Like many young men the world over, these two were show-offs. Screaming down a steep mountain road, streamers flying from the handlebars of their motorbike, the fellow behind stood on the foot supports and raised his arms skyward, revelling in the wind in his face. The fellow in front at least had the sense to keep hold of the handlebars while grinning from ear-to-ear. Of course, like most motorcyclists here, neither had helmets.
“Idiots,” grumbled our kind grandmotherly host, with as much concern in her voice as annoyance. “They think they are invincible at that age, but just wait until they miss a bend and come off. They … or more likely their families … will soon find out that their bodies are as fragile as the next person’s.”
‘Our’ reckless young men returned safely up the mountain half an hour later at a much more sedate pace, the elevation being against them this time. However, the conversation was to linger long in my mind because of what happened next.
We were travelling in the back of a ute, having been picked up by a kind monk and his companions as we journeyed back to town from the holy mountain site. Rounding a bend, the driver braked suddenly at the sight of a large crowd. Parked cars, bikes, utes and little red tractors, crowds of colourfully attired country people and boringly dressed city-slicker tourists, all faced the verge of the road at the point where there was a sharp bend. The place they gazed in horror was full of rocks and a small stream which flowed under the road to the river beyond. In the centre of crowd, still on the tar road, stood rows of scarlet-clad Buddhist monks, facing away from the verge, looking towards the river, chanting loudly and rhythmically as if their lives depended on it. Their lives did not depend on it … but in all likelihood, according to their worldview, the future of another, one who for all appearances had just moved from this world into the next, would benefit by their exertions.
For there, on the rocks, was an overturned motorbike and the broken and bloodied body of a young man.
A young man, like many others the world over, who had very recently considered himself invincible.
The hopes of a family’s future – perhaps already two families - had rested on this young man.
With no other damaged vehicles around, and being early afternoon, the tragedy was unlikely to be caused by anything other than poor judgement and excess speed, our vehicle’s occupants surmised.
This part of the world is largely unreached by the gospel. Had the unfortunate fellow even heard of the good news of Jesus, so as to have had the chance to repent while there was yet time? The chances of that are as minimal as his chances of survival.
People here are made of flesh and blood just like you and me. Grandmothers here mutter with concern about the recklessness of young people as grandmothers do in any other part of the world.
These are people whose bodies are fragile, as are ours, and, like us, whose spirits are eternal. Like any other part of the world, there are well-meaning people in this community, but in this place they include those monks who tried to earn that poor fellow a little extra merit for the next life but who do not know the only One who can offer anything of merit.
Pray that indigenous reproducing communities of God’s people will soon be established here so that reckless young men, their mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, girlfriends, sisters and others will have the opportunity to put their faith in the only One who can save them while there is yet time.