and celebrating and remember the whole goal of jeeping was to come home with a great story about getting stuck in the mud. Getting stuck is fun. Everyone piles out, smiles and pushes. Getting unstuck creates comradery. We’re all in this together! The fun thing about getting stuck in Africa is whole villages of people come out to see what’s going on. They are all curious about the white people in the vans and they get caught up in the moment and start to push too! Soon, we find ourselves standing around the unstuck van, laughing at the guy in the dress pants, with mud up to his knees and how the other guy almost fell on face and the other guys from the village who’ve never seen a van full of white people – ever.
Once the unfamiliar becomes familiar, the fog lifts and the fear becomes a celebration and a really great story. I find this is true in life as well. When I’m stuck and I’m scared, the people in my village start to come out to see what’s going on. I realize I’m not alone, so I climb out of my van into the mud with my people. We all smile and tromp and push and celebrate. My stuck becomes our stuck, and soon we are all in this together. In a month or two months or even a year from now, we all look back and tell stories about that time we got stuck and look how far we’ve come.