Whether “metro surfing” in one of the world’s megacities or bumping along dirt roads, a missionary’s daily commute can look (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 ten ways missionaries get around, around the world.
In the Amazon, 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,” said a missionary in Brazil.
These passengers board a ferry in East Asia. In many places, ferries extend the reach of public transportation, making more destinations accessible to missionaries who don’t own boats.
Light rail is commonplace in commutes for missionaries in the world’s megacities. Metros such as the one above in Vienna were designed to make travel within a metropolitan context more efficient.
Metros, like this one in Egypt, 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 the train to reach their destination. As missionaries roll across the countryside, children play with newfound friends, people swap stories, and the conductor sells ice cream.
Brought during British colonization, the railroad is one of India’s most efficient modes of transportation. However, because railcars are often overfull, passengers have been hurt or even smothered.
Cars are popular among the middle and upper class in South Asia. Here, this man drives on the left side of the road—a new skill that some missionaries must master.
In Malaysia, 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,” said a missionary in Southeast Asia.
Until recently, owning a car was too expensive for most East Asians. For the lower and middle classes, buses are affordable and accessible. Even now, though the middle class has begun to buy cars, existing infrastructure does not allow for the increase in traffic.
In Kenya, matatus are brightly colored buses or vans operated by private owners, or saccos. The price is fixed, so saccos advertise their rides with unique decorations. A missionary in Kenya once saw a matatu with John Elway’s picture on the wall—a tribute to the 1980’s Denver Broncos. A wild matatu ride is “definitely a cultural experience,” he said.
In Ghana, twelve- to twenty-four passenger vans are called trotros. These long bus rides in close quarters, a missionary in West Africa explained, can be great times for sharing the gospel.
Passengers perch on a truck in Sub-Saharan Africa (above) or lounge, rumbling down a North African road (below). Some missionaries serve where seatbelts are only a formality, and riding in the back of a truck with fourteen of your closest friends is an acceptable mode of transportation.
Motorbikes are a versatile and inexpensive means of transportation. According to a worker in South Asia, motorbike drivers “go anywhere on the road they want: sidewalks, ditches, in between cars.”
A worker in Southeast Asia confessed, “Seeing multiple people on a scooter at once always makes me smile. Although, [the bikes] are very dangerous. You learn to pray a lot when you drive in Asia.”
Driving a motorbike involves interacting with an ever-changing flow of traffic. One missionary recalls driving on a one-way street when another motorbike carrying fresh poultry came from the opposite direction, causing a crash and hurling thirty dead chickens into the air.
Missionaries often have the opportunity to learn to balance groceries and/or kids as they ride through some of the foremost biking cities in the world.
Europeans see biking as a way to be environmentally conscious, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to save money. Missionaries in Europe say that as a result of biking, they’ve had conversations with other cyclists, and “there has almost always been a chance to talk about our faith.”
While this rickshaw seems to have been designed for children, it’s simply a tricycle made to carry passengers of any age. One missionary recalls the day he tested out the quality of seat padding in several rickshaws. Within no time, all of the rickshaw drivers were trying to convince him that their rickshaw had the best seat padding.
Rickshaws, which are called “autos” in South Asia, are motorbikes within a metal shell. Autos are the taxis of South Asia, and missionaries have found that while auto drivers wait for customers, they’re often open to conversation.
Some missionaries work with peoples who use more lively (and ornery) forms of transport, like donkeys or camels. Camels were created to survive with little water and food, making them a great choice in rugged, dry terrain, even if they do spit sometimes.
Donkey carts, like this one in Central Asia, can still be found in the villages of Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and Europe.
Donkey carts can roll along dirt roads riddled with ruts. “It’s not very comfy riding in the cart,” a missionary admitted, “but that’s probably due to the poor engineering of the cart, not the donkey’s fault.”
All of us encounter people in our daily routines, whether we travel in first class or on camelback. We see that Jesus also met people along the road: his disciples on the way to Emmaus, the Samaritan woman, and the apostle Paul. May we pray expectantly that God will place people in the seat next to us, so that they, too, will encounter Jesus along the road.
“Whenever I have prayed that prayer honestly in South Asia or elsewhere,” a missionary said, “I cannot think of a time when it was not answered.”
Lucy Campbell is a Journeyman serving in Eastern Europe. Some of her favorite memories on the field have been trying out new forms of transportation.