Nightmare Come True: Our Car Broke Down and Stranded Us in the Desert

Last week, one of my worst traveling fears came true. But I also got to see a deus ex machina in real life.
on May 8, 2019

Before my wife and I began our vacation last weekend to New Mexico, I kept having this feeling.

Hey. You’ll be driving in the desert. What if your car breaks down in the desert?

. . . breaks down in the desert?

. . . down in the desert?

. . . breaks down . . .

Our car broke down in the desert, in the late afternoon of Friday, May 3.

Earlier that day, we had just seen the splendors of Carlsbad Caverns. Taken dozens of photos. Marveled at this natural wonder.

Then as we drove toward El Paso, another certain ground-based resource secretly leaked all the way out of the engine.

Yes, that’s right. Within minutes, our 2007 Kia Optima’s engine had roasted itself. Like a terrible, tragic, broken comedy.

Of course, the car stereo, air conditioner, and everything else kept going merrily along. While we sat there in shock, left without even a cellular phone signal. Seriously: we had no cell phone signal, no running vehicle, no way to escape the situation. Total nightmare fuel.

Literallyjust as if we had entered the parallel universe of an evangelical men’s devotionalall we could do was pray.

Sometimes those ‘cheesy’ devotional stories do happen

And I am not making this up: within minutes, help arrived.

His name was Joe. He lived in El Paso, worked for a company near Carlsbad. It’s one of those companies where you have to drive for hours, then live on-site Monday through Friday, coming home only on weekends.

“This road is usually empty,” Joe told us. “Only on Friday night does everyone start driving home.”

So if we had broken down in any other area, at any other time of day, we might have fared even worse.

Joe had an amazing story to share: A youth of family conflict, drugs, false accusations, trial and forgiveness. He’d returned to the faith of his youth, gotten saved, joined a church. Gotten married just this past year; he and his now-wife already have three precious boys.

He told us he had just been driving by himself, listening to a radio-show swap meet. Then he had switched over to Christian music.

A moment later, he saw us by the side of the road and knew he had to help.

Not only that, but Joe said he had broken down in this similar area not long ago. As an El Paso native, he knew just what wrecker to call, where to get a rental car, and what repair shop may/may not be open the following day.

It’s not often you get this kind of deus ex machina in real life.

We’re still connected with Joe. In fact, I’ll likely send him this article.

Since then: please pray for our treasonous vehicle

My wife and I spent the next day working around car shop claims and swelling expenses. Rental and towing expenses grew and grew.

We ended up strapping the Kia’s carcass to a U-Haul trailer.

Then we dragged the sorry thing with us, all the way to Roswell, New Mexico, and then, the next day, on to home.

Yes, we had scheduled ourselves to be in Roswell on May 4 (as in, “May the Fourth be with you”). Secretly, I wanted the “geek cred” of doing so. (We still got there in time, though we barely saw the community while driving through to our AirBnB.)

Here’s what I wrote in the AirBnB guest book—alongside the very excellent Bible they’d placed nearby for guest benefit.

I’ve redacted some details.

So, as for what happens next:

  • For now, I’ll temporarily step back writing new content, both here and at Speculative Faith.
  • Please pray we can either find a new-used, excellent car, or (unlikely) somehow fix the traitorous Kia.
  • Please also pray for a Secret Project (redacted above) and Lorehaven magazine. Even more importantly, please pray for my wife’s and my upcoming foster-care venture. Because you seriously need a well-working vehicle to take care of precious children.

Breaking news: Literally, just after I finished that last sentence, my wife returned home from work. She’s been driving our emergency backup car. Which, we just learned, is now leaking coolant into the engine.

So. We may actually need two cars. At the same time.

Those prayers I asked for? Please double them.

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. L.G. McCary says:

    As I read this I recalled a blown tire on a remote highway in the middle of nowhere, Alabama, at three in the morning in the rain and with a car full of luggage as my husband and I moved him back home to Texas from army training in South Carolina. It wasn’t fun, but we lived to tell the tale and made it to a little Holiday Inn for a few hours of sleep until a small repair shop opened. I know this wasn’t a fun experience, but I love when God reaches down and says, “Here, I’ll handle this” in miraculous fashion. Glad you made it home! I will be praying for dependable transportation ASAP!

  2. The breakdown in the middle of nowhere thing is what I worry about with long trips. Glad you guys got help so quickly.

    As a side note, I think people should get better about taking extra food and water with them, especially on trips like this. When driving in an air conditioned vehicle, it’s easy to dismiss the possibility of needing that, but one never knows.

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