Survival Crunch Vs Faith Ideals: The Toll Collector at Port Harcourt Airport
I sat behind the taxi as the driver raced from the city of Port Harcourt heading for the airport. I wasn’t even sure I was going to catch my flight to Lagos that afternoon. I had just finished teaching one of the final sessions at a 3 day Leadership conference in Port Harcourt and had to teach another lesson at a Missions Training Programme in Ibadan the very next morning. It was my first time using the Port Harcourt airport and I had been told traffic could be notorious from where I was. I hurried the driver up as he sped to the airport to ensure I did not miss my flight. Through the trip, I couldn’t think of anything else. I was just calculating how I would arrive in Lagos and make my way to Ibadan that night to be on time for my class at 8am the next morning.
I didn’t notice we had arrived the airport gate, and my first shock was hearing the policemen at the airport entrance who demanding that the taxi driver make an illegal payment before he can drive in to drop a passenger. Now all sorts of things happen in this country, and this definitely was a shock to me. Wrong timing, please don’t waste my time, I have a flight to catch. Anyway, we made it past that point, and that incidence brought my consciousness back into the taxi so I could even hear the comments the driver was making as he muttered several things to himself.
“I wish it’s the sharp young man collecting tolls today and not that mean lady” muttered the taxi driver to himself in pidgin English as he drove past the policemen into the airport. Curious about such an odd statement, I had to interrupt the guy. Does it really matter who is collecting tolls at the gate? Toll fares are fixed and mandatory, so you will still have to pay. Knowing that I was already in time for my flight, I decided I could use the remaining few minutes to have a quick chat with the driver. “Why does it matter who is collecting toll fares” I asked, and within a few minutes we were already discussing the issue and I was able to understand what he meant.
So this is what happens at the Port Harcourt airport toll gate. The drivers pay 200 Naira toll fare and are given a pass which is a tiny receipt issued to them. Each pass allows only one entrance, so each time you drive into the airport, you pay for a new one. I guess it’s the same procedure all over the world. But at the Port Harcourt airport, there is this young male toll collector who allows drivers enter for free provided they return the old toll receipt he gave them and it’s still looking new. That way, he can re-issue that same receipt to another driver and then the money doesn’t get documented since he did not issue a new receipt. But this young man operates on a shift, his second colleague, a lady, is never a party to such shady corrupt deals. She insists every driver pays each time they drive in and she issues them a new receipt. For drivers who want to be crooked, the young man is good business. The driver wins, the young man wins, the government loses. Because the drivers do not understand the shift routine of this young man and the lady, each time they drive to the airport, they are silently wishing that they meet the young man and not the lady, so they can at least save 200 Naira on that trip. What caught my attention in the drivers narration was the comment he made saying “I have always wondered her own kind of Christianity, I don’t even know which church she goes…” At this point, I was already in love with the lady without even meeting her. This was a woman at her duty post leaving several persons asking questions about her faith. They just knew she must be a committed follower of Jesus because only people like that live in such a way with firm principles.
At this point, I was silently wishing that the lady would be the one on duty, so I could just see her, and my plan was to give her a word of encouragement to keep the faith, let her know her light was shining and she should never compromise. Then to cap it up, I had planned to give her a personal gift of 2,000 Naira (ten times what she would make if she chose to cheat on the toll fare). As we drove towards the toll gate, the driver hissed in anger and said “oooooh, she’s the one there.” He was angry. I was excited. I just wanted to play a simple drama and also challenge the driver to be faithful wherever he was.
These guys are tough. I mean the taxi drivers. Although he knew she always rejected the option, they never stops making the offer. I can imagine the pressure she goes through daily. So as he got there, he told her “madaaaam…” with a suggestive smile and he stretched out his hands with the old toll receipt he had. Of course, the offer was clear. He was waiting for her response – which he knew was a no, but was just hoping for the best. I was there, waiting for her no so I could make my statements and give my gift (which I had already prepared). She stood there, took a very long look at the taxi driver… and to my disappointment, took the offer. The driver was shocked that she compromised, but was happy he had saved 200 Naira. You could see she was not happy about it. Her looks was saying many things she was not voicing.
It got me thinking… when she took that long look at the driver, what was she thinking? I can only imagine, but I guess she was wondering how much she needed the money. She probably had needs she had meet and bills to pay. Apparently, her salary on that job may not be sufficient to give her a comfortable life if she did not have any other sources of income. She must have thought to herself “what difference would it make. I need this money. Maybe just today…” and unknown to her, she just ruined a fantastic testimony that even the ‘tempter’ had given about her, and she just lost an opportunity to make 10 times the temptations offer, without having to ruin her testimony or smear her conscience. We drove past, I did not say a word, but my heart was heavy.
I could see the lives of many persons play out from that single incidence. We wait on the Lord, build a strong testimony and live right even against all odds. We know what is right and we do it. But there are those days when circumstances around us become louder than our faith, the pressure mounts, and we (maybe temporarily) shift our gaze. Suddenly we try to take matters into our own hands, and begin to walk by sight no longer by faith. Little do we realize that the point when the pressure is stronger to compromise is actually when we are closest to our miracles. Just at the edge of a breakthrough, she let down her guard and it passed by. Even though you may say 2000 Naira is not a major breakthrough, but none of us has an idea what other blessings would have come her way had she stood her ground that day.
In our everyday lives, these two are always in conflict. The drive for survival – that instinct to take matters into our hands and make ends meet, or that urge to remain on the seemingly dry and lonely road of faith. I encourage everyone reading this to hold on to the faith. The days of reward are coming, and everyone who seems to have gone ahead of us will suddenly realize that in one giant leap of faith, we would not only catch up but by far overtake them. I still feel bad that I was too conscious not to miss my flight that I did not go back to the toll gate to talk to the woman. I really wish I had. But I am writing this in the hope that I would reach a hundred other people in the same shoes, and just utter one line of encouragement “keep the faith. God sees your faithfulness, and in due time, He will reward all of it.”