Across the Street

For thirty years I’d looked at a vast empty quarter on maps of the area to the northwest of Nyankunde, Zaire wondering if it was really uninhabited. The steamy rain forest remains as wild and dark as it ever has, unbroken by the tracks that pass for roads in Zaire, in an area the size of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. What if there were people there — Pygmies perhaps, Walesi tribesmen, or others? Obviously there weren’t many people there, if any. But if they were there, who was going out of their way to tell them that God loved them so much that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for their sins?

During the dry season of 1987, Les Green and I, in company with a Zairian evangelist and Walesi and Pygmy helpers, crossed the area from west to east in an initial survey, covering some 160 miles in ten days. During six of those days we encountered only wild beasts, ate little and slept on the ground in leaf shelters or in the open. Once some of us unwittingly passed a deadly eight-foot black mamba lying at eye level in a bush barely inches from our faces. A sharp-eyed Pygmy companion spotted it and put it to flight with a swing of his elephant spear. The next day Les and I scrambled high into a tree, as an elephant, disturbed by our Pygmy companions’ interest in her baby, came crashing and trumpeting in fear and rage through the underbrush. Near the end of our trek we came into gold panners’ camps, finding renegades from justice lucratively working the gravel beds and streams in this remote forest where the long arm of the law was least likely to find them. We took the opportunity to present the Gospel to these hardened men, and were told that we were the first “pastors” to have visited them. We were later able to send Bibles to some of them.

In 1988, Les and I decided to strike out north-northeast from Les’s station of Akokora to visit some small settlements that we had learned of on our ’87 trek. We drove eight miles (it took us nearly an hour) to Chief Apuobo’s home (pronounced Ah-pooh-o-bo); then began our hike in company with him, covering the first eleven miles in a little over three hours. Arriving at Andili (An-dee-lee) we found a very nervous people fearing military repercussions, a few of the men having been involved in the beating of the brother of a military commander in a fight over ivory. Early the next morning we headed north along a little-used path. It had rained in the night and we were soon thoroughly soaked. The forest floor seldom dries, even in the dry season, and plants and bushes retain water for eight hours or more after a rain. We jumped and waded streams and crossed others on fallen trees (in eighty miles we crossed ninety-one streams and rivers). In the early afternoon we met a group of Pygmies and Walesi carrying a pair of five-foot tusks from a recently poached elephant. Although forbidden, the hunting of elephants continues unabated. Barring a miracle, elephants will be nonexistent in the wild in Zaire within twenty years. An hour and a half before dark we reached a small river where we made camp, having come some twenty miles. That night a troop of chimpanzees, obviously disturbed by our presence, screamed and shouted their displeasure much of the night, while a crocodile occasionally grunted in the river to let us know he was there.

Up before dawn, we broke camp quickly after a cup of tea and continued our way north, stumbling over roots, scrambling under and over fallen trees, constantly ducking and dodging vines, giant forest plants and branches. Occasionally the eye would catch a glimpse of a beautiful orchid pushing its way through rotting vegetation. How often God puts beauty in places where human eyes never appreciate it — but He can!

Hot, sweaty, and filthy, we entered the squalid little village of Dui (Doo-ee). After a dip in the nearby river, we called the villagers together and spoke to them of the love of God in Christ. Dui and Angata (An-gah-tah), a village an hour’s walk away, have never had a gospel witness; there are no schools, no medicines, no stores, no churches. As far as we could determine, we were the first to have come with the Gospel, and that in an area of Zaire where the Gospel first came eighty years ago. Dui has been too remote and too small to attract interest.

Off the next morning at dawn, we traversed higher land where many Congo River tributaries have their source. Creek bottoms were muddy and our feet were soon soaked again. Feet were blistered and sore as we began to cross occasional large grassy clearings. Signs of buffalo, an unpredictable and dangerous animal, increased. We carried no weapons. We limped, weary and sore, into Abundju (ah-boon-joo) well after dark, having walked twenty-eight hard miles since dawn. Even the short, hard bed woven of sticks offered to us by people so poor they could hardly afford rags for clothing seemed almost comfortable. It was, however, difficult to ignore the walls of the hut alive with scurrying roaches after dark. We appreciate the African believers’ often-repeated morning prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord for keeping the roaches out of mouth, nose and ears!

The next day was spent nursing sore feet and muscles, and talking with villagers. They had no recollection of anyone coming with the message of the Gospel, and Les and I were the first Caucasians that many of them had ever seen. Just before dark we had a meeting with the mixed group of Walesi and Pygmies gathered around the men’s palaver shelter, trying to present the message of salvation to simple people in as simple a way as possible. Four men professed salvation, but we wonder how much they understood during our short stay. How we need to “condescend to men of low estate.”

Again we were appalled at the absence of stores, schools, and medical facilities. One man came with a badly infected hand. He needed antibiotics, but all I could do was pour on Merthiolate.

We learned at Abundju that a track passable by four-wheel-drive vehicles came within a half-day’s walk to the north. In March of 1990, Les and I and Mark Plaza were again able to visit Abundju. By driving north, then looping around to the east and south, a distance of 145 miles (ten hours driving time), we were able to reach it by foot with another half-day journey. For four days we lived with the people of Abundju, this time sleeping on the floor of the village jail, disturbed only by mice occasionally trying to get in the sleeping bags with us! Morning and evening Shafiko (Shah-fee-ko), an evangelist from Akokora, explained the Gospel to the hundred or so villagers, Pygmies and visitors from other places in their tribal tongue. We distributed Bibles in both Swahili and Bangala to the few who can read, and left other booklets and tracts to be read. We trust the Spirit of God for fruit that remains and pray that the Lord would raise up godly national believers to live with the people of Abundju and demonstrate to them the reality of life in Christ.

I’m grateful for God-given strength to get to our “other side of the street.” “Crossing the street” for us means careful planning and preparation, and a lot of prayer. Much credit goes to our wives, Jane, Peg, and Faye who spent much time planning and preparing, and who held us up before the Lord constantly for His protection and ability in the Gospel.

How far must you go to take the good news to needy souls? Your journey may not be as long, but it too will require planning, preparation and prayer. You may not need to learn another language or battle a jungle. Just the same, it will be costly. They wait in the darkness to hear the message of His grace. The love of Christ constrains us.

Abundju and Dui are our “other side of the street.” What’s yours?