OUR MINISTRY CARAVAN had been traveling since before daybreak on miles and miles of narrow roads with deep, ruts around treacherous curves when, all at once, our driver made a sharp left turn, leaving the road and driving out across the open savannah with not even a trail to follow. There was no evidence that any power-driven vehicle had ever been this way before. As I stared out the window at the endless plains scattered with scrubby bushes and an occasional acacia tree, I was sure that God didn’t even know where we were. When we finally arrived at the border between Kenya and Tanzania a light rain began to fall as dusk faded into darkness.
Border crossings between African countries are always an interesting experience, especially with a team and multiple vehicles. Government officials must examine the paperwork for each vehicle, inspect for illegal items like drugs or explosives, as well as spray for insects. People are required to que outside the immigration officer’s desk and wait their turn to have him stamp their passports.
The other team members had already exited the vehicles while I collected my stuff. Just as I stepped onto the ground a still, small voice spoke to my spirit and said, “Pray for favor.” The quickening was very faint but I was sure it was the Holy Spirit. I said a quick prayer for God’s favor to go before us as the team and the vehicles made their way through immigration. I supposed it probably had something to do with keeping the big truck with all the sound equipment we used for the open-air crusades from being impounded.
I joined Charles who was already in line outside the immigration office. Even at this remote crossing there were lots of people standing in line in the light drizzle. Most were Kenyan and Tanzanian nationals who crossed regularly for work, to visit relatives, or sell their wares. We were the only foreigners and our white skin and blue eyes made us very conspicuous.
We presented our passports to the officer, a rather rotund man in his mid-fifties. In a very stern, authoritative voice he said to Charles, “I may have to put Mama in jail. Her papers… they are not correct.” Of course my papers were in order but since he was the only immigration official in this out-of-the-way station his opinion was the only one that counted and he knew it!
Holding me very firmly by my right forearm, Charles looked directly at him without hesitation and said resolutely, “You’ll have to do what you have to do.” My mouth must have hit the floor when I heard what my husband of over thirty years just said, but I stood there motionless and quiet. The officer thought Charles didn’t understood him so he repeated with more insistence, “Mama’s papers are not in order! I may have to put her in jail!” Charles restated himself with increased firmness, “You’ll have to do what you have to do.”
It is a common practice in developing nations for corrupt officials to accept bribes to facilitate these fabricated situations. We had decided years ago not to encourage bribery by taking part in it because it is illegal as well as a poor witness of our Christian faith. The small room was filled with uneasiness as this situation had quickly escalated from a game of bluff into a battle of the wills, and my fate hung in the balance.
Now Charles has a rule he always applies in this kind of situation… cool heads prevail. I was trying to focus on his proverb but as my thoughts started snowballing, and I soon imagined myself as the center of an international incident locked away in isolation with the U.S. embassy bargaining for my release.
After a brief stare down, the immigration officer stamped my passport and Charles whisked me out the door and soon we were back on our way into the inky darkness. God’s favor had indeed gone before us and “made the crooked places straight.” After we praised God for His faithfulness at delivering me out of that tight spot, I began wondering how differently things would have turned out if I had ignored that very still, small voice.
Earlier that day as we traveled across the endless savannah, I had felt so alone that I doubted if even God knew where I was. I was so wrong. Just as the Lord met Elijah and provided for his need during his predicament, I was not in the immigration office alone. By my obedience to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, all was taken care of. God loves us so much that He will not leave us destitute, without help, having to bear these difficulties alone.
Much like Elijah I was filled with shame having accused God falsely. The lesson was as clear to me as it was to God’s powerful prophet: God reveals Himself by speaking to man’s spirit, not in the windstorm, the earthquake, or the fire. That would be too impersonal! His voice is so gentle that unless you are living in fellowship and oneness with him, you will never hear it. My prayer is that as we grow in Christ, we will draw ever closer to him so we will hear Him whisper in our hearts.