Medical mission team survives harrowing storm in mountains of Oaxaca


By Mark Ellis

storm crew


Lightning flashed in the distance, then came the deluge of water, with watermelon-sized rocks that rained down on the two-lane road that wound its way through the mountains. When their lives seemed to hang in the balance, God answered their prayers in a mighty way.

“This was at the end of a recent medical trip to the remote village of Chimaltepec in Oaxaca, Mexico,” says Ed Orem, data manager for Growers First Foundation. As darkness approached, a foursome of Tom, Jeffrey, Carmen and Ed set out on the highway that connects the city of Tehuantepec and Oaxaca City.

“This drive is very scenic with sections that have high walls of rocks that border many sections of the highway,” Ed notes.

Before the trip, Ed lifted up this prayer to God: “Father God, on this trip that I am about to take, please reveal yourself to me in a real and mighty way — in a way that will show me your power and that you are with me and that you are evident in what you have called me to do.”

They made a short stop because Jeffrey noticed a loose bolt on the steering column that caused more “play” as he drove. They were able to replace the pin, which added a delay to the journey. They still hoped to make it to Oaxaca City by 8 pm.

“As we were driving, in the distance we could see that a lightning storm was approaching,” Ed recalls.  They plowed ahead, noting that  the strikes became more frequent and more powerful. While Tom drove, Ed tried to capture some of the more powerful bolts with his camera.

lightning in the distance

For about 45 minutes, they were in awe of the “show” that God displayed for their enjoyment.  At first, they marveled at God’s majestic beauty in the storm, but very soon they began to appreciate His enormous power.

“After a few minutes of light rain, what God unleashed on us was the most amazing downpour of water that I have ever experienced in my life,” Ed says. “It was almost impossible to even see our windshield wipers!”

As the epic deluge persisted, the truck was pelted with rocks that were washed or blown off the sheer cliffs overhead. “I tried to help Tom navigate the road because the visibility was incredibly limited,” Ed says. “I was continually reassuring Tom about his driving, but told him to stay as far from the cliffs as possible.”

Their journey through the storm was complicated because they got behind a semi-trailer truck hauling cement. Now the vehicles were  only 10 feet from each other’s bumpers.

Suddently there was a landslide ahead and the cement truck veered sharply to the left. “Before Tom could react, we found ourselves bouncing over very large rocks that seemed to be launching our truck up into the air, over and over again.”

Ed yelled at Tom to keep driving and try to keep as far from the crumbling mountain as possible.

They got through the fallen rock pile but soon felt the truck drifting as if it had a flat tire. However, there was nowhere safe to pull over.

The downpour continued relentlessly, as they tried to keep a 10 to 15-foot gap between themselves and the large truck ahead. “Watermelon-sized” rocks tumbled down from above, narrowly missing them, which now littered the highway. If one hit their windshield, it would be disastrous.

Ed yelled instructions to Tom: “A little left…..more, more…now back right….perfect…quick back left!” This continued for 10 minutes until the truck in front of them came to a complete stop.

As they sat there waiting, Ed rolled down his window to get a better look. As he tried to grasp the severity of the monstrous storm, two things came into his mind: First, stay calm so I don’t create any more panic in the vehicle and, two, this may be the moment that the four of us will be standing before God face-to-face very shortly!

As the rain pelted Ed’s face he wiped his eyes and blinked several times, shocked by what he saw: The road they were on had become a torrential river!

“The truck in front is sliding backwards toward us!” Tom yelled.

“Let off the brake,” Ed cried. “If the truck hits us, just go with it.” Sure enough, the massive truck hit the smaller vehicle and they all slid backward toward the edge of the cliff.

They began to cry out to God. “Help us Lord! Get us out of this! Stop the rain! Send us your grace and mercy, Lord!”

Ed felt the “scariness and uncertainty,” but this was mixed with a sense of calm because he knew God was in control.  Even if I die — which is now a very real possibility – God is still in control, Ed thought.

The same rocks that threatened their destruction a few moments beforehand now may have saved them from going over the cliff. “I believe that there were so many rocks that had riddled the road that a few of them must have helped to stop our slide backwards,” Ed says.

After a few moments with the back of the truck pressed against their front end, the truck ahead slowly moved forward.

The rain let up slightly, and they pulled over at a safe spot to evaluate the damage to the truck tires. Tom was certain they had one or more flat tires.

“To all of our amazement the tires were not flat! We looked under the truck to see that the initial impact of rocks had snapped the muffler pipe and that the pipe had bent around the axle and was now acting like a plow pointing forward, which was the cause of our drifting.”

All of them praised God that the tires were still good.  They unwrapped the mangled muffler that had broken, disconnected it, then threw the souvenir into the truck bed and set off again.

The challenges continued with many more miles of storm-drenched road to navigate and landslides that covered the road every quarter of a mile.

After another hour of winding through a maze of destruction, they finally reached the lower, straighter section of highway. “I finally felt I could take what seemed like my first breath in over two hours,” Ed says.

They grew silent as they collectively processed their ordeal.

“It had to be God’s mercy and protection on us,” Ed suddenly exclaimed, breaking the silence.  “We went through an epic rock pounding from above and not one rock hit our windshield!” he noted. “How did that tremendous beating not flatten a tire?” he wondered. “How was it that a semi truck loaded with cement didn’t slide us off the road when it collided with us?”

The only answer they could find — God answered their prayers!

As Ed sat in the back of the taxi on the ride to the airport the next morning, he remembered the prayer that he prayed as they began their journey.

Most of all, he remembered God answered.