It was to be a simple day. A church visit just 30 minutes away to greet the faithful in Walungu, followed by rest before the D. R. Congo conference began the following day. We left Bukavu, at 8 a.m. on that beautiful summer day of 2008, to allow ample time to arrive for our 9 a.m. church service.
The day before Pastor Philippe had driven our small team, Rev. Moses accompanied by Richard, Debby and Lonnie, across the country from Burundi. It had been a long journey through the national park along narrow winding roads cut into steep hillsides. We asked Philippe if he had been down that road before. He replied “yes many times, but this is my first time of driving it. I just got my drivers license this week!”
The old rented van steadily wound its way back and forth the switchback roads of the hills surrounding lake Kivu. The road was solid potholes, barely navigable, but the terrain was breathtakingly beautiful. Each turn in the road presented yet another sweeping vista: hills covered with groves of banana trees and tea plants looked like lush green clouds nestled in the valleys. Blooming bougainvillea and trumpet vines splashed brilliant spots of color––red, orange, pink and yellow––agains the majestic green backdrop.
The “30 minute trip” had grown to an hour and a half––but all were content feasting on the beauty of God’s creation. Suddenly, the quiet reverie was broken with shouts of “smoke, smoke!”––followed by “fire, fire!” Moses threw the van door open and grabbed the fire extinguisher. Richard, Lonnie and Debby fled from the van while Moses and Philippe put out the fire.
There we were, a solitary car on a lonely road, broken down in the middle of nowhere. Just as Philippe reached for his phone to call for help someone stopped. This was God’s perfect divine provision for that person was a mechanic who was carrying his tools with him!
The bar for securing the battery had been left unfastened, allowing the battery to hit the van housing with the constant bump, bump, bump of the washboard road––causing sparks which started the fire. Once the problem was diagnosed it was a simple fix for a qualified person.
We finally arrived in Walungu an hour an a half late, but waiting had not dampened their spirits. We were welcomed with much fanfare as children sang and greeted us. We met in an outdoor pavilion next to a soccer field our host Pastor Jeremiah had arranged for us, since his church was very small. Choirs dressed in their beautiful native attire offered African hymns of praise. Together we feasted on God’s Word, brothers and sisters united in Christ, coming together from opposite sides of the world for the common purpose of worshiping God.
One of the groups in attendance was from the Walungu church––but three other groups had walked all night just to greet us and hear Rev. Moses speak. One group had walked 25 miles, one 30 and another 40 miles––just to hear the words of grace and hope they knew would be given.
Moses wanted to be sure that all the God fearing faithful had heard the grace gospel of salvation and were truly saved. Taking no chances that any would assume they were Christians because they had been raised in a Christian family, or taken communion, or read their Bibles, he asked “What is the difference between Christianity and Religion?” Carefully he examined the difference between what God does for man––salvation by faith alone in Christ––vs. what man does to gain God’s favor.
He reminded them that Nicodemus was a holy man, yet he was not saved. Christ told Nicodemus the way to be born again was through faith in Him. All were encouraged to follow the example of Nicodemus and be born again through faith in Christ and to look forward to their heavenly home, for the citizenship of our new birth is in heaven.
As we left it began to rain and everyone wanted to ride with us. The van could not make it up the hill with its load of 10 adults and 2 babies (not yet a full load according to African standards). There was no other road from the field, so out of the van we came, into the sprinkling rain, to lighten the load, so the van could climb the hill. Philippe was proud of his new drivers license, but we found that his driver training had been his only actual driving experience, since few in Africa own their own cars. However he prevailed, and with that solved, we were able to drop off the mother and her babies, now crying demanding milk.
In the heart of Walungu we waited for pastors who were gathering to greet Rev. Moses, but before they could arrive the rain began to pour and the streets became a river of red clay. The shoes of people walking were growing to triple size from the sticky clay grabbing hold. Others slipped and fell; Sunday clothes became red with clay stains, trousers were tucked inside socks to safeguard them. Traffic was at a standstill; all the taxi’s and cars were stuck in gooey gridlock.
We finally found an opening for the van to move, but when we tried it either stuck in the red clay or slid precariously. The choices were limited: get out and walk behind the van in the mud and rain or spend the night in town. But there was no hotel, and no one spoke English but us.
Men from the church rushed to our rescue with shovels to get us unstuck and continued to dig us out time after time. They walked and ran along side the van––shovels in hand, men on each side––to keep us from skidding off the road as we crept along. These faithful servants of God kept this up for about 45 minutes till we could get to ground dry enough to get traction.
We slowly made our way home and all was well till we had to make a bathroom stop. The car would not restart, but miraculously a man appeared with the correct sized 2 wrench to open the mechanical panel and fix the problem. And then there were the longhorn cattle, a herd of them blocking the road. All in all we arrived back in town just as the sun was setting. Over a late dinner we bonded with our comrades from the “battle of Walungu”––affectionately renamed “Walungoo.” Our short day which on our calendar read: Church/Rest turned into a long day renamed: Fire/Flood!
God is so gracious; He delivered us at every turn. During this incredible 12 hour journey we met people who walked all night to hear the Word just to begin the return walk home right after service. Each delay was yet another chance provided by God to hand out our gospel tract “Riding the Death Train.” We bonded with our brothers and sisters in Christ as we thanked God for our safety, for answering the prayers of so many faithful partners back home and for His goodness and faithfulness.