Public transportation is the best way of getting around in this massive, sprawling city since cars choke the expressways at all hours of the day and night.
The subway system is modern, clean and efficient; we use it every time we can. Busses are convenient and comfortable. Ferries churn back and forth on the sparkling sea, offering fast access and breathtaking scenery to locations in and around the city. People also walk everywhere. There’s rarely a time when the streets aren’t packed with students going to school, workers hurrying to their jobs, wives shopping for their families, or seniors meandering from one tea shop to another.
But the best known–if not best loved–way of getting from one place to another is the minibus, an extended van-like vehicle that’s almost as common on the streets as people. You see the distinctive blue vehicles everywhere.
They’re designed to hold about 10-15 riders but almost always are packed with more. At rush hour, in fact, they feel like one of those Indian trains you see pictures of, with people crammed inside, outside, and dangling from windows like too many sardines in a can. That’s what led us yesterday to coin the phrase, “Death by Minibus.”
We somehow survived our trip and managed to get to a park in the middle of town. Our team then broke into several smaller groups, each one accompanied by partners from the region. Our purpose was to find likely people to talk with in the park. My group soon came across three young Syrian men, refugees, who were friendly, engaging and happy to spend a couple of hours drinking tea with us.
I should mention that my group consisted, first, of a Syrian believer washed up on the shores of this great city by the storms of war across the Middle East–like hundreds of thousands of others. His heartbeat is to save as many of his people as he can. The second member of my group was a Latin American brother who works in a closed, Middle Eastern country and is as much a passionate follower of Jesus as the Syrian. A displaced Arab, a Hispanic far from home and a Southern American, all somehow bound together by a common faith and passion. Only in the Kingdom, I thought. The unity of the Church is so much deeper than we realize, and our mission is so much greater than we imagine.
Anyway, the three of us found the three young Syrian men in the park, and the more we talked with them the more they revealed the desperation and fear that they lived with every moment. They had refused to join the radical military movement in their homeland that’s so much in the news and so were penniless. Their poverty fed their hopelessness. We tried to offer them the hope of the gospel then connected them with some possible sources of material aid. I felt compelled to pray a blessing over each one before we left, and they received it with surprising humility and grace.
Heading out to a gathering of believers now. Praying for my family of faith back in the states as they worship today.