Well, we got the Matrix to Minnesota as planned (read Part One of this story here).
We set out on Friday at 6:55 am – five minutes ahead of schedule, which is almost unheard of in the annals of the Hartgerink family. This momentous feat was only achieved by telling each other that we should really aim to leave by 6:30 am. So, although we were 25 minutes behind our official target time, we were 5 minutes ahead of our real target time.
Our goal was to be at the facilities of Stonewell Auto Importers and Exporters in Port Huron, Michigan by by 3:30 pm. To accomplish this, we had to reach the Bluewater Bridge (Sarnia/Port Huron) without any major delays along the road, get through US Customs hassle-free, and then find Stonewell’s facility in an unfamiliar city. After doing our business with them, we planned to drive another 4-5 hours to Hammond, Indiana (just east of Chicago) where we had a hotel reservation for the night.
I was a bit keyed-up about the whole process. There had been a lot of paperwork in order to get the Matrix ready for import, and I wanted to be sure that I hadn’t missed anything. This would be our first time crossing the border not as private citizens but as agents of a commercial vehicle importer. I was very conscious that everything needed to be in order. At the same time, we had received many confirmations that this whole undertaking was in God’s will, so although I was keyed up I was also confident. And indeed God was with us at every step. Our voyage went amazing smoothly, with many signs of God’s favour along the way. Every time we needed something, we prayed for guidance and/or provision, and the Lord always answered us. Sometimes we didn’t even have to pray, because He answered before we asked.
I had my Blackberry with me, and I had a phone number for Chris, the agent from Stonewell who was supposed to meet us at their facility at 3:30 pm. On three separate occasions along the way, I was thinking “It would probably be good to get in touch with Chris right about now”. Each time, he called just a couple of moments after I had this thought. And even though I did well over half the driving on this trip, whenever Chris called, it “just happened” that Marion was driving, and I was able to concentrate fully on his call. The first time, he called to say he had a job interview in another city that morning, so he might not be able to meet us at the agreed-upon time. This was not what we wanted to hear! So, we thanked God for giving Chris a job interview, and asked Him to enable Chris to get back in time to help us finish the import process. We also asked Him to give Chris favour in his interview. The second time, Chris called back to say that the interview had gone so well that they had hired him on the spot, and he wouldn’t be able to meet us but he would arrange for someone else. This wasn’t what we had expected, but it sounded like God’s provision. The third time (by now I was getting a bit antsy because we were getting close to the border and I still hadn’t heard back from him) Chris called to confirm that he had arranged for someone to meet us. All we had to do was make a phone call from the bridge after clearing Customs, and his Dad (Jeff) would meet us at the Stonewell shop, photograph our car to show that it had indeed entered the country, photograph the speedometer to show that it registered miles per hour as well as kilometers per hour, and affix a label to our car stating that it had been imported into the USA.
Things were looking pretty good! Every time we had a concern, it was being met. Thus far, the Lord had helped us.
We got to the bridge ahead of schedule, which was good. But this was a critical moment. We had been told to go through Customs in the commercial lane. Did this mean we should follow the sign that said “Trucks”? We decided that this was what we ought to do. It felt a bit weird to leave the car lane, drive our little Matrix across the bridge in the truck lane, and go whizzing by all the other cars that were lined up in the car lane, waiting to clear Customs. Then we got close to the Customs gate, and it was our turn to line up, with the other commercial vehicles that were waiting to clear Customs – our little Matrix sandwiched between two massive semi-trailers. “Are you commercial?” asked a bridge attendant. “Yes, we’re commercial”. Weird! Us? Commercial shippers? We’re just a Mom and Dad, bringing our Matrix to our son and his wife so they can have a good car for their family! But to good ol’ Uncle Sam, we were commercial shippers, and our goods were potentially subject to inspection. Not that they’d find anything … my Mom’s dentures had been cleaned out of the car three years previously, when we received the car from my parents’ estate 🙂
Suddenly the whole process, which had been going so smoothly until now, seemed to slow to a crawl. There were about six trucks ahead of us, and each truck appeared to be taking between 5-10 minutes to clear Customs. We were almost out of gas, having decided to wait until we were in the USA to gas up, so we kept our engine turned off except when someone cleared Customs and the line moved. Would we get there on time? Would we run out of gas? Would Uncle Sam show kindness to us and let our Matrix into the country? Would we be able to contact Chris after crossing the bridge? Would Jeff be able to come and meet us? It’s easy to trust when all the questions have easy answers. Real trust is all about unanswered questions. Real trust is when, after you’ve done everything you know to do, you realize that you still can’t control the outcome, and you choose to rely on the Lord’s promise “It’ll be OK because I’ll be with you”.
Finally we got to the Customs window. Our car hadn’t run out of gas – yet. It was our turn. This was the moment of truth.
The Customs agent looked down on us from what seemed like a great height, as his window was positioned to enable him to talk to semi-trailer drivers who sit about 10 feet off the ground. After driving up to the window, I could no longer see him at all, but I heard a disembodied voice calling down to me : “Can I help you?” I shouted back : “I can’t hear you very well!”. “Get out of the car, then!” the voice called back. The man seemed helpful enough. Probably our visit was an amusement – a bit of variety in what must surely be a somewhat tedious job. (“Guess who I checked through Customs today, dear?”). Eventually we managed to communicate why we were there, and he scanned our paperwork and told us to go ahead, after a few words about parents who were still giving their kids handouts. I thought to myself, maybe he doesn’t fully understand God’s generosity – but God did use him to show us His favour! He didn’t even charge us the usual fee. Praise the Lord.
Next challenge : get gas and get hold of Chris. Gas – no problem. Trying to contact Chris – call failed. Since my Blackberry doesn’t seem to be working at the moment, try to find a pay phone. None to be found. What to do? Pray, of course! Answer to prayer: “Go to Stonewell’s shop and you’ll know what to do next”. We got there – almost exactly at our original target time – and someone was already there, waiting for us! Whew! Thank you, Lord. Jeff – a middle-aged guy like me, filling in on a job that he evidently had not done for a while – had a bit of trouble printing the label that had to be affixed to our Matrix to show that it had been legally imported into the USA. Between Chris (by phone) and myself (in person), we helped him figure it out. He talked about how hard it had been for his son to find a job, and how grateful he was to be able to help his son out. I understood how he felt.
The rest was easy. Long, tiring, but easy. We got to our hotel – a bit strung out, and desperate for sleep. We left very early the next morning, and got through (or around) Chicago with no problems, thanks to excellent directions from Keith (Heather’s father). We had an opportunity to help a fellow traveller who had run out of money at a gas station, and later had a great breakfast at a country diner in a historic village called Cherry Valley, Illinois, where we were quite obviously the only guests from out of town. We drove for hours through many miles of early fall beauty – fields ready for harvest, interspersed with forests and the occasional city. We got to Bloomington, got the car cleaned up and ready for its new owners, and had a delightful – if brief – visit with Simeon and Heather. After a few moments of uncertainty, little Sophie remembered us (“Gamma ! Gampa!”) and it was a joy to see her again. The next day, we flew back to Ottawa where Reuben and Jess met us at the airport, took us home and fed us comfort food – just what we needed after a long journey.
So, I am at the end of my tale. But why, you may well ask, did I bother to recount this particular narrative?
First, it was a great joy to be able to bless my children with this car. They had not yet been able to obtain a really good family vehicle, and Marion and I had an opportunity to provide them with one. The rest was simple – just do it! We are made to give. Even though my Dad was somewhat of a skeptic in matters of faith, one of the Kingdom values that he modelled very well was the value of generosity. Many times my parents had helped us out when our children were young and our budget was tight. To be in a position to do the same for my children – in different forms for each child – is a delight. To be able to pass on a vehicle from grandparent to parent to child is probably quite unusual, but for me this was a source of deep satisfaction especially because I know it will meet their need so well.
Second, our children give back to us more than they know. Simeon and Heather’s obvious affection and gratitude, little Sophie’s hugs, playful smiles and games of peekaboo, and Reuben and Jess’ care for us upon our return – these things fill our hearts with contentment. We are blessed beyond deserving.
Third, as already mentioned, I saw so many evidences of God’s grace along the way. This visit reaffirmed for me that we are made to give, and if are faithful to give out what God has so freely entrusted to us, He will always bless us. It also reaffirmed for me that if we are seeking to obey the Lord, He will never leave us high and dry. It’s easy to believe this about other people – especially those who do great deeds. It may not be as easy for us to believe it about ourselves, but the Lord desires to show us His trustworthiness in smaller adventures like this one, so that we can rely on Him for the grace needed to take on bigger challenges with joy and courage when He calls us to them.
Every time we step out in faith and rediscover God’s faithfulness, our hearts are being prepared for the next adventure. I have just learned that our missionary friend Gola has seen a door open for him to travel to India (from his current base in Indonesia) to preach the good news of Jesus, the Saving and Healing One. Will God provide for him? Of course. Will we help him? Of course. What else would we do?