Whether “metro surfing” in one of the world’s megacities or bumping along dirt roads, a missionary’s daily commute can look — and feel and smell — very different from typical transportation in America.
Sometimes it’s eyes squeezed shut and a prayer on your lips as your bus careens down the road. Sometimes it’s like a real-life video game, dodging obstacles on a motorbike. And sometimes it’s just a normal car ride — on the left side of the road.
Here are various ways around the world that missionaries get around.
Christian missionaries have used boats since the days of the apostle Paul. Boats remain an essential method of transportation among coastal peoples, refugees and the peoples of the Amazon and other remote regions.
In the Amazon, a missionary may journey by boat into the interior of Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. Riverboats facilitate trade and maintain communication between villages and cities. One journey can last three days; some last three weeks. Nevertheless, it “is the only mode of transportation to further the Gospel,” a missionary in Brazil said.
Elsewhere, an IMB missionary may take a 13-hour boat ride across the historic Lake Tanganyika in Africa. In Hong Kong and other parts of East Asia, ferries extend the reach of public transportation, making more destinations accessible to missionaries.
Light rail, designed to make travel within a metropolitan context more efficient, is commonplace in commutes for missionaries in the world’s megacities.
The Cairo metro system, for example, sprawls across the city, delivering an estimated 4 million passengers per day over three different lines and nearly 50 miles of train track, both above ground and below.
Metros, like Cairo’s, are usually crowded, so riding the metro can be an exercise in letting go of personal space. New urbanites often learn metro skills such as “metro surfing” — riding the sway of the metro like a surfer rides a wave. “Sometimes,” one missionary said, “I just laugh along with a complete stranger, hands stuck to our sides, since there is nowhere else to go, and ride the ebb and flow of the metro car.”
In some locations, people spend days on a train, such as this one originating at the Hua Lomphong Railway Station in Bangkok, Thailand, to reach their destination. As missionaries roll across the countryside, children play with newfound friends, people swap stories and the conductor sells ice cream.
In India, the railroad brought during British colonization remains one of the country’s most efficient modes of transportation. However, because railcars often are overfull, passengers have been hurt or even smothered.
During the rainy season in eastern Myanmar and in other countries, roads are marred by potholes and ruts, and they’re even more treacherous during monsoon season.
“Some villages are completely inaccessible for months at a time without a four-wheel-drive vehicle,” a missionary in Southeast Asia said.
Driving on the left side of the road is a new skill that missionaries must master in a number of countries. Cars are popular among the middle and upper class in South Asia. In India, it’s common for businessmen to have personal drivers to transport them to and from the office.
Many Hong Kong locals, for example, choose to use the intricate bus system, but it can be quite difficult for travelers unfamiliar with the system’s many routes.
Until recently, owning a car was too expensive for most East Asians. For the lower and middle classes, buses remain affordable and accessible. Even now, though the middle class has begun to buy cars, existing infrastructure does not allow for the increase in traffic.
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Source: Baptist Press