Monday, June 11, 2007

Crossing (BBB Part Ten)

The trip to Bosnia took two days. The first 30 hours or so were uneventful. But soon after we crossed the Croatian border the van’s battery light came on. We decided that we had better not stop, lest the car not start again. Unfortunately, however, Audrey became carsick, and we finally had to stop at a roadside gas station. Sure enough, the van would not start again. While we were trying to figure out what to do, a group of men came up to the van. They seemed to want to help, but none of them knew any English.

At that time, I only spoke about 20 words of Serbo-Croatian, but this was 20 words more than anyone else in our group knew. So, I was quickly elected spokesman of our traveling band. Not surprisingly, I had no idea what the men were saying, nor could I explain our situation to them. One of the men finally indicated that we should open the hood. We did so, and he examined the engine compartment. He looked at me and said “Mo-tor! Ka-poot!” THIS I understood clearly! Fortunately, he meant “battery,” not “motor,” but in any case, we appeared to be stuck. There was no way to get a new battery, because it was late Saturday night, we were in the middle of nowhere, and everything was closed (there are no 24-hour Wal-Marts in Croatia!).

Finally, the men decided to give us a push-start. This worked nicely, and we were soon on our way again. As long as we didn’t stop again, we would be in great shape! Unfortunately for us, another stop was inevitable. To enter Bosnia, we had to cross a river, and all the bridges across the river had been destroyed during the war. We would have to take a ferry, and we had heard that sometimes one had to wait in line for an hour or more just to get to the ferry.

After two more tense hours of driving, we finally made it to the line for the ferry. The van died about three times while we were waiting, but fortunately, we were able to push-start it each time. Finally, we drove onto the ferry. Can you guess what happened next? If you said “the van died,” you are correct! It took about twenty minutes to get across the river. Our plan was to push-start it once more right before we reached the Bosnian side. This plan was complicated by two factors: first, the ferry was jam-packed with cars, and second, the road leading away from the “dock” went up a steep incline.

Once we were across the river, we were unable to push-start the van. I tried to see if we could get some help from the ferry operators, but they had no interest in this. Instead, they just loaded up the ferry from the Bosnian side, and we got to ride backwards across the river to Croatia again. We were starting to wonder if we would EVER get off the ferry!

After we arrived back on the Croatian side and the cars headed for Croatia were all off, I noticed that the first car in line was a white Jeep Cherokee with “UN” marked on the side. I thought, “If the driver works for the UN, surely he speaks English, and maybe he will help us!” As he drove onto the ferry, I frantically waved my arms and tried to signal him to pull in right in front of us. He complied and then got out of his car.

In perfect English, he asked me, “So, where are you going?” “Tuzla,” I replied. “Really?!?” he replied, “That is where I live! So, what will you be doing there?” “Missionary work,” I replied somewhat cautiously. “Wonderful!” he exclaimed. “I am the pastor of the evangelical church in Tuzla.” While we talked some more, he produced a piece of rope, which he used to tie our van to his jeep. Then, when we reached the other side, this Good Samaritan towed us into Bosnia. Jennifer and I believed then, and still believe today, that God sent this man to help us. If not, it was an awfully strange coincidence!

After we reached the other side, he offered to tow us all the way to Tuzla, a trip of about 50 miles, but which would take an hour and a half, due to the various NATO checkpoints along the away. We called our colleague in Tuzla who was waiting on us, and he immediately set out to come meet us with an extra battery and escort us back to Tuzla. We thanked our rescuer profusely and told him goodbye. When our colleague arrived, we slowly and carefully followed him the rest of the way to Tuzla. At about midnight, we finally arrived. It was my twenty-ninth birthday. Our adventure was over. Or, to be more accurate, it was just beginning…


Clint said...

OK, our stories diverge here a bit. We didn't have any of those sorts of problems. Granted, it had been about 10 years since things had calmed down in Estonia by then...

But your story is still gripping.

Milton said...

dear james,

What great memories these are of our trip to Tuzla. Last summer I spent 8 weeks in Prague helping the IMB and I remembered coming there in the van to pick yall up. I have to say that night was the most stressful of my entire life. I am so glad yall were there to share it. Milton

Fr. James Early said...

Great to hear from you, Milton! I hope that "Big D" is treating you well! For all my other readers, Milton was our "chauffer" for our trip into Bosnia. He also hosted me on the many trips that I took to Croatia while we were in Tuzla.