Our 28-Year-Old Tomato
Rev. Neil Steven Lawrence, M.Div.
We call our 1990 Toyota 4-Runner with 2.4L Turbo-Diesel 5-Speed Stick-Shift: Nyanya–the perfect nickname. It is red on the inside and red on the outside. In Swahili nyanya most commonly means tomato; but the same word can be used to say grandmother. I tell people it is my “poor man’s Land Cruiser.” Last year we spruced her up with a new paint job and new tires. Though she is 28 years old, maintaining her is more cost-effective than buying a newer 4-Runner.
After 15 years of use, this week we are giving Nyanya open-heart surgery right here in our compound–in other words, an engine overhaul. By finding a self-employed mechanic, we are paying 15% of the price the dealership quoted. We’ve never done anything like this before; but then again, much of what we do living and ministering in a developing-world situation requires improvising.
Backstory of the “Tomato”
In October 2002 we totaled (had a major accident) while pulling our Gospel trailer with our previous Toyota 4-Runner. With the insurance money we bought the truck we now use for open-air meetings. (That is a miraculous story for another day). This necessitated we go to Nairobi to shop for a used car. Our budget was $8,000, and we only had the weekend to accomplish the task.
As usual, we got a late start and only made it half-way to Nairobi. We stopped at a hotel for the night. Jennifer was upset and couldn’t sleep under the mosquito net. She cried out to the Lord in prayer, “We’ve missed the first day of shopping; now what Lord? How are we ever going to find the right car in such a short time?” (By the way, this was before there were internet sites to shop online.) In her mind, she heard the Lord answer, “It’s going to be red.” She quickly countered, “But Lord, I don’t like red!” He repeated, “It’s going to be red.” With that answer, she fell asleep knowing the Lord was working it out.
Approaching the outskirts of Nairobi, the car we were borrowing suddenly died. We coasted to the side of the road. It refused to start. The fuel gauge showed a quarter tank remaining. A bystander helped get a mechanic. After adding some diesel, he pumped air out of the fuel system; it started right up. We paid him and got on our way. Jennifer was even more stressed because of yet another delay!
When we arrived at the mall, Jennifer went in one shop as I headed to the Used Cars for Sale Notice Board where many expatriate owners advertise. As I was writing notes on the chart I prepared, a woman spoke from behind me, “Are you looking for a Toyota 4-Runner?” I said, “Yes.” “We have one for sale,” she replied. Just then Jennifer and the lady’s husband walked up. The car was parked outside so we went to look at it. Lo, and behold: it was red on the outside AND red on the inside. The price they were asking was exactly what we had to spend: $8000! Jennifer said, “This is it, Neil! We don’t need to look any further!” I replied, “It very well could be, but I have never bought anything of this magnitude without shopping first. Give us a day to look around; we’ll call you back and let you know.”
We looked at 30 other vehicles that day and the next. They were all more expensive and not as nice as the “Tomato.” We called them back and said, “We’ll take it!” The Lord is a mighty provider… even of old “Tomatoes!”
Interesting Side Notes:
The former owners of Nyanya were long-term missionaries who were retiring from the field in a few months. The only reason they were at the mall that exact hour was to get a quick cup of coffee with friends they were taking to the airport. The wife testified to us that the Holy Spirit prompted her to speak to me when I was standing at the Notice Board.
When we got back to Eldoret, I asked the owner of the car we borrowed if there was anything wrong with the fuel gauge. He said, “No, it works perfectly.”
The Lord truly was working out all the details to make sure we were at the right place at the right time.