The Hatchback of the Datsun

By: Stephanne Morris Marsh

Itineration, or furlough, is something that all missionaries are required to do; and unlike the connotation of the name, “furlough”, is anything but a rest.  Instead, this time period, is hated by most and dreaded by all, at the very least.  Itineration, or furlough, is meant to be a time of rest and relaxation so that missionaries can rest up, recharge, renew and gear up for another four years on the mission field.  Instead, it is a tiring and exhausting time of rushing to raise monetary support so that they can go back to the mission field and continue giving or sacrificing, their very lives.  Itineration is essentially like a political campaign.  You can liken it very easily to a politician raising money and support for his or her campaign.  Same concept really, you dress up pretty, tell the audience or congregation what you are going to do with the money that they are going to so generously (or not so generously) give, make them feel guilty and admonish them to give even more.  Yep.  Exactly the same, except for campaigning for a political office, we had a much higher calling. We were campaigning for Jesus!

The first itineration round that I remember was when I was five years old and my sister Keely, was a tiny little baby.  We had a blue Datsun hatchback, which was perfect, because in 1979, car seats and seat belts weren’t enforced.  We rarely could afford a hotel room, and as such, we essentially lived in our car.  Usually, the distance that we had to travel between service locations was great, and the hatchback allowed my sister and me to sleep on the flat floor in the back of the hatchback, gazing at the stars and being lulled to sleep by the rolling of the tires, as the Datsun raced down the interstate from state to state.  Generally, we had three to four services a week.  Usually, there were two on Sundays and one on Wednesday, with a mission’s convention thrown in somewhere on one of the other days.  My mom and dad tried very hard to coordinate services so that at least the two Sunday services were in close proximity to one another.  This didn’t always work, and my dad would leave the pulpit on a run, shaking everyone’s hands, blessing the old ladies’ hearts, and the Datsun would hit the road again, to our next destination, sometimes as much as 5 hours away from our first service. 

My parent’s home base was the West Florida District of the Assemblies of God.  This was basically the area which encompasses the panhandle of Florida, however, we literally had supporters all over the country.  That little Datsun hit the pavement and drove thousands of miles.  We campaigned, errr, uuuummm, itinerated from Missouri to South Carolina.  From Indiana to Arkansas.  From North Carolina to Washington, D.C.  From Alabama to Louisiana.  My sister and I had both visited over 30 states before she was two and I was five.  We were lulled to sleep countless nights by the sound of the tires, the twinkling stars waving at us through the window of the hatchback, and the quiet murmuring of my mom and dad as they worried and wondered if they had enough gas to make it to the next service.  I heard them alternately worrying and praying, as they hoped that the next service’s offering and pledge of support would be “enough”.  And somehow, it always was.

The hatchback of the Datsun is also where we discovered that my sister was prone to carsickness.  As I am sure you can imagine, there wasn’t much time to stop to clean up throw up, after all, the show must go on! Wait, we weren’t circus performers.  The service must go on. To this day, I have a steel bladder.  I can drive from coastal North Carolina, to lower Alabama, 10.5 hours, without stopping for a restroom break.  I must say, my mother was the strongest and most resourceful woman I have ever known.  She tirelessly washed cloth diapers and blankets by hand, many times having to let them dry by rolling the edge up in the window and letting it flap in the wind as we raced down the road.  Once the Datsun started rolling, it didn’t stop unless somebody was dying!

I learned to read at an early age, and we were kept entertained by counting states and learning geography.  Spotting car tags and keeping record of how many states we saw represented was one of our favorite pastimes.  We played for hours at seeing who could spot the next mile marker first, my mother was fiercely competitive and it was always a tense game.  To this day, I can tell you just about any town or city and what state it belongs to.  I can tell you which interstates and highways go in which direction, the fastest route just about anywhere, and I never get lost.  If I’ve been there once, I can find it again. That talent has come in handy more than once in my life.   

My dad was always the romantic, and even though doing so brought on an attack of hay fever, anytime he saw a bunch of wild flowers growing beside the road, he would stop and let the three of us, his “girls” pick armfuls of the “pretties”. We may not have had much money, be we had lots and lots of love in that Datsun.  Our family was everything.  Looking back and thinking, I now see exactly the sacrifices my parents made for the cause of sharing the gospel. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world when my daddy let me stop and pick flowers.  I remember wondering at the other cars that raced past us and didn’t stop like we did, to pick the flowers.  My parents both worked really hard to make the littlest tiny things seem like the biggest privilege in the world. We may have sacrificed, but we were happy, in that little blue Datsun hatchback, racing down the road.

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