Over the River and Through the …. Jungle
The road loomed ahead of me, steep and slick. I hitched my heavy backpack higher on my back and thought of Mary Slessor, Ann Hasseltine Judson, Gladys Aylward, and Amy Carmichael. They are my favorite heroes of the faith – women who followed their husbands or forged on alone to serve the Lord in a foreign land. They walked over mountains and through jungles on a regular basis. I could certainly make one measly hike over the mountains.
This slippery journey started out with two options – neither of which looked good to me. We had been invited to the village of Canaan (pronounced Kah-nah-ah) for a Thanksgiving service and meal. The road to this remote place is ugly at the best of times. Ruts and bumps and hairpin turns combined with narrow one lane stretches with just inches between the truck tires and the steep drop offs down the mountain – no, I didn’t like it a bit. We hadn’t been to Canaan since the end of last dry season. In rainy season the road is so hazardous the people can’t get in or out except by motorcycle or on foot.
They don’t have a preacher and the Christians there are so needy, both spiritually and physically. Paul has been champing at the bit to get back to check on them. They begged us to come for Thanksgiving, and Paul promised we would be there.
And then it rained.
So – do we walk over the mountains, carrying medicines and gifts, or do we risk it in the truck? The people postponed from Saturday to Sunday to give the road a day to dry out and we traveled there to take a look before we made our decision.
It looked dreadful – slick as glass. I voted to walk in (okay, I actually voted for going home, but that wasn’t an option for Paul). As we were parked, eyeing the first of many up-tilted legs of the journey, another truck pulled up. They looked at it, too, and said, “We’re going to try it.”
We watched their truck wriggle and slide and snarl to get up the hill – but they made it. Paul decided we could make it, too.
“If it gets too bad, we’ll just park and walk the rest of the way in,” he said.
So we started up. We clung to door handles and our seats as we jolted and bumped and slithered to the top of the hill. From there it got worse. A time or two we had to get out and walk up a particularly steep or dangerous section. Two of the kids decided to go ahead and hike the rest of the way. I debated on walking with them, but decided that if Paul was going to heaven, I wasn’t going to be left behind.
Up and up we went.
One stretch was so nasty with such a scary drop off mere inches away that I just closed my eyes and prayed. Boom!
My eyes flew open. What was that?
“Oh, no,” Paul moaned. “We have a flat.”
Everyone piled out of the truck and surveyed the damage. Flat. Very flat. Of all the dreadful places to have a flat, this had to win the prize. Carefully, prayerfully, Paul backed the truck down the slippery slope on that flat tire. By God’s grace, he made it.
“It’s going to take us a while to get this fixed,” Paul said. “Why don’t you take the medicine and the kids and go ahead. You can do medicine while you are waiting for us.”
So we divided up the meds into our backpacks and set off over the mountain to Canaan.
I was thankful for the running program I’ve been doing. So far I haven’t seen much progress in the way of pounds or inches lost or improvement in speed. However, I saw the benefit that day. At one time I couldn’t have made it up one of those ladder-like stretches of mountain road. That day I was able to haul myself and the heavy backpack up and onward without having a heart attack or melting into exhaustion. In fact, Bang, Jay, and I left the girls behind. (Molly later told Lek that I “walked like a Lahu” so she couldn’t keep up with me.)
The downhill sections were actually scarier than going up. If we had skis or a sled we could easily have slid down. As it was, I took great care to stay upright. It occurred to me how inconvenient it would be to slip and break a hip there.
I was sweaty, muddy and generally disheveled when we heard the truck coming up the road behind us. They had fixed the tire and caught up with us. I confess that I saw them with mixed feelings. I was glad to have a ride the rest of the way, but if I had known they were going to be finished before I could get to the village I could have been sitting crocheting or reading my book instead of slogging through the mud.
However, the rest of the way turned out to be so far, I decided to be happy about it.
People from the village came to see what was taking so long. We were able to park the truck and they gave us a ride in their pickup (with special mud tires) for the last, worst part of the way.
The people were so happy to see us, dirty and sweaty though we were. The group at church was tiny – about 16 people, not counting our crew. But Paul pointed out later that the Good Shepherd left 99 sheep to go to the rescue of one lost in the wilderness. Those 16 needed the Gospel and the encouragement of the Word, and they received it that day.
We had lunch at the mayor’s house. She is Preston’s aunt and Paul baptized her in the river just last year. We were happy to have Preston’s mother with us as she was recently released from prison. It was good to see her smiling face.
Paul took the kids on a hike to a nearby waterfall while Lek and I did medicine and gave out clothes the kids had outgrown and hats. As usual, lots of people who hadn’t come to service showed up in the line for help, and we gladly shared with them, too. It’s another way of showing God’s love – by giving toward their needs. And they are so very needy!
Paul and the kids weren’t back when we finished, so I decided to walk to the waterfall, which they told me was a kilometer or two away. I walked. And walked. And walked. Maybe they meant two miles. Or maybe they didn’t know. It was certainly farther than one or two anythings. The scenery was beautiful, though, as I walked the path by the jungle river, under the flowering trees and through clouds of butterflies. This journey, like my first one, turned out to be wasted because I met our group coming back in a truck. Paul told me the waterfall was still miles ahead. They were there just a few minutes before it was time to come back. They ran part of the way through the jungle before some forest service workers picked them up and gave them a ride. Paul and Preston hauled me into the back of the pickup – a difficult feat with me in my skirt and shoes caked with mud — and I managed to hang on and not be bounced out of the truck as we jounced along the track back to the village.
Another ride in our friends’ truck the interminable way back to the highway. I decided I would not be hiking to Canaan again anytime soon.
But was it worth it? Yes. The people in the remote villages, especially those without pastors, are like sheep without shepherds. There is no one to admonish and teach and encourage them. We can’t be everywhere, but we do our best to make the rounds and get to them as often as we can.
It’s a struggle, because we can only be in one place at a time. We would like to continue the church services in San Sai where we live so that our workers’ families can have a place to worship. There just isn’t room in the truck for everyone to go with us. Also, our kids dread the long trips each week. But we have to go and visit the churches. We keep hearing of false teachers showing up to confuse them and groups that are unsound coming to offer new buildings to those who will follow them. They need us to be there more often than we can make it.
We are praying that God might send us help so that we can meet more of the overwhelming needs.
We have to make a decision about the kids’ schooling soon, too. I want to homeschool them, but Paul is not sure I’ll have the stamina to keep up with six young teens who are just learning to read English. In a few years they will be able to work on their own, but I really need help the first couple of years at least.
But He is the Lord of the Harvest. He knows our needs and can send the help we require at the right time. In the meantime, we are going to keep on keeping on. His grace is sufficient!