33. That Time We Broke Down

This post really ought to be titled That Time We Broke Down at Night in the Rain on a Remote Stretch of the Ecuadorian Coast Notorious for Bandits, but that title was too long.

This is the story of something that happened a few years ago. Every missionary kid has a few stories he or she can’t resist sharing, and this is one of mine. It involved some truckers, a loaded gun, a kindhearted pastor and lots of mosquitoes.

When I graduated from high school in Quito some years ago, my family and I were mere weeks from moving away from Ecuador. I was going to Indiana to begin college; my family was going to Uruguay to work in the city of Montevideo. We decided to make the most of our final weeks in Ecuador by going on a couple of trips.

Our first trip was to the town of Shell Mera in the jungle. Some of my readers may recognize Shell Mera as the town used as a base by Jim Elliot, Nate Saint and the other famous missionaries killed by the Huaorani people in the fifties. We stayed in a cabin some miles out of town and made excursions to our favorite waterfalls, trails and restaurants.

Our second trip was to a camp outside the village of Same on the coast of Ecuador. My grandfather, who spent much of his life as a missionary on the Ecuadorian coast, came along with us to say goodbye to old acquaintances.

We were driving along the coast toward the city of Esmeraldas when our car stopped running. Night had fallen. Rain was falling. It was a decidedly gloomy evening.

My old man took off into the darkness to find someone from whom we could buy or borrow a gallon of gasoline. The rest of us waited in the blazing heat of the car, opening the windows occasionally to let in cool air and mosquitoes.

At length we heard a gunshot come from the direction in which my old man had gone. We immediately began fasting and praying.

My old man returned at last with a gas can, explaining he was able to obtain some gas from a nearby shrimp farmer. We asked about the gunshot. “Oh, he thought I was a bandit,” said my old man. “This area is apparently renowned for bandits.”

We were not comforted.

The gas was not enough to get the car going. We were perplexed, and then our guardian angels arrived in the unlikely form of two grinning truckers. They towed our car to the nearest village and parked us safely in the light of the only street lamp. (There may have been more than one street lamp in the village, but I remember only one.) The truckers took off and we settled down to wait.

At last my old man was able to contact a pastor from Esmeraldas, who arranged for our car to be transported to a mechanic in the city. My parents stayed with the pastor while my grandfather, younger brother and I found lodging in a rickety, old-fashioned hotel.

We spent much of the next day wandering around the city before catching a ride to the camp outside Same. Our car was eventually fixed, and we were able to return to Quito with two or three days to spare before my grandfather and I caught our flight to Indiana.

Our adventure cost us sleep, for we were awake late into the night; money, for we had to pay to have the car fixed; and blood, for we fought a losing battle against the mosquitoes. In the end, however, we gained more than we lost: my family and I had one final adventure together in Ecuador before parting ways and traveling to opposite ends of the earth.

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