Having a mobile skate park in a trailer that weighs over a ton is great, but also involves some slightly annoying practicalities, such as needing quite a meaty vehicle to tow it. At first I’d recruited some local volunteers with tow bars on their cars to help us transport the trailer whenever we had a session.
After a couple of burnt out clutches and near death experiences, we decided we needed our own vehicle. We put an advert in our newsletter, and amazingly someone from a local church gave us a vehicle that could tow the trailer easily. This became lovingly known as, ‘the Shogun’; a ten year old automatic three litre four by four. Here she is:
We had our own vehicle, nice one God. But it was ten years old, and it wasn’t long before the dashboard did its own little disco every time you put the key in, and lights came on I didn’t even know it had. In the end we had to ignore the lights, because we didn’t really know what was actually a problem and what was just the disco. Then came the genie lamp sign. This was the light that just stayed on all the time, no matter what we did. Apparently some people call it the oil light. Anyway it became obvious the car was on its way to motor vehicle heaven and that we needed to think of something fast, because without a vehicle, our project doesn’t really work. I had a plan that we could just put another advert in the newsletter, and that, just like last time, a nice big free four by four would arrive on our doorstep and save the day. Guess what? That didn’t happen.
We had some visitors from another youth project, and I was sharing the vehicle problem with them. I told them my next plan was to look around some local garages and find a cheap old vehicle that would do the job for a bit longer, meaning I wouldn’t have to raise loads of money and do anything that scary. A youth worker from the visiting project, said to me;
“What vehicle do you really want? What would be the absolute best vehicle you need for this project?”
In a moment of fantasy we discussed Land Rovers, Hummers, Nissan Navaras, Monster Trucks, Helicopters, newer Shoguns, and loads of other massive four by fours that would do the job perfectly. We looked at websites, watched YouTube videos, and laughed and joked about our dream vehicle. After saying something like ‘oh well, back to reality’, my other youth project friend said something that challenged me to my core;
“You are saving the lives of young people. What you are doing is of the highest importance and you should have the very best equipment to do it with. Our God is big, and nothing is impossible for him. Don’t get a cheap second hand vehicle, ask God for what you want, and what you need, and he will give it to you”.
He was totally right. Which was really annoying.
So after lots of research and thinking and dreaming, we decided that the vehicle we needed and wanted, if money wasn’t an issue, was a brand new Nissan Navara. Brand new, they cost £25,000. That is well over what the project cost to set up in the first place. Oh crap. Where am I going to get £25,000 from?
I decided I needed to test drive the vehicle. Mostly because it would be really fun, but also because I needed to see it. I needed to sit in it with God and ask whether was just a stupid idea, or whether it was really something he wanted for us. I phoned up our local Nissan garage, and arranged a date to go and test drive it along with Max, our year out volunteer at the time.
As we walked into the garage and registered our arrival, I became aware of some strange looks from the staff. I suddenly remembered what we must look like. A couple of youths, with big baggy jeans and hoodies are not their usual potential brand new four by four customers. They looked a bit scared, like they thought we were going to rob the place. They made lots of checks, looked at our ID and seemed happy enough. It probably didn’t then help when I told them that we would be purchasing the vehicle in about two months time, and would not need finance as we would be paying the full amount. The sales assistant paused for quite a long time and said, “OK then”. At that point we didn’t have a single penny of the money and I had no idea where it was going to come from. But I had to speak out in faith that we did have the money, the money was already ours, and that the vehicle was already ours.
Test driving it was just the most ridiculous amount of fun ever. Oh and also, it totally did the job we needed it to, towed the right weight and had a large storage space in the back. We wanted one, and we were going to get one.
I got on the case with grants, and found two that were eligible. These would take us up to about £19,000, if we got the grants. ‘If’ is a big ‘if’ in the world of grant applications. As part of the grant process we researched how much it would cost to get our logo and details on the side of the vehicle. I was sent a picture of what it would look like. I added a bible verse and I stuck it on my wall, knowing that one day soon I would replace it with a real photo of our own vehicle. Sometimes you need to visualize how you want something to be, as well as talk about it.
We prayed. We filled in forms. We waited. We prayed the Shogun wouldn’t die.
The first grant we applied for was for £7000. A few days after the deadline has passed, I got a phone call from the grant administrator, who told me that in their grant criteria, it clearly stated that they did not fund vehicles. My heart sunk as I waved £7000 goodbye. Then she said something very funny;
“Next time you make an application to us, please make sure you read the criteria properly. This time however, we have decided to make an exception to our rules because we like your project, so we will be awarding you the full amount of £7000”.
Ching ching! We were one step closer. £18,000 to go.
Then came the youth bank fund. We had helped some One Eighty members apply for some money on our behalf. We had applied for £12,000, which was a lot of money for one project to receive from a relatively small grant. We were short listed however, and had to take the four lads to a grant panel to give a presentation on One Eighty and why we needed the money.
It was really simple. All we had to do was pick up four young people in the Shogun, take them to a youth centre and let them give their presentation. Then the grant people would discuss it and send us a letter in the post. Then hopefully, we would get the £12,000 and be almost there! It started to become real, it started to feel like we might actually do this.
I was using the Shogun that day for an event site visit, and had a couple of hours to get back to Bath, pick up the young people and a staff member, then head straight to the presentation. No problem, plenty of time.
After the site visit, I got into the Shogun and started to head back to Bath. I looked at the dashboard, and then came the disco. But it was a different disco. Then there were noises. Strange noises.
I was still ten miles from Bath, and things were getting worse. There was smoke, and more noises. I started praying, “Not now, not today, please”. More smoke started coming out of the bonnet and I knew I had to stop. I pulled over in a bus stop and popped the bonnet, staring at the engine, because that’s what you do when your car has broken down and you know nothing about cars. The smoke was still coming out, and I didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have break down cover, I was in the middle of nowhere, and I had about an hour before I would have to leave to go pick up the lads. The car was still working, so I decided to keep going and hope it didn’t explode. I drove really slowly, and the disco now had a smoke machine.
I made it to a village a few miles nearer, and pulled to a stop at a pedestrian crossing. The lights turned amber and as I put my foot on the accelerator, nothing. Beeping from behind, more smoke, the car wasn’t moving. It had died. I burst into tears as cars started to go by me, and no one offered to help. I looked around at where I was, and of course by complete coincidence and nothing at all to do with God, I was right outside a massive car garage. Within thirty seconds I had four mechanics pushing the vehicle to safety, and within two minutes I knew exactly what was wrong with it. The crank on the engine had gone, which in other words means, the Shogun had gone to motor vehicle heaven. In less than one hour I was supposed to be picking up four lads from all over Bath and taking them to a presentation that might mean we would get £12,000 towards the new vehicle that would ensure the survival of our project. Even if we did get that money, we still had £6000 more to raise which I had no idea where to get. I cried again, a lot. All over the four nice mechanics. They looked a bit awkward. After I’d stopped crying I began to think of a plan. We had to make that presentation. We just had to.
I took out my phone to call Max at the office, battery low. Rubbish. I got through, and tried to very quickly and clearly explain the situation. I was still going to be a while getting back to Bath on the bus and I needed him to figure out a way of getting all the lads to the youth centre as well as me and him, with no car. He was only 18, possibly the most laid back person I had ever met and I’d never really given him any serious responsibility before. I didn’t know whether he’d be able to pull it off. After more crying he seemed to understand it was important, and he said he’d sort it. Then my phone died.
The bus ride was 15 minutes, but it felt like three hours. God knew we needed the car, why hadn’t he stopped it from breaking down until after the presentation? What were we going to do if we didn’t get the money? How were we going to run One Eighty for however long it took to get the new vehicle? Why had I thought I could do this? I have no clue what I’m doing. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this anymore.
I took out my iPod, and I put on some music. I calmed down, and I stepped out of the emotion of the situation, looking at the facts. God loves me, God has chosen me for this, God is with me and loves this project way more than me. He knows we need that vehicle and he knows we need to get the lads to this presentation. We’re going to get there, we’re going to get that money and everything’s going to be OK.
When I arrived back at the office, my jaw dropped. On my desk were two piles of paper, they had the names and phone numbers of two of our trustees, who had agreed to use their cars to pick up the lads, and us, and take us to the youth centre. There were maps and directions for both cars, it was exactly what we needed, and perfect. Max got a high five.
We went to the presentation and made it on time.
The lads did a brilliant job, and gave an excellent presentation.
I walked out of the building with a cheque for £12,000. A trustee just happened to bring his camera, and captured the exact moment we found out we’d been successful:
There were more tears, but this time, they were tears of joy. And if it’s possible, there were tears of confidence, tears that God is everything he says he is, that all things are under his control, that nothing is impossible for him, that he is faithful and will come through. Tears because we are going to get that car.
The next day was so mixed, as I had the celebration of winning the grant, but the nightmare of figuring out how we were going to tow our trailer around until we had enough money to buy our new big black truck. It could still be months and we needed it now.
Then, God spiced things up a little bit, because he obviously felt the last few days had been too boring. He told me to order the new vehicle. It was no audible voice, but a strong sense that I just couldn’t ignore. I tried to fill my day with other things, but I kept feeling it. Order the vehicle, order the vehicle. I think my reply went something like, “WHAT? You have got to be joking. We don’t even have all of the money yet and I don’t even know where the money is going to come from. Also I’m probably going to get fired if I order it”.
Order the vehicle. Order the vehicle.
I phoned the Nissan garage and ordered it over the phone. It would take six weeks to arrive and they needed a £7000 deposit with the other £18,000 payable on collection. Guess how much money had just cleared in our bank account from our first grant? £7000. Done.
As I put the phone down, I felt sick. I’m going to get fired. We’re going to go bankrupt. The treasurer is going to have a heart attack.
I’ve got six weeks to find £6000.
There were no more grants to apply for. I didn’t have any rich friends. I wasn’t really experienced in bank robbery. So it had to be God. I’d done everything I could, I’d fought with everything in me. It had to be God.
A few days later, a church was having a giving day for Bath Youth for Christ. They told us what they had raised every year and what they were expecting to raise this year, and our director budgeted accordingly. They raised £2000 more than we had expected. This had never happened before. They were surprised, we were surprised. We had £2000 for the vehicle.
£4000 to go. Five weeks left.
A week later I phoned the garage and negotiated £1000 off the price if we put the garage’s name on the back of the truck.
£3000 to go. Four weeks left.
At this point I started to panic because I was totally out of ideas. There was literally nothing left for me to do other than pray. It was incredibly scary.
About a week later I walked into the office, turned on the computer as normal and checked my emails. I had an email from an old friend who now managed a large internet florist company. She read the newsletters and knew we wanted to get a new vehicle but had no idea of the events of the last few weeks. She told me she wanted to donate some money from the company, that she had prayed about how much, and that she had decided on an amount.
Would £3000 be OK?
In the same week, a garage offered us the use of an amazing Land Rover for as long as we needed it. For free. It even had one of those remote starts, so you could start the engine from almost a mile away. This was completely pointless, but great fun to scare people with. Another local man gave us £2500 for our insurance costs. We had more than enough. More than enough.
Within another two weeks our vehicle was ready, and Max and I went to pick it up. I will never forget that day as long as I live.
As we pulled into the garage, I saw it. This big, black truck; spotless, beautiful, ours. We didn’t owe any money for it, we didn’t have to give it back, it belongs to us. It’s ours. As I looked at it, my whole body tingling, I closed my eyes as they filled with tears, and I promised God I would never forget what he had done for us. Because it’s easy to forget. I don’t ever want to forget.
I remember paying for the final amount, putting my pin into the machine as it asked me to pay £17094.22.
I remember the face of the sales assistant as we told him the story of the money.
I remember when he put the keys in my hands.
I remember him talking through the engine and the spare tyre, but I wasn’t listening to a word he was saying. I was just smiling.
I remember him saying we were the youngest people he had ever seen buy a brand new Navara.
I remember taking it straight to the petrol station, and the attendant saying, “nice truck”.
I remember driving back, with the stereo on full blast, laughing and crying and singing and shouting, full of the presence of God, feeling happy for Max that he was taking the other vehicle back at the time.
I remember driving past people and seeing them looking at the brand new big black truck. Our brand new big black truck.
I remember sleeping soundly that night.
I remember the picture on my office wall.
Most of all, I remember feeling that this was all really about something else. Something much bigger.