Monday, August 29, 2011

Catching a Unicorn

I have caught a unicorn.  For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, you didn't read my last blog (GASP!).  Allow me to summarize:

I wrote last time that I was having a difficult time finding a good reliable vehicle at a good price, just something that would allow us to get around a bit easier, especially getting the kids to and from school.  I likened my search for a good cheap vehicle to catching a unicorn - not the easiest thing in the world to do.

I wrote that post on Thursday evening of last week (although due to our semi-reliable internet, it was not posted until Friday morning, or Thursday evening for our friends back in North America).  On Friday I caught my unicorn.  Today I got it to my house.

Here is a picture:

I know, I know.  You are saying to yourself, "Doesn't look much like a unicorn to me."
Perhaps this will help:

I know it doesn't look like much on the outside.  But look at the interior:
I mean, who would not want to ride in luxury like that?  And the yellow dashboard - yeah, it's painted.  It even came with the Bow Wow steering wheel cover - no extra cost!  Plastic zip-ties to attach it to the steering wheel!

Now that I look at it, maybe this isn't a unicorn that I caught.  I think it may be more like an old tired donkey with an ice cream cone taped to its head.

Okay, all joking aside, let me explain what this is, because there is nothing like it in Canada.  This is a Suzuki van-type multicab. There are literally thousands of these vehicles of different styles on the streets of Davao.  In fact, it is usually vehicle like this that are used for the public transportation system (not this style though).  Multicabs come is several styles, including the van-type like ours, passenger types, and truck types (Google "Suzuki Multicabs" to see images of various styles).  These are all surplus vehicles which start their life in other Asian countries.  They are then disassembled and imported as parts into the Philippines, where they are reassembled into the complete vehicles.

Why something like this?  A couple of reasons.  First, they are very inexpensive (compared to other vehicles here). A brand new (?) imported reassembled surplus one like what we have is around 200,000 pesos, or about $4500 Canadian.  A used (pre-owned?) one can be found for quite a bit less, around 120,000 to 160,000 pesos ($2700-$3600).  About the cheapest vehicle you will find here that actually runs.

Second, because there are millions of them around, parts are readily available and very inexpensive, and repairs are cheap too.  These are not complicated vehicles and do not require cutting-edge mechanical techniques and training to fix them.

Third, they are extremely good on gas.  They use hardly any gas to drive around.  That is because they have a tiny little engine in them.  Typical in North America is a 2 liter engine in an economy type car.  These have a 600 cc engine, or 0.6 liter.  Any of those cars being advertised as having amazing fuel economy should watch out for these!  Of course the drawback is a definite lack of power.  I am used to stepping on the gas pedal and accelerating fairly quickly.  Yeah, not with this!  Thankfully, traffic doesn't seem to move very fast here anyways.

It was a pretty logical choice, considering our needs and our budget.

Now I know that this is already a long blog post, so I understand if you are starting to lose interest, maybe have begun daydreaming about sitting on a tropical beach somewhere, sipping a cold drink.  Well, I still have lots to say, so feel free to take a break from reading this.  Please come back though, because the rest of the story is pretty cool.

Oh, you're back?  Okay, I will continue.

The really cool thing about this van is not the van itself.  The thing that is really cool is how I have seen God's hand in us getting this van.  It's a bit of a long story so I will try to keep it fairly short.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I had been looking for a vehicle for a few weeks.  I was lots of different ones, some that I liked but could not afford, others that I could afford that were practically falling apart just from me looking at them.  It was very difficult to find something decent for a good price.

I was quite frustrated and was becoming angry with being forced to rely on public transportation and walking.  I spent several days going all over the place, looking at cars, test driving cars, each time walking away disappointed with what I saw.  This reached its peak on Thursday, where I spent several hours in the morning in taxis and jeepneys, going to several different places to look at cars.  By the afternoon I was done.  I was exhausted and mad and I just wanted to have a vehicle appear out of nowhere.  I prayed that God would bring about one of those divine appointments that you hear about but seldom actually experience.  I wanted Him to do the work instead of me (as if He hadn't been working the whole time!  I was pretty precocious to even suggest such a thing to God!).

Well, He answered.  As I was walking around, feeling sorry for myself, I received a text from a couple I had contacted previously about a car for sale.  I had been that morning to their used car dealership, but had not found what I was looking for.  I didn't actually meet the owners of the business, whom I had been texting with.  So I was a bit surprised to get this text from them.  I was even more surprised by the content.  They had heard form their sales person that we are here as missionaries and they were interested to know what church we were with.  I responded, telling them the organization we are with here, as well as our background with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  Turns out that they are attending a Filipino Alliance Church!

Over the course of several more text messages I explained what we were here for, as well as the kind of vehicle we were hoping to find.  I thought that was the end of it.

That evening I received another text from them, asking if we would like an automatic car.  I hadn't mentioned this to them at all.  I figured that an automatic would be nice, since Kerri does not drive a standard.  We just figured that she would have to learn here, since pretty much every vehicle here is a standard.

A couple hours later I received another text from them, telling me that they had a Suzuki van with an automatic transmission, and the price was right around where we wanted it to be (again, not a detail I had mentioned to them).  We agreed to meet the next morning (Friday) to see it.

Friday morning I got up and took the kids to school, then went and swam some lengths in the local pool.  I went home and did a few things, then received a text asking me to meet them just after lunch.  I made my way to where the van was, and took it for a drive.  As it turns out, this particular van is one of very few multicabs in the Philippines with an automatic transmission, quite possibly the only one in Davao City.  It also turns out that the guy selling the van owns an auto parts store, and has kept this van in quite good mechanical shape. There were just a few minor fixes that needed to be done, and he was willing to be flexible on the price.

In the end, I put down a deposit on it that day.

The amazing thing about the whole experience?  There is no possible way that I would have found this vehicle to buy if God had not been directing things.  It started with me finding an online posting for a car for sale, which led me to a used car lot across the city, which allowed me to meet a sales person, who then passed on the information about us being missionaries to the owners, who expressed interest in what we are doing, who knew someone who knew someone who had a van like we were hoping to get, who was wanting to sell that van.  In the end, the chain goes something like this:

Me (looking for van) - Jonald & Janelle (own the used car lot) - Alex (a friend of J & J) - William (a friend of Alex, selling the van) - another lady that I have forgotten the name of (the owner of the van)

There is no way that I could have made that happen.  I asked God for a divine appointment.  He delivered.

Another big thing that I learned was the importance of prayer support from all of you.  I searched and prayed and prayed and searched for several weeks before I finally asked for prayer from anyone else.  It was not until I wrote a blog about my search for a car that things came together.  While God had put things in motion prior to that, it was not until afterwards that everything fell into place.  Is there a connection there?  I think so.

I guess I need to rely more on God and also on those of you.  So to that end, I will try to post not only stories and pictures of life here, but also things we can use prayer for.

So that's kind of the end of the story, except that the process of going to pick up the van was kind of a mess.  I forgot that today was a holiday in the Philippines, and that the banks would be closed.  So when I went to get money out to pay the rest of the balance for the van, I couldn't get it all.  The money was there, sitting in an account, all I needed was to go in and get it, but there was no one there to give it to me!

So J & J and Alex ended up driving me around, searching for bank machines, out of which I was able to withdraw a bit more than half of what I needed (on several cards through several accounts), but I could not get any more due to daily withdrawal limits.  Frustrating!

They then went and talked to the owner of the van, explained the situation, and convinced her that I was not going to run off with the van and not pay the rest.  In the end I drove away with the van but the owner held on to the papers needed to register it in my name.  I pay the rest I get those papers.  Seems fair.

So we now have a van.  It runs.  It isn't much to look at, but it should get us around alright.  Please pray that it is reliable for us, and for our safety as we learn to drive Filipino style (a whole different set of traffic rules which I will explain another time.  I think I've already pushed the limits of your patience with this one!).

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