Most people in the United States are now familiar with the Latin American custom of the quinceaÃ±era, where the fifteenth birthday is a big event, especially for girls. The family will often throw a lavish party for their daughter with all sorts of meaningful customs, such as the custom where the father kneels before his daughter and puts a pair of high heeled shoes on her, symbolizing that she is coming of age. Every girl looks forward to her quinceaÃ±era party with great anticipation. Here in Latin America, the fifteenth birthday is a very important and meaningful event.
This year, we are having a fifteenth birthday party for an unlikely candidate; the car I drive down here is our quinceaÃ±era this year! When we bought this car, our kids were still in school and living with us. We were still living in Villavicencio and working in the Jungle/Prairie region of Colombia. I had just passed my fortieth birthday the year before. But time passes quickly and it is hard to imagine that our little jeep is now fifteen years old this year. In the States cars are seldom driven that long. But here in Colombia, where a car once cost more than three times what the same vehicle would cost in the States, it is very costly and difficult to buy a new car.
That is especially true for missionaries as we tend to use the available funds for ministry needs in our efforts to grow the local church as rapidly as possible. Also, the very nature of the missionary ministry typically means that funds are very tight. So for these reasons, we make vehicles last much longer than a person would in the States. This makes the very costly vehicles more economical by purchasing a new one much less frequently. In fact, in thirty five years in Colombia this is only our second vehicle. And the Good Lord knows, there are no funds available to buy a new one! So I keep fixing and driving our fifteen year old vehicle in order to be a good steward of the funds you entrust to us for evangelism here in Colombia.
That has drawbacks, as I an sure you can imagine. The most obvious problem is the amount of repairs and downtime that will be endemic to an older vehicle. But given the cost of a new one and the shortage of funding for missionary work, there is little choice. I try to keep our car in the best shape possible. I have regular maintenance done to minimize the risk of breakdowns in dangerous places, such as the road to Villavicencio or the south end of BogotÃ¡, where I frequently go to preach. Still, with such an old vehicle, it is impossible to avoid that risk all together. A fifteen year old car will break down.
Once such example was on a recent trip to Villavicencio where the brakes on the car went out on the return trip. That is a very dangerous mountain road characterized by very steep descents and hairpin turns. On the trip back up the mountain, I descended on incline and as I approached a very sharp curve, I hit the brakes and felt a pop and the pedal went clear to the floor. I made it safely around that curve but debated what to do. Driving with defective brakes on a mountainous road is obviously dangerous. But stopping in the lonely sections of that road represents an even greater risk due to the continued presence of bandits and guerrilla forces in the area.
There still seemed to be some limited breaking capacity and the car is a standard shift vehicle. So I opted to continue driving, though with much greater caution and careful attention to the characteristics of the road. I drove much slower and used the manual transmission to slow the car as we approached a curve. I left a significant distance between me and any other vehicle. A couple of times I was able to rely on the emergency brake, which had not been affected by the problem.
I finished the drive back into BogotÃ¡ using the different gears to slow the vehicle and the hydraulic brakes only when absolutely necessary. With the Lordâ€™s watch-care and a very expeditious use of the brake, I was able to pass through the very dangerous countryside and make it back into the city without an accident. It was a nerve-wracking and stressful drive, but we made it safely back into BogotÃ¡. Upon arriving I let out a sigh of relief and whispered a heartfelt prayer of thanks to the Lord for His protection in that difficult and dangerous situation.
The very next day I took the car in to get it repaired even though that would mean having no car for the weekend. One of the seals in the rear brake drum had burst. As a result, every time I hit the breaks, the hydraulic fluid would simply squirt out and the brake-peddle would mush down to the floor.
Our fifteen year old car had brought us back safely one more time and is still hauling me around as I preach and teach here in Colombia. I am thankful to God and to you folks for providing me with a vehicle. And in the name of good stewardship, I will try to make it last as long as possible. So celebrate with me another â€œbirthdayâ€ for our cute little quinceaÃ±era; our fifteen year old car!