No van for you.

I made the reservation in March. I had someone call the week before to confirm the reservation. Which they did.

And yet at the end of June, just five days before our youth group was schedule to leave on their mission trip, a gravely female voice from the rental company informed me, “We won’t have a van for you.”

“What do you mean? We have a reservation. We made the reservation months ago and you said we were all set.”

“All I know is that we won’t have a van.”

Great. The kids have been planning and saving up money for this trip for six months. And that is the best you can do for me? It’s not like, “OK, I’ll just try someone else.” There aren’t many places where you can rent a fifteen passenger van. And not at the peak of mission trip season. I know, the thirteen of scripture – Jesus and twelve disciples – got to their mission sites on foot. But our eleven kids and two leaders had to get from Palm Coast, FL to Chattanooga, TN. It was this Seinfeld episode in real life!

We had this problem five years ago. The same company claimed to not even have our reservation a week before departure. I had to shake the bushes to come up with a member’s minivan and another’s pickup truck. I swore I would never use this company again. Yet, I gave them another chance. And now I had to live with that decision.

My office manager got on the phone and you know what? Within half-an-hour, she had located a fifteen person van from another company. The words, “What are we going to do now, Lord” were barely out of our mouths. The pickup arrangements were more complicated, but we could have it in time for the kid’s trip.

As you can tell, though, the story isn’t over. I took one of our leaders down to a little airport where the van had been left on the top deck of a parking garage. When we drove through the airport, that garage was full and the ramp closed. So I dropped him, he scrambled up the stains, found the key lock box and was soon on his way with a van. It was Saturday, less than a day before the group’s scheduled departure. Yes. Thank you, Lord.

A few hours later, I got a call. “There’s only room for eleven people in the van.” “What? It’s a fifteen person van.” “Yes, but the back seat isn’t in it.” Great. I got on the phone and called the number they gave me for questions. The person fielding questions knew how to prep a van for rental, but not much more. “Uh, can you bring it by tomorrow?” “No. The group is leaving first thing in the morning tomorrow.”

Deep breath. I need two more spaces. One of the leaders drive? No, that won’t work. Have one of the youth drive? That doesn’t sound legit. But one of them is over eighteen, has his own car… That was our eventual solution. He would drive himself and take a friend who’s mom said could ride along. They made it there safely and back, and faithfully served that community with other churches and youth.

One of the top three principles I had learned on mission trips to third-world countries is “be flexible.” Much of a trip won’t go according to plan. Times, people, places and equipment will be different than you expect. You better pray that God pours out that spiritual gift on your group, because you’re going to need it!

I won’t throw these van companies under the bus in this piece. There’s only two in Jacksonville, FL. You can figure out who they are.

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