Our recent holiday was good for our prayer life.
We prayed for reconciliation and healing at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, with a multicultural, multilingual congregation, in the same sacred space where Archbishop Desmond Tutu decried the heresy of apartheid.
That was pretty special.
We prayed spontaneous doxologies when zebra, giraffes and elephant wandered across our path in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, when we saw the stunning sunrise over King Shaka's old hunting ground, and when we reached the sun-bleached Cape of Good Hope where Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.
And we prayed and prayed when we broke down by the side of a busy road!
Before our safari, we had a blow-out on the main road. Lucky for Clare, Hannah and myself, Sarah is an expert tyre-changer. In a mere 10 minutes, we were back on the road, making a detour to nearby Mtubatuba which from what we saw was a mainly Zulu town consisting of garages, fried chicken places and street kiosks. It was Saturday mid-morning, and market day was winding down.
The garage owner smiled apologetically. "It's a Chevy Spark. We don't have a tyre that size. Nowhere will. We could have it here by Tuesday."
So, we took the risk of a two-day game drive on gravelly paths punctuated with regular potholes, praying the whole time that we'd be OK. We did not want to get another flat in the middle of Mfolozi Reserve. We could get eaten by lions!
On Sunday afternoon, having seen three of the 'Big Five' and lots more, we drove on to St. Lucia hoping to see hippos and crocs, but they were hiding. So homeward we went ...
Until we sensed deja vu, the rasp of rubber on road, the unsteadiness of the metal encapsulating us, ... another blow-out. And for no apparent reason, no nail, no glass, just a massive hole in the tyre.
And no spare.
Now, you don't want to hang around the side of a road in South Africa (nor anywhere else really).
The breakdown people could tow us back into Mtubatuba, but everything was shut there, and we knew it would take a few days to get another tyre. Clare called friends back in Durban, who called friends of friends closer to where we were, and soon we had an old Afrikaans couple with us. He had brought a few spare tyres in assorted sizes in case one might do, but no such luck.
Meanwhile, his wife rang around her friends and neighbours. In earthy, guttural tones, she seemed to be asking, 'You know that young girl, lives above the liquor shop down the street from you, parks behind the garage, is it a Chevy Spark she ... oh. A Micra. Well, what about that man from ...'.
Sarah had a brain wave. She decided to look for a Chevy Spark and flag it down and offer to buy their spare tyre. Now it's not the commonest of cars, but within a few minutes there one came - no, it's a - yes, it's a - no, that's a - yes! yes! a Chevy Spark! STOP!!!
It drove on past. A woman at the wheel, three daughters with her. There was no way women would stop on a South African road when flagged down by strangers.
And then, our little miracle happened. The Chevy slowed down and pulled over, turned around and approached us cautiously. This woman must be crazy, we could be anybody! We could do anything! This was a country infamous for car-jacking and violent crime! Yet, she stopped, yes she'd just had some new tyres put on, yes she had a spare. She said she didn't want to exploit the situation, she'd take 200 rand - Clare knew it was worth at least 500, paid that, and gave her details in case the replacement was more.
In minutes, we were roadworthy again.
During all of this, we were praying like mad. Not pretty, considered prayers either. Prayers along the lines, Oh please please please God, get us home! We don't want to spend three days in Mtubatuba! Please don't let anything happen to us! We're scared!
I think we realized, far from home, with no ATM close by, in a foreign country, knowing these highways were used by bandits and car-jackers, that we couldn't help ourselves. We weren't self-sufficient, we needed help from up above.
Richard Foster's book 'Prayer' (does what it says on the tin) surveys many kinds of prayer: intercession, praise, praying during the long night of the soul ... But he begins in chapter one with 'simple prayer'. Immediate needs (and wants). He says if we can't start with childlike prayer, we won't progress to more spiritually advanced prayer.
Our experience in South Africa reminded us of our need for simple prayer. And it's absolutely compatible with Christian faith, including mature faith: God concerns himself with our lives, including little details, and he acts providentially as a result.
Providence is a philosophical minefield, but we aren't asked to reconcile conflicting strands of logical dialectics; we're just asked to have faith in our Father who cares for us. And, on the main Mtubatuba to St. Lucia Road in kwaZulu-Natal, he certainly did.