This morning, I had asked Paul to pick us up at 08:00 for the trip to La Mé for our service. I expected him a little before 09:00 which was the time I really wanted to start, and that’s the way things usually work. I was about to head down to breakfast at 7:45 when Paul called to say he had already arrived. Well that changed out schedule! I called Lee and asked him to meet us for breakfast and then went down to welcome Paul and invite him to breakfast too. We ate fairly quickly from the buffet, and then I went up to gather my things for the day.
I had my daypack and the little suitcase full of glasses and literature and called the elevator to the 6th floor. Only one of the two elevators was working, so the wait was fairly long. In fact on the 6th floor, only the up button would work, not the down button, which created some confusion and delay. In any event, by the time we reached the ground floor, the little elevator contained six people, three women and three men, several of whom were were plus sizes, which meant we were really tightly packed. There was no way not to be in physical contact with at least two other people. This would take on a certain importance in the next minutes.
When we reached the ground, the elevator lurched and bumped hard.
The door did not open.
I tried pulling the doors open with both hands. I could not. So I pushed the alarm button. Several people whom we could not see of course, only hear, came to the door, we shouted back and forth about what was happening. A man said he would call the technician. A woman in the elevator panicked and said we were going to die. We tried to reassure her that we were in no imminent danger. “We’re going to suffocate”, she wailed. Again we tried to calm here, explaining that the elevator was not hermetically sealed.
Then the lights went out.
So, we were six people, tightly packed in a small elevator, with no ventilation and now, no lights. One woman was very nervous, another was panicking. I pulled the doors open about an inch, and someone outside wedged a plastic cone in the door to keep it open that much. The panicky woman pushed her way past a man across the elevator, so she could be by the opening. She did not ask, or say excuse me; this was primal.
Since the elevator was not air conditioned, in fact there was no ventilation at all, we quickly began perspiring. One of the men offered a bit of information, I wished I’d had earlier. He said “the very same thing happened yesterday….” Wait, what? Why was the elevator not fixed already?
The anxious lady had the phone number of the owner of the company that maintained the elevator, she called him. Other fellow detainees yelled to the outside world to call the fire department. I asked for the general manager to come to the elevator, but as it was the weekend, the general manager was not there, and other managers were busy at the moment....
We waited and sweated in the dark, light coming from the inch-wide crack in the door and from our cell phones.
I received a text from Lee, stating that he would wait for me in the car. I texted back to explain my predicament. He came back in and stood by the door.
10 minutes passed.
Where was the technician? The panicky woman decided she needed to sit down. This packed the standing ones even more tightly. My shirt was soaked as if it had been dipped in a basin full of water.
A technician arrived (it’s the weekend….).
He said, “We are going to haul you up to the 2nd floor and let you out there, but I will have to close the doors to do that.” How would they haul us up without electricity? The panicky woman exclaimed that we would die of suffocation if they closed the doors. He explained, and others of us agreed that the elevator is not sealed. “But” she said, “there is no ventilation and we are six, who knows for sure what will happen?” She had a point, but we did our best to reassure her. I couldn’t think of anything else to do but pray. The cone was pulled out and the doors closed.
For a minute or two nothing happened. We waited in the heavy darkness. Then the car lurched and seemed to rise in fits and starts. We waited in anticipation. Finally the doors began creaking open. We were actually below ground level by six inches. When the open space between the doors reached the width of a hefty person, the panicky woman left us like a lightning bolt and did not look back. I let the others go before me, in part because they were pushing to do so, but also because I wanted to observe to make sure the elevator would not suddenly come back to life and cause bodily injury to someone in the opening. I’m attached to all my limbs, and wish to stay that way.
We walked out the door of the hotel into the muggy heat of the African tropics and to our car. Among the longest 45 minutes of my life had finally come to an end.
I asked the driver to turn up the air-con as we drove away from the Ibis and toward the village of La Mé about an hour distant. The road is very much better than it was when I first traveled here. The areas of washed-out pavement have been shored up and repaired. The place where the toxic chemicals were dumped by unscrupulous European ship operators has been cleansed and secured. The passes of bamboo that blocked the sky and threated to choke the road have been thinned. Finally we passed the scrubby fields where I had baptized the first Church members in the country; the stream was so shallow that we had to borrow a shovel to dug a hole in the stream bed deep enough to allow a person to submerge completely. So many memories here. Some of triumph, some of sadness, some of betrayal. This life.
We pulled into the area of La Mé where our little group meets. I had left some funds last visit to improve the little shelter. But prices had risen and the structure was not complete. There is now a sturdy corrugated tin roof, supported by concrete based pillars, but no walls. It was enough for a meeting.
Afterwards, some of the ladies when to get the meal and prepare to serve it. During that time we had a few private counseling sessions with three members. One was of the kind I really like, but that rarely happen. A hard-working mother who had asked for some financial assistance to buy a small field to cultivate. She came to thank the Church for the help and to report that she had planted the field herself and that it looked to produce a fine crop. She said she would certainly give God His tithe and that she just wanted to express her thanks once again.
Two men new to the church arrived after the service was over. One of them was very interested in the teaching of the Bible. His younger brother came with him but announced that he was an unbeliever. The older brother asked about the Sabbath as opposed to Sunday worship. I had brought some booklets with me and among them was one about the God’s gift to us of the Sabbath day of rest. I also gave him a copy of The Mystery of the Kingdom. He was very happy to receive them. After the brash younger brother looked through them out of curiosity, he asked if he could have a copy of the booklet about the Kingdom of God. I teased him a little saying that it would be wasted him since we was an unbeliever. He replied that maybe the booklet would make him a believer. I told him he could have one if he kept an open mind, and he said he would.
About the time we finished all this, it started raining lightly before turning into a downpour. I knew this would slow traffic down drastically in Abidjan, so about 3:00 when the rain relented, we made a run for the car and started the trip back, which took about half an hour longer than usual.