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- Story Listed as: True Life For Adults
- Theme: Inspirational stories
- Subject: Life Experience
- Published: 02/14/2020
GOD's ADVENTUREAdult, F, from Navi Mumbai, India
“We’ve Been Expecting You”
Central Western Kenya, Near Nyahururu
Things were supposed to go well. I had planned ahead, sent the plans and instructions from Australia. I even had soil tests done and all was looking good — except nothing... and I mean nothing... went according to plan. Ahh... Africa! With all of the preliminary work done in advance, and if all did go well, we should have been able to get the new school’s rammed earth walls up within the three weeks that we had estimated, leaving the other volunteers to finish the roof structure. But our plans hit an immediate snag when I got to the site and found that the soil had virtually no clay content at all — despite the report to the contrary. Just a few kilometres away I was able to see the characteristic rich red loamy soil that it so typical throughout much of East Africa. But right here, on this building site, it was another story altogether. Just dark humus soil and rocks. Lots of rocks. How could they get the soil tests so wrong? That didn’t really matter anymore, but I was deflated. I had planned the trip, taken time off work, donated my time, all apparently for nothing. I had been called in as an ‘expert adviser’ because I had builta wonderful two story rammed earth house up in Belgrave, in the hills east of Melbourne (Australia). The Kenyan project manager had been to my house and had become excited about the prospect of alternative building in Africa. Not only would
it produce a strong, enduring and cost-effective structure, but it would also give some of the local lads some building experience and introduce the local community to a wonderful simple technology. It seemed like a very good idea. Rammed earth building had been done for centuries further north in Africa. In fact there are some structures still in use today that are purported to be up to four thousand years old.
Admittedly it is much drier further north and little danger of erosion due to heavy rain, but with the correct site preparation, roofing, eaves and termite protection, such buildings are possible everywhere. All you need is sandy gravel with about 15 to 30 per cent stable clay, some form-work, some shovels, some cement, some compacting tools and lots of willing workers. In the end we were able to work out a solution. We gathered up all of the stones into heaps where we were working, then we used to formwork to build formed stone walls. It was the only solution and it began to work well, albeit at the expense of the extra sand and cement that was needed. After two weeks
we were behind schedule but making progress, and I began to feel that my presence was no longer critical. But I had not just come to Africa to work on this building... as with previous trips, I had come to Africa prepared to share the gospel and teach if the opportunity presented itself. As the weekend approached I was told there would be an opportunity for me to speak at a local church and as evening approached I went off to my room to seek the Lord.
My room, as it were, was a small dark tool shed. My bed was some iron sheets laid over bags of cement, over which a sheet of foam rubber was placed for a mattress. On this was stretched my sleeping bag and my pillow was a pillow case stuffed with some of my clothes. In one corner of my room was the all of the picks and shovels... in the opposite corner was a large pile of onions and potatoes. Ahh... Africa! Little did I know at the time that a few weeks later a strange twist of providence would find me staying in a five-star hotel in North Carolina that is usually frequented by presidents & celebrities — and dining at the Biltmore Estate (the mansion made famous by the movie, Richie Rich). That’s yet another story... my digression serves only to illustrate that God does have a sense of humour! Regardless of my iron sheet bed and my potato/onion/tool-shed lodgings, I slept well, and a very interesting sleep it was! During the night, amidst all of my thoughts about what I should present to the church the next day, I had an educational dream. I say educational because in my dream all of my thoughts and research into church history came together and succinctly distilled down into a series of simple images that I could use as a teaching tool. When I awoke I immediately saw how these images had the potential to become a poster to aid a teaching series on the essence of the New Covenant — particularly in the context of understanding the progressive history of the Church and the state of the Church today. (I apologise how dry this sounds as I write it here, but please trust me when I say that it is very revelatory and particularly important to the Church in Africa!). However, the beginning of the next day met me with yet another surprise. The project director, Geoffrey, met me as I immerged from the shed in the morning and informed me that he would not be attending church with me, but instead was
about to go to catch a bus to take him to Kampala, the capital city of the neighbouring country of Uganda. And he wasn’t planning to return for several days. But what Geoffrey failed torealise at the time was that his departure had some fairly serious implications for me. Firstly, it meant that I would be the only supervisor for a group of workers who could not speak English, nor could I speak any Swahili! Furthermore, one glance in the direction of the project vehicle revealed that it had three flat tyres and only one spare. So to summarise: I could not work, I could not go anywhere and, I could not communicate with anyone. My response? “Geoffrey... actually I think I’ll be coming with you!”
Thirty minutes later we were at the bus stop catching a bus and I was outa there! And to be completely honest, I was glad to be leaving Kenya behind me. An overnight stop near the Kenya/Uganda border meant that I did not arrive in Kampala until the next afternoon, at which time I immediately began to seek out my Ugandan colleagues. I was quite familiar with Kampala by this time, having travelled there many times in my role with Friends of Uganda Worldwide, a project that I had co-founded in 1996 with some Ugandan nationals. So it was quite a natural thing for me to seek out my colleagues, although my arrival was quite unexpected (even for me) and definitely unannounced. When I arrived at Timothy’s house in Wandagere I was met with the usual hospitable greeting, although I was surprised to find a contingent of men there who had come down from the northern Ugandan city of Lira. They were all very serious, fasting and in prayer, kneeling on the floor around Timothy’s lounge room. As I walked in none of them expressed any surprise, but stood and greeted me, still looking all very serious. Then they informed me, “We’ve been expecting you brother. What do you have to share with us?” After I had recovered from my initial reaction of disbelief, they sat and told me the story of how they had come to be in Kampala.
As it happened, they had been praying back in Lira when aprophetess — an elderly respected woman in the church — had come to them to tell them that the Lord had spoken to her. They were instructed to go and catch a bus to Kampala and then to wait at Timothy’s house until a man of God arrived with a message to share with them. Even though they had no money to get a bus to Kampala, they prayed and somehow the Lord had provided the money. Then they travelled to Timothy’s house, just as they had been instructed. How they knew the messenger they were sent to meet was actually me, I do not know, but when they asked me again, “What has God given you to share with us?” I thought of my dream and asked, “Do you have any paper?” A boy had been sent off to fetch some butcher’s paper and when he returned I attached the large sheets to the wall. I then began to draw each of the images that God had given me in the dream, explaining and teaching the underlying principles that each of those images represented. Each of the men sat and weighed carefully all that I had to share and occasionally nodded in agreement.
Just to provide a bit of additional background information, these brothers were not from what you or I might call a
conventional or normal church at all. They were, in fact, an indigenous fellowship that had began without any help or assistance from western missionaries. In fact, they were very cautious of missionaries and westerners in general, because from what they knew about the western Church, with all of its hierarchy, tradition, legalism and materialism, that didn’t fit with their understanding of the Bible at all. In fact, their fellowships had no professional pastor, no church buildings, no formal membership — and very little of the religious baggage
that we have come to accept as ‘normal’. Instead, they would meet in each other’s homes, share their resources, pray for eachother and help those in need. The elders of the community would also teach and exercise pastoral oversight as it was needed. In fact, they operated pretty much like the 1st Century Church.
After I had spoken to them, one of them came to see me with a confession. He said, “Brother, I have to ask your forgiveness. When I saw that you were a white man I didn’t want to hear what you had to say. We have heard about Christians in the west and how they are always concerned about money and how they come to introduce their unbiblical traditions to Africa. Our people are always being led astray by that, so when I saw you were white I didn’t want to listen to you. But now that I have heard what you have shared, I am very much at peace and I am glad that God sent you to us.” Many of the other men expressed similar sentiments and made it clear that I was welcome to come and minister among them anytime. And go to them I did — several times on my later trips. I participated in late-night worship times around the camp fire and I saw miracles of healing among them as they prayed for God’s intervention in the name of Jesus. And I witnessed some things that are so special that I would prefer not to write about, but to treasure in my heart forever.
Ahh... Africa! Hey, Chuck Norris!
Kenya, East Africa
This chapter must begin with an admission of my own ignorance. After all, how was I supposed to know who Chuck
Norris even was? But wherever I went in East Africa small children would wave to me, calling “Hey, Chuck Norris!”
Most people in Australia might know Chuck Norris as Walker, Texas Ranger, but throughout East Africa he is the American tough-guy action hero of numerous movies that might currently be classified as b-grade today. And whilst I feel that I bear little resemblance to the popular actor, it would appear that to many people throughout East Africa, I am actually Chuck Norris! Maybe it’s the way I dress when I am travelling... I wear my favourite leather hat to protect me from the sun, a pair of sunglasses for equally practical reasons, and my Aussie Blundstone hiking boots — simply the best boots in the world. I like shirts with double pockets and blue jeans. I also have a beard and shoulder length light-brown hair. So I guess to African eyes (maybe we all look the same to them) I might very
well look like Walker, Texas Ranger! In the beginning I assumed that this association with Chuck Norris was limited to small children. I initially became aware of it in an African town where I rode a motorcycle past a grouof children playing soccer. Simultaneously they all forgot about the ball and came running after me calling, “Hey, Chuck Norris!
Chuck Norris! Chuck Norris!” But that cry was to be echoed again and again in the streets, marketplaces and bus stops throughout east Africa — sometimes in jest and sometimes in all seriousness. And it made much more sense to me when I finally discovered who Chuck Norris actually was — and understood how popular his movies are throughout Africa! It didn’t know it at the time but I eventually learned that Chuck Norris’s on-screen heroism pretty much focuses on dispatching bad-guys with his flying fists and feet — a martial arts skill which has earned him a reputation both on and off the screen. I also learned that Chuck Norris is also a believer.
Have you ever had a strange strange experience that left you a little puzzled? That’s what it was like for me on my first night in Nairobi, Kenya, a few years ago. I had arrived late in the afternoon and was very tired after the long, backside-numbing, bus ride through the Rift Valley from neighbouring Uganda. I found the nearest cheap hotel, went into my room and crashed onto the bed, completely exhausted. By the time I woke it was about 10pm and I was hungry and thirsty, so I shook myself awake and ventured out onto the street to look for a place to eat. I don’t mind roughing it when it comes to accommodation and transport, but I’m very fussy about what I eat. Experience has taught me that it’s not fun being sick when you travel and simply watching what you eat and drink can avert a lot of disaster. As I stepped out on the street I realised that I was in a seedy part of town because before I had taken 10 steps I’d had three offers from local prostitutes hoping to secure my business. They presented no temptation at all and I wondered how anyone could be tempted. Even if the fear of the Lord weren’t enough to keep a young man
on the straight and narrow, the fear of HIV infection certainlywas, and this part of the world was HIV central.
As I walked along the street I didn’t have to walk far to find something I could eat, but I must have walked for more
than a kilometre before I found something that I was willing to eat. As a man of slightly above-average height, I’ve never had cause to feel unsafe at night in any city that I’ve been to. I’d always assumed that I just didn’t fit the common demographic of people who get into trouble... I don’t drink, I don’t attend night-clubs, and I don’t go looking for fights. And to cowardly robbers, maybe my size and stature has served as a natural deterrent to some degree. But here in Nairobi (Nairobbery, as many travellers have come to call it) maybe I actually should have felt unsafe. After all, here was I, a comparatively wealthy westerner, all alone at night on the crowded streets with
no-one to watch my back — except for Jesus and his angels. Whether it was faith or ignorance, or a bit of both, I was under the impression that I was safe. But as the night progressed I began to realise that getting back to my hotel would probably be the wisest course of action, so I headed back in that direction. As I walked along the crowded streets, past hotels and noisy night-clubs, I found myself approaching a gang of very big, very tall, very well-built African men who were standing in my path. They looked me up and down as I approached, not giving any sign of their willingness to step aside for me. I maintained eye-contact with them, just in case I needed to take some kind of defensive action, whilst at the same time not really knowing what I might do if they decided to attack me to relieve me of my wallet — or
perhaps something worse. I as got nearer they all watched me intently and then, amazingly, all stepped aside and let me walk through their midst. I gave them a nod of thanks and kept walking, and asI walked away one of them called, “Hey... Chuck Norris!” I just waved and didn’t look back. It wasn’t until much later that I realised that Chuck Norris, through the providence of God, may have also played a key role in my deliverance that night!
On a later trip to East Africa I was reminded again of the Chuck Norris connection whilst walking on the street. So I
mischievously ventured into a video store where I perused the action movie titles as they shopkeeper watched me in disbelief. After seeing that there were no Chuck Norris movies available to rent I told the attendant, “I’m disappointed that you don’t have any of my movies...”, to which he replied, without asking for any clarification, “I am sorry... we will get some more!” Nothing more was said and I walked out with the sneaking suspicion that he’d soon be on the phone telling all of his friends that the movie star had just visited his store. If you ever read this Chuck... please don’t worry, I haven’t done any more masquerading as you. But after my experiences in Nairobi that night, I do want to say, “Thanks Lord for Chuck Norris!” I might even get around to watching one of his movies one day.
On the Road to Jerusalem Jordan
After departing Kenya a week early and spending a few days in Uganda, I was eager to move on to the next stage of
my itinerary. My plan was to visit Jerusalem for the second time, having only spent 3 days there previously on an earlier trip. But since I was in the vicinity I thought it would be a great opportunity to fly into Jordan, visit with some missionary friends, and then proceed down to the ancient city of Petra before returning to Amman and crossing the border into Israel. Everything went according to plan except for the small fact that my missionary friends were actually back home in Australia at the time. So I was on my own again. I hired a car and drove down to Petra and spent a couple of nights there. Perhaps without being aware, many people will be familiar with Petra from the Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade, which featured the grand sandstone-carved treasury as the place where the cup of Christ was purportedly guarded by the legendary Knights Templar. This is all fiction of course, but it is no surprise that such an amazing location should give such flight to the imagination.
Petra (meaning rock) is aptly named because the city itselfis literally made of rock — both grand and simple dwellings carved directly into towering sandstone rock faces. In Biblical times it was apparently home to the Edomites and was heavily fortified, accessible only by the long, winding narrow towering corridor through the rock, wide enough for a horse and cart but narrow enough to easily defend against would-be invaders. The city’s water was supplied by condensation and seepage from the cliff faces along that path. Water flowed down the cliff walls and into carved channels that ran along the walls into the city. Despite Petra’s natural defences, the city was overthrown and abandoned long ago, some say as judgement from God for their cruelty to the people of Israel when they were fleeing from their enemies. Petra was ‘discovered’ again by the outside world only in fairly recent history — but obviously the locals knew it was there all along.
After exploring that amazing city, I went in search of Mount Nebo — the mountain in Jordan from which Moses viewed the promised land before he died. But given that my hire car had no maps, it wasn’t long before I was lost. This was my first brief trip to an Arab country and I was a little apprehensive about how the local [Muslim] population might treat a lone Christian traveller if I stopped in a remote place to ask directions. But my fears were soon to be revealed as unfounded. I stopped to ask directions from a group of young men standing idly at the intersection of two major roads. Among them were a few who understood enough English by which to have a broken conversation with me. When they discovered that I needed directions, instead of directing me, they
enthusiastically squeezed into my small car to personally escort me to the next road. As we drove, each of them tried their limited English with me — and were even more friendly toward me when it was clearly established that I was not, in fact, anAmerican. Inevitably the question of religion came up and I had opportunity to put into practice some advice that had been given to me years earlier by my old boss at World Vision.
My former boss had spent a lot of time in the Middle East and explained that in the Arab world the term ‘Christian’ does not have the same associations for Muslims that it does for us. He explained that many Muslim people still associate the term ‘Christian’ with the history of the Crusades — and with American Foreign Policy and... perhaps most surprisingly... with current-day Hollywood immorality. He explained that many Muslims see everything western as representing Christianity, just as many westerners make the huge mistake of assuming that all things Arabs are Islamic. It should come as no surprise that ignorance exists on both sides of the cultural divide — after all, many western Christians are unaware of the fact that many Arabs are actually Christians and many of the world’s Muslims are not Arabs at all. I digress, so back to the main point: My old boss advised me that if I truly wanted to represent Christ in the Arab world, it may be helpful to avoid the use of the word ‘Christian’ because it may lead to misunderstandings. Instead, he wisely advised, I could substitute the word ‘Christian’ for ‘Believer’ (which they take to mean a truly ‘devout’ or ‘holy’ person) or better still, ‘Follower of Jesus’ — especially since the Koran instructs Muslims to treat followers of Jesus with great respect. So with that advice in mind, that is exactly what I did. When I explained to this car full of young men that I was a follower of Jesus, they began to treat me as if I was a holy man
and asked lots of questions. I had opportunity to share some of my spiritual journey with them as we drove, with each of them pooling their limited knowledge of English to translate to each other what I was saying. When we finally arrived at theintersection that marked our parting, I felt that I should offer them some money to catch a bus home, but they refused to accept anything, citing the Koran’s teaching that they should freely give assistance to strangers. God bless those young men for helping me.
Just to illustrate that this was not an isolated incident, my experience was repeated half an hour later when I found myself lost again! Once again I stopped to ask directions — this time from an elderly man with a small boy and, once again, he insisted on getting into the car to personally escort me me to the next road. And, once again, he refused any financial reward for his trouble. Eventually I found Mount Nebo, where Moses gazed into the promised land. Then I went to the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptised, before heading back to spend one night in Amman. I took in as many of the sights and sounds of Jordan as I could during my short stay, but once again I found that the people I encountered along the way left much more of a lasting impression than any monument or cathedral ever could. And the holy encounters that I had so hoped to find, came not through gazing back into history, but through the people living in the here and now. Jerusalem still lay ahead on my journey but I did not know that on the road ahead nothing would go according to plan, nor was I aware that another chance encounter with a stranger would eventually propel me into another chapter of discovery and adventure with God.
The Old City
The border crossing from Jordan into Israel was a difficult one with long delays and security checks. As soon as I had crossed into Israel I managed to find a taxi with a few people going the same way and it dropped me off close to where I wanted to go in the Old City. I was about a week ahead of my schedule so assuming that the hotel I had booked in East Jerusalem might not have a vacancy, I walked along the narrow streets looking for alternative and cheap accommodation. The Old City is a fascinating part of Jerusalem with it’s narrow stone alleyways and busy street vendors. The city is divided into four quarters (although not equal in size) perhaps formulated as a solution to minimise ethnic and sectarian tension: the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter and the Christian Quarter. The city is alive with religious activity and commerce — most of the commerce being focused on exploiting the religious sentimentality of foreign pilgrims and tourists. Yet regardless of this commercialisation,
you still get the clear impression that you have walked into the centre stage of world history — and that significant things are playing out in the unseen realm just as much today as at anytime in in the past. It’s difficult to tell what part of the city would have existed as it was at the time of Christ, but as you walk up the narrow streets it’s not difficult to imagine that you are walking in the footsteps of Jesus — possibly even walking on the very stones that he walked on. As I walked I was scanning for a place to stay and my back-pack was getting heavier with every step. I was eager to find a quiet, peaceful place to rest and as I looked up I saw a sign, “El Arab Youth Hostel” and speculated that this might be a cheap place to stay until I found more appropriate lodgings.
All I wanted to do was sit down, get a drink and wash my bag of dirty clothes, so the standard of accommodation wasn’t going to fuss me much. I ascended the narrow flight of stairs to the reception and found that $5 per night was quite acceptable, so my first port of call was the laundry, where I placed 2 weeks worth of dirty clothes into the machines. As I sat in the foyer and waited for my clothes to go through the process of washing and drying, I noticed that the female receptionist was reading a book. Partly motivated by boredom, partly by curiosity — and party due to the fact that I had been travelling alone for the last 3 days and really just wanted to talk to another person — I decided that I would try and make conversation.
“What are you reading?” I enquired. The girl on reception, Alessandra, I estimated to be in her early 20’s, a beautiful Italian girl from Milan who spoke reasonably good English. She was working part-time at the Hostel to support her exploration of the Holy Land. “Oh, it’s the Bible” she replied. I had assumed that she was reading a novel so it wasn’t the answer I expected to hear, so I asked the next obvious question: “Are you a believer?”
Her reply was very honest. “Well, I don’t know. I see so muchreligion here in Jerusalem that I just want to understand it more”. Such clear opportunities to share your faith don’t often come so directly and I took her frank openness regarding her spiritual search as an invitation for me to engage in a converation. “I’ve had many experiences with God... would you be like to hear about some of them?”, I offered. Her response was immediate.
“Yes”, she said, putting the Bible down and giving me her undivided attention.
Over the next couple of hours I shared with her some of the many miracles that the Lord has done in my life and she sat listening to every detail and asking questions. Occasionally our conversation was interrupted by people coming to book in and check out, but after each interruption our discussion resumed where it had left off. Rarely had I seen such spiritual hunger in a young person and I sensed that if I were able to talk more with her privately without interruption, that she may be soon ready to believe and surrender her life to the Lord. Amidst the various noisy interruptions, which often consisted of loud, alcohol crazed, chain-smoking youths running past, I
began to feel like a fish out of water. I was very tired and just wanted a quiet place. I decided that I would call the original hotel in East Jerusalem and see if they had a room available, which thankfully they did. So when my clothes were all clean and dry and got ready to leave. I asked Alessandra if she might be willing to continue our conversation when her shift was over and she enthusiastically agreed.
By the time we continued our conversation it was getting late, nevertheless it was apparent to us both that God was doing something special. I could see that Alessandra was being driven by a personal need to find a peace that had eluded her. I also saw that the devil had been pursuing her in a very specific way, which gave us something else to pray about. Eventually, wehad covered every relevant issue and it came down to a choice... was she ready to follow Jesus? Her answer was a definite “yes”, so we prayed together, confessing things to God, asking for forgiveness and asking Jesus to come into her life and to fill her with the Holy Spirit. That night God welcomed another daughter into his family and I am absolutely sure that angels rejoiced that night!
After escorting Alessandra safely back to the hostel, I returned to my hotel feeling that the whole purpose for which I had come to Israel had been fulfilled. I was lonely and missing my family with a long journey to America still ahead of me. I had lost all desire to spend time exploring biblical sites and compared to the holy event that had just taken place, there was nothing more holy that I could do or see but to get on with my journey and get back to my family as soon as possible. I left for America the next day.
By the time I did get back to Australia a letter from Italy was waiting for me. Expecting it to be from Alessandra, I was
surprised to discover that it was actually from her mother, who shared the full story of God’s gracious intervention in their lives. I learned that at the time I met Alessandra her parents didn’t actually know where she was. She had travelled abroad like a prodigal daughter and her parents were distraught with worry and concern. Being part of a catholic charismatic community in Milan, the believers had upheld Alessandra in prayer the whole time, praying that God would send someone into her path to help her find the way home. After Alessandra’s encounter with God she contacted her parents and returned home to Italy, where she gave a full account of our encounter with me. Alessandra’s parents, full of thanks to God and gratitude to me, invited me to come to Italy — an invitation that I did accept the following year.