I Lost My Sole on the Trail to D*****

As the trail descended past the cliff laden with a barking troop of baboons, I looked down and saw the sole to my new Reebok running shoes fall to the dry, rock strewn path. Just the day before a young African village boy named Mamadou saw my ailing sneakers and led me to the slopes below D***** where he pierced a rubber tree with my leatherman’s knife and made makeshift repairs on my sole.

As the trail descended past the cliff laden with a barking troop of baboons, I looked down and saw the sole to my new Reebok running shoes fall to the dry, rock strewn path. Just the day before a young African village boy named Mamadou saw my ailing sneakers and led me to the slopes below D***** where he pierced a rubber tree with my leatherman’s knife and made makeshift repairs on my sole.

The LORD had already been making repairs on my own soul for years leading up to this point. A budding career as a petroleum chemist with a major oil company led my spirit to a crucial crossroads…do I serve God wholeheartedly or continue serving money? Do I resist his call or surrender completely to Him? I chose the latter and peace and joy flooded my soul. His Spirit three times said to me, “Therefore, go” while I was reading the Bible (Matthew 28:19-20). Being filled with His Spirit, my Maker led me to answer the main question I had, “Why am I here on earth?” The lyrics from one of Grammy award winner Michael W. Smith’s songs would often resonate in my mind…”Roaming through the night to find my…place in this world, my place in this world.” By surrendering my will to His, my soul found its place in this world, which led to the loss of my sole on that blistering hot African day in March of 2008 on the trail to D*****.

Since leaving a career job, studying for three years in seminary, meeting my wife, and serving for three wonderful years in a pastorate before moving to Africa; it has been my ambition to preach the good news where Christ is not yet known. St. Paul alluded to this in his letter written to the Church of Rome in 57 A.D. and it has rung true with my heart and brought tears to my eyes when I think of those who have not yet had the chance to experience the love of Jesus Christ even once (Romans 15:20). How will they hear if no one goes to them? What if I was born in a remote African village and given the name Mamadou, never knowing any school, except the one my father taught as I yelled out memorized Koranic verses that echoed across the dry, dusty valley floor to the neighbors beyond?

“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Romans 10:15). I wish I had taken a picture of my colleague’s feet on Day 7 of our 80 mile trek through road- less African bush carrying 45lb packs loaded with Scripture, water, and Dr. Scholl’s extra thick mole skin. Those feet were far from beautiful. You will just have to imagine those ugly torn, blistered feet. A*****, a 24 year-old intern from Michigan, left a teaching career for this…a chance to bring the light of the gospel of Christ to those still in darkness. Both his big toes were swollen, nails completely blue from the blood underneath, and four blisters bubbled up to the size of nalgene bottle lids. He commented, “I was embarrassed, I grew up working on a dairy farm with five brothers, I thought I had been tired before, but I was at the end of myself, I was beyond fatigue coming up that last mountain. But praise God S***** got their Scripture portions!” A***** had only hiked the last two days and was a replacement to the other intern, E*****, a recent college grad, who fell victim to heat exhaustion and vomiting on Day Four and was bedridden for nearly two days in the village called D*****.

I could tell you about the night we almost spent on the top of a leopard infested mountain. Or, the dozens of curious baboons that shadowed our way. Or, the hunter I followed into the bush after a line of fifteen warthogs crossed our trail. Or, Day Two when we were lost in the jungle with our useless G.P.S. for two hours because the trail was camouflaged with rice chaff. Or, how we broke a shock absorber on our fully loaded Nissan Patrol in the middle of nowhere, then the radiator began overheating… but, I won’t bore you.

Instead, I’ll tell you about C*****. Our team leader was a wiry, athletic 42-year old who enjoys the outdoors, a good challenge, and sharing Christ wherever he goes. In short, he’s got the heart of a savage warrior. C***** asked me by email, “Would you be willing to help trek through some unmapped areas for a week carrying Scripture portions?” C***** had already walked nearly 50 miles distributing Scripture village to village with A***** and wanted someone to join him and E***** for the final 80 miles of the trek. In reading the email, I knew immediately I was supposed to be on this walk. Even though I was busy with other things, I made time to go along.

We had our colleagues drive us 12 hours (75 miles) into this unreached area of West African mountains and we begin walking away from the “road.” That first day I declared, “Guys, it’s as though I was created for such a time as this. It’s like all my philosophy, science, math, dreams, and desires are lining up with the stars for this. I was made for this. Praise the LORD!” In the movie Braveheart, William Wallace once said, “Every man dies, but not every man really lives.” Well, I was in the “really living” part at that moment. I believe that the struggle of trials, only increases the glory of triumph. I tend to see life’s challenges as golden opportunities. We experienced the struggle as we shouldered the burden of God’s books over 80 miles of mountains through 100 degree African heat. The glory of triumph was being able to distribute over 200 Scripture portions and health teaching books to people who were formerly untouched with the gospel. The glory and triumph belong to Him!

On Day two we arrived in a village after dark only to be welcomed by a half dozen elders who slaughtered a chicken to honor us, then presented us with a large bowl of rice and sauce. The elders read Genesis until midnight, then one eager man who bought the newly printed New Testament in his tribal language, read and asked questions until two in the morning! Pray this man becomes a spiritual leader to his people.

On Day five a young man named S***** is sewing in his village when a boy comes running up and says, “There are white people here and they have brought the words of God in our language!” S***** left his work and stood at the edge of the crowd, watching his father, the chief, interact with C*****. He asked about E***** who looked sick, and I responded, “He is from America where they don’t know the heat like this. The sun has made him nauseated and weak.” Later, after S***** spent three days on the trail with us carrying E*****’s pack full of Scriptures, he commented, “After I saw the sick white man, I heard a voice in my head tell me to carry his pack. Then, fifteen minutes later you said, ‘Come, follow us, will you carry his pack?’ I did not even take three minutes to run home and get a change of clothes or any money, I knew I had to just follow you.” Pray S***** listens to God’s call and continues to follow His voice.

On Day seven a sixty year old man met us just five minutes before our departure by four wheel drive for home saying, “A friend told me you carried in God’s Words in our language to a neighboring village. I have never known these books in my lifetime. I walked six hours to find you here at the road. Please, where are these books, I would like to buy some so I can return them to my village.” And when another man came up to buy some books but lacked the right amount of money, the old man bought the book for him. That is true hunger and thirst. Pray God satisfies him.

These are but a few of the highlights we experienced in the bush of Africa while trekking with Scriptures to peoples who have never known about Christ. Many of them had never seen white people. Many kids would see us and run for cover “lickity split.” Most had never ventured outside their county. In surrendering my soul to Christ so many years before, I have found true peace and overflowing joy as I had the privilege of sharing Jesus Christ to people hungering in their darkness. The many miles of treading on blistering hot rock over African mountains was a glory worth struggling for. Yes, it’s true; I lost my sole on the trail to D*****…and I Praise God for that.

Thank you for praying.

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