It means, “In poor condition, but just managing to get the job done.”
Apparently, this phrase originated during WWII. The earliest reference that I can find to it is in the 1942 film The Flying Tigers. The screenplay, which was written by Kenneth Gamet and Barry Trivers, staring John Wayne:
Gordon (John Wayne): Any word on that flight yet?
Rangoon hotel clerk: Yes sir, it was attacked and fired on by Japanese aircraft. She’s coming in on one wing and a prayer.
The phrase was taken up by songwriters Harold Adamson and Jimmie McHugh and their WWII patriotic song Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer, 1943 tells of a damaged warplane, barely able to limp back to base.
Boy, can we relate to limping back to base and we can attest that without the prayer part the whole phrase wouldn’t have legs to stand on.
Recently, we pulled into a large parking lot in front of a strip mall adjacent to Indian Harbor Beach, FL. We were going to be partnering with Glen Clark & The Family for a weekend festival called Spring Beach Fest. We were excited and arrived the night before the event, settled in, got to know the crew, played some music and talked logistics for the next day.
The morning of the festival we pulled our bus behind the Main Stage as a backdrop and wind break. As we pulled into place, our bus stopped moving, it wouldn’t respond to our commands but kept idling. We knew something was wrong and started to panic but the festival crew was in high gear and there was no time to try to figure out what was wrong with the bus.
I sent an SOS out to all of our kinfolk around the globe asking for prayer and were encouraged by all of the immediate responses. Craig got on his bus forum at busconversion.com and started asking questions. The guys responded right away and gave him some great ideas of areas to explore on the bus. He did what he could with the information but eventually had to release his efforts for lack of knowledge. We started to investigate towing options but as we took a step back we realized it was Sat and most bus mechanical shops wouldn’t be open until Monday. We also knew that getting a tow during the festival wasn’t a practical or safe option. So, we tried to set aside our issue and focus on our purpose at the festival.
As we prayed and others prayed for us, our faith was strengthened and we were able to stay present, serving alongside the Clark family. The fellas helped with set up and us girls started to focus on creating a space of hospitality on our bus, making a big pot of homemade chai and a Mediterranean lunch for everyone. And, although there was a cloud hanging over us, we all could sense the presence of those praying for us.
Things started to settle down a bit, we played a set of music, then rested for a moment, taking in all of the joy around us; the beach, those serving food on the main grounds, the children laughing and playing in the jumpy castles, those engaged in hardy conversation and the many bands that played that day.
Early evening, I came back into the bus to start working on dinner and noticed that our stove was acting weird. I lifted the grill and found that the gas line was on fire and was nearly scorched through. I turned off the stove immediately, and sat down to catch my breath. I realized that we were just spared an even more dramatic crisis of a bus fire! I was thankful, however I was so discouraged because I no longer had a way to care for others using my kitchen. The weight of the whole day started to burden me and I sighed. I managed to whisper a short prayer and then sent out another SOS to all of our kinfolk;
“Update on Bus breakdown. Craig has started to narrow down issue but has only solved a bit of the puzzle, something to do with the air compression and the breaks. Our bus is sitting as the backdrop at a little grassroots festival, Indian Harbor, FL. Fine for the night but tomorrow turns back into a strip mall parking lot. On top of that, feeling thwarted as we found the gas main on our stove was scorched. Thank The Lord we found it, or our bus would have blown up. Means I can’t cook for the crew here which is frustrating! We’re all starting to feel the stress. Plus there are a few external/relational situations that we are present at the festival. So, our focus has been on caring for others. I know God is faithful no matter what. Still need to cry though. Please pray for us. We could use a big fat wet kiss from God right now.”
The responses poured in:
Our spirits were lifted by the prayers of those who heard our cry for support. That’s when I realized that the whole episode with the bus wasn’t about the bus. The most debilitating thing wasn’t the bus being broken down or even the worry of how to pay for the repairs. The most debilitating thing was dealing with a sense of being isolated and alone. Prayer became our focus and through it all, we understood that prayer was our life line.
As the festival came to a close our attention turned to solving the problem of electricity for the night. You see we have been building this bus as resources become available and one of our last things that we hope to build is the inverter/generator system, which will allow us to dry camp, but that will come when it’s meant to come. In the meantime, we prayed and found favor with the local bar, called Bishops, which allowed us to run our electrical cord across the parking lot to them. We slept hard, knowing that the next morning we were going to have a busy day dealing with our broken bus. We woke up the next morning to a surprising and encouraging text from our friends Karen and Doug.
We met Karen and Doug at Lifest a few summers ago and have kept in touch with them ever since. They are some of our kinfolk who were praying for us and just happened to be an hour north of us in Sanford, FL.
Doug, a retired diesel mechanic, stated that they were on their way and hoped to try to problem solve with us. Sure enough, they showed up shortly after and Doug and Craig got to work. They spent all day sussing out the problem finally narrowing it down to a break chamber issue. Over the course of 8 hours they fixed my stove and temporarily got the bus running enough to take it up to the MCI shop in Orlando, saving us the $400 tow. We were taken aback by their love and support and willingness to care for us unconditionally and noted it as an answer to the many prayers, giving thanks!
Doug and Karen were volunteering at New Tribes Missions Homes and had arranged for us to park our bus for the night in their RV park and the next morning Craig and Doug brought the bus to the MCI shop. While our bus was in the shop they organized for us to stay in a duplex in the community for the two nights it took to fix our bus. Their generosity allowed us time to take a deep breath, get some laundry done, share a few meals, learn about NTMH and share in community without the burden of our bus issues pulling us down.
In the end, the bus was fixed, our repair costs were eventually covered by those who felt compelled to care for us financially and we were able to continue on our way. But, even if all hadn’t fallen into place, we know that through it all, God is faithful, hears our prayers and because of this we experienced a deep sense of connectivity through a difficult time.
We also believe that because of the faithfulness of the saints in our lives we made it through on a wing and prayer.