On a mission trip with a dozen or so youth from our church, every team member had a job, even before we reached our mission site. Some took care of snacks. One young man’s job was to call for a pit stop when needed. Another, a girl, was responsible for making sure everyone was on the bus before we moved out again. We were in the middle of nowhere, halfway through a long road trip. The gas station and small diner were the only buildings in sight, in any direction.
The teen girls trooped single file through a narrow walkway between the store and another small building, to the restrooms at the back. I waited patiently at the end of the line. When they had all finished and returned to the bus, I entered the four foot by three foot room with one toilet and a small sink hung on the wall. The door lock didn’t work. There was no invitation to linger in this place, and it didn’t take long. The girl in front of me knew I was still there, so the bus would be waiting.
I stepped out of the small room and paused for a moment to remember which way I came, thinking, “Good thing none of the girls are here. I’d hate for them to see how easily I can get confused.” Still, it would have been nice if someone had waited for me. The bus driver was probably ready to go, and wondering if I was lost. I tried to move faster through the narrow passage.
I came to the end of the tunnel-like walkway and turned toward the front of the store where the bus was parked. Did I make a wrong turn? Is there another parking area in this small lot? WHERE IS MY BUS?
It was a manly place, with no other women in sight. It felt like when my husband sends me to the auto parts store, and tells me exactly what to say. As long as the attendant at the desk follows the script, it will be a successful transaction. This time, I didn’t know the script.
I stepped into the small store and asked the attendant where our driver had moved the bus.
“Lady, that bus is gone.”
“Gone where? I didn’t spend that much time out back.”
“Well, it left here a few minutes ago, headed west,” he said as he pointed to his left. I looked. Not even a tail light was left.
In 1993 there were no cell phones. My purse was on that bus. I was alone, unarmed, and without proper identification.
“Is there some place I can go, someone I can call? How can I let them know?”
“Nope. Ya just hope they come get ya.” He moved a wad around in his mouth, then said, “Have a seat over there if ya like.” I didn’t like, but there was nothing else to do.
I had nothing to read, and couldn’t relax anyway. My thoughts chased each other around, questions without answers. How far have they gone? When will they miss me? Will they miss me? Those girls barely tolerated my presence, as long as I kept quiet. What if the station closes and I’m still here; what will they do with me then? How close is the nearest police or sheriff? How far….
Fifteen minutes later, the bus came into view, backing down the road, still facing west. It stopped across the road and waited until I could cross and climb on board.
The driver grinned and said, “Sorry ‘bout that. They said everyone was here.”
“Yeah, well, they lied.”
I took my seat, angry and hurt, hoping I could settle down and forget it. Not a chance. The tears started, and I wished for the thousandth time I could overcome that weakness. The kids ignored me. I cried out to God, “Father, I don’t know how to relate to these girls. Please help me. I wish I hadn’t come.” It was going to be a long week.
The trip went smoothly after that, and the I enjoyed the ministry opportunity. But those girls continued to be challenging for the entire week. If I had been there to please them, it wasn’t working. My real purpose was to serve. And the real evaluation will come later, by One who will never try to embarrass me.
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