Chapter 5: What did you see?

lightning1The torrential rain continued to pound the metal roof throughout the night. We were jerked awake often by lightning strikes and crashes of thunder that seemed to rumble on for much longer than normal. It was as if the heavens themselves were being shaken and rearranged. I don’t think anyone slept much.

We had an additional factor other than the weather that also made sleep hard to come by. Not long after we had bedded down one of our group jumped to his feet, started dancing around, and screaming. Cockroaches had attacked him. We pulled back the mattresses on each one of our bunk beds and saw countless hoards of them scurrying for cracks in the bed frames, and spilling clumsily onto the floor. It was decided that we would all rest easier on the hard wooden benches in the Church’s sanctuary. We made this transition somewhere around midnight.

The benches were a backless affair, about ten inches wide, and six feet long. Three of them pushed together made a serviceable platform above cockroach crawling level. It was also wide enough to not fall off it, if you managed to fall asleep for a few minutes. They were hard though. I opted to put both of my wool army blankets down as padding since the evening was warm, and used my backpack as a pillow. Needles to say, when dawn began to break, and the rain stopped, we were all ready to get up.

We wandered outside to the street in front of the church to look at the clearing skies, and stretch out the stiffness and kinks we had accumulated on the benches. As always in Argentina, someone had prepared mate. We were standing around in a circle sharing it, along with our thoughts about the pervious day’s events when three mud-covered double cab pickup trucks dove up. The trucks were totally, and I do mean totally covered in mud.

mudtrucks  When the twelve passengers got out of the trucks I remember being shocked at how clean they all seemed compared to their vehicles. They were all pastors we knew from Resistencia, who had also been at the reconciliation meeting in Nueva Pompeya. After traveling through the night they had stopped by the church to get hot water for the ubiquitous mate, and hopefully wangle an invitation for breakfast.

Argentine hospitality is famous the world over. The local pastor and his wife graciously set about making preparations to serve breakfast for eighteen guests along with their own family. A collection was taken up between the guests to help buy supplies. Someone was sent to the bakery for fresh bread. Someone else went to the store for dulce de leche, cheese, ham, and strawberry preserves. Water was put on the stove to fill several thermoses with nearly boiling water for the mate. Laughter and conversation flowed easily and abundantly.

As we listened the recent arrivals began to recount amongst themselves for the first time the adventure they had shared since leaving Nueva Pompeya.

This group had lingered saying goodbyes, and talking with the event organizers until the storm struck. They decided to wait until the brunt of the severe thunder and lightning had passed before starting back to Resistencia. The problem was it did not let up for a long time. The roads were getting worse every minute they delayed. Eventually they realized that if they were going to make it back by morning they had to get started before the road became impassable, or was closed by the local authorities. They formed a three-truck caravan and headed out.

The pastor who was driving the lead vehicle said, “I was going along pretty good until I hit a stretch of mud and water that was so deep I bottomed out. I was afraid I wasn’t going to make it through that patch so I downshifted, gunned it, and started fishtailing. I made it through, but slid toward the ravine on the right side of the road. Even after I managed to stop my truck the back end kept slipping slowly toward the ravine until I was sideways. I couldn’t go forward or back. Every time I gave it a little gas we slid closer to the edge of the ravine. That’s why I stopped.”

The driver of the second vehicle said, “Yea, I saw all of that. I just figured we would have to wait until morning, or until it stopped raining. I didn’t even see how I could help, so we just stayed where we were. Then this crazy guy passed us both, so I decided to try to follow him.”

The Pastor who had been driving the last vehicle in the original caravan order said, “Could you see those two young men in the van from your truck?”

“What two young men, and what van are you talking about?” said the others in unison.

“Well, we couldn’t see the first truck and had no idea why you had stopped in front of us. So we were just sitting there waiting when a white van pulled up behind us. I looked back toward the van in my rearview mirror, and could see two young men in suits and ties. They got out of the van, and walked right up to my window. So I rolled it down, and one of them asked politely if we were all right. I said, ‘Yes, we are all right.’

Then he said, ‘Well, I just wanted to let you know we are going to pass you on the left. I think we have plenty of room, so don’t be worried.’ Then they walked back to their vehicle and got in it. The strange thing is the mud didn’t even stick to their shoes. They seemed to walk up on top of it and not sink down into it. When their van passed us they both waved. I thought, if they can go forward, so can I.  So I followed them, and that is when we passed you.”

The second vehicle’s driver said, “Well, I saw you go by, but I never saw a van. I thought you were going to get ahead of the first truck to try to pull them out. That is why I followed you, but you just kept going.”

The driver of what had been the lead truck said, “When I saw you both go by I thought you were just going to leave us. It made me mad at both of you, but when I tried to follow, it was a piece of cake. My truck never slipped, fishtailed, or hesitated. I just got in your tracks, and never stopped until we arrived here, but I never saw a van. Are you sure you saw a van?”

“We not only saw a van, we talked to the guy. What we didn’t see is where they got off the road. We were following their tracks and then the van and the tracks just disappeared. It was in a section where there were no side roads or places they could have left the main road. I could see both of you in my mirror so I didn’t stop until we made it here.”

Have you ever been a part of a group conversation, when all of a sudden you feel more like an observer than a participant? That is how I felt that morning. I was watching and listening to a dozen people for whom I had the highest confidence and respect tell a tale that was difficult to believe. These men were not flakes. They were pastors of significant churches, with impeccable reputations. They were not the run of the mill big foot, loch ness monster, or UFO sighter types.

It was amusing to watch them work through the details of the shared experience twelve different people had, from three different points of view. The occupants of each one of the three separate trucks conferred among themselves, came to agreement between themselves, and then announced confidently the facts as they had seen them. The challenge was that the occupants of each truck had seen different things, and interpreted the shared experience differently.

This loud animated discussion lasted through a very entertaining and lengthy breakfast. Eventually, pressing commitments in Resistencia required us all to say our good byes, give our thanks, and hit the road.

The general conclusion we came to agree upon that morning could be summed up in a scripture verse found in the book of Hebrews. “…Some have unwittingly entertained angles…”


 

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