The man on the bus
It was my first solo trip since arriving in Brazil to be an au pair. My Portuguese was limited to “thank you” and “I want” phrases. I planned on travelling to a former colonial mining town called Ouro Preto that was cute, historical, easy to walk around and famous, located one flight and two buses away from where I lived.
After landing at the airport I found my way to the first bus stop using hand gestures. Proud of myself, I boarded the bus. After 30 minutes I realised that I had no idea when to get off to find the second bus. I googled it. I tried Google Maps. No success. I was lost.
Somehow in planning the trip I forgot to check where to get off. I knew the name of the bus but not the bus stop. I walked to the bus conductor and used my “I want” phrases: “I want Ouro Preto” “I want go bus.” He looked at me and laughed. I cried. The second mistake I made was to message my mom and tell her I was lost. She started worrying and kept messaging me.
I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder. An old man said: “Ouro Preto” and I nodded, confirming that that was the town I wanted to go to. He had that look that said: “Don’t worry, I will show you the way.”
When the bus finally stopped, he took my hand and walked out of the bus and up the stairs to a kiosk. He explained something to the person working there, I gave him money and got a ticket in return. He took my hand again and down the stairs we went to find the second bus. I looked him in the eye, said thank you and hoped he knew how much his help had meant to me.
Here was someone who showed up at the right time with the right knowledge to take me to the right place. He knew how to take me from being hopeless to having direction and purpose. He took me from off the map to back on the map. He didn’t use words, but walked alongside me, comforting and guiding me. And when he knew I could take on the next part of the journey by myself, he left. In 10 minutes I went from lost to found.
That’s what I want to do as a Christian. I want to show up, be there and intentionally help people find the right bus stop. I want to see what the quickest way to journey with someone is; equipping them to take the next part of the journey on. And then I want to leave, knowing that the time we spent together was enough and they are now able to do the same for someone else.
What did I learn from my bus experience and how does it apply to missions?
Going on a journey with someone needs a timeline with goals. Just as the old man knew that I had to go to the ticket office first and then to a certain bus, as Christians we need to not only know which ‘bus’ people are taking but also the direction they want to go and what they need to successfully continue on their journey.
You need to know when to let go. The old man didn’t get on the second bus with me—he assessed the situation, knew his capacity and helped me in such a way that he could leave me to keep going by myself. He knew how the situation needed to look before he could leave. When helping people—be it disaster response or discipleship—we need to envision how it will look like when that person is ready to journey on by themselves and prepare ourselves to let go of their hand.
It’s not our job to decide which ‘bus’ people should take. The old man didn’t try to change my travel route or suggest another town. He knew that his job was to get me to the right bus that would take me to my destination. We as Christians are not called to redesign someone’s life or to change their destination. We are called to journey with people. To assist them in the situation they are in and if asked, suggest options. Together we can pray about how and where God is leading them and as individuals, trust the work of the Holy Spirit in each person.
We need to pray for discernment in how and when to help people. We have to accept that sometimes help can be given in five minutes, sometimes it takes five months and sometimes it takes five years. We have to be intentional in walking with people on their path, understanding where they are heading and why they are facing what they are facing. We need to be okay with letting go and moving on when the time is right; God will send other people and He will continue working in that person’s life.
And when the roles are changed, and we are the one being helped, we have to embrace it and accept the help God is sending us. As we help others, others will also come and help us.