A CABBY, AN ACT OF COMPASSION, A CONCRETE JUNGLE
In mid-1961 my parents returned to the States from Rhodesia, for a furlough. It coincided with my entering Holmes Bible College, in Greenville South Carolina. Trying to adjust to the cultural shock that I experienced is hard to even put into words. The last time we had visited the States as a family I was only eleven years old and was sent to live with my grandparents in a rough cabin with no running water or electricity, in the tiny village of Hatfield Point in New Brunswick, Canada. Now I was a young woman taking my first steps in preparing myself to follow the call of God on my life. The only culture I truly was comfortable in was life in Rhodesia, Africa and it was a far cry from American culture!
Shortly after arriving in the States my Dad was asked to become the Interim President of Long Island Bible Institute. We drove the long journey from Long Island, New York to Greenville, South Carolina for me to enroll as a freshman. Just as soon as my parents helped me get my room assignment, unload my luggage, they quickly said their good-byes, with promises of sending me a bus ticket for our Christmas break and then they were gone; before I had hardly caught my breath. I was on my own and it was “make or break” as far as I was concerned.
It did not take long to get into the rhythm of College life and before I knew it, I received a letter from my parents with a Greyhound Bus ticket to travel to Long Island for Christmas. My room-mates were very protective of their “African missionary kid” so they filled my head full of “things to avoid when travelling alone” on the Greyhound Bus. This would be my first experience taking a long trip on my own and they felt it their “Christian duty” to educate me in the ways of the world! The night before classes closed my two room-mates went over their “check list” with me and then dropped a bombshell. They asked me if I knew about “white slavery” in New York City! I had no idea what they were talking about and reminded them I had grown up under an “African rock”! Before the night was over they had given me a blow by blow description of what happens when young women are taken into white slavery. By the time I boarded the bus, I was convinced I was far safer living on a primitive Mission in the wilds of Africa than I was here in “civilized” America!
It was going to be a long overnight journey; I boarded at 5:00 PM and would not arrive at the Bus depot in New York City until noon the next day, where Dad would be waiting for me. I got myself settled in my seat just behind the driver and watched with interest the hive of activity outside the bus. A movement beside me caught my attention and I found a young, tired looking soldier starting to occupy the seat beside me.
Now what!!! My mind was whirling with questions. I thought that if I was too friendly I might give him the wrong signals but if I didn’t talk at all I would seem uncaring and rude! My room-mates had not told me that I might have a strange man sitting beside me! Looking back now I chuckle at my total innocence; and how easily, well-meaning room-mates, had actually unwittingly added to my anxiety level. Thankfully the soldier greeted me politely, made some small talk and then explained he had just come off of a rigorous training stint and was starved for sleep. Once I heard that I relaxed a bit figuring he would be harmless as long as he stayed asleep!
The Greyhound Bus soon was on the highway and the hum of the wheels had a lulling effect on most of the passengers. Darkness fell, passengers pulled out blankets and pillows and settled down to try and get some sleep before the next stop. The soldier was sound asleep and his head kept falling onto my shoulder, so I took my pillow and wedged it between my shoulder and his head – at least he would sleep comfortably!
Eventually the bus driver roused us over the intercom, announcing we were coming to our first stop and recommended we all get off, stretch our legs and get something to eat. He also told us that we were going to be driving into a serious winter snow storm which would probably delay our arrival in New York by a few hours. I was not about to move from my seat; it had become my security place but the young soldier insisted I get off and stretch my legs. He must have sensed I was scared to death and totally out of my element, so he assured me that he would stay with me inside the bus depot. Once inside he insisted on buying me a sandwich and warm bowl of soup.
Back on the bus we all trooped like a bunch of sheep and settled down for the next leg of the journey. Before too long the road conditions began to deteriorate and it was not long that we were driving into the teeth a major blizzard. The bus was crawling, cars were sliding off the road; I seriously wondered if we were going to end up stuck in a snow bank. The further we went the worse the driving conditions became, the bus driver’s disposition grew grumpier by the minute and passengers started grumbling in impatience. At this rate we were not going to be just a couple hours late but we would be fortunate if we made it at all! The long night turned into a torturous battle with the elements and the anxiety level among the passengers rose with each spin of the wheels. The tension in the bus was tangible, frustration turned to genuine fear for our safety.
This was before the “cell phone” era so I had no way of notifying my Dad that we were going to be VERY late arriving in New York City. As the morning light tried to make a dent through the driving snow we resigned ourselves to many more hours of slipping and sliding at a snail’s pace. Finally the lights of New York City became a welcoming glow on the now dark horizon. We were already 10 hours over-due! The city was grid locked by the storm; actually it was impossible to see the high rise buildings just a block away because of the ferocity of the storm. The Greyhound Bus was scheduled to stop first at the main Port Authority and then as soon as passengers for this depot had disembarked it was to go to a second Bus depot which was the one where my Dad was meeting me.
There were no parking bays for the bus to unload its passengers; the place was in an uproar. With a curse that would make a sailor blush, the driver slid to a stop and shouted over the intercom that EVERYONE had to get off at this depot. Chaos erupted as people were grabbing for their bags, complaining bitterly to the driver and generally taking out their frustrations on anyone within earshot.
I was at a loss what to do. The driver was pulling passengers’ bags out and dumping them in the deep snow; I went over and began to plead with him to help me. I explained that I did not know where the second Bus Depot was and had no idea how to get there as I was a stranger to the city. He turned and cursed at me, informing me I was on my own and that was that! He said I could try a subway train but I wasn’t getting help from him. I took exception to his use of foul language, so sharply responded that I did not even know what a subway was as I came from Africa and we did not have such things in my homeland! By now my exchange with the driver was overheard by some of the passengers. A lady passenger stepped up, got in the driver’s face and in a strong New Yorker accent asked him what kind of man he was, to be treating a young lady seeking help, in such a course manner. A hot verbal exchange ensued until the driver stormed off and disappeared into the jostling mob, trying to crowd into the depot.
I was shaking with cold and terror. I was lost in a concrete jungle and had no way of contacting my parents. I could hear the words of my room-mates echoing in my head warning about “white slavery” and figured I was a prime target!! The lady turned, grabbed my hand and said, “Come with me, I am going to help you!” Hanging tightly onto my trembling hand we slipped and slid through deep snow drifts into what was a dark alley. Now I was thoroughly convinced I was being captured for “white slavery”! My rescuer told me not to be afraid; I felt as though she was reading my very thoughts! She explained to me that she lived in the city and she knew a shortcut between the skyscrapers where she could find a Taxi Cab. True to her word we stepped out from the alley to a street lined with Yellow Cabs. She opened the door of the closest cab pushed me in first then got in beside me; instructing the Cab driver to take us to the 20th Street Bus Depot. It was slow going as the streets were clogged with snow drifts and abandoned cars but finally we arrived on the street where the 20th Street Bus Depot was. It was mobbed just like the Port Authority; the crowd was pushing, shoving and yelling as they tried to squeeze into the building. The Cab driver turned and informed me that this was as far as he was going. Instantly my rescuer told the driver he needed to be ashamed of himself ; treating the daughter of a missionary couple with no regard for my safety. She told him to take me into the bus depot and stay with me until he found my Dad. The driver protested that no New York cabby leaves his Cab unprotected as he would be asking to get robbed. The lady assured him that he could trust her and she would be waiting in his cab when he returned. Amazingly he responded, jumped out the cab, told me to hang onto his hand and not let go otherwise I would get swallowed up by the angry mob. Somehow he pushed his way through the crowd until we were inside the building. The line at the ticket counter was endless; the crowd was packed in so tightly that a lady fainted in front of us and couldn’t even crumble to the floor. The cab driver ignored the jabs and curses of the people as he forced his way to the front of the line. To this day I don’t know what he told the clerk behind the counter but immediately the loudspeaker in the building began to page “Reverend Wilson to come immediately to the ticket counter”. I scanned the faces of the crowd to no avail, just as I was about to give up hope I saw the top of a balding head that I knew only too well. In a matter of minutes the nightmare was over; I was engulfed in my father’s strong arms. Dad asked the Cab driver if he could pay him but he shook his head, smiled and said that he had an “angel in disguise” waiting in his cab and with that he melted into the crowd.
Dad had waited over 12 hours, checking each bus that arrived, to no avail; finally he realized that it would take a miracle of God putting the right people in the right places, to help him find me. He asked God for that miracle and God came through in the form of a compassionate lady and a trusting New York Cab driver.
Never be afraid to ask God for the “impossible” even when your situation looks completely beyond help as God is true to His Word. He has promised never to leave His children or forsake them. Our God is a God who specializes in the impossible!