Missed the Sign! [OLD]

The sound was deafening.  Our van rattled over the washboard road traveling north from Garu in the northern part of Ghana.  Our team of ten tried their best to carry on conversation above the din by shouting at each other.  We were exhausted from the days of travel and ministry from the bike and a backpack (BaaB) team that had delivered two sets of Jesus Film equipment and two motorcycles to the northern district of Ghana.  The leaders had been so grateful for the new equipment that would keep their outreach going to add to the now almost 100 churches planted in the last 3 years.  We were able to rent motorcycles and the team from the USA who were mostly bikers had participated in 3 nights and 4 days of ministry to the people in various villages.  The days had been full of trials, filled with great adventure and adversity, and unforgettable times of ministry with our local leaders in the Ghanaian Church of the Nazarene.

I looked forward to the driver as he swerved once again in reckless abandon off the road on a small detour and then bounced back on the road again, careening to miss yet another giant pothole.  I shouted “Hey driver, slow down! We have people here in the van.” My words fell on deaf ears.  The van continued its punishing lurching and rattling as we cut through the darkness of the night.  Suddenly, we started slowing down and came to a halt.  The sound of hissing water and the rising heat from the floor panels confirmed my fears that the engine had overheated.  We were stranded on a dark road in the middle of nowhere.  “Oh Lord, help us!” I prayed as we exited the van.  The driver continued his ranting promising that another van was already on its way to pick us up from the next town 7 to 10 miles away.

The nightmare had begun and I was not sure how it would end.  The driver threw water on the hot engine, which exploded back in steam on the remaining passengers in the van.  Everyone quickly exited the van and we pulled bags and cameras to keep them being doused by the boiling rusty brown water that now dripped off the ceiling of the van.  After a time, we decided that we should start the engine and see if we could add enough water to the radiator to get it to the next town.  My concern was the safety of our visitors in an area known to have bandits.

The van had no starter.  “Be prepared to push!” One of our top ten truths about a bike and a back pack trip in Ghana.  Once again, the team pulled together and after some effort the old rattle trap burped to life.  We added all the water we had including some drinking water to get us out of our troubles.  Everyone piled in and once again I reminded the driver to go slow.  The driver seemingly ignoring my pleas of reason, jammed the van into gear and tore off down the road once again.  The headlights were barely bright enough to see down the road.  The din of noise returned to our ears, and I breathed a prayer, “Please God, watch over us and bring us home safely.”

The driver continued his reckless pace while attempting to make a call on his cell phone.  Then it happened! He glanced up from his phone to suddenly realize that there was something completely across the road blocking any passage.  His futile attempts to pump the brakes and bring the van to a stop were not going to work.  A pile of sand appeared in the road and he jerked the van on a hard left turn, down into the ditch, and then launched onto an embankment of dirt with only gardens and trees ahead of us.  We stopped almost instantly.  Team members found themselves slammed against the seats in front of us and with a loud thud, everything became suddenly still in the night air.

“Is everyone OK?” I shouted.  To my great surprise only minor bruises and cuts.  My instant fear was that robbers had blocked the road and now we were trapped.  The road blocked.  Our van planted like a sack of potatoes on the side of the road and no way out.  “Oh Lord, our Rock and Shelter in times of trouble, protect us now!”  I told Peter to start to pray while I investigated the situation.  The team immediately joined hands and began to ask God to send his angels around us to guard and protect. 

As I exited the van I was able to see that the blockade across the road was not a fallen tree or some other trap. It was a bridge under construction.  In the haste of travel the driver had missed the sign!  There was a detour off to the right a few hundred yards before the bridge.  God had protected us from certain injury if we had hit that cement wall head on at the speed we were traveling. 

My heart and mind went through a sudden flood of emotion; Grateful, that no one was hurt. Relieved, that it wasn’t a robbery attempt.  Angry, that a reckless driver who had our lives in his hands, had behaved so irrationally.  Desperate, knowing we still had 4 to 5 hours of travel to reach our destination and now had no vehicle to get us there.  Thankful, that God had once again kept his hand of protection on our team.  Responsible, for the team that had given sacrificially to come to West Africa to equip our leaders, and an accident could have ended in disaster.

The reality of our situation began to sink in to the pit of my stomach.  In my weakness, He is strong!  God sent us the extra van and it arrived within 20 minutes.  We loaded our equipment and bags.  We helped the driver pull the old van out of the ditch after several crazy attempts of attaching our new van to the old one with ropes.  It was like a nightmare that would never end, but finally we were loaded and back on track.  The new driver had a much better, safer van and was driving much more carefully.  We soon hit paved road and eventually arrived in our hotel at 3 am the next morning.  So much drama, frustration, and danger had occurred all because we had simply missed the sign.

As I laid in my bed that night, I reflected on all that had happened that week.  I wondered to myself, what signs in life have we missed where God says, “This is the way,” and because of our distractions, our concerns, our misplaced priorities we continue our hectic pace towards disaster and entrapment.   How often has God tried to catch our attention towards His will in our life and we simply ignored it only to find ourselves in crisis calling out to God once again for help?

We had planned a great adventure of taking the gospel to the remote villages of Ghana.  The new battery powered equipment was truly amazing.  Everything you needed to show the film, all packed in one backpack and even rechargeable by the solar panels neatly tucked into the side.  I had carried it myself several nights on the motorcycle as we followed the long line of motorcycle lights bouncing through the trails towards the place we would show that night.  Almost every night something had gone wrong.  The new motorcycles that we had purchased for the Jesus Film teams were running great, but the older bikes that have been serving this district for the last 10 years had stranded us on the trail more than once.  Pastors who live on meager funds had used these bikes to plant churches, carry pregnant women from their villages in the night to the local hospital for deliveries, and strapped on generators, speakers, and projectors trying to spread the gospel into new villages that have not heard the good news.  What a difference these new tools are going to make and what a blessing to have dependable transport to get it there.

Our first night, the team had left the little town of Garu towards the remote village.  Right from the start we had problems as part of the team took off on unfamiliar streets while the back half had stalled engines and could not follow.  Before I knew it, the local leader had turned on a small dirt road out of town but the rest of the team had kept going straight.  Two of the bikes were having clutch problems and needed adjustments.  After several phone calls we all got together once again.  It was obvious that my bike was not going to make it that night. 

A local neighbor seeing our predicament offered us his bike.  In good African hospitality, I left my broken bike in his yard with promises to return for it the next day, and drove off into the night on a stranger’s motorbike that wasn’t much better.  The foot pedals were lose, the brakes almost non-existent, and the head light so dim I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me.  Many jarring thuds as my bike pounded through deep ruts, reminded me that I was driving more by faith than by sight.  Occasionally we would stop to make sure everyone was together, and I would see Darren come rolling by on the old motorcycle we affectionately called “Grandma.”  I soon found out that he really had no brakes so it was best not to stop in front of him for any reason.  It took a good 50 meters to get him stopped.

When we arrived at the village, everyone was excited.  Though it was already 9PM people were waiting for the showing.  Pastor Barnabas had found a man of peace, Simeon, that had given us access to show the film at the local primary school yard and was part of the first believers to start a new church plant in that area.  The children swarmed Linda and Andrea as the ladies interacted with them.  Love is communicated from the heart so language rarely keeps those who desire to make relationships, from making many new friends.  By the time the screen was up, the projector and sound system in place, the children had already found a place to sit in front of the screen and some had found themselves comfortably perched in the laps of team members.

I was already thinking of the ride home.  We had barely made it to this distant village and my borrowed bike seemed impossible to start if it died.  As the film played, some members prayed, some counted the growing number of youth and adults attracted to the film lighting up the night sky with images of Christ, and some of us were taking apart the bikes trying to find solutions.  Much to my surprise, there was no battery in my motorbike.  Suddenly the dim head light made sense.  This was a push start bike only!

As the film ended, our host pastor Rev. Mathias stood to make the altar call.  I noticed something strange on his head.  He was cold from the night air and so he was still wearing his helmet.  You know you are on a Bike and a Backpack trip when the guy giving the altar call is wearing a helmet.

He made a call to anyone who was willing to pray and ask for forgiveness from their sins, that Christ was ready to offer them salvation and we would pray with them. A group of 22 men, women, and children gathered out to the side of the screen, and Pastor Peter from our group was asked to lead them in the prayer of salvation.  God had honored our local pastors efforts, and our team’s persistence to bring the good news to this small village.  We rejoiced together, packed our equipment, and mounted our rattling metallic steeds for the long ride home.

Grandma decided she had served us long enough, and died!  I gave Darrel my push start bike and offered to try and coax the old motorcycle home.  We would run and push start it, only to have it die a few minutes later.  I finally decided we must drain the fuel filters and carburetor.  Opening the fuel bowl I found water, rust, and debris – very little fuel.  After cleaning, the old bike jumped to life, and we started down the trail.  It wasn’t long though before she died again.  I began to pray.  “Lord help us home and give us wisdom as to how to fix this motorbike!” 

Our process of cleaning and push starting continued time and time again.  Once in a frenzy to keep the engine running, I hit a large stone a little too fast.  I heard a crunch on my gear shifter and came to a stop.  The gear shift was now vertical instead of horizontal.  The teeth were shredded and changing gears was now out of the question.  It was second gear from here on out and then, the engine died again.

Darren blew into the fuel pipe forcing the rust and trash back into the tank.  Others drained fuel from their bikes, giving old grandma a transfusion of new gas hoping that might cure her.  What I needed was some way to clean the outlet stand pipe on the tank that kept getting blocked.  We soon found out that a tooth pick is a tool at two am!  We finally got the engine running again.  Andrea was faithfully riding on the back when suddenly we heard a loud bang and then a flap-flap-flap sound right before the back wheel locked and we skidded to a stop.  Some how the rear brake support had lost its mounting bolt. The connecting rod for the foot brake pedal had gone into the spokes of the rear wheel, and turned itself into a pretzel.

We removed all broken parts and tied up the loose pedal with a rubber strap to keep it out of the way.   Old grandma was now stuck in second gear, required mouth to tube resuscitation about every 2 kms, and had no brakes and a very weak clutch.  This was no longer safe for passengers.  However we were out of seats.  Every bike had a passenger except Keith who was carrying the 60lb backpack.  After some discussion we decided that riding on the back with the backpack was safer than the bike with no brakes!

It was only by the grace of God that we finally rolled into our guesthouse around 2:30 am, with all the motorbikes, passengers, and even old grandma made it home.  I gave thanks to the Lord that He had protected us once again.  We were reminded how difficult it was to reach the lost with the Jesus Film in these remote areas and were given a whole new perspective on how to pray for our Jesus Film teams.

The days ahead of playing soccer with the youth, sharing the gospel with the evangeball, preaching in local churches, dedicating a baby, sharing meals with our pastors and hearing their stories were all part of the rich ministry experiences that we had enjoyed.  Oh , how God had blessed our time in northern Ghana, and also spared us from great tragedy.

There are many in life who miss the sign.  God places from time to time a detour along our path.  A short trip from our normal hectic pace.  A side line adventure that would stretch our faith and allow us to participate in something bigger than ourselves.  A chance to hear God’s voice and be used by Him to bring others to Christ and allow us to show love.  A chance to have our hearts warmed by the embrace of a lonely child or a chance to provide for a suffering widow.

Too often in the din of life and the distractions of our TV, our phones, and our schedule, we miss the sign.  I challenge you to take the detour.  Ask God if he wants you on a team somewhere in the world making a difference.  We hope West Africa will be the sign you take.  God is doing some amazing things in the life of our church. We thank Harvest Partners and all of those who pray and support our ministry for being a part of this great effort to reach the lost.  We hope to see you soon!

Ride hard, and pray harder!

For the sake of the cross,

Timothy R. Eby