A Sideswipe, Some Seeds and the Sovereign Hand of God

I want to share a bit more about our recent experience with the car “accident.” As a fellow blogger currently writing from here in Mexico likes to say…”to make a long story boring” and indeed I may be about to do that very thing. But what’s important for me to convey is that truly there are no mistakes in anything that God in His sovereign wisdom has ordained to happen in our lives from moment to moment.

A fellow missionary here recently shared a humorous line that a friend of his likes to repeat, “As luck would have it, God is still sovereign!” The wry paradox of our perspective and words versus the truth of God’s position, purpose and place in our lives and throughout the universe and ultimately in His very presence on the throne stand in stark contrast to each other at times.

I suppose this story doesn’t merit writing a book (hence this is the subtle hint that I am about to write one), but I would like to honor God in sharing some of the details of this comparatively trivial event and to perhaps demonstrate that if a single sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground outside of the watchful and purposeful eye of God, then neither do any of the circumstances of our lives either. He is much more concerned with each of His children than with a common bird…and even the common bird does not escape his notice and care.

Read on at your own risk of taking a few extra minutes of your time and hopefully of receiving some blessing from doing so. I should honestly point out that you might not find that blessing but I’ll give it a shot.

Last Thursday, the CAM missionaries who were each in charge of some important detail of our annual family field conference arrived at the hotel resort near Cordoba, Mexico (in the state of Veracruz). While our meals were all included during the conference that began Friday evening, those of us arriving before and/or staying after Conference were on our own to feed our families until the program began and/or likewise afterward. Friday morning Cameron and I decided to join a couple of other families at a McDonald’s a couple miles away for a quick and easy meal.

Upon leaving I decided to follow another missionary (Bryan Smith) back to the SAM’s Club for some ink pens to put into the conference registration packets and then head back to the hotel. I’ll spare you one or two of the excruciating details but a few moments after leaving the McDonald’s and subsequently having entered the four-lane street, another vehicle made an improper lane change and smacked my vehicle from the driver’s door all the way back to the bumper. The hit was relatively slight but the damage was measurable. It was obvious that no one was injured, so I hopped out and inquired if the other driver had insurance. She did not. I told her that this was too bad and went back to my car not really sure what I should do.

With traffic building up and horns throbbing vigorously behind us on this main artery through town, I waited for the light to change and pulled ahead and parked in front of Bryan’s vehicle. Praise God he heard the collision, and in his mirror he partly saw the spray of debris and so hadn’t continued on without me. I expected to find that the other driver had simply fled the scene but to my surprise, she also pulled into a spot and parked in order to deal with the situation.

I supposed that she might try to blame me and being the gringo and not the local, I was wondering if I was about to get the “gringo is always at fault” rule applied to me.

Amusingly, her first comment was that her turn signal was on and so it wasn’t her fault. Bryan and I did squelch some chuckles and reminded her that a turn signal doesn’t give one the right to run into another vehicle that has the right-of-way!

I’ve noticed in Mexico that a lot of people must actually think this is true since they drive around with a turn signal always blinking. This would also explain why a high percentage of vehicles on the roads in Mexico have damage on them. I suppose the key Mexico lesson learned here is to stay away from any vehicle that has a blinker running.

She also mentioned her husband was on his way so this provided me with some imaginations about what to expect next. How nice would he be about all of this? Will he be the typical “hot-head” who is ready to explode either at his wife or at me?

The biggest question at this point was to decide whether we should involve the traffic police. In the U.S. this would be a normal thing to do and one would be wise to do so. However, this is not the U.S. and things don’t work the same when it comes to involving the police. I was hoping to keep the police out of the situation and for any number of reasons the other folks clearly didn’t want to involve the traffic police either.

Also, when it came to considering whether to call the traffic police, I was acutely cognizant of the experience of fellow CAMEXer Tim Blycker who had a fender bender about 11 weeks ago in Puebla. In his case, the traffic police were called and while the accident was clearly the other driver’s fault, the police impounded both vehicles until the fault could be officially determined. To this date his vehicle is still impounded as no fault has been determined. It is clear they aren’t “playing by the rules.” Not calling the “transito” turned out to be a very wise decision and leaving that option “open” probably helped out in the end.

Next, I decided I should contact my Mexican auto insurance company and this also turned out to be a very wise decision. However, the insurance involvement hinged on a series of mishaps and mistakes that all turned out for my benefit!

At this point a seemingly unrelated event from several months ago came into the picture. CAM missionaries in Mexico receive our U.S. mail that arrives at the CAM Center in Dallas via a bi-monthly UPS shipment. Back in September a couple weeks after I renewed my annual Mexican auto policy with an agency in McAllen, TX, there was a UPS mail packet that didn’t arrive.

Mercifully skipping a few details, the main point is that in one of the packets in that shipment (normally several local CAM missionaries receive mail in the same packet) according to Mexican customs someone apparently received a piece of mail that contained some sort of seeds. It may have been a flower catalog with a sample enclosed or a farmer friend sharing some helpful seeds in a personal letter or perhaps a bag of microwave popcorn. Nobody knows, although among a few of us missionaries some jokes about the nature of these seeds have been exchanged; which jokes I will not reveal here lest I be accused of being unruly. In the end, that entire package of mail was either tossed out by customs or lost by UPS. The jokes continue however.

This is significant to the story because I know that I did not receive any mail in that particular batch of UPS packages and I also know that I never received the hard copy of my auto insurance. It is logical to presume that my insurance policy was in that lost package. Providentially, I had initially asked the insurance agent to email me the declarations page which I still have sitting in my Inbox.

So, while looking for the information I had on-hand to call the insurance company, I discovered that I could not find the declarations page that I had printed and shoved in the glove compartment…or had I remembered to put it in there? I was unsure. I still had my insurance papers from the past couple of years in there and as always, I had my Tepeyac Insurance information along with the information for their adjusting company, Mapfre. These are reputable companies here in Mexico and I was glad to have them on my side to help me figure out how to handle this.

With some difficulty, Bryan finally reached a Mapfre number and an adjuster named Jorge was immediately dispatched. He arrived within 30 minutes. During those 30 minutes I began to wonder about my policy and called Bethie to have her look up that declarations page still sitting in the Inbox on my laptop. We had decided to bring our laptop with us on the trip even though I didn’t think we’d really use it. It turns out that as she looked over the declarations page, it didn’t mention Tepeyac nor Mapfre but a totally different company! I couldn’t believe it! I had no idea my agent had switched companies on me.

Oh no. So…Jorge the Mapfre adjuster arrived, immediately started taking pictures and spoke with the other driver and her husband and her husband’s friends who were from a local body shop and were offering to fix it if I would entrust my car to them. I wasn’t about to do that for a number of reasons not the least of which is the fact that I may not be the smartest person around but I am not a total buffoon. I might as well hand the keys of my car over to complete strangers in Mexico…which is what they were suggesting.

Bryan managed to tell a seemingly sober Jorge who smelled strongly of strong drink that I was having some doubts about whether I had the correct company and then things got “interestinger.”

First, the other party tentatively decided they would pay for the damage on the spot. This is nearly unheard of in Mexico. She was driving a Dodge Caravan that was about 15 years old and I didn’t get the impression that she or her husband had much money. I don’t think they did.

Next, Jorge “happened” to drink for…I mean work for the owner of a body shop who was also the owner of the local Mapfre agency. Isn’t that handy to own both the adjusting company AND the auto repair shop?!? Hmmmm. I wasn’t sure if I was smelling more than alcohol at this point but this IS Mexico and self-serving businesses and transactions are probably to be expected as the norm. In fact, such transactions probably work better here when that is the case.

The Mapfre/auto shop owner (Eduardo) had already shown up even though I had no idea who he was or how he related to anyone while he was briefly there. He had already figured out a cost estimate for the repairs and left that figure with Jorge. The broken rubber molding alone would cost $1500 pesos to replace and the entire job would come to $8000 pesos (an amount that seemed ridiculously low but labor is very cheap in Mexico, and if you must know, beer is even cheaper…Jorge has obviously already figured that one out).

One of my doubts was how this molding part would ever be located. Toyota hasn’t sold Highlanders in Mexico until the past year or so and my model is over 5 years old now. I figured it wasn’t likely that they could get the part but they insisted they could and had already talked with a Toyota dealer on getting it by Tuesday morning.

Since I still needed a copy of my insurance declarations page to present to Jorge, I was pointed toward an Internet café up the street and ran there with Cameron to get online, check my CAM webmail, locate that email still sitting in my Inbox and have it printed out so that I could give it to Jorge to figure out.

After seeing my printout, Jorge told me that yes, indeed, I had called the wrong company! Oh great! Now that’s probably one of the dumber things I thought I could have ever done…a mistake I would presume a less than sober Jorge would make rather than I. After all, I had imbibed McDonald’s coffee for breakfast. Who would possibly call an insurance company that they don’t have?! (I must raise my hand here with enthusiasm.)

Keep in mind…even human mistakes can accomplish God’s perfect plan.

Despite having called the wrong insurance company, Jorge suggested that since the other party was willing to pay for the damage (unknown whether they would be able to do so nor actually do it) and that Eduardo was willing to do the work for that amount, that this would work out, if I wanted to go along with this proposal to have the repairs made at Eduardo’s shop. [note: do not orally read the preceding as one sentence as written or you may pass out from lack of oxygen; I will leave it poorly written in case you have a junior higher handy who would like to try]

This would mean that I’d have to trust this shop that I knew nothing about to actually do the work, to do it reasonably well and lightning fast, and at the very basic level of expectations to hopefully see my car again at all. Given that it took McDonald’s over 30 minutes to make my one McBurrito and one McHashbrowns and one McCoffee for breakfast earlier that morning, “lightning fast” is a term that just doesn’t seem to exist in Mexico. I figured I’d probably end up putting my family on a bus (it would take at least three buses to get home) and staying alone at this hotel for days on end.

They promised it would be ready by Tuesday noon and maybe even earlier which seemed wonderfully, lightning fast considering what needed to be done. There definitely would be some pulling or pushing on sheet metal, a rubber side door molding would have to be ordered and replaced, and both doors, quarter panel, the front driver door rubber molding and bumper would need at least a partial paint job.

Considering this is Mexico where promises based on time are generally related to time in a vague sort of way, sort of like what politicians promise before an election and what they actually deliver after an election, what if this took a few days or longer? What if it took weeks longer? Would they really jump right on the job? How costly would it be for me to be stuck in a strange town 7 hours from home, with no transportation or knowledge of the town and with my family stranded with me? Would it just be better to go home and maybe have the work done here in San Juan where it’s much more convenient but where there may not even be a competent body shop?

But…then on my own I wouldn’t likely pry the cash from these people to pay for it nor would the Mapfre adjuster help me in doing so. It also became clear that the deductible with my actual insurance company would be $1,000 U.S. which apparently is more than what the damage would cost to repair! I would end up paying for the whole job myself if I walked away from the present deal.

So, I hesitantly agreed to go with the proposal on the table. About this time a friend of the other party arrived on a motorcycle presumably to deliver most of the $8,000 pesos to hand over to Jorge. It appeared they were talking over their options and might have been having second thoughts about either paying or about the amount.

During this time it didn’t hurt that I casually told Jorge that about 20 years ago I worked as a multi-lines adjuster for Hartford Insurance and that just looking at the damage I would guess in the U.S. this would cost $2,000 to $2,500 (USD) to repair…rather than the $750 (USD) we were talking about here. His eyebrows raised and he said, “Really, that much?!?” He then immediately walked over to the other party and had a little conversation with them.

I suspect he probably relayed to them what I had just said as some sort of an “expert” opinion and probably sounded something like, “If you folks don’t go through with this here and now and he goes back to the U.S. with you on the hook, you’re going to end up paying $30,000 pesos instead of $8,000 pesos…it’s your decision, of course.” I’m pretty sure he never told them that he wasn’t actually with my insurance company.

We hadn’t yet called the traffic police and neither side wanted to do so. However, for my part I had proof of insurance, a drivers’ license and I wasn’t trying to claim that someone not present was actually driving the car, etc. (the Mapfre forms Jorge had them fill out listed the husband as the driver…he wasn’t even in the car but was at work!) I think that Jorge probably made police involvement as a point of pressure as well. I suspect he suggested more than once that we could always just call “transito” and not only would the accident likely be pinned on her, she didn’t have the mandatory insurance, and she possibly didn’t even have a drivers’ license either. She and/or her husband could get into serious trouble and the fines would likely be worse than simply paying up.

A few minutes later the motorcycle friend who had just delivered most of the $8,000 pesos watched in horror as a lady got into the jacked up pickup truck he had improperly parked behind and she proceeded to back up into his bike! (he had parked his bike in front of the entrance to a school which he shouldn’t have done!) She couldn’t possibly have seen the motorcycle from her vantage point. This little “accident” ended up breaking off the directional turn signal and scuffing up the fender a bit. Had they not gotten her to stop precisely at that point, she would have crushed the bike completely.

Bryan and I tried not to laugh and one of us might have said something about the women drivers in this particular city but I’m really not sure who said it (and for my part I’m not confessing either). It was just one of those “when it rains, it pours” kind of moments. For his part, Jorge the Mapfre adjuster and impeccably professional in every sense of the word came over to us and laughed heartily.

Turns out these folks did somehow come up with $8,000 pesos and handed it over to Jorge and within 5 seconds high-tailed it out of there in a cloud of dust. I was hoping to shake their hands and thank them for being so kind but they were gone when I looked up. I suppose they were ready to call it a day and hoped my presence wouldn’t somehow cause a worse calamity in their lives. More likely, they were just glad to be done with the ordeal and this was the appropriate way to leave when working out a “gentleman’s settlement.” At the very least, the front right turn signal on their Caravan was totally destroyed and this might save someone from a future accident.

Now this may not seem like a big deal. But out of everyone we know who has ever had an accident in Mexico that wasn’t a hit and run, I’m not sure ANY of them have experienced the other party paying on the spot, especially for an amount that is significant. A number of co-workers expressed utter amazement at the fact that the repairs had already been paid for and were in the process of being done.

For this couple that figure may have amounted to a month’s salary. To be honest, I really felt badly for them. They were nice folks but I doubt they acted totally out of charity towards me, but rather out of fear of the consequence of not going along with the process and taking care of their responsibility. Mostly, they were probably relieved to not be dealing with the traffic police. If one is not going to carry the mandatory liability insurance, then it is wise to be prepared to pay out of pocket for potential liabilities. Buying insurance would have been a better deal than paying directly for the damage to my car. Let that be a lesson for you (*smirk*).

For my part, by the end of that day’s ordeal, I followed Jorge to Eduardo’s shop just a mile away. I was surprised to see how straight Jorge drove in comparison with the alcohol level of his breath and to my chagrin he drove the entire way with his hazard lights on. I don’t know if that was his way of leading an “official trip to the body shop” or maybe he knows that if you have both blinkers going, you can’t be held liable for hitting anyone in any direction. I am not sure. I didn’t think to ask him.

At the shop I was impressed with the quality of the work being done on cars there and the quality of the cars being worked on. This included a new Porsche, a couple of new BMWs and a new luxury VW (no, I’m not joking even though it sounds ridiculous to say it). With some sense of relief and some sense of trepidation, I handed over my keys to complete strangers. Two workers had already pulled the two molding pieces off the doors and were busy taking apart the interior of the back door. This seemed like a good sign but deep inside I was feeling a bit buffoonish.

Bryan Smith was such a great friend and co-worker to stay with me during those 3 hours and to do most of the communication for me. I was about as tongue-tied and frazzled as I could be trying to keep up with the fast conversations and the ever confusing subjunctive verb forms being squibbed around like it was a linguistic pigskin between two pee wee football teams in a mud bowl.

Bryan was in charge of the CAMEX Conference which is why we were in this place to begin with so he was really taking one for the team to not be there to provide his leadership and knowledge of what needed to be done for the all-important preparations. The rest of our CAMEX team performed flawlessly and got everything possible set up in our absence.

By Monday I was beginning to think about how this was all about to play out. Another great friend and co-worker drove me back to the shop in the afternoon to pay an unsolicited visit to see how things were going and to see if the car was still there and hadn’t already taken an unprescribed trip to Belize or Guatemala.

Thankfully, it was there and the work looked great! They’d even covered the top half of the car and the car top carrier with plastic to protect it from over spray in the tight shop area. The weather had turned rainy and the humidity was slowing the progress of the paint work. They still felt it would be ready by noon or maybe 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

So, Tuesday came and Conference was long over. We packed our rooms and hoped by noon and at latest 1 p.m. we’d be ready to roll even though it seemed nearly impossible for this ambitious plan to succeed.

The dreaded phone call came at about 10 a.m. The molding wouldn’t be there until Saturday at earliest. Did I want them to just give me the money or to continue waiting for it to arrive? Also, the car for certain wouldn’t be ready until 1 p.m. Alas, the hitch I was concerned might happen had suddenly popped up out of its hole like a Whack-A-Mole. I just KNEW something like this would happen. It always does.

I took a few minutes to think about it and to get a 2nd opinion. I decided the only choice was to have them skip the molding piece and give me the money. Now, they never did actually give me any kind of receipt for anything…not even an estimate. I had nothing in writing. Would they give me that $1500 pesos that they mentioned earlier or give me something less? Would they even give me any money at all when I saw them face to face?

Brock and I went down early, about 12:15, just to be there at the earliest moment possible for getting on the road. Maybe it’d be done earlier than expected. On our way out of the hotel lobby Brock flashed the business card Eduardo had given me and asked the hotel manager if he’d ever heard of this shop. “Oh yes. Best shop in town. I have them do all the body work on my cars when I need it.” That was encouraging. We drove into the shop and I scanned the place…where’s the car? Belize came to mind.

We walked in and the secretary put us off for a minute. She seemed nervous. Uh-oh. Guatemala came to mind. Finally, she got around to us. The car was being cleaned up at a car wash. The work was done and the car would be back in a few eternal minutes.

Sure enough, it showed up and Eduardo was driving it. He pulled out three crisp $500 peso bills and said, “Sorry we couldn’t get the molding. Thanks for your ‘confianza’ (‘trust’) in having us repair your car.” Of course, I had never doubted.

That’s pretty much the end of this book, although perhaps not the story. There’s a lot of neat little evidences here of the hand of God and how in His sovereignty he takes care of us.

The seeds that shouldn’t have been in the mail last September but were and which caused my insurance policy to be lost. Without a doubt I would have had that packet from the insurance company in my glove compartment otherwise, and I would have called the correct company which very possibly would have handled the whole situation differently. I could have easily been stuck with the whole bill due to the large deductible.

My rightful insurance company might have insisted that I call in the traffic police which could have caused me to lose my car like has happened to Tim Blycker.

The fact that I did indeed have a printout of the correct policy in the glove compartment but in my nervous haste couldn’t find it among the vast quantity of papers stuffed in there relating to our visas, the tires, past insurance policies, instructions for playing Bocce Ball etc. Not finding it led to the subsequent unintended mistake of calling Mapfre/Tepeyac from my previous years’ policies instead of my actual current insurance company.

The very rare willingness of the other party to pay for all the repairs on the spot and to actually come up with the funds and hand them over.

The fact that the local Mapfre adjusting agency was owned by the same man who owned the most reputable (unbeknownst to me) repair shop in the area and that he was willing and ready to make the repairs.

The fact that I had been following Bryan Smith whose excellent Spanish (having grown up in Mexico as an MK and having been a missionary in Mexico for many years) really salvaged my nerves and had a calming effect on both me and the other party and prevented any number of misunderstandings that likely would have cropped up had I been on my own. Bryan also has had several experiences in dealing with accidents or auto incidents here in Mexico himself.

We never did get to SAM’s Club to get those pens. Turns out Bethie had already bought plenty and we didn’t need any more.

Another blessing was the fact that Brock Hower and I had already independently planned on staying to Tuesday due to the logistics of travel times and the need to drive during sunlight hours. We only made it to Puebla on Tuesday instead of our home, again due to the time and the need for sunlight. Brock and his wife, Heather, were so kind to stay with us all the way to San Juan del Rio even though traveling with four children aged 4 and under was no easy task and they wanted to be home as badly as we did. I joked with them on their two-way radio all day Wednesday that we might not make it home before dark so we might stay at the next town. They found this humorous the first time I suggested it.

All I can say is God is good all the time. Even when people lose control and make mistakes, He never does.

There’s nothing like a typical missionary experience. The color of my hair proves that (although that could be tied to parenting and/or being a husband…I’m really not sure). Nonetheless, learning the faith lessons along this journey brings joy when the hand of God is recognized and when the realization comes through experience that I really am held inside it.

The (Merciful) End


About alanbeth

What’s up? or rather, ¿Qué pasa? Hola, I’m Alan. I’m a missionary living in Mexico. We have a heart for MK Education and so we teach at a local Christian school with MK students as well as nationals and foreign students as well. I occasionally write or have a pic to share with you at my blog, Knowing Your ABCDs, which you can read with a click on the button above. You can read my blog with a click on the button above.
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3 Responses to A Sideswipe, Some Seeds and the Sovereign Hand of God

  1. Dan says:

    Well, praise the Lord and that was quite a story. It reminded me why I never bought a car in Spain.


  2. Sylvia says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I go to Mexico a lot. Maybe I will profit from your experience in the future…LOLSylvia


  3. alc says:

    Wow! My reaction is what a cool story. Not cool that you were involved in an accident, but cool the way that God worked everything out.


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