In South Africa, we have survived a 24 hour train ride that warped into 40. I will not lie. It was tortuous. When we embarked on the Shoshaloza Meyl train, the purple and teal train that looks like an 80's birthday party train, other South African riders asked us, "What are you doing on this train?" This train had a reputation. This train was always late. This train company, on another route, had collided with two vehicles 6 weeks before, exploding and killing 19 people, injuring hundreds. (We didn't know this until halfway through the trip.) But this was the train we could afford.
Was it really "torment"? You decide. It was 90 degrees when the trip began. No air conditioning. We had a sleeper---YES! But the double-decker 5'x6' space was tight and claustrophobic for four bodies. The train moved at a glacial pace, and stopped and slowed every 10 minutes with a shrieking grinding of the brakes that lasted for minutes each time. Nails-on-chalkboard that even my earplugs could not drown out. I did not sleep.
The train moved at half speed when it managed to move at all. Why so slowly? The signal equipment and the rails had been vandalized and looted so often, trains have crashed. With other trains. With cars. So the trains go slowly to be safer, to anticipate danger.
Twenty-four hours in, we broke down. In the middle of the karoo (desert). An engine was sent from Cape Town to rescue us. We rejoiced. Then that engine broke down. No one knew for how long.
I cried for help. Using my phone for internet, I posted our plight to Facebook and begged for prayer. "Our train is broken down and I have to be in Cape Town to give a conference on Saturday." I tried to explain: This conference is not just any conference. It's a conference in a township, for the first time bringing black, white, brown, African, Alaskan, Afrikaaner, Asian together. To break down the walls between us. To unite us in Christ. It's risky. It's scary. It's kingdom work.
And now I am stuck on a train in the desert? Now, I am sleepless for 2 nights? Now, if I get there, I am dehydrated, dirty, cramped, exhausted, weepy? If I arrive at all, this is how I must arrive and speak at this all day conference?
And God's answer is yes. And I bless Him for it. Here's why.
He answered all those prayers. Those prayers moved mountains---and that train. We shrieked and ground our way into the pitch dark station in downtown Cape Town after 3 a.m. Yes, fourteen hours late, but there. An hour long uber ride later, we crawled into beds at 4 am.
There are 100 other things that happened on this train, but this is what I must say now. I am here readying for this conference tomorrow because of you. Because of all of who prayed. Because not only does God not leave us alone, not only is He with us always, even in a broken-down train, but my brothers and sisters from around the world were with us as well. Dozens and dozens of you prayed. This is the miracle of Christianity. When we were stuck in the Istanbul airport trying to get into this country, and then stuck on the train getting to the conference, I knew and felt a cloud of witnesses around us interceding on our behalf.
This is the concrete world of the kingdom of God which is not a fairy tale world or some spirited realm of ether. It is a world of real hands, of spoken words going heavenward; it is people with feet that walk to your doors, fingers that send emails. This is the new world that Jesus began when he lived among us.
I am not a satan-watcher but I do believe satan wanted to thwart me going to the conference. He wanted to wear me out, to wear me down. To suck out all my juice and energy.
And he has. He did. But it won't work. I live on an island in Alaska, so I am always coming from far away---from a place where the storms freeze planes to the ground. Where fog hides the skies and planes hunker low. And even then, even when my plane is stopped and I must wait and then fly all night and I arrive exhausted, even then, if I stand and speak and in my fatigue, if I should even weep before them, he inhabits those tears. What was meant for defeat becomes strength. For doesn't God shine all the more through our frail trembling bodies?
It was true for all the disciples. For the apostle Paul. For Jesus himself. And for me, just one tiny shadow of those men. And it is true for you too, is it not?
This is a love letter written to you. Written with shaking hands. Written in awe of our God. Written with anticipation of what He will do tomorrow. Through my weakness and your prayers.