2014 February 21
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It is a beautiful morning as I dodge potholes and bumps along the dusty road to Lai where I will meet up with my friend. We will travel together, each on a motorcycle, to Bongor, a trip totaling about 100 miles one way. The church members there are eager to build several church buildings. One group of believers is meeting at somebody's house. The church building for another group fell into the river as the river eroded its banks. So we will investigate the situation and do some preparation work for the next Bible Training session scheduled for Bongor March 2-15.
Arriving in Lai, the police stop me. "Is this your first time in Lai?" the guy asks. "No, I moved to Bere almost 5 years ago," I reply. He relaxes a bit and lets me go without trouble. I meet up with my friend and we continue north on a wide dirt road.
The Chinese have contracted to repair the roads before rainy season, so there is major dirt-moving happening and the road is blocked in many places. We have to deviate into the nearby fields where the trail is very rough. Further along we come across a couple bags lying in the middle of the road. Somebody apparently didn't tie his luggage on well enough. We each tie a bag to our moto and continue to the next village where we deliver the bags to a group of 6 or 8 soldiers on benches at the police station.
Arriving at the paved road several hours later, we load the bikes with fuel and buy some bottled water and a little food. I snack on some yummy sorghum bush bars that my dear wife Melody made especially for this trip. From here on the road to Bongor is fairly good, but several long portions are being repaired and have freshly laid loose gravel on the surface. This slowed us down some.
Finally we arrive at Bongor. The plan is to call the pastor once we arrive, but we meet a friend of ours on the road. He decides to take us into town to the pastor's house. Before we continue, however, he wants to feed us. We must be hungry from the trip. "Jonathan's a vegetarian. What does he eat?" he asks my friend (not me). They finally settled on some sort of fresh egg/tomato/oil salad and bread. We sit down at a filthy table. The bread crumbs on the floor were probably 1/2 inch thick from previous guests and the flies were swarming all around. We prayed and ate and continued our journey.
We arrive at the church just as the committee members were arriving for the planning meeting with the pastor. I explain what the training is about and we talk about plans for visiting the churches. We decide it is best to try to make it to the church 33km from Bongor before sundown, spend the night there, and then have the church service there.
Pastor joins my friend on his moto. Just out of town we turn along a dirt road following a levee and continue all the way to the village. The levee controls flooding and allows the villagers to settle permanently near the river where they fish and plant their gardens. We drive by a gang of angry snarling dogs who try to snap at pastor's leg, but they miss. Following a short distance behind, I carefully maneuver to avoid the dogs.
Arriving at the compound, we are warmly welcomed and greeted by church members as they trickle in. I am tired from sitting on my moto for 7 hours today, but they insist that I sit and rest on a plastic chair. They have sewed old cement sacks into a tarp and hung it for shade on wood poles.
As a short vespers program begins, I look around at my surroundings. Darkness has fallen. There are several huts arranged in a circle around us. The members continue to trickle in and sit on the ground or various benches or bricks. There is a cooking fire in the cooking hut where they are preparing some food for us. Pastor stands up and gives a worship thought about how the wise men considered seeing Jesus so important that they traveled a long distance. "So Jonathan has traveled a long distance because he has something very important. Come in two weeks to the Bible training. You won't regret it." We sing another song or two and are finished. We visit with the members.
We are tired and dusty and hungry. They show us the hut where we will sleep. The mud walls are very neatly plastered with clay, and the mud floor is covered with a plastic mat. I put my backpack in the hut and am given the invitation to take a warm bucket bath. What a luxury to have a whole bucket of hot water to bathe with! I duck behind the little grass fence and enjoy ridding myself of the grime and dust from the trip.
Pastor and my friend and I talk long into the evening. We talk about evangelism. We talk about the spirits and God's mighty power. We talk about many things before drifting off to sleep. I end up in the middle. My friend snores violently most of the night, as does the pastor to my other side.
The next morning my eyes are glued shut and I break off the crust with my fingers. As I step out of the hut I realize that a dust storm has come in and that it is chilly. A lady brings me a bowl of warm water to wash my face with. We eat breakfast.
Then the church members begin assembling again. Probably 20-30 adults were there and maybe a dozen children. We met under the make-shift cement-bag tarp for shade. I wonder what it is like to have church in the rainy season. I am happy that we plan to build a new structure here for this group of believers. I am given the honor of giving the sermon and talk about the desert shrub vs. the flourishing tree.
The village chief comes by to welcome us strangers. He is happy about having another church in his area because he recognizes that Christianity benefits his village.
After another meal, we leave to visit another church. But by the time we arrive, they have finished and left. But the condition of their building was sad. The tiny building is covered with a very thin thatch roof and the benches are splitting and the pulpit has a large hole it it. Nevertheless, this is where a small group of believers meets every week.
Our hope was to visit the last group, but we were so delayed that most of them left. Their church recently fell into the river because each year the river banks cave in and erode the surrounding land. This group already has some materials such as sand and brick and is ready to rebuild with the help of one of our One-day Church structures.
The members show their appreciation. They give a chicken to my friend. They give us cabbage and eggplant and wild bush fruit and tomatoes and some sort of dried leaves.
Because the route was so difficult on the way in, we take a different route on the way back home which is significantly faster. At one point we drive past a wall of fire at least a kilometer long. The wind was blowing hot smoke across the road. I just held my breath and blasted through the thin wall of heat on the moto.
By the time it was almost dark, we turned off the pavement onto a dirt road for the last 45km or so to Bere. What a challenge! Much traffic was on the road returning from the market in Bere. The dust was very thick. I could barely see the tail light of the moto about 100 feet in front of me. As vehicles whizzed by, we pulled into the sandy ditch for more safety. We kept encountering herds of longhorn cattle being herded by the Arabs. One pair of cattle were tied to each other as one tried to go on one side and the other on the other side of my friend's moto. He acted quickly to startle one and then quickly moved the moto. That was a near disaster. We pressed on, even though we could hardly see anymore there was so much dust in our eyes. Only about 6km from home, I heard a different swwoooossshhhh sound from my front tire; it was flat. I pulled out my pocket pump, pumped it up, and made it home.
Upon arrival, my wife was eager to greet me and happy that I was safe. She had prepared a wonderful meal of tomato sandwiches with oat burgers and soup. Mmmm. It was good to be home, even though I was only gone for two days.
I was eager to bathe. Even though I tried to wear a sun hat and long sleeves much of the time, I still got badly burned. Thankfully my sunglasses kept most of the filth out of my eyes. And my sweaty face collected much dust.
And so ended my trip to Bongor. We are excited to see that the pastor there is ready to begin preparations for the school session. Please pray that many of the members from the four sites we visited will attend the two-week training and that the Holy Spirit will go ahead of us and prepare the hearts of the people to receive the messages of truth in Scripture. Please also pray for the five of us (Jonathan, Melody, David, Sarah, and Lyonl) who are preparing the material to teach. This time most of us will take public transportation instead of motos.
I thank God for safety on such a long journey by motorbike. We also are looking forward to when our vehicle arrives, hopefully within a few months. God has provided the funding already, and we are almost decided on the make and model and a source. This way it will be a lot easier for my family to come with me as we do mobile schools around the country.
Stay tuned for more updates. We start the school in Bongor in just over a week!
In His service,
Jonathan and Melody and Gideon