The motorbike suddenly accelerated to 30mph as we approached the trees. Itís not that Iím afraid of being on a bike. Certainly Iíve driven at much faster speeds. But, at the time, I was ever so reluctantly riding pillion on a bike that was careening recklessly through the African bush. At points the path was no more than a foot wide. The road surface would change without warning from firm clay to treacherous sand. And moreover I never knew what was round the next bend - Iím not convinced that my driver did either. Sometimes there were goats in the way, or chickens, or dogs, or people, or boulders, or tree stumps, or Ö you name it. At one point the rear wheel skidded violently, throwing us into a twisted mass of overhanging vines and tendrils. But thankfully my driver recovered smoothly and on we sped.
Perhaps I should explain that this is not how I normally spend my Mondays. But one of our pastors had died suddenly from cardiac arrest in a remote village in the northwest of Mozambique. As the resident missionary, I understood that I would be expected to attend the funeral. Previously, when I have visited this particular village (known as Mauthithi), I have made the journey during the dry season, at which time the rivers can be crossed at shallow fords. I wasnít entirely surprised then, when I reached the end of the tar road, to be told that I would have to abandon my vehicle and continue on foot.
Actually on foot isnít entirely accurate. I started off by sitting on the luggage rack of a bicycle while a skinny, young man pedalled furiously along the well-worn paths that demarcated fields of ripe maize. Bicycles in Mozambique donít have very good suspension at the best of times and I donít suppose that too many manufacturers have worried overly about the comfort of someone perched on the luggage rack. It was with some relief therefore that we approached the first of two rivers and I had to dismount.
Thankfully the water was only knee deep. That meant that I didnít have to take my trousers off. It was also reassuring because crocodiles in this part of the world favour deeper water. But there was something quaintly amusing about a church minister, dressed formally in smart shirt and black tie, wading across a river with his trouser legs rolled up and his shoes and socks clutched firmly in one hand.
At the top on the next incline, a surprise awaited. The burial was being delayed pending my arrival, so it was critical that I reach the village quickly. Accordingly the church members had arranged for a 50cc motorcycle to carry me through the bush. Now I should probably mention that I like bikes. I have been riding them for 18 years and I often pop into the city centre on my own 50cc bike. But I know how dangerous motorcycles can be in the wrong hands. And for this reason I would much rather be the one in control. Chance would be a fine thing!
My driver obviously knew what he was doing. And to be fair I only fell off once - and that was as much my fault as his. We had reached a particularly steep stretch when the bike coughed once and stalled. My driver restarted the engine, opened up the throttle and took off up the hill. Unfortunately Newtonian physics kicked in and down I headed in the opposite direction.
I can always tell when weíre approaching Mauthithi because the road runs parallel to a sheer drop of about 200 metres. In a four-wheeled car this is unnerving but not particularly troubling. On the back of a motorcycle driven by a demon racer, terrifying is too mild a word. It was shortly after this that my sense of self-preservation finally kicked in. Either that or my courage failed me. The path suddenly fell away: a steep u-shaped valley rutted and scarred by years of torrential rain Ė with the cliff edge no more than a few metres away. Thanks but no thanks, I announced; I preferred to walk this section! Five minutes later Ė once more back on the bike Ė we finally reached the village.
Thereís a lesson here. I donít know if youíve cottoned on to it as yet. But faith in God is not that dissimilar to my motorcycle ride through the African bush. I had to put my trust in the abilities of my driver and remind myself that he regularly drove this terrain and knew it a lot better than I ever would. In much the same way Jesus expects us to put our faith and confidence in his love, his power and his understanding. Tempting as it is to try and grab back the controls, we do well to remind ourselves that God really does know what lies just around the next bend.
All things considered, my driver brought me safely, without serious incident, and in good time to Mauthithi. Was this really faith, I asked myself? Or was it more a sense of fatalism? Maybe I was just being foolhardy? What I do know is that faith has to be put into practice. Otherwise itís just religious twaddle. At the end of a very long and exhausting day, I went up to the driver of the motorcycle and asked him to take me back. Thatís faith. We might not always enjoy the experiences that Jesus takes us through, but we can rest secure in the knowledge that our lives are safe in his capable hands.
Yes, Gregory, it was faith - the first time too. Getting back on for another ride with the same driver is faith assured. And, yes, each time we "let God drive" we be more and more assured of "His" ability.
Great writing and enjoyed the "trip".
PS - I've fallen of a cycle twice - and I was driving!