Smile and the Stranger

Robert Campbell

December 1st, 2017 @ 10:35 am

Smoke poured out of our truck’s air vents. If it’s going to die, may it die after we get to Stung Treng, I silently prayed.

“Let’s take a break,” I announced as the smoke became too much to bear. I stopped the truck, and everyone climbed out except me. Why was God allowing this to happen? We had only just arrived in Cambodia, and our truck was dying.

A few minutes later, everyone climbed back in. I turned the key, but the truck refused to start. “Well, we can push it,” I smiled at Jephthae, the joke thinly masking my frustration. We prayed, petitioning God for help. I called a friend, and he gave me the name of a man I’ll call Smile and arranged for him to meet us.

About 15 minutes later, a middle-aged man pedaled up on a bicycle and stopped at my window. “Hi! Thanks so much for coming,” I said. “We need to get to Stung Treng. Can you help?”

The man went to the front of the truck and looked under the hood. I tried again to start the engine, but without success. The man was lost in thought for a few moments, weighing the options. Then an idea came to him. “I will go and get someone to tow your truck to town,” he said, and then he pedaled off.

He returned about 10 minutes later. “Help is coming,” he reassured me.

I watched expectantly as a truck came up the road behind us, but it drove on past. Then came another, but it didn’t stop either. I didn’t know what to think, but I trusted our new friend.

Then two tok toks or “Vietnamese cows” came puttering slowly up the road. I grinned at Jephthae, and she began to laugh. Looking a bit like large walk-behind rototillers, these versatile and surprisingly powerful two-wheeled tractors are ubiquitous in Southeast Asia.

The first tok tok passed us and kept going, but the second pulled over in front of us. Two teenage boys were perched on the machine, both beaming, clearly elated at the opportunity to help.

We completed the rest of our journey to Stung Treng towed along at a leisurely 6 miles per hour. No more choking smoke. Smiles abounded. The trip was much more relaxing.

As we were cruising along, I got a bizarre text message. Smile, the man we were supposed to meet, had taken the wrong bridge. So who was this man on the bicycle, pedaling along behind us?! A few minutes later, a young man pulled up on a motorbike, and we stopped. It was Smile! We swapped numbers, and then we thanked him, though we no longer needed his services.

We chugged into Stung Treng soon after sunset. We gratefully thanked our rescuers and gave them some money, which they accepted hesitantly. Who was this mysterious man on the bicycle, who turned out not to be Smile? Whoever he was, God had sent him to us in our moment of need.

In the months since then, we have grown close to Smile, an enthusiastic young man who attends a nearby nursing college. He has been a blessing to us and has helped me greatly. I have not seen our bicycling benefactor since that day, but I hope someday to sit together with him and Smile at Jesus’ feet in our heavenly home.