This story is based on real events that happened in July 2012 in Argentina. Real names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
Bus ministry. What do you think about when you read those two words? I think about sticky seats and tired bus drivers. Permission slips and liabilities. Unending camp trips with endless camp songs. But 10-year-old Julie hears those words and smiles.
For the last six months, Julie, Jayla, and Jessica have faithfully ridden the church bus, despite the fact that their parents do not attend church. At first, church simply represented getting candy and playing with other children. Five-year-old Jessica is rarely included in school playground games because of her developmental problems.
But when the pastor's wife handed her a tambourine, Jessica felt she was part of the worship band. Jayla became a solid addition to the teen group because of her sweet personality. Then there was Julie. Week after week, Julie listened attentively to the salvation story in Sunday School where she first learned that God wants to save her.
One morning, as Julie walked to school, a white and yellow utility truck stopped in front of her. A large man jumped out. She noticed him walking towards her but she thought, "I am safe because there's a lady looking at me on that corner, and she won't let anything happen to me."
But when the man reached her, he covered her mouth and threw her into the back of the truck, closing the door behind them. In shock, she was slammed against a bruised and tied-up little girl who was crying in fear and desperation.
Julie's captor bent her thumbs back painfully and tied her hands in the same manner as the younger girl. Julie wondered, "Why doesn't that woman outside scream? She saw him grab me — why doesn't she do anything?" Once he had finished tying her, the kidnapper jumped out and closed the door. As the front passenger door slammed shut, Julie realized that there were two assailants. The driver hit the gas and sped away.
Julie looked at the little girl and felt immediate peace. She knew God was with them.
As the van sped off, she remembered her Karate lessons and the way the teacher had showed her how to untie herself. The position of her thumbs made the struggle painful, but she had heard that other kidnapped children had never been found, so she determined this was her only chance of freedom. As soon as she finished untying her own hands, she untied the scared little six-year-old beside her. Both of them huddled together, but Julie remained aware of her surroundings, just like her Karate teacher had taught her.
Suddenly the truck lurched sideways, followed by a loud crash. The back door swung open and Julie did not hesitate. She grabbed the little girl and jumped out of the back door. A two-car collision at an intersection had sent the kidnapper's truck careening to a lopsided halt.
The girls ran as fast as they could while the truck maneuvered to escape the crash site and chase them. They climbed over a wall topped with barbed wire and ran through the alleys until the younger girl recognized her home. Julie left her and then ran to her home.
As she tore through her own front door, her focus shattered into tears and trembling. She sobbed her story to her mother and finally said, "I want to go to church and tell them what happened. I know God saved us!" Her Sunday School teacher visited and Julie's mother wept on her shoulder as they recounted God's miraculous protection over Julie's life.
Police reports have been filed, and the white and yellow truck has been spotted in the vicinity of several reported kidnappings. One young woman, who disappeared the same day of Julie's escape, has not yet been found.
This incident has marked Julie. She is afraid to go to school and to walk outside. The only place she feels safe is on the church bus because her leaders are sitting next to her the whole way. She deeply believes God sent her to save that other little girl and that he sent a car to crash into the truck. So, even though her innocent view of the world is shattered, her childlike faith has only grown deeper. She believes she is called to do great things.
As I now attempt to redefine the words "bus ministry," I think about Julie, salvation, and captivity. I wonder how many lives Julie will touch one day. I imagine her as a Sunday School teacher. How many will she untie from bondage? How many more will she set free?
Julie's bravery reminds me that we also have been called to set others free.
Robin Radi is a missionary in the Church of the Nazarene. She lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with her husband, Carlos, and their three daughters.
Holiness Today, September/October 2012
Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.