FOUR SOULS Continued...

Egypt, South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho




free online edition
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Copyright © 2001 by Matt Kronberg, Mike Peterson, Jedd Medefind, and Trey Sklar.
Published in association with Yates & Yates, Literary Agents, Orange, California.
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Contents
Preface vii
Introduction
: First Seeds of an Adventure ix

Part I: Mexico
1. 3,000 Miles in Ten Days 1

Part II: Guatemala
2. A Lesson in Generosity: Guatemala City, Guatemala 21
3. The Four Amigos! Together in Guatemala City 34
4. Into the Highlands: Uspantan, Guatemala 47
5. A Scathing Letter and Some Sweet Sorrow: Leaving Guatemala 61

Part III: Russia and Beyond
6. The Wounded Bear: Moscow, Russia 71
7. The Secret Police: Orekhovo-Zuyevo, Russia 75
8. Scarred Hands and Iron Doors: Serpukhov, Russia 92
9. Village at the Edge of the World: Loly, Russia 102
10. Heart of the Gulag Region: Yemva, Russia 117
11. Waltzing through the West: From Moscow to the Mediterranean Sea 139

Part IV: Egypt
12. Land of the Pharaohs: Cairo, Egypt 153

Part V: South Africa
13. Beauty and Strife 171
14. The Mountain Kingdom: Maseru, Kingdom of the Lesotho 176
15. The Road to Durban 193

Part VI: India
16. Rajas, Rice, and Rickshaws 215
17. A Change of Plans: Chirala, India 238
18. Sisters of Charity: Calcutta, India 249

Part VII: Bangladesh
19. The End of Our Rope 261
20. 100,000 Rickshaws: Dhaka, Bangladesh 285

Part VIII: Thailand
21. From Mosquito Nets to Marble Tile: Bangkok, Thailand 301

Part IX: Vietnam
22. Notes from the Underground 329

Conclusion: The Adventure Begins 358


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EGYPT

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- twelve -

Land of the Pharaohs

Cairo, Egypt


The world’s airports are not incredibly different; some have more glass and carpet, others less. The people who fill them, however, vary greatly. In Cairo International, men in long robes with tangled beards shuffled by, their women never far from their side, often covered completely but for almond eyes peering out from a slit in their dark veils. Olive-skinned boys in loose white tunics had more freedom to explore; although, if they roamed too far, they were summoned back with a shout.
We took our place in one of several lengthy lines that led to passport control. By the speed we were moving, we knew it would be more than an hour before we were out of the airport.
“This is going to take a while,” remarked Mike.
“We are pretty much the only non-Egyptians in here,” Jedd noticed.
Trey replied, “It must be the shooting.”
Just a few weeks before, a fundamentalist Muslim group had struck, gunning down two busloads of tourists in Egypt. Their goal was to force Egypt to become a fundamentalist state by cutting at the country’s primary source of revenue: tourism. The murders seemed to have done the job, as there was hardly a handful of non-Arabs in the airport. With Egypt’s economy so dependent upon tourism, we knew this would hurt everyone, from the richest businessman to the poorest beggar.
When our families read about the killings, they had hoped we would decide to cut Egypt from our itinerary. We were not sure it was the wisest thing to continue, either, but . . . well, we just wanted to go. “Besides,” we decided, “the security will be so much tighter now; we will actually be safer than we would have been if no attack had ever happened.” The makeup of the crowd around us suggested that few non-Egyptians shared our optimism.
“You sirs, you are American?” A young Arab in a dark suit stood before us.
Matt looked at him suspiciously. “Yes. Why?”
“I am Habib. I work for the office of tourism. I am here to get you through this line.”
“No thanks,” replied Matt, shaking his head.
“No. I am not here for money. I am paid by office of tourism. I am just here to help you. It will be easy. Follow me.”
We looked at one another as he headed off. “Have your passports ready,” he said over his shoulder.
Mike shouldered his pack and set off after the young man. The other three exchanged looks. Trey shrugged his shoulders. “Why not?”
“Because maybe . . .” Matt trailed off as Jedd and Trey headed after Mike.
Habib led to an unused passport check on the far side of the room. A chain blocked the entrance to the metal detector, hung with a sign that read “Closed.”
“Show this man your passports,” Habib directed, indicating a security guard who stood nearby.
The man glanced at each document briefly, then nodded for us to proceed. He seemed to have no interest in x-raying our bags. Matt glanced back at the line in which we had been standing; it had hardly moved in the last ten minutes.
He was still not entirely convinced. “Are you sure . . .”
“Come now. You need a taxi?” asked Habib.
“That’s all?” asked Trey, a puzzled expression on his face.
“That is all. You are in Egypt now. See? I told you it would be easy. We want to make things as simple as possible for tourist to enjoy Egypt.” He waved to a barrel-chested man who had been squatting on his haunches on the sidewalk. “Elias? These young men need a taxi.”

Along the Nile

An eerie wailing woke Trey from his slumber. The strange sound, something between a mournful prayer and a dying moan, echoed throughout the room. It seemed to be coming from everywhere. Trey rubbed his eyes and tried to remember where he was. It was still early, sometime before dawn. On the wall across from his bed hung a simple painting of an archer riding in a chariot. The wailing continued to reverberate.
Egypt. Everything fell into place. The wailing was the Muslim call to prayer, broadcast five times a day by loudspeaker throughout the towns and cities of Islamic nations all over the world.
We were staying at the apartment of a professor we had known at Westmont, Dr. Andrew Queloma, who now worked in Cairo. Trey got up and padded over to the window. A faint predawn glow hung over the quiet streets below. The air was already beginning to warm. It would be a hot one.
“Jedd. Wake up.” Trey shook him again. “Jedd.”
“Yeah, what?”
“Its about time to get up. Our ride out to the pyramids will be here to pick us up in forty-five minutes.”
“Why are you waking me up now? I can sleep for another half-hour.”
Trey moved out of the room. Jedd, unable to go back to sleep, pushed himself up with a faint scowl on his face. “What’s he waking me up so early for?”

• • •

Small puffs of moistureless dust rose from each step as we hiked toward the pyramid’s base. The sunlight was direct, sharp-edged. Russia’s winter seemed a million miles away.
Trey, as usual, had his guidebook in hand. “Let’s see here, guys. This Cheops pyramid was built around 2600 B.C. by some Pharaoh Khufu to serve as his burial chamber. It was originally covered by limestone, but over the years people took it off to use it for other things, so now what you see is this rough understone. Since they didn’t have pulleys or cranes in ancient Egypt, archaeologists still are wondering exactly how they made it so high. This one is about 480 feet tall and as wide as two and a half football fields on every side.”
Every step closer to the base gave us a greater appreciation for the pyramid’s girth.
“Each one of those stone blocks is the size of a car,” commented Jedd. “There’s got to be thousands of them.”
“Actually, over two million,” corrected Trey.

Trey’s Reflections-January 7
I feel a genuine sense of awe at the work of the ancient Egyptians. Their gigantic statues, the vastness of the pyramids, the intricate beauty of their artwork and jewelry, the craftsmanship of the Sphinx. I find it awe-inspiring. And to think that this very site has been viewed by Alexander the Great, Rommel the Desert Fox, General Patton, and countless greats.
It’s all a tribute to man’s genius and abilities. And yet, it is also a tribute to futility. These sites may be impressive, but the fact is that even if they last ten thousand years, man’s greatest accomplishments will ultimately fade into dust.

Clash over Cash

Matt and Mike were paying little attention to Trey and Jedd. They were locked in a discussion of their own.
“I just don’t feel right about spending the money that way,” stated Matt flatly, shaking his head.
Mike kicked a dirt clod that lay in his path. It disappeared into a small cloud of fine dust. “I don’t understand what the problem is. We are here in Egypt, we’ve been very careful with our money, and we’re under budget . . .”
“I don’t think we’re under budget.”
“Jedd just said we didn’t spend all the money we had allotted for the last couple weeks.”
“Well, whatever our budget is, it doesn’t justify spending that much on one meal.”
We had been offered tickets for a dinner cruise on the Nile that night at what was supposedly half the normal price. Mike was in favor of going. Matt viewed the expenditure as excessive. Jedd and Trey, usually quite vocal in a debate, had contributed little to the discussion thus far.
Jedd finally shared his mind. “Look, Mike, I’d really like to go on the cruise, too, and we are under budget, but it does seem it would be kind of extravagant. It is kind of hard to spend that much money when . . .”
“It is not that much money, especially for a dinner and an evening on the Nile! You guys don’t make any sense. You know I’m not extravagant. Most of the time when we eat out, I spend less than anyone. I mean, man, Jedd, you eat more than me at every meal, but then when I want to do something special, you say it’s extravagant.”
Mike tossed the piece of foil he had been twisting on the ground and walked a few paces ahead.
“What do you think, Trey?” asked Matt.
“You know I’m usually a big spender,” Trey replied with a hint of a smile, “but I kind of agree with you two on this one. I don’t know if it would be the best use of money people donated to us.”
Mike turned around. “All right. You guys don’t think we should pay for this out of our general money? Fine. I’ll pay for our dinner out of my own personal funds.”
“Mike, you don’t have to do-,” protested Matt.
“No. I want to do this, and I think it would be stupid not to when we’ve got an opportunity like this. If we can’t agree on paying for it together, then I’ll pay.”
Jedd suggested, “What if our group money pays for as much as a normal dinner would cost, and you could pick up the rest?”
Mike shrugged. “Whatever you feel comfortable with, but this is something I want to do.”

Mike’s Reflections-January 7
Sometimes it’s pretty frustrating to hold our money in common. Deciding what to spend on and how much can be such a point of contention. Matt’s so cheap, and Jedd thinks about it all way too much.
When I sit back and think about it, though, I guess I’m glad we’re going through this together. For one thing, it is probably good preparation for marriage. Maybe even more important, Jesus spoke about the topic of money as much as about any other thing. I think He was referring to the importance of having a right perspective on money when He said, “If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.”
Holding the right view of money is so central to living the type of abundant life Jesus calls us to. I think that means living free from the entrapment of materialism, and generally avoiding extravagance so we can be generous with friends and share with the needy. At the same time, I believe God would want us to take occasion to freely enjoy His blessings at times. I think going on this Nile cruise would be doing just that.

Into the Mosque

Dr. Queloma led the way through a high, almond-shaped doorway into the mosque. The interior was cool and dark, a refreshing change from the late morning sunlight. At the entrance, we exchanged our shoes for slippers. The thick walls of clay suddenly quieted the constant blaring of horns-almost deafening on the streets. As we moved forward, the scuffing of our slippers on the stone floor echoed faintly in the silence.
In contrast to the churches in Europe, the mosque seemed stark. Smooth walls rose around us to a height of one hundred feet, but no paintings, statues, or stained-glass windows graced them. A pattern of geometric shapes in black and scarlet wrapped around the room at a height of about ten feet, the metal of the doors being worked with similar patterns. The only other adornment came from the immense woven rug set in the room’s center. It could have covered a good-sized front lawn.
“Muslims take the second commandment very seriously,” explained Dr. Queloma. “No likeness or any graven images allowed. Throughout the centuries, Islamic visual artists have channeled their creativity into this type of geometric pattern work and into remarkable forms of calligraphy.”
“So no Muslim artists ever paint or do sculpture?” asked Matt.
“Well, some have found creative ways to get around it, but that is the general rule.”
Dr. Queloma pointed to a small raised platform and podium. “Muslims hold their services on Fridays in mosques like this. That podium is where the imam speaks; it is always on the Mecca side of a room.”
“Do they go to mosques whenever one of the calls to prayer comes over the loudspeakers?” asked Matt.
“You’ve noticed the call to prayer, huh?” said Dr. Queloma with a smile.
“It’s hard to miss.”
“They usually pray wherever they are at the time. Muslims don’t have to be in a mosque to pray. The important thing is the direction their body is pointed: toward Mecca.”
“That is one of the things Muslims do to earn salvation?”
“In a sense. There are actually five main requirements to pleasing Allah, called the five pillars of Islam. Prayer is one. Fasting is another. There is also almsgiving and the repetition of the basic creed, ‘There is one God and Muhammad is his prophet.’ The final pillar is pilgrimage: Every Muslim must travel to Mecca at least once during their lifetime.”
“That’s quite a list of requirements.”
Dr. Queloma nodded. “It’s a hefty load. And there is a lot more besides that if you really intend to be faithful. Muslims have a lot on their shoulders. Some do have a sense that no matter how good they are, they still need Allah’s grace to be allowed to enter paradise. Even so, the under-lying drive is that if you don’t get pretty much everything right, you are going to be punished severely. There is definitely a lot of fear.”
We passed out of the sanctuary into an open area surrounded by walls of dark clay several stories high. On the far side of the plaza, Dr. Queloma mounted stairs that climbed to the top of the wall. A walkway six feet wide led along the top. Cairo spread out around us. Countless minarets and moon-topped domes poked up into the dingy, smoke-choked skyline. Honking and shouting drifted up from below, muted by the distance.
“Do you like living here, Dr. Queloma?” asked Matt.
“The first time I came here, I thought it was the last place I’d ever want to live. I still feel that way every once in a while. But other places seem kind of boring after Cairo. I love the amazing history of this place, and I really have come to appreciate the Egyptian people also.”
“You have many Muslim friends?”
“Oh yes, quite a few.”
“How do you feel about all that, I mean, what effect would you say that has on your faith?”
“I wouldn’t say that I struggle with doubts at this point, if that is what you mean. A lot of the American students I teach here often do, though. Many of them have never lived outside of their culture. The whole environment is a shock for their system at first, and the more thoughtful ones wrestle with a lot of questions, especially in regards to their faith.”
“What do you think causes that?” joined Mike.
“Growing up, they never fully understood that there are millions of people out there who see the world and God differently than they do, apparently just because they happened to be born in a different place. It is a shock for the students to realize that these people are just as devout and certain as they are.”
“What do you say to these kids?”
“I usually try to give them as much freedom to work it out on their own as possible. If they want to talk about it, I’ll share some of my thoughts.”
“So what are your thoughts?” Trey probed.
Dr. Queloma laughed. “That’s not the easiest question.”
“I mean, after studying both Islam and Christianity as in depth as you have . . . what do you think?”
“Well, to be honest, as a historian, Islam really presents you with a lot of contradictions and problems. Christianity definitely leaves you with some questions as well, but an honest look tells you it has a very solid case on an intellectual level.”
“What about differences in beliefs and stuff?”
“One thing I’d say that might bother some people is that Christianity and Islam have a lot more similarities than most people realize. Even so, though, there are some differences that deeply affect the core of belief.”
“Like how we see Jesus?” questioned Jedd.
“That is the main thing. For the Christian, Jesus is everything. If it were proved that Jesus were not the Son of God, not who He claimed to be, then Christian faith would be empty and meaningless. For the Muslim, Jesus is only a great prophet, second to Muhammad.”
“But Muslims do respect Jesus?”
“Oh yes, very much. At least, they do if they know their holy book. The Koran gives an amazing amount of honor to Jesus. It attributes a great number of miracles to Him, even while Muhammad never performed any, aside from receiving the Koran. The Koran even refers to Jesus as ‘the one who sits near to God.’”
“Hmm.” Matt nodded. “I never knew they viewed Him so highly.”
Dr. Queloma continued, “The real foundational difference between the two faiths, though, is how God is viewed, the contrasting ‘portraits of God.’ For Christians, He is great and awe-inspiring, but also tender and loving. Love is His central attribute. He is seen as a gentle shepherd and even as a Father. This view of God is largely unknown to Muslims, who see Him as glorious and fearsome, but certainly not as a tender Father who desires to be intimate with His children.”

Jedd’s Reflections-January 8
Sometimes I simply take for granted the qualities that the God of the Bible uses to describe Himself. Growing up as an American Christian, the fact that “God is love” sometimes seems no more remarkable than the fact that the sky is blue.
But when you think about it, it really should shock us to think that this same God who could take burning stars in the palm of His hand and hurl them into the heavens also tenderly bends down to tell us that He loves us, and that He knows us and desires that we would seek to know Him. The pictures that God gives us of Himself-like that of a Father running out to hug His wayward child, or passages depicting Him doing things like “rejoicing over us with singing”-are almost scandalous.
Perhaps most astonishing of all is the fact that He would become a rag-clad baby, screaming in a manger.

After spending a good portion of the day in the Egyptian National Museum, we wandered the streets with little agenda, pulled into shops here and there by aggressive shopkeepers. The sun was fast becoming a bright orange blob as it dipped low in the smoggy sky. Trey kicked an empty can along the road before booting it toward the large mound of trash heaped against the building. It seemed that every street corner-with the exception of the nicest areas of Cairo-had at least a small pile of garbage. Dogs devoured what food scraps and small bones could be found in the refuse, but the less edible items, we guessed, were picked up periodically by garbage men of one sort or another.
“I’m enjoying the chances we have to talk with Dr. Queloma,” remarked Mike.
“Definitely,” affirmed Matt. “I thought it was fascinating what he and his friend at the office said yesterday about Muslims coming to faith in Jesus.”
“I didn’t catch that; I was in the other room.”
“Basically, they told us about several different men and women who grew up Muslim and really wanted to seek God. A lot of these people had dreams or visions or something of Jesus coming to them, telling them that He actually was the Son of God, and these people put their faith in Him.”
“That’s interesting. I wish I wasn’t such a skeptic, but deep down I al-ways wonder about stories like that.”
“I know what you mean, but it did sound like at least a few of these people were believable. There were even a couple of Muslim professors who had these visions. Dr. Queloma and his friends know some of these people personally. If nothing else, they at least experienced something that changed their lives.”

Mike’s Reflections-January 8
Miraculous happenings and weird dreams and those sorts of things have always sent up red flags in my mind. Most of the times I have seen someone talking about them-like some of those so-called evangelist nuts on TV-they have seemed so transparently fake to me.
I know I can take my skepticism too far, though. The work of a few charlatans should not cause me to rule out the possibility of God choosing to work outside of what is considered “normal.”
It is certainly not impossible that He would choose to reveal Himself to those who seek Him, whoever and wherever they are. Perhaps dreams are one way of doing this. Even on a purely logi-cal level, I see little reason why the Muslims Dr. Queloma told Matt about would make up a story about a dream and then become Christians-they had little to gain and much to lose by making such a choice.

A horse-drawn cart, laden with cucumbers and tomatoes, pulled out of the alleyway in front of us. An old man in a long white robe walked alongside the horse, occasionally snapping a cord to keep the lethargic animal moving. Along the sidewalk, as always, men and boys stood talking and sat at games we did not recognize.
Two overweight merchants lounged in front of a shop, smoking a water pipe. The men puffed on the thin hoses that led from the pipe, which sat on the ground between them, roughly the same size and shape as the base of a table lamp.
“You like to join us for a smoke?” invited one of the merchants.
“Ah yes, please join us,” followed the other, gesturing wide with his arms.
Matt, having spotted Mike’s “let’s give it a try” grin, laughed and rolled his eyes. “Go for it if you want, Mike.”
Mike stopped for a moment, admiring the pipe’s craftsmanship.
Trey looked back at Matt and Mike. “Are you guys coming?”
The merchant took a small puff. “This pipe gives very good smoke. Please, sit down.”
“I’d like to, but my friends don’t want to wait,” replied Mike.
The men nodded good-naturedly, and Matt and Mike jogged to catch up with Jedd and Trey.
“You don’t see a lot of women on the streets around here,” commented Jedd.
Trey agreed. “And Egypt is a lot freer than most Islamic countries. From what I’ve heard of many Muslim places, women are pretty much treated like cattle a lot of the time.”

Jedd’s Reflections-January 8
One serious strike against Muslim countries is their treatment of women. Females are often seen as little more than a piece of property, to be made use of for practical purposes and pleasure.
Even knowing that women have been mistreated in virtually all times and places throughout the world’s history, some of the stories about the abuse of women that come from places like Iran or Taliban, Afghanistan, are still shocking: harems of women kept as sex slaves, the execution of women who enter public without covering their faces, legalized wife beating . . .
What a far cry from the words of the apostle Paul, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .” [Eph. 5:25].
Being in a place like this, one sees how ignorant it is to view Paul as a “sexist” when he explains that God gave men the responsibility of leading in the home and the church. If anything, Paul was a radical. He affirmed a male role of leadership, but also championed women as possessing the same value as men. He commanded men to love and honor their wives and even to put their wives’ needs above their own.
Some say Paul’s words about the respective roles of men and women were only a reflection of the culture of his time. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Paul laid out a vision for male-female relationships that stood in sharp contrast to what had generally been the status quo of most cultures since the beginning of time. Paul was able to supersede culture because he was not looking to society and its norms for his source of truth, but to God’s design in creation and to the value God places on each individual.
Especially considering the culture of his time-which bore many similarities to the culture in many Islamic countries today-Paul’s message was nothing short of revolutionary.

A Coptic Witness

Halfway through our flight to South Africa, Jedd moved to the back of the plane to have a row of seats to himself. Matt and Mike dozed. Trey pored over a map of flight routes in the airline magazine.
Few Americans have a sense of the vast size of Africa. The distance from Egypt to South Africa is twice the distance between San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
“Would you like a beverage, sir?” a young, dark-haired steward asked softly.
Jedd glanced up from his journal. “Cranberry juice, please.”
The man set an empty cup in front of Jedd and poured from a can. “How did you like Egypt?”
“I liked it a lot. You are Egyptian?”
“Yes. And you and the other young American men-you are traveling together?”
“Pretty obvious we’re Americans, huh?” Jedd smiled. It usually was.
“What are you traveling for? Business?”
“Not really. We are visiting a number of countries in different parts of the world. We live and work with local Christians in each place we go.”
“Then you are Christians?”
“Yes.”
The young man glanced up and down the aisle. “I will come back. I need to serve drinks now, but after that, I would like to talk.”
“Sure. Whenever you are free.”
Thirty minutes later, the young man returned. “Is it all right if I sit here?”
“Sure, please do.”
“I wanted to talk with you because I am a Christian, too.”
“It’s good to meet you. My name is Jedd.”
“I am Orel Al Messiah. I am a Coptic Christian.”
Dr. Queloma had told us a bit about the Coptic Church. Long before the start of Islam and prior even to the introduction of Christianity to much of Europe, Christian faith thrived in Egypt. Muslim armies conquered Egypt in A.D. 642 and have ruled ever since. The Coptic Church, however, has maintained its presence in Egypt even to the present day. Dr. Queloma informed us that like the Russian branch of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Coptic Church was often more focused on tradition and ritual than on relationship with Christ. He also shared that even while they endured persecution from Muslims, some Coptic leaders worked against the growing number of evangelical churches in Egypt, seeing them as competition. Even so, many Coptic Christians, Dr. Queloma believed, were devoted to Jesus and His kingdom.
Jedd smiled at his new friend. “I’d really like to hear more about what it’s like to be a Christian in Egypt, Orel.”
For the next hour, Orel shared the challenges of seeking to follow Christ in Egypt. The picture he painted was quite different from that suggested by some of the Egyptians we had spoken with on the streets.
“A person is born either a Christian or a Muslim,” he explained. “It is marked on your birth certificate and on all your identification papers. A born Christian will face persecution all his life-in education, in jobs, in finding a
house . . .”
“Can a person change their religion?”
“A Christian can change to Muslim. There are rewards for doing so. But a Muslim who wants to become a Christian will fight battles. His papers will probably never be processed, and the government will make his life very hard for him in the meantime.”
“What do you mean, ‘hard for him’?”
“The government usually doesn’t officially do violence to Christians, but the police or other government employees might do bad things to you. Just two weeks ago, the police were checking everyone’s papers as they came out of my church. There was a man whose papers identified him as a Muslim. They made up a fake charge and put him in jail for a week.”
“Is there any recourse in a case like that?”
“Not really. A few judges might try to make a fair ruling, but usually not. We feel helpless.”
“And angry?”
“Sometimes I have a lot of anger toward the people who oppress and insult us over and over again.”
“I can see why. Do you feel like you’re able to love your enemies in the way Christ said to?”
“If we try to act loving to them, they think we are fools and just stomp on our backs even harder.”
Jedd was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry, Orel. I honestly have never experienced anything that tough.”
“Sometimes I think I would give anything to live in America. I have-”
A stewardess tapped Orel on the shoulder. He jumped slightly. “Orel? We need to prepare for dinner now.”
“I’ll be right there.”
The young lady continued on toward the rear of the plane.
Orel offered his hand. “It has been good to talk with you, my brother.”
“It has. I promise you, Orel, my friends and I will be praying for you, especially that the Lord will give you grace to love your enemies.”
“We will meet again, although it may be in heaven.”
“I look forward to that.”

Jedd’s Reflections-January 10
Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” is pretty easy to follow when the closest thing to an “enemy” in your life is no more than a person who might make things a little difficult now and then. What if they could literally steal your chance for an education or ruin your career? Would I be able to keep that from gnawing at me all the time?
When push comes to shove, Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount are the exact opposite of the American sense that “If someone messes with my rights, I’ll make them sorry.” Someone who is truly trying to follow Christ will never seek revenge or retaliation, or even harbor feelings of hatred, no matter how justified it might be. I know this must be incredibly hard in situations like Orel’s.
Even so, I can see that those who live out the forgiveness, mercy, and grace that Jesus taught are the type of people I want to be. They are free, unburdened, and gracious in a way that the vengeful never can be. I pray that I might be that way, even if I face real persecution someday.

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SOUTH AFRICA

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- thirteen -

Beauty and Strife

Abundance does not spread, famine does.
-ZULU SAYING

Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, sported gleaming office complexes, bright shopping malls, and landscaped acres surrounding corporate offices. The city, from the air, appeared surprisingly similar to an American metropolis.
As we deplaned into the airport, we waded into a sea of signs welcoming business travelers: “Coca-Cola-Mr. Hamm.” “Kodak for Eric Smythe.” One sign caught our eyes: “Four American Guys.” The sign’s bearer was Mr. Thys de Beer, a sober but kind South African with a mustache that wrapped down around his lips. A friend of Jedd’s had met Thys during a business trip to South Africa. She had asked Thys to serve as host for a few days to four young men he had never met.
Within hours of our first meeting, Thys and his family had offered to wash our clothes, fix a hearty meal, and provide a room in their small home. They even gave us use of their new minivan so we could drive over to the Lesotho embassy to acquire Lesotho visas. Since Lesotho’s airport had few direct international flights, we had flown into Pretoria instead and would catch a short connecting flight a few days later.
Jedd sat at the wheel of the minivan as we ventured into downtown Pretoria.
“Why don’t you take a right here?” suggested Trey. “I think the Lesotho embassy is up either this street or the next.”
“Jedd! The curb!!!” blurted Mike.
Jedd jerked the wheel and steadied the van in the middle of our lane. “Sorry,” he offered, a bit irritated.
It was the second time he had nearly clipped the sidewalk. He was still getting used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road. As in all former British colonies, drivers in South Africa operate on the left side of the road with steering wheels on the right.
“Slow down,” directed Trey. “I need to get a look at this street sign up here.”
The green of a large park stretched off to our right. Tall buildings rose on our left, allowing only narrow slats of sunlight across the boulevard in front of us.
“What are those ladies up there so excited about?” asked Matt.
A group of six or seven middle-aged black African women were jumping up and down, waving and shouting on the sidewalk just ahead.
“Careful, Jedd,” warned Trey. Two of the women-apparently not noticing our approach-had moved out into the street, still hopping and shouting. The group seemed to be cheering on an invisible marathon runner off to our left.
Traffic brought us to a near halt as we drew even with the women. Mike rolled down his window, but we could not make out anything they were shouting.
Suddenly, Trey caught something out of the corner of his eye.
“Oh my gosh. What the . . . ,” he exclaimed.
He stared down the crossroad to our left. Question-perhaps fear-showed on his face. What looked like a river of ebony flooded toward us between the high-rises. It took a moment for our minds to put it into focus. Several hundred Africans were charging down the street in our direction, chanting, shouting, and smashing windows along the way. Many wielded traditional African weapons, mostly spears and short clublike instruments. A car alarm sounded as clubs crashed against a Range Rover that was parked along the avenue. It appeared that the street behind the rioters was littered with the glass of car and shop windows.
“Aye ya, aye ya, aye ya!” A rhythmic chanting boomed between the buildings and washed over us. The mob’s nucleus seemed to bounce up and down in unison, matching the rhythm of the chant.
Traffic began to move forward, slowly. The cars whose drivers could see what was approaching were honking madly.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” breathed Trey.
Two policemen seemed to come out of nowhere. They charged toward our vehicle, each bearing an unslung short-barreled shotgun.
“Go! Go!” one shouted. “Get moving!”
The officer nearest us yelled as he waved his free arm, swinging it in a full circle, desperately signaling us to move
“Hit it!” cried Trey.
Jedd did not need prodding. The minivan lurched forward into the open right lane, narrowly missing one of the ladies who was still cheering on the mob. Whappp! She slapped the van as we drove past. Trey glanced back to see the policemen running into the park, shouting and motioning to a pair of afternoon joggers. Two blocks up the road, Jedd took a fast right turn, wheels chirping. Trey caught a glimpse of the mob’s front runners reaching the place we had been. Past the next stoplight, Jedd slowed and began to pull up along the curve.
“Let’s keep going. I don’t think we’re far enough away to stop,” said Matt.
“What the heck was that?” exclaimed Mike.
“Some kind of riot,” said Trey.
Jedd shook his head. “I hardly had a clue what was happening at first. I thought those policemen were going to commandeer our car or something.”

Trey’s Reflections-January 10
That riot seemed so strange, so out of place. The city appeared every bit as “normal” and modern as the financial district of San Francisco or Chicago. We looked down a street, expecting nothing but businesspeople in suits, but instead encountered a sea of rioters raising spears and smashing windows. What a bizarre thing to witness!

“We call those kind of riots ‘toi tois,’” explained Thys de Beer later that night as we sat around his living room with cups of African “bush” tea. “You were very fortunate to escape as you did. At the very least they would have destroyed the car.”
“You boys are getting a pretty good dose of South Africa on your first day here,” remarked Dierdre, Thys’s wife.
“Do these toi tois happen often?” asked Mike.
“Pretty frequently,” replied Thys. “Any time the blacks are unhappy with something-you know: wages, rent, some perceived unfairness in government-they go on a toi tois; smashing windows, burning cars, sending people to the
hospital . . .”
“Aren’t things better now that apartheid is over?”
“No,” said Thys flatly.
“It depends on who you talk to,” explained Dierdre. “For South African whites, definitely not. There is crime everywhere, the schools are terrible, businesses are closing, and our money is hardly worth half of what it used to . . .”
“But for the blacks?”
“Things are better in some ways. They are much freer and can vote and such. The terrible things done to them by the government under apartheid have been abolished. But they expected everything to suddenly become perfect when apartheid ended. Of course, it’s not. In fact, even for blacks, some things have become worse. Frustrated expectation creates the anger . . .”
Thys cut in, apparently feeling a bit of anger himself. “I’m not saying apartheid was good. We never liked it and it needed to end, but basically, our country is going to hell now.”
Matt spoke up. “I’ve heard a lot of whites are leaving the country.”
Thys nodded. The flash of anger passed from his face as quickly as it had appeared. He seemed to settle back into the resignation of one who has given up hope that what he has lost will ever be recovered.
“That’s true, just about anyone who can afford it is leaving, mostly to Australia and America. This isn’t because they want to go. Our ancestors have lived here for four hundred years. But it’s getting too scary to stay. Just look at the print.” He lifted a newspaper from the coffee table and held it up for emphasis. “Every day you read about a half-dozen carjackings happening right down the street. They just jump out when you are at a stop sign, put a gun in your face, and take your car, sometimes in broad daylight. It happened to me once. I was lucky, though. Half the time they’ll just kill you.”

Matt’s Reflections-January 10
It is hard to know what to think about the whites of South Africa. I know that many people condemn them for the apartheid system they lived with for so long. When I see the miserable situation they now face, my first thought is that they deserve it after allowing all the evils of apartheid.
I still cannot help but feel sorry for them, though. Their ancestors have lived in this land much longer than mine have lived in America, and now they see the social and economic stability of their country falling apart. Going through that would be hard for anyone.

A deeper investigation of South Africa would have to wait. Before the trip began, we had purchased a flight from Pretoria to the Kingdom of the Lesotho, allowing for only a brief stay with the de Beers.
“Anytime you guys are in town, you’re welcome to stay with us,” Thys said warmly as he dropped us off at the airport. He meant it.

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- fourteen -

The Mountain Kingdom

Maseru, Kingdom of the Lesotho


Set amid the African plains, the Maseru airport consisted of little more than a small terminal and a pair of runways. With the twenty or so passengers who had packed into our small aircraft, we made our way across the dusty concrete toward the terminal. The building was nearly empty save for two uniformed attendants, a green-clad man with a machine gun, and the few small circles of welcomers that had swallowed our fellow travelers.
“You’re sure they knew when we were coming, Trey?” questioned Matt.
“I think so. I even called the guy who directs a couple different schools here when we were in Russia to firm everything up. But you can never quite be sure. I’ll tell you-the semester I spent in Zimbabwe, I never knew exactly whether someone understood me just right. If no one comes in half an hour . . .”
A deep voice broke into Trey’s reply-“Brothers?” Several people turned to look at the thickly built African who had just entered the room. He did not wait for a reply but strode directly toward us. The fact that we were the only whites in the building apparently made him certain we were indeed the appropriate “brothers.”
“I am Samuel!” He beamed as he drew near, wrapping each of us in a hug that left us short of breath. The man appeared to be thirty or thirty-five, clad in a bright red shirt. His skin was so dark it seemed to swallow the light around him. Though a beret tilted across his wide forehead, the almost silly nature of the fellow’s grin told us he was no soldier.
He held Matt at arm’s length. “You were afraid I would not come? Yes, I see it in your face.” His laughter boomed around the room. “We would not forget you. I’ve been thinking about you all day. Here, let me take that bag.”
As far as we knew, he would be taking us to the nearby city of Maseru. From there, we would head deep into the mountains, where for the next several weeks we would teach various classes for the junior high students at an African-run mission station. We had not traveled far in the truck Samuel had brought when we noticed a series of steep plateaus-several hundred yards high-rising out of the plain.
“Where’d those come from?” questioned Matt. “Everything around the airport looked totally flat.”
“Most of Lesotho is hills and mountains. That is why they call us ‘the Mountain Kingdom,’” said Samuel. “You’ll see.”
The plateaus grew larger and closer together as the city neared. Groupings of homes began to appear between them, sometimes springing up between the cliffs. Most of the cement-block buildings were roofed with tin or corrugated metal. Unlike suburbs in the United States, the neighborhoods were not quiet and lonely in the middle of the day. Men and boys leaned against fences or sat in the shade of trees. Women went about daily chores, hanging laundry or shucking corn with small children playing at their feet. The dress was mostly Western, although no women wore pants-only loose cotton dresses. Our road continued on into the central part of Maseru. It had only a few main avenues-just two lanes each, lined with shops and markets. Despite a population said to be several hundred thousand, it did not feel very citylike. Rocky hills, draped in a tenuous green, rose as a backdrop on every side.

• • •

“What is this place?” inquired Matt, shutting the door of the truck behind him. A collection of buildings-some wood, some cement-surrounded the grassy field where Samuel had parked.
“The Masuru Bible College,” answered Samuel. “It’s where Christian pastors are trained. The director is hoping you’ll be able to do a lot of repairs on the buildings while you’re here.”
“So . . . we’ll be working here for the next few weeks, Samuel?” asked Jedd.
Samuel nodded. “Your coming is perfect timing. It is vacation time, so the Bible college students are gone. You can stay in the dorm.”
Jedd shot a questioning glance at Trey. “I thought . . .”
Trey shrugged. “So did I.”
A short while later, we were situating ourselves in one of the dorms. “Not a bad setup here,” said Mike, throwing himself down on a bare mattress.
The dorms were simple-three large rooms with cement floors, white walls, and metal bunks; perhaps more like military barracks than anything else. Matt was already busy putting up a mosquito net around the bed he had chosen.
We had just finished a brief meeting with the director, who asked if we would be willing to spend our time in Lesotho making repairs on some of the college’s buildings. He mentioned the mountain mission station only as a place we might want to visit for a relaxing weekend.
Mike sat on the edge of his bunk. “It’s kind of weird that the director had told you we’d be teaching classes to junior high kids up in the mountains.”
“He probably just didn’t think about what time of year it was,” responded Trey. “There’s no point in asking about it now. All the students in the country are on vacation. I’m glad we’ll be of use around here at least.”
Mike laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back. “If we’re able to finish those projects he wants done, maybe we could do that little retreat idea.”
“What do you mean?”
“Remember a while back Jedd had the idea of doing some kind of little retreat. We could do that up at the mission station. I was actually thinking it might be pretty neat if we spent a few days fasting.”
Jedd’s voice came from another room. “I didn’t suggest fasting.”
“We don’t have to,” replied Mike, “but I think it could be a really good experience.”
Jedd entered the room, mosquito net in hand. “I hate this net I have. You guys have those great hanging nets. This little wire thingy is supposed to arc around my head, but it’s too small. The net always ends up in my mouth after I fall asleep.” He dropped the mesh onto an empty bed and sat down next to Mike. “So how long do you want to fast?”
“I was thinking three days.”
“You’ve got a little more stored energy than I do, Mike,” Jedd gibed, patting Mike’s belly. “I’d pass out on day two.”
“I’d be willing to give the fast a try,” said Matt seriously.
“What about you, Trey?” asked Mike.
“Yeah, I’d be up for it.”
“Well, I’ll fast if you guys are going to,” said Jedd, “but, to be honest, I don’t feel like I’d know why I’m doing it. I know fasting’s been important to a lot of Christians in history, but I also know a lot of people did it for the wrong reasons. I’d just like a clearer sense of why it’s supposedly valuable.”
“Maybe you won’t know ’til you do it,” said Mike. “Not that I claim to be an expert. I haven’t done it very much myself. But the few times I have, it really has helped me to direct my thoughts to interacting with God, praying, and listening to Him.”
“Well, let’s see what happens with work here. I don’t want to be a naysayer, but I never feel great when I miss even one meal, let alone three days’ worth.”
Mike laughed. “We’ll see what happens . . .”

Cows, Women, and Song

“I need another nail, Mike,” requested Matt.
Mike lifted his head and spoke through clinched teeth. “I can’t let go of this board. Can you grab one out of my mouth?”
Matt reached down from his perch on the roof and picked out one of the nails Mike held between his lips. The two had been working with Samuel for several hours to replace rotting boards on the eaves of the dining hall. Samuel and Mike held the new two-by-eight in place while Matt set a nail and began to pound. It was still quite hot out, despite the fact that the sun had begun to sink into the trees at the far end of the seminary grounds. Mike’s face and forearms glowed a sunburned red. Matt, always diligent in the application of sunblock, merely sweated. A large, salty bead dripped from the tip of his nose and fell directly into Mike’s eye.
“Dang, Matt! Watch it,” he grunted.
“Sorry.”
Samuel stood and arched his back. “You can sure get sore doing this.” He pointed to a swath of pasture across the road.
“See those guys?”
“What guys? Those cows?” questioned Mike.
“I had to pay thirteen of them for my wife.”
“Who’d you pay?”
“Her parents, of course.”
“Does every guy have to pay cows for his wife?”
“Yes, it is the tradition.”
“What if you don’t have cows?”
“You can pay the amount they’re worth in cash, but you always bargain with the parents in cows.”
“So is thirteen cows pretty standard?” asked Matt.
“No. Not many women require thirteen cows. The average is around eight, I think.” Samuel spoke extra matter-of-factly, trying to hide his pride.
“How do you know how many cows a wife is worth?”
“There are many factors: beauty, reputation, skin color . . . things like that. Education, too-if she is more educated, she is worth more cows.”
“What if you can’t afford the number of cows she costs-can you get your wife on credit?”
Samuel did not catch the hint of joking in Mike’s voice. He answered, “Almost no young men have enough wealth to pay for their wife when they get married. Almost all have to use credit. Sometimes you owe your parents-in-law for the rest of your life. I know men who work in the mines in South Africa eight months at a time for years just so they can pay off their cow debt.”
“So do you still owe cows?”
“I’ve paid off nine cows, but I still owe four.”
Matt interjected, “So, Mike, how many cows do you think Brittney’s parents are going to want for her?”
Mike smiled. “Probably a lot more than I have.”
Around the corner, Trey and Jedd continued to scrape paint from the side of the dormitory. It peeled off in small white flakes, cascading into their hair and sliding down their shirts. They looked like they had just come out of a snowstorm.
“Do you know what we’re planning to do the next few days?” asked Jedd.
“We’ll be going to church tomorrow and then maybe sometime next week we’ll have a chance to head up to the mission station.”
“Are you still thinking of trying Mike’s idea of a three-day fast up there?”
“I’d like to try. Have you decided whether or not you will?”
Jedd shrugged. “Like I said before, I will if you guys want to. I wouldn’t say I’m excited about it, but I do have this feeling that it could be really good for us.”
Trey teased, “So you aren’t going to wait to fast until you figure out exactly how it works?”
“You know I overanalyze sometimes,” Jedd replied with a smile. “And I would like to understand fasting perfectly before I did it, but, like Mike said the other day, it probably doesn’t work that way. We can talk about fasting all we want, but I probably would never begin to understand its value until I actually do it.”

• • •

Sunday morning the four of us and a local man ventured out to a residential area outside of Maseru. We made our way through the cement-block homes, ducking clotheslines, stepping around loose chickens and small children. The metal-roofed church was nearly empty when we arrived. For the first half-hour of the service, church members filed in, joining the singing as they made their way to an open bench. Now the church was packed.
Matt’s eyes were closed. The sound washed over him and swirled around in his head. There were no musical instruments, just voices. Rich, deep sounds of men; altos and tenors from the women; even the unripe tones of children-all blending, weaving together in what seemed to be perfect harmony. He could almost feel it.
Trey whispered, “It’s like we get to sit in the middle of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.”
“Better,” Matt replied without opening his eyes.
The women were dressed in their finest-brightly colored dresses of rough cotton, matching scarves or ribbons adorning their hair. The men and boys wore plain Western attire-slacks and a shirt, sometimes a tie. Everyone sang, clapped, swayed; many even danced.
Mike noticed Jedd shaking his hips as he sang.“Nice moves,” he gibed.
Jedd shrugged and smiled. “I got a little groove. Go for it, Mike.”
Mike, a lopsided grin on his face, shimmied back and forth as he turned a full circle.
“Not bad for a beach bum, not bad at all.” Jedd laughed.
The song ended. Clapping and praises in the African tongue filled in for a moment; slowly the room quieted, growing almost silent before a strong female voice rose up. “Ahhhhyyyahhhh . . .” One by one, the entire congregation joined in the song as if guided by a masterful director. The individual voices, each so different, melded together perfectly, layer upon layer.
It was nearly an hour and a half into the service when Jedd was asked to come to the front to deliver his sermon.
“Why is it that we were created?” he started.
The woman translating for him seemed to have a perfect grasp of both English and the local language; she began before Jedd had finished his sentence and matched his tone and emphasis exactly.
“We were created to walk in relationship with our Maker . . .”
An “uh-huh” sounded from the congregation, along with two “Amens.” Jedd paused for a moment, a bit surprised. He continued, “When Jesus was asked what commandment was the greatest, His reply left no room for doubt. Our purpose on earth comes down to two simple responsibilities: love God with everything that is in us, and love our neighbors as ourselves . . .”
Several more “Amens” erupted from the crowd. Jedd grew a bit more animated.
“. . . First Corinthians 13 tells us we could do every good deed in the world . . .”
“Uh-huh.”
“We could give every cent we have to the poor . . .”
“Amen.”
“We could even give our body to be burned . . .”
“Yes, yes.”
“But if we are not motivated by love for God, if we have no love for those we are serving, if it is just a religious exercise or a noble gesture . . .”
“Uh-huh!”
“Then it is all worth absolutely nothing!”
“Amen! Amen!”
Twenty minutes later, Jedd was glowing as he made his way back to his seat.
“Good job,” whispered Trey. “Man, you were sure getting into it.”
Jedd smiled. “I couldn’t help it. When they’re telling you to preach it, you’ve just got to preach it.”
More singing began, followed by announcements; more singing, then another sermon. This one lasted a good forty-five minutes, then more singing.

Mike’s Reflections-January 18
I could hardly believe how long the church service today was. Between all the speaking, praying, and singing, it went well over three hours. As strange as it sounds, the man we were with said that this service was a short one.
I did find it all interesting, and I absolutely loved the singing, but I have to admit that I was getting tired of it all by the end.
I guess they just have a very different view of church-and of time in general-than we do. We sometimes see church services as little more than something we “need to do.” We arrive, say a few hellos, work through our songs, sermon, offering, and announcements, and then get out.
Church in places like this is seen as the highlight of the week . . . not only spiritually, but socially as well.
If I’m honest, I know the reason I see a three-hour service as unbearably long is nothing but my expectations and attitude. After all, I have no problem watching a three-hour movie.
I wouldn’t say I admire everything about the church in Lesotho, but I wish the church at home (myself included) could come to see Sunday mornings together more as a happy, highlight-of-the-week type thing as they do.

Cultural Shocker

We were on our way back to Maseru when Matt pointed and asked, “What’s going on over there?”
A dozen or so women hopped and spun in a tight circle, wearing only grass skirts; their chests, arms, legs, and faces were painted white. Neigh-bors gathered around, cheering on the participants.
“Looks like some kind of ceremony or something,” responded Trey.
“Oh . . . it’s a female circumcision ceremony,” the driver of our truck explained.
Mike grimaced. “Is that common?”
“It is less common now than it used to be, but many still do it. Among some people here, a girl is still not considered marry-able until she’s been circumcised.”
The women forming the circle chanted loudly. Hands on knees, they faced the middle and bounced together in a circular motion.
“A lot of Western groups have worked in Africa to try to stop female circumcision, haven’t they?” questioned Matt.
Our driver nodded. “They have, but old cultural traditions aren’t easily changed. A girl will spend six weeks at a special camp in the mountains where they’ll perform the actual circumcision. The tribal rites are celebrated upon the girl’s return.”
“It is interesting that Western groups are trying to change aspects of local culture like that,” stated Mike.
Trey glanced over at him, surprised. “Why? You think female circumcision is okay?”
“Absolutely not. Female circumcision is despicable. It puts women through excruciating pain and robs them of pleasure God meant for them to have. What I’m saying is that some of those Western groups that generally embrace moral relativism are being somewhat hypocritical when they come over here and try to change the culture.”
“I’m still not following you.”
“See, because I believe there is an absolute right and wrong, I have no problem with trying to change another culture if it has practices I believe are inherently wrong. The Bible says a man is to love his wife and serve her, not dominate her and reduce her to a tool for pleasure. If a culture promotes things contrary to this, it is morally right to change it. The ironic thing is that a lot of the people in these international organizations from the West claim there is no absolute truth, no ultimate standard of right or wrong-only the standards of each culture.”
“That is true,” responded Trey. “I sure saw that during the semester I spent studying in Zimbabwe. A lot of the vocal international-activist types totally write off Christian morality and basically argue no one should push their morality on anyone else.”
“Exactly,” said Mike. “Then they turn around and condemn practices in other countries like child labor and female circumcision.”

Mike’s Reflections-January 18
Many people today-especially in Hollywood and on college campuses-are constantly working to destroy the idea of an absolute right and wrong.
I find it so ironic when many of these same people end up in crusades for “human rights” or other causes around the world.
As a Christian, I believe I have a right-actually, a DUTY-to battle against injustices like female circumcision, slavery, or wife abuse anywhere in the world. This is because I am convinced that there are absolutes that are higher than any cultural norms or traditions.
But where do those who believe there are no absolutes find any “right” to try to change other cultures? They claim morality is just a matter of preference. If that is true, then an American has no right to interfere with the culture in another country, no matter how much his own “preferences” tell him otherwise. If there are no absolutes, no culture has any basis for judging any other culture.

Three Days without Food

A red-hued boulder shaded Matt from the late morning sun. The day was already a scorcher, and the cool surface of the rock felt good against his back. Today, we had begun our time of fasting, halfway up the side of one of Lesotho’s larger mountains at the Mount Tabor mission station. With only one African man and his family currently residing at the station, the mission station itself would have provided sufficient solitude. Even so, we decided to seek the added seclusion higher up, near the top of the mountain. Water, sleeping bags, Bibles, and journals were all we needed for the three-day excursion.
Matt glanced out over the expanse that stretched out before him. From this vantage point, the massive plateaus and deep river gorges below seemed to be all at the same level. Nothing in the scene seemed to move except for a small cluster of clouds on the distant horizon that slowly dragged its sheet of rain across the plane. It seemed to Matt that he had not felt this at peace for months. He picked up his journal and began to write.

Matt’s Reflections-January 22
Ordinary life, especially in America, is so full of noise. Almost every waking hour is flooded with frantic busyness. At work, we move from one task to the next to the next. Then we go home and work madly at our to-do list. Whenever we find a “free” hour, we gorge ourselves on entertainment and distraction: CDs, TV, movies, the Internet, phone calls, e-mails . . . There is rarely a silent moment.
If God wants to speak to us with a “still, small voice,” it seems unlikely that we would be able to hear anything. Listening to what God has to say in the context of our normal lives is like trying to have a conversation with someone in the front row of a U2 concert. In order to really hear what our Creator has to say to us, our mind and body must be still and silent for more than just a few minutes at a time.
I hope that during this time up here we can really quiet ourselves. If we discipline ourselves to be truly quiet and to listen, most likely we will hear things God has been trying to communicate to us for quite some time.

A meadow opened on the mountainside just below Matt. Jedd and Trey sat together on the grass, drawing to the end a conversation they had begun earlier. There had been a good deal of friction between them for the past several weeks, and both wanted to set things right before seeking God in prayer.
“I’m glad we’ve been able to talk through all this,” said Jedd. “The way things have been has frustrated me so much. It seemed like there was constant on-and-off friction beneath the surface.”
Trey nodded. “It’s weird how we work through smaller, day-to-day issues during reconciliation each night, but we never really talked about some of these bigger things that go back so far.”
“Yeah. Like the birthday thing from junior year. I really appreciate that you brought it up this morning.”
“Well, I never said anything before because I felt stupid for carrying around resentment about something like that. I mean, worrying about someone forgetting your birthday? That’s a girl thing to do.”
“I’m glad you told me, Trey, and seriously, I don’t think it was a small thing. You put together that incredible surprise party for my birthday that year, and then when your birthday came I forgot it . . .”

Trey’s Reflections-January 22
The reconciliation time with Jedd this morning was really good. I know we both are committed to each other, but recently there’s been a lot of silly little conflicts.
We talked through a few issues that should have been dealt with years ago. I also shared some things about my family situation that I hadn’t told anyone about before. I don’t want to use it as an excuse for being short-tempered, but I know that thinking about my parents getting a divorce puts me on edge. Jedd has been worrying about his mom’s cancer, too. Her chemotherapy is going fine, but I know it’s hard for him to be so far away from her at this time.
More than these challenges, though, I think the root of the friction we sometimes have is just that we are both strong-willed guys who still have a lot of selfishness. That is something that would still be there even if circumstances were perfect. The change of heart we need can’t occur through our own strength; rather, God must make it happen over time as we stay connected to Jesus. God’s work in me will enable me to always believe the best, hope the best, and to strive toward being the tender-hearted man I want to be.
For now, it is just so refreshing to come to God knowing that things are right between Jedd and I. I know I can never truly draw near to God if I’m harboring bitterness or irritation.

The stars took over the sky even before darkness set in. We had only one small flashlight, so as the last shades of red drained from the sky we began setting out our sleeping bags and preparing for bed. Soon we lay on our backs, four in a row, watching the stars grow more and more brilliant.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen ’em so bright,” Matt remarked.
“Me neither,” seconded Jedd. “The African sky is amazing. All day long I’ve been watching the colors and the clouds and the shadows they cast on the ground below. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.”
By now the darkness was nearly complete. No clouds obscured the sky above, but there seemed to be a storm moving across the horizon. Tiny jags of lightning-appearing no more than a few inches long-streaked between distant thunderheads and the nocturnal plane. We leaned on our elbows for several minutes, watching the show.

Mike’s Reflections-January 22
I’ve been thinking today that deep down I have been overly critical of the culture here. I can’t say there aren’t some good reasons for that. There are the customs, like female circumcision, that seem so cruel to me. I also haven’t noticed a very strong work ethic, and I think I’d go crazy trying to interact with the locals if I lived here permanently.
But I am beginning to see that there are some really beautiful things as well. Most of all, the great sense of community that most of the people here seem to have. There is also the genu-ine, expressive warmth and friendliness that seems to pour out of many of them. The men can even hold hands; friends wave to each other with abandon. They can laugh and talk so loudly. Their music is so beautiful, and I love the way they give themselves to it, moving and dancing.
And now I am falling more and more in love with the beauty of this land as well-the vast planes and substantial sky. Africa truly is a remarkable place.

“Did you hear that?” asked Trey, poking his head out of his sleeping bag.
Jedd was already drifting off. “What?”
“That sound. Kind of a rumbling, like thunder.”
Matt rolled onto his belly and peered in the direction in which we had seen the lightning. “I think that storm might be getting a little closer. I hope it doesn’t hit us.”
“I don’t think it will,” said Mike. “I watched a storm moving across the planes all day. It never came near. The wind isn’t moving in this direction.”
Two hours later, though, we had to conclude that the storm was getting closer. The faint rumbling Trey had noticed was indeed thunder, and it was growing noticeably louder.
“The wind is sure starting to pick up,” remarked Jedd.
“The time between each lightning flash and its thunder is getting a lot shorter,” Matt observed. “A couple minutes ago I counted fourteen seconds and on the last one I counted twelve.”
“You guys think we should try to head down to the mission station?” questioned Mike.
“As much as I’d like to stay, it probably wouldn’t be smart to be up on a mountainside in a lightning storm,” Trey admitted, disappointment in his voice.
“I think we’d better get moving right away,” said Matt. “It is going to be hard enough getting down the mountain with only one flashlight.”
We worked as quickly as we could in the darkness, rolling up our sleeping bags and returning our belongings to our packs.
“Man, that gust just about blew me off . . .” Trey was silenced as lightning washed the mountainside in phosphorescent light. Thunder boomed only a moment later.
Matt raised his voice to be heard above the wind. “Let’s get moving. Lightning is gonna be hitting this mountain soon!”
We moved in line, trying to stick as close together as possible. As clouds obscured the stars, near total blackness enveloped us. Matt’s Mini Maglite helped little, illuminating only a small patch of ground around his feet. It was almost easier to work from lightning flash to lightning flash. The wind had become a near gale when the first raindrops began to fall-fat, hard-hitting drops. The frequent flashes revealed a strange world of boulders, twisting trees, and bushes-everything a milky blue.
“Shoot!” cried Mike. He had slipped over a small ledge and tumbled several feet.
“You okay, Mike?” yelled Trey.
A flash provided a glimpse of Mike-on his knees, peering at his elbow. “Yeah, fine. Just scraped my elbow.”
“Does anyone know if we are moving in the right direction?” questioned Matt.
We knew we would not see the mission station until we stumbled directly upon it. Its electric lights operated on a generator that shut off at 9:00 P.M.
“I think we’ve got to head a little more to the left,” said Trey.
“I had thought more to the right,” said Mike. “But I’d trust Trey more than myself in . . .”
Mike’s words were erased as a blaze of white light arrived simultaneous with a bone-jarring crash.
“Man! That one rattled my head!” yelled Trey.
“It must have hit just a few hundred yards up,” said Matt.
We moved to the left and a short while later found ourselves in a grove of leafy trees. The wind whipped us with the wet branches as we pushed through, but the covering provided shelter from the driving rain.
“If these are the trees I think they are, the station is just a little ways down that way,” predicted Trey.
As we emerged from the grove, Matt’s flashlight illuminated what appeared to be a trail. We had not been on it for more than a minute when another lightning strike on the mountain above lit up the scene before us. The mission station and surrounding buildings stood not more than a hundred yards away.
“I’m glad to see that place,” declared Matt.
The ground flattened out, and we moved toward the station’s front door quickly. We were almost to the front steps when an explosion of angry canine growling sounded just to our left. Jedd, who had been in front, jumped back into Mike.
Matt flashed his light in the direction of the sound. Two large German shepherds, teeth bared, snarled at us from the porch. With eyes reflecting green, they began to bark loudly.
We started to back away . . . slowly, carefully. One dog began to follow, but as he reached the steps his chain went tight.
“That scared the heck out of me,” breathed Jedd.
“I don’t think we’ll be getting in through the front door,” remarked Trey dryly.
We moved along the outside of the building, shielded partially from the rain by the eaves. The side door was locked and several minutes of knocking produced no result.
Mike stroked his chin, squeezing raindrops out of his beard.
“It is going to be a long night if we have to spend it out here.”
“You know,” said Trey, “I think I may have left the window open in the room I slept in last night.”
We followed Trey around another corner to a small window. He pushed on it, but it did not yield.
“Give me a hand here; I think it’s loose.”
With Matt and Trey lifting together, the window slid open. Trey was soon inside.
“I’ll come around and open the side door.”
In a moment we were sitting on beds in Matt and Mike’s dark, dry room.
“Well, that was an adventure,” stated Matt, peeling off his soaked shirt.
“And still two days of the fast to go,” followed Trey with a grin.

Jedd’s Reflections-January 24
The fast is just about over. It’s the longest I’ve ever gone without eating, but I feel so full of joy and contentment. I feel like I still don’t totally understand fasting, or all the reasons for it, but I do have a deep sense that it is valuable and important. The last three days have been an incredibly rich time of growth with the guys and nearness to the Lord. I put together a little list of some of the benefits I see:
-Fasting reminds us of our frailty. I often see myself as competent, strong, and self-sufficient. Yet one day without food and I already begin to lose my strength. In this, fasting is especially important for prideful young men. It gives an inescapable sense of how fleeting our strength is and how dependent we are upon God’s provision.
-Fasting gives us greater compassion for the hungry and also helps us appreciate the blessing of food and eating.
-Fasting frees the time that would have been spent eating or preparing meals for prayer, and hunger throughout the day can serve as a reminder to pray.
-Fasting causes us to depend on God for energy and helps us to see how His strength is “made perfect in weakness.”
-Fasting can be an act of sacrifice and devotion. If it is done with the right spirit, God will bless it. Also, any time you sacrifice for something, you become more committed to it.
-Fasting helps us gain discipline and control over human desire. We learn that as nice as it is to get our meals when we want them, we can go without them.
Even more than these things, though, I think fasting may be mainly about listening. It is a time to quiet ourselves and focus on God. It allows us to hear what He desires to say (and most likely has been wanting to say for quite some time).
I think maybe God has been providing some guidance about the future, too. I’m so excited about the thought of living with the guys next year. We’re even toying with the idea of writing a book about the trip together. Doing something like that definitely seems beyond us, but that is part of the beauty of it: If it is going to happen, God is going to have to be the one to bring it about. For my part, I’m just thrilled to get to be going along for such an incredible ride.

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-fifteen-


The Road to Durban


Dozens of vans were parked at the Lesotho-South Africa border where a dusty lot served as the transportation station. A man in a hole-pocked T-shirt moved between the vehicles, shouting orders at drivers and directing riders to the appropriate vans.
“You’re still sure you want to do this?” questioned Samuel.
“Yes, Samuel, we do,” Trey assured, a bit more forcefully than the previous three times Samuel asked.
“If you want, we could go back to the airport and see if they have a flight to Johannesburg today,” he said.
“Look, Samuel, you told us yourself you thought it was safe during the daytime. Have you heard stories of whites being robbed in the taxis or something?”
“No,” replied Samuel with a half-grin, “I’ve never heard of whites riding the black taxis at all!”
The vehicles Samuel referred to as “black taxis” were not actually taxis, but the minivans that serve as the primary method of transportation for most black South Africans. The public transportation system had no set departure times. As riders arrived, they found a van headed in their direction, paid the driver, and then sat down to wait. When every seat was filled-be it in fifteen minutes or fifteen hours-the van departed. It was not exactly Swiss precision, but it was the cheapest way to get where you wanted to go.
The driver of our van waved toward us.
“We full now, time to go,” he announced.
“You are lucky,” said Samuel. “Less than an hour.”
Our backpacks were already buried with the other passengers’ luggage in the miniature trailer that was hitched behind our van.
Jedd put his arm over Samuel’s wide shoulders as we walked toward the van.
“It’s been great getting to spend this time with you, Samuel. Thanks so much for everything.”
Samuel laughed his deep belly laugh. “No, brothers, thank you.”
“We’ll be praying for you,” said Matt.
“Me, too, of course,” Samuel promised.
“And Mike, we’ll see you in a week in Durban,” said Trey. Mike nodded.
“You’re positive you don’t mind going it alone?” Matt asked Mike.
“Definitely. Not that I don’t love you guys and all”-Mike gave a wry smile-“but I’m looking forward to some time to myself. A chance to hit the surf will be nice, too.”
Mike would catch a different van to the coastal city of Durban. The other three planned to spend a few days with a family in Johannesburg, then drive down to Durban to meet up with Mike before our flight to India.
“Let’s go, Matt,” urged Trey, who was already buckling himself into his seat. “I think they’re waiting for us.”
Only one “seat” remained for Matt, a space of ten inches between the side door and a large, fleshy woman whose hips seemed to be twice as wide her shoulders. She did not return Matt’s smile, but wriggled a bit to the left to create more space as he climbed in. Samuel slid the door shut behind him.
The van moved forward, weaving between the vans and honking repeatedly at any person who was not quick to move out of the way. Matt glanced back. Mike and Samuel stood side by side, waving. Samuel waved with both hands, ivory teeth gleaming out of his dark face.

Home and Hearth

The van’s motor was located beneath a raised section in the middle, rather than in front, where its growling and grinding dampened any prospects for conversation during the journey. Our fellow travelers slept or stared out the windows glumly, eyelids hanging low.
Initially, rolling prairie dominated the vast spaces that spread out on either side of the two-lane road. Farmhouses-each with its own windmill-appeared here and there, usually set back into the hills. As we drew closer to Johannesburg, the geography lost most of its charm, the expanse becoming flat and dry, spotted with a few scrubby plants. The only contours came from random mounds that bulged out of the plain, often several hundred feet into the air and surrounded by high cyclone fences topped with razor wire.
“Those are mines,” explained Trey, “probably diamonds or gold. The mounds are the tailings they take up from underground.”
Jedd peered at one mound a few hundred yards from the highway. On the near side of the mound, he saw a tower of rusty metal. Going around at the top was a massive wheel of iron, lowering a line of cable into a gaping space of blackness in the ground below. Not far from the tower, a long row of bunkhouse shacks leaned precariously, appearing ready to fall over at any moment.
“Not the nicest worker accommodations,” Jedd whispered to Trey.
“Yeah, I’ve heard the miners aren’t allowed out of the fenced-in area very often either,” replied Trey. “It is a big deal going out because they have to strip-search them for diamonds.”
Jedd subtly pointed toward a wiry man who slouched forward in the front seat, sleeping, his head bouncing against the dash. “I think that guy up front said something to the driver about being a miner.”
“He is,” affirmed Trey. “You can tell because he’s wearing the big gumboots. They wear those in the mines.”
“A lot of the guys at the station were wearing those.”
“Remember how I told you Lesotho’s number one export is labor? If a man from Lesotho wants to make any money, he doesn’t have much choice but the mines in South Africa. On average, these guys spend fifteen months working in the mines for every month they live at home.”
“What a miserable way to live.”
Trey nodded. “Very sad. They accept this horrible life so they can make money for their families, and then they often end up frittering a lot of it away trying to find a little pleasure on alcohol and prostitutes. When they do go home, a lot of them bring AIDS with them.”
“I know; it’s crazy. I read an article recently that said nine out of ten new AIDS cases are in sub-Saharan Africa. It said that in some countries in the region as much as 50 percent of the working-age population is infected with HIV.”

Jedd’s Reflections-January 29
It gives you a good sense of how poor and miserable the conditions are in much of Africa that people will travel hundreds of miles to work in these mines. I honestly cannot grasp what such an existence would be like. When I think about a career, I always think in terms of what would be most fulfilling and what I would enjoy most. So many throughout the world think only of finding a job, any job, that can bring in enough to feed themselves and those they are responsible for taking care of.
This luxury that I’ve been given-to actually choose my vocation-I had better not take it lightly. God didn’t give it to me just so I could find the easiest or best-paying job or so I could seek some self-centered self-actualization. Like Queen Esther, I’ve been given an incredible position and resources so I can accomplish God’s purposes; I must use them well.

For the entire ride, Matt had not been able to place more than half his rear end on the seat. He sat at an angle, one hip well in front of the other, knees jammed against the seat in front of him. He turned awkwardly to glance back at Trey.
“You guys doing all right?” he asked.
“Not bad for having seventeen people in a minivan,” Trey replied. “You?”
“I’ve had better travel experiences,” answered Matt dryly. “What’s the plan once we get to Jo’burg?”
“We’ll stay with the Claassens for two nights, then meet up with Jedd’s friend.”
Matt twisted his neck farther so he could see Jedd. “So what is the deal with your friend? I never even caught the reason she’s in South Africa.”
“Charlotte is my cousin’s wife’s cousin.”
Matt gave a slightly puzzled look.
“We call each other cousin-in-law. Anyway, we’ve been friends since we met at my cousin and her cousin’s wedding. She’s the one who knew Thys de Beer and his family and set it up for us to stay with them. She just happens to have a business trip here this month.”
“And we can ride with her all the way to Durban?”
“Right. She’s a really generous gal. When I set this up a few months ago, she offered to drive us anywhere we needed to go. I guess a South African friend of hers is coming, too.”
“So there will be five of us making the trip from Johannesburg to Durban?”
“Right, and um . . . I need to talk to you about this part. See, apparently the South African friend-her name’s Jacqui-thought we were just on vacation when she got reservations for places to stay on the drive down. She got reservations at these nice lodges in wild-game parks. I’m not sure what I think about that.”
“They’re planning on staying in the same room with us?”
“No, not that. We’d have different rooms. It’s just that we don’t have all that much budgeted for the rest of our time in South Africa. Staying in game parks would probably put us a couple hundred dollars over budget.”
“Hmm, I don’t know,” responded Matt. “I didn’t mind taking a little vacation when we were passing through Europe, but I don’t think that we should be spending a lot of money on a little safari tour through South Africa.”
“Well, look,” replied Jedd. “I don’t want to blow money, either, but Charlotte has really gone out of her way to help us out here. She’s even getting a car so she can take us to Durban.”
“It’d still cost a lot.”
“Well, let’s just think about it,” suggested Jedd. “We can decide later.”

Matt’s Reflections-January 29
I don’t feel completely comfortable with this little side-trip idea. The people who helped support this trip knew we’d do some sightseeing, but they gave us the money to support service, not a world vacation. Spending three times as much as we’d need to spend so we can stay in game park lodges really doesn’t seem like the best use of money to me. I’m thinking we may need to tell Charlotte we just can’t do it.

We arrived at the home of Neels and Marietjie Claassen in time for dinner. Trey and Matt watched as Neels leaned over the barbecue and carefully peeled back the edges of a foil-wrapped bundle. The smell of peppers, onions, and spices mixed with hickory smoke.
“Ahh, almost ready,” he stated, glancing up at Matt. “Sausages prepared over the braai are my favorite thing.”
Matt had to smile. Nothing about Neels suggested the coldness or calculation one might expect to find in someone of his position. The whole of Neels’s wide face smiled with his easy grin, and though his eyes were sharp and intelligent, they seemed to offer more grace than judgment. Many whites had been removed from positions of authority during South Africa’s rapid transition out of apartheid. Only Neels’s lifelong reputation for being fair and genuinely committed to justice for black South Africans enabled him to retain his seat as a justice of the South African Supreme Court.
Matt glanced around at the thatch-roofed patio and well-manicured backyard. “We sure appreciate your letting us stay with you-even letting us use your car and everything,” he said.
Neels used a pair of tongs to flip one of the foil packages. “It’s really our pleasure. We enjoy having people stay with us.”
“Do you have guests often?”
“We do. Marietjie and I see our primary ministry as one of hospitality. In fact, that is why we built this house. It was bigger than we needed, even when the kids were still at home, but it’s been a great resource to use for showing people the love of Christ.”
“What kind of people do you have stay with you?”
“Over the years, we’ve had hundreds-businessmen, groups of kids on missions trips, people who’ve lost their homes, travelers like you boys . . .”
“They usually stay for a couple days?”
“As long as they need to. It’s been anywhere from an evening meal to” -he paused to think- “one couple I remember stayed the better part of a year.”
Matt glanced at Trey. “This is very cool. It sounds like what we’ve talked about in theory: an active, intentional ministry of hospitality out of the home.”
“Definitely,” agreed Trey. “So, how do people find out about it, Neels?”
“We’ve never announced it or anything, if that’s what you mean. When you make your resources available, word gets around fast. One month the church might call to ask if a visiting missionary family can stay for a few weeks, the next someone calls from Australia asking . . .”
A woman’s voice floated out of the open back door of the house. It was Neels’s wife, Marietjie. “We’ll be ready in a few minutes, Neels.”
“Would you mind watching the braai for a moment?” Neels requested, handing Trey the tongs. “I’ve got to take care of a bit inside before dinner.”

Trey’s Reflections-January 30
It is exciting to see people living out the very idea the guys and I have talked about-making an intentional ministry of hospitality. Throughout this trip, we’ve experienced what an incredible gift it is to be taken in and taken care of. There’s just nothing that conveys love and acceptance like an open home and hearth. I hope whoever I marry will also be excited about this kind of ministry. Especially since it is so rare in America, a married couple who have committed themselves to showing lavish hospitality could really impact many lives.

It was well after dark by the time we finished dinner, and we all helped carry our dishes to the kitchen, then returned to the backyard with cups of tea and slices of a berry pie Marietjie had made.
“Neels,” began Trey after we had settled back down at the picnic table, “I’ve been wanting to ask you your thoughts on the future of South Africa and the postapartheid government. We haven’t met anyone who seems to have much hope.”
Neels nodded thoughtfully. His lips held a sad smile. “You’ve seen enough to know that South Africa is bleeding severely. Anyone who’d deny that wouldn’t be telling the truth. But I am hopeful. There are a lot of good people out here, both white and black.”
“There’s a lot of frustration and disillusionment, isn’t there?” asked Matt.
“There is,” affirmed Neels, “for blacks as well as whites. Blacks thought all their problems would disappear when Mandela became president. They were bound to be disappointed. Whites knew tough times were coming, but I don’t think many foresaw how bad it would get. A lot of them didn’t really understand the apartheid situation from the beginning.”
“Are you saying white South Africans didn’t know what was going on during apartheid?” probed Matt.
“That is not exactly what I meant, but there is a sense in which that is true also.”
Marietjie interjected, “Imagine the horror a lot of Germans felt when they found out about the Nazi concentration camps for the first time. In certain ways, this is how some whites feel about the grisly details of apartheid. You see, whites knew things were not right, and we all bear a collective guilt of inaction, but most had no idea how terrible the details of apartheid really were.”
“How could that happen, though?” questioned Jedd. “It seems like the facts would be unavoidable.”
“Part of it was a chosen blindness, I think,” responded Neels. “But there was also another element. The goal of those within the government who designed apartheid was to keep the races apart-hence the word apartheid. They were quite successful in this effort. During the apartheid years, as you’ve probably heard, blacks were confined to townships; these were basically large walled ghettos on the outskirts of the cities. Blacks were not allowed to exit the townships into the so-called ‘white areas’ unless they had a government-issued passbook authorizing them to do so. At the same time, whites were also not allowed to venture into the townships without special government permission, so unless you were part of the police or were illegally inquisitive, you never really knew how the other half lived.”
Marietjie added, “It has been a shaming and horrible time for many as our history is exposed.”
Neels did not immediately follow his wife’s words, but peered for a moment up into the night sky. We remained quiet, not sure how to respond.
Finally Neels spoke up again. “What you see today is a nation reaping what it has sown. I do have hope for the future, but I believe we have much whirlwind yet to harvest.”
“Are you thinking of moving out of the country?” Matt asked quietly.
“Many are already gone,” Neels answered, shaking his head slowly. “But we will not.”
He glanced over at his wife, who smiled back at him. “No, Marietjie and I believe we’ve been placed here for a reason. It is our home, for better or worse.”

Trey’s Reflections-January 30
In some ways, I find it hard to believe that any-let alone most-white South Africans didn’t have a pretty good sense of what was going on during apartheid. And yet, Neels and Marietjie don’t seem to be trying to avoid blame. In fact, they seem willing personally to accept more than they deserve, considering both of them worked to help bring justice to black South Africans long before apartheid ended.
If what they say is true-if many whites were able to avoid seeing the realities of apartheid-then this is a powerful example of how easily humans can choose to remain blind to the pain and suffering going on around us.
As I think about this more, I question my right to judge the South Africans. I cannot help but wonder if in condemning them, I might be condemning myself as well. Is it not possible that the world system of countries and national borders is only a much grander apartheid system that carefully keeps the misery of so many out of sight and out of mind? Are we totally absolved of any guilt because we call the townships that we choose to ignore “Third World countries”? Does the greater distance mean we bear no responsibility? Are those who know that abortions terminate human brain waves and stop beating hearts any better when we-just as ordinary, decent Germans during Nazi times-choose to ignore the grisly “medical procedures” carried out at local hospitals day after day?
We had better examine ourselves before throwing any stones.

A Challenge for Jacqui

On the morning of our third day at the Claassens’, a Mercedes pulled into the driveway. It was Jedd’s “cousin-in-law” Charlotte and a friend she brought along. Charlotte offered an eager wave through the windshield as she parked. Fair skin and strawberry hair suggested her Irish-American roots. The girl in the vehicle next to her seemed Charlotte’s opposite. Jacqui was a South African of Indian descent with dark features and flashing eyes that hinted of her sharp-edged wit.
We still were not certain if it was the best use of our funds to join them for a mini-vacation road trip to Durban, but we couldn’t really think of any good excuses that would not hurt their feelings, so we decided to make a go of it. The two of them would be our traveling companions for a week.
“Do you guys mind if I crack my window a bit?” asked Charlotte.
“Go for it,” responded Trey. “I’m kind of warm, too.”
“It’s the American hot air,” piqued Jacqui. We were quickly getting used to her sarcastic humor.
We were surprised to learn from Jacqui that a substantial number of the Indians-which make up 15 to 20 percent of the population in South Africa-are Christian. Jacqui herself had grown up in a nominally Christian home and had an aunt who continually encouraged her to take her faith more seriously. For Jacqui, though, Christianity had always been an Easter- and Christmas-only event. She seemed intrigued that we saw it as more than that.
“So,” she asked, returning to a conversation begun earlier in the day, “do you guys go to church every week?”
“Most weeks,” responded Matt. “But it’s not because we have to . . . we want to.”
“My aunt would like me to go to church more often. It’s hard to get up on Sunday mornings, though.”
Trey grinned. “That’s why I go to a church in Santa Barbara that meets in the afternoon.”
“That’d be nice . . . at least once in a while. I’d get tired of church if I went too often.”
The car fell quiet for a moment, save for the faint hum of tires on blacktop.
In several leisurely days, we reached the coast and found a nice game preserve set on the St. Lucia Estuary, just a few miles from the ocean. A stretch of grass had been carved out of the woods within a stone’s throw of the water and set with a dozen round, thatch-roofed cabins known as rondovals-a somewhat sanitized version of the traditional tribal home. A sign posted on the community bathroom read, “Warning: Be on the lookout for hippo in the camp at night.”
Late in the evening, we sat around one of the rondovals talking. Matt strummed his guitar from the top of his bunk bed.
“You got any more of that repellent, Matt?” asked Trey.
“In the side pocket of my pack there,” Matt answered. “You going out?”
“Yeah. I’m thinking about walking down to the water’s edge. Anyone want to come?” Charlotte and Jedd indicated that they would join him.
“I think I’ll just play my guitar here for a while,” said Matt. “I was down by the water earlier today.”
“I’ll stay here and protect Matt from the hippos,” said Jacqui.
When the others had left, Jacqui returned to the table that still contained the remnants of a chicken and rice dinner.
“This is nice,” she said. “I don’t get all that many chances to take vacations.”
“So you don’t mind taking your vacation with three guys you’d never met before?” asked Matt with a smile.
Jacqui turned serious for a moment. “Not at all. I really am enjoying getting to know you fellows. I honestly haven’t ever met guys like you.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Good,” she continued. “And for once I’m being serious. I mean, I know you guys aren’t perfect, but . . . I don’t know. It just seems like you have something.”
“Thanks. I guess if we have anything different, it’s just our commitment to Jesus.”
“Yeah, but I’ve known a lot of Christians . . . ,” Jacqui said, her voice trailing off.
“There is so much more to following Jesus than calling yourself a Christian. Many people who call themselves Christian don’t really try to follow Him and live as He taught. We’re not necessarily the best examples of it, but we’re trying.”
“Yeah. I guess I’ve never taken faith stuff too seriously. I don’t mean it hasn’t been important to me-I do want to be good and go to church and stuff, but you know how it is.” She paused for a moment, thinking over what she had just said. “Or maybe you don’t.”
“More than you’d think,” responded Matt. “I grew up in a Christian home, but I hit a point where I got pretty tired of trying to keep up with all the requirements for what I thought I needed to be and do. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stick with it. Honestly, I don’t think I would have if I still thought that doing all the Christian stuff was all there was to my faith.”
“What do you mean, ‘Christian stuff’?”
“Just the things everyone associates with being a good Christian: go to church, study the Bible, say your prayers, don’t do bad stuff, be nice to people.”
“But you still do those things.”
“Yes, but . . . it’s totally different now. I had fallen into thinking of those things as a big list I had to keep up with if I wanted to be good.”
Jacqui tilted her head slightly. “So God doesn’t care if we’re good?”
“Of course He does. But He’s more concerned about us being good on the inside than the outside. We might look good to others by going to church or Bible studies or doing good things, but unless we allow God to change the core of who we are, we’ll never be truly good.”
“I guess I’ve heard that. And the bit about believing in Jesus. I don’t see how just believing is going to change much.”
“It’s not, if by ‘believing’ you mean nothing more than agreeing with certain facts about Jesus. Even Satan knows all the right facts. It’s faith in Jesus that brings us true life. Faith is not just assenting to some religious doctrine or idea; it’s a total confidence in Jesus and all that He taught. That confidence is what can cause us to abandon ourselves totally to Him, to accept His death as the payment for our sins and to pattern our lives according to His teachings-that’s what begins the transformation in our lives.”
Jacqui thought for a moment. “I like the concept, but you can’t just drum up this ‘total confidence’ out of nowhere.”
“I agree, you can’t. The Gospel of Mark tells about a man who asks Jesus to heal his son. When Jesus tells him that anything is possible for those with faith, the man falls on his knees and he begs, ‘I do have some faith; please build my faith where it is weak.’ I do that often myself.”
“So I should just ask for faith and then wait?”
“That’s a good place to start, but also . . . if you want to build confidence in someone-or at least see if they’re worthy of your trust-how would you do it? Spend time with them, right? Get to know Jesus. Find out what He said about life and relationships. See how He lived.”
“Is that where studying the Bible and prayer and other Christian stuff comes in?”
“Exactly!” replied Matt, excited. “Jesus is worthy of your confidence, Jacqui. You just need to get to know Him.”
“I want to. I feel like I still really wonder, though, what-”
Jacqui was cut off as the door flew open and Trey burst into the room. Charlotte and Jedd followed on his heels.
“Whoa! That had my heart pumping,” he gushed.
“What?” questioned Matt, a bit annoyed with the sudden interruption.
Trey did not notice. He continued, breathless, “We were down by the water, and we saw these two shiny green eyes with our flashlight. We lost them for a second, and then they appeared closer. We started moving up the bank, and when we shone our light back down, they were right by the bank-it was a crocodile. They run faster than a person, so we got out of their pretty quick.”
“What am I going to tell your families if you get eaten by a crocodile?” Matt asked, beginning to smile.
“Tell ’em we were crossing a river in the middle of a jungle, trying to bring medicine to a dying missionary,” replied Trey.
“Yeah, right here in the middle of a game park,” gibed Jacqui.
“Then say we were trying to save a baby that fell into the water,” suggested Jedd.
“I’m in the presence of superheroes,” said Jacqui, suppressing a fake yawn. She looked at her watch. “I actually am getting pretty tired. You about ready to head back to our cabin, Char?”

By daylight, the water’s edge was a different place. Like a silver gray apron, the estuary stretched out, its bankside edges tangled with rushes and water lilies. The early morning cool was fast giving way to a humid warmth, the moisture in the air giving the horizon a smudged appearance. Birds and monkeys chattered from the dense brush surrounding the clearing.
In an open grassy space along the bank, Matt lounged in the sun a few feet from the water, reading. A short distance away, Jacqui balanced comfortably in the limbs of a thick-trunked tree, a dozen feet in the air, her legs drawn up to her chest.
“What’re you doing, Jacqui?” asked Jedd, who had just walked down from the cabins.
“Looking for hippos . . . I haven’t seen any yet.”
“Did you know your leg is bleeding?”
“Yeah. I scraped it climbing up here. It doesn’t really hurt.”
Jedd paused, looking out over the water for a moment. “Mind if I sit in the shade here and read?”
“Your Bible?”
“Yeah.”
“Why don’t you read out loud so I can hear, too.”
Jedd sat down with his back against the tree’s trunk. “Anything in particular you want me to read?”
She thought for a moment. “No. Just pick a couple of your favorite parts.”
Jedd thumbed through his Bible, glancing at a few different passages before settling on one. “Here, this is Psalm 139. It’s one of my favorites-it gives a picture of how intimately God knows us and of the type of relationship that . . . well, I’ll just read it:

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

When the passage was finished, Jacqui was quiet for some time. Jedd glanced up at her; she was gazing out over the estuary. He looked at Matt, who smiled back at him. The small waves lapped in slow rhythm against the shore.
“What’re you thinking?” he asked finally.
“A lot, I guess. Can you read a little more?”
“Sure. As much as you want.”
Jedd read several more passages before she said anything, and then only a soft “Thanks.” She wanted to think for a while, he could tell. Matt joined him as he moved up toward the rondovals.
“Jacqui really seems to be soaking it all in,” Matt remarked.
“Yeah, I think so,” Jedd agreed. “Let’s take a sec and pray for her.”
Months later, Jacqui wrote to Jedd, “For the first time that morning, I began to see the breath and life in the words you were speaking. Something touched me in that moment. Perhaps on that morning my life and my future were placed right there on the cusp, and then something moved me. I think it was the true turning point in my life, where I made a conscious and yet unconscious move toward Christ.”

Matt’s Reflections-February 2
It’s kind of funny how Trey, Jedd, and I had such big questions about the money it would cost to spend time touring with Charlotte and Jacqui. I was pretty convinced this side trip was not the best use of our funds. Now it seems to me that the side trip is exactly what God wanted us to do-particularly to become friends with Jacqui and challenge and encourage her.
I feel doubly foolish for fretting about it, especially since Charlotte has been so generous in helping us pay for most of the side trip.
I need to keep in mind that my idea of how money should be used is often quite different from God’s. Frugality may be a virtue, but it is definitely not the highest one-God often seems to be anything but frugal.

Meanwhile, in Durban Mike spent the morning surfing. The waves were not ideal, but the sun was out and the water felt great. A shower in his room at the youth hostel washed the salt away and primed him for lunch.
As he walked out of the hostel’s lobby, Mike glanced at the hand-printed message on a sign that hung above the doorway: “Do not go left after exiting, or you will put yourself in danger.” Mike had to smile.
“That’s what’s great about South Africa,” he mused. “Every time you begin to think you’re in paradise, something smacks you upside the head.” Heeding the sign’s advice, he turned right toward the boardwalk that ran along Durban’s most popular beach.
A few hearty wave-riders were still out beyond the breakers, bobbing up and down in the gray water. Along the boardwalk ran Durban’s famous water park-wading pool after wading pool, each with a unique combination of water-squirting works of art, sculptures, and slides. The pools had once teemed with the children of white vacationers. Some still came, but from what Mike could see, it was much different now. Thoughtful parents would never let children out of their sight while playing in the pools for fear their child might become another South African crime statistic.
The smell of roasting chicken pulled Mike’s attention away from two small black girls who sat in a pool facing each other, playing patty-cake. In the window of a street-side shop window, a dozen golden-brown birds, dripping gravy, circulated on a rotisserie. He offered a “hello” to the security guard-a thick-armed black man-who stood near the entrance. Nearly every shop had one. The fellow offered a sleepy nod in reply. A Thanksgiving-like smell caught Mike as he entered the café. An attractive girl with soft blue eyes smiled at him from behind the counter.
“How are you today?” she asked pleasantly in a thick Afrikaans accent.
“Well, thanks. And yourself?”
“Pretty good, but I’ll be much better when my shift’s over. What would you like?”
Mike considered the menu for a moment. “The chicken dinner special looks good to me.”
“Yeah, it’s really not bad.” She disappeared through swinging doors into a kitchen area. “I’ll be back in just a moment.”
She was still in the kitchen when three young black men entered. Their clothes were stylish, but shiny patches in the knees of their jeans and loose threads hanging from their collars suggested the outfits were worn daily. Mike offered a half-smile, but they seemed not to notice him.
“Excuse me, does anybody work here?” demanded one, a squat teen with large bags under his eyes.
“Hey, we wanna order,” followed a second.
The counter remained empty.
A terse “Just a moment” sounded from the back.
“Hello? Excuse me!” The young men appeared to be getting agitated.
“HELLO!”
The young woman appeared through the door carrying a plate covered with mashed potatoes, green beans, and a half-chicken. The look on her face wavered between irritation and fear.
“Hello, honey, are you finally going to help us?”
“I’m not your honey.”
“Oh, come on, baby.”
“I’m not your baby!”
“Oh, come on, don’t be like that, honey.”
“Hey, why don’t you show her some respect?” Mike blurted out awkwardly.
“Why should I? She didn’t show us no respect.”
Mike wasn’t sure whether he felt silly or scared. “She didn’t do anything to you.”
“Oh no, nothing at all-didn’t even ask us what we wanted when we came in the door.”
Mike shook his head slightly. “She didn’t know you were here. She was busy making my food.”
“No, you were ignoring us; weren’t you, honey?”
“That’s it!” she exploded, her face growing red. “I’m calling security.”
Mike glanced toward the door. The large, green-clad man was still out in front.
“Oh no, she’s going to call security,” the stocky fellow mocked.
The girl set Mike’s plate on the counter and called toward the guard, “Security. Security!”
The young fellows laughed as the man entered.
“What’s wrong, miss?”
“These guys are harassing me. I want them out of the store.”
“We’re not doing nothing, just trying to get some food. She won’t serve us ’cause we’re black. She was just ignoring us.”
“She couldn’t hear you,” Mike interjected.
The third young man, who had said little up to this point, responded, “Yeah, right. You Afrikaaners always side with each other.”
“I’m not Afrikaans-I’m American. I’m just saying what I saw.”
“Well, you don’t know what it’s like for us here. They always treat us like this.”
The security guard said something Mike did not catch. Shaking their heads, the young men moved toward the door. The squat one shot a disdainful glance back at the girl; she returned it with equal venom.

Mike’s Reflections-February 2
What I saw today was just a minor incident, but I think it says a lot about the turmoil that South Africa is going through at this time. It seems like too much to hope that there will ever be more than isolated cases of racial reconciliation. It is a much more difficult situation than in America. The wounds of apartheid are still so raw, and they only seem to be getting more aggravated with every passing day.
The black people of South Africa have suffered innumerable injustices. It would be almost impossible to expect that there would not be a great deal of hatred toward whites. It is also easy to understand the fear and frustration of the Afrikaaners as they watch their country fall apart. I hope I am wrong, but I fear that South Africa will travel down the path of continual conflict, just like neighboring Zimbabwe.

We rejoined in Durban as planned. Our final days in Africa were restful: a last meal with Jacqui and Charlotte at the home of Jacqui’s parents, and time with another special host family who confirmed both the hope and the anguish of South Afria.
Trey turned out the lights as we climbed into South African beds one last time. “Enjoy a good night’s sleep, guys. It may be your last for a while.”
“You think India’s going to be rougher than the places we’ve already been?” questioned Matt.
Trey shrugged. “I don’t know, but from the things I’ve heard, the crazy part of this trip is just beginning . . .”

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NEXT STOP: INDIA . . . CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE NEXT SECTION NOW!

Episodes to come:
* Hitchhiking to Hyderabad in a semi-truck
* Jedd & Trey get a look at Mount Everest
* A visit to Mother Teresa's Sisters of Charity

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Contents
Preface vii
Introduction
: First Seeds of an Adventure ix

Part I: Mexico
1. 3,000 Miles in Ten Days 1

Part II: Guatemala
2. A Lesson in Generosity: Guatemala City, Guatemala 21
3. The Four Amigos! Together in Guatemala City 34
4. Into the Highlands: Uspantan, Guatemala 47
5. A Scathing Letter and Some Sweet Sorrow: Leaving Guatemala 61

Part III: Russia and Beyond
6. The Wounded Bear: Moscow, Russia 71
7. The Secret Police: Orekhovo-Zuyevo, Russia 75
8. Scarred Hands and Iron Doors: Serpukhov, Russia 92
9. Village at the Edge of the World: Loly, Russia 102
10. Heart of the Gulag Region: Yemva, Russia 117
11. Waltzing through the West: From Moscow to the Mediterranean Sea 139

Part IV: Egypt
12. Land of the Pharaohs: Cairo, Egypt 153

Part V: South Africa
13. Beauty and Strife 171
14. The Mountain Kingdom: Maseru, Kingdom of the Lesotho 176
15. The Road to Durban 193

Part VI: India
16. Rajas, Rice, and Rickshaws 215
17. A Change of Plans: Chirala, India 238
18. Sisters of Charity: Calcutta, India 249

Part VII: Bangladesh
19. The End of Our Rope 261
20. 100,000 Rickshaws: Dhaka, Bangladesh 285

Part VIII: Thailand
21. From Mosquito Nets to Marble Tile: Bangkok, Thailand 301

Part IX: Vietnam
22. Notes from the Underground 329

Conclusion: The Adventure Begins 358