When the Matatu Flips
Jesus didn’t leave kingdom work up to chance—He left it up to us to join Him in what He’s doing at any given moment. And sometimes, responding to His call means moving beyond what’s comfortable.
by Palmer Chinchen
I don’t want to miss my flight. If I’m honest, that was my very first thought when I watched the crammed matatu—Swahili for “minibus”—get hit by a van, flip, and roll onto its roof.
I was trying to get out of Nairobi for good reason: riots were on the verge of breaking out after political unrest had reached a tipping point, and for the first time in decades, Kenya had become a place of violence.
I couldn’t wait to be safe on my plane headed home for Arizona. I’d already missed my wedding anniversary, my son’s birthday, and a large church event.
Others will stop and help, I thought. You don’t need to get involved.
But suddenly the Holy Spirit brought me back to a memory from high school. As a missionary kid in Liberia, I went to a boarding school. One night, our dorm parent was driving us students to our weekly Bible study, when we all watched a taxi swerve off the road, crash into a steel telephone pole, and flip over onto its roof.
“Stop the van!” I screamed. But Mike kept driving, not even turning his head. Soon we were all yelling at him, confused and scared. “Didn’t you see the accident? We have to go back! What if there are survivors?”
We were only kids, and I didn’t know how we’d have been able to help. Mike, on the other hand, had been a paramedic back in the States. But he never stopped. Finally, once we were well past the accident, he told us matter-of-factly, “I didn’t stop because I’d have had to give someone CPR—and tonight I don’t feel like giving anyone mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”
I was stunned. And that night, I made a pivotal promise to myself: I will live differently.
Yet here I was, over 20 years later, thinking along the same lines as the man I vowed never to be.
Don’t just stand there.
Sociologists call it the “phenomenon of noninvolvement.” Researchers have found that bystanders often have a tendency not to respond to someone in dire need. Sometimes it’s out of fear; sometimes they’re worried about personal risk; but often, people do nothing because they assume it’s somebody else’s problem. They think, If others aren’t doing anything, I guess I don’t need to act.
Jesus was irritated when He saw religious folks ignore hurting people. So He told a story about a man who was beaten down and left on the roadside to die (Luke 10:25-37). All the people who passed him couldn’t be bothered to stop. They were so self-indulgent in their own spirituality, comfort, and reputation that they became blind to what was right in front of them.
Sadly, it’s easy for us Christians to become just like the priest and the Levite on our way to church, rationalizing our inaction with spiritual words and not wanting to be late or get our clothes dirty. Too often we think that the elements of our lifestyle or the choices we’ve placed in neat little compartments don’t affect the bigger story of our lives. But they do matter, because the way you live every day is a picture of your soul.
It’s time to live differently.
What you do matters.
When I saw the matatu flip and thought first about how much I wanted to catch my plane, I had to remind myself, Palmer, you keep telling people that what they do matters!
In a split-second decision, I yelled to the taxi driver, “Stop!”
We ran over to the crumpled van and leaned in through the broken windows to ease people over the shattered glass. Others soon came to help, and within a few minutes all the passengers were out. Just when I started to think, Bravo, Palmer—see, good thing you stopped, the man with me shouted, “They’re trying to kill the other driver!” I spun around to see an angry mob stoning and beating the person who had hit the matatu.
In times such as these, we might think someone else will take action, but Christ left His work of the kingdom to you and to me.
That’s the language His brother James used when he wrote about the compelling action-component of the Christian life: “I will show you my faith by my actions” (James 2:18 ISV). And: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27 NLT).
If that’s a fundamental part of what it means to truly follow Christ, then we must move beyond the ideal of a comfortable, self-focused life and answer the call to be an advocate for those who don’t have one.
Photo courtesy of
Josh Hailey : Mellowtown
The driver who’d caused the accident was getting kicked and punched by an angry mob. My driver—also a Christian—shouted at the crowd, “Stop!” We forced our way toward the man on the ground. I dropped to my hands and knees over the man’s head, thinking, At least they’ll have to hit me first.
“He’s a fool who deserves punishment! Get out of the way—we want to kill him!” some of the young men shouted in my direction.
“No, you will not,” my driver said with a resolute firmness.
I looked around at the angry faces. “Nobody’s going to die here today.”
As the mob slowly dropped their stones and backed away, we helped the beaten man sit up, then pulled him to his feet and brought him to the back of his van where we sat until the crowd was gone.
I’m no hero. I’ve simply come to realize the Lord has called me to live the way that I tell others He told us to live: as if our lives matter. Everything you do matters. If you wait and don’t act, thinking that it’s not your problem or you just don’t have time, the man on the side of the road will die.
But if you’re willing, God can use your life to change what’s messed up in our world, and to bring hope and healing to the needy person He places on your path.
We all have the choice of leading one of two lives. There’s the safe one of the everyday that could unintentionally become a simple matter of repetition, a way of living that would leave you in a passionless rut. It’s all too easy to get caught up in myriad self-focused distractions, assuming there will eventually be time to make a difference for others, someday. But then there’s the life you might only dream of living, where what you do truly matters.
That’s the second life, a life of significance that impacts people—a life that you give away for God’s beautiful purposes. For many, it’s the life-unlived.
But we have only to be willing to lay our comfortable routines on the altar. By doing so, we’ll discover the fullness of life Christ meant for us to experience as His servants in this world.
Palmer Chinchen is the author of True Religion and God Can’t Sleep.