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“OUR JOURNEY TO THE DARK CONTINENT”

By Dr. Tom Wallace

At almost 77 years of age and at the stage of, “been there, done that, and got the “Tee shirt,” and in spite of the fact that I have been in 43 countries and all 50 of the states, I still have never set foot on the dark continent, that David Livingston gave his life, and literally left his heart buried in — Africa.

It’s Tuesday morning February 13, 2007. The most dependable and faithful man in the whole world, Carroll Bryant is to pick us up at 5:30 and get us to the airport at Nashville, Tennessee, for our flight to New York, on to Brussels, Belgium, then to Nairobi, Kenya, and on to Entebbe, Uganda.

Eric Bohman, a missionary with Baptist International Missions, Inc. of Chattanooga, Tennessee, who married Miss Lori Strong of our Franklin Road Baptist Church, invited me to come to the field conference in MBale, Uganda, then on to Kenya for a similar meeting.

Along with our regular schedule of meetings in North Carolina, Alabama, and Pennsylvania, we have been busy getting a series of shots for malaria, hepatitis, cholera, and such. So far we’ve spent over $ 700.00 and will need to get follow up shots after we get home. It was also necessary to get suitable clothes for the variety of climates and schedules.

I got home from meetings on Monday afternoon and we will leave before daylight on Tuesday. I really was rushed to get several book and CD orders shipped, suitcases packed, transportation arranged, and do our banking. We went out for an early meal at the Goodness Gracious Restaurant just opened by Mrs. Karen Ford in Georgetown Square. Great place to eat!

To be sure of a good night’s sleep Mary and I took a sleeping pill. Mine did not set well with the malaria pill I had taken the earlier part of the day. My legs ached, and I tossed and turned most of the night. We set the alarm for 4:00 a.m. in order to be ready when Bro. Bryant arrived. A couple of times in the evening the electricity had gone off. Each time Mary reset the clocks. We jumped up and tackled the task, and had everything ready, at 5:30 but Carroll did not show. I was just ready to call him on the cell phone when I looked at the time on the phone and it read 4:30. Carroll was not late, we were one hour early. We had a good laugh and sent some last minute e-mails. Carroll got there 10 minutes early as usual and we were off on our 18-day journey.

The first leg of the trip to LaGuardia airport in NYC was uneventful. The plane was about half-full. We had to claim our luggage, and catch a shuttle bus to Kennedy airport for the flight overseas. The shuttle fare was $ 13.00 each. A limo driver offered to drive us there in a more comfortable manner for $ 45.00, but we vetoed that. The movies were stupid as usual so we spread out in a couple of empty seats and tried to get a little rest. The meals were good. I enjoyed a pot roast dinner and salad, and hot tea. Mary had a chicken dinner instead. Our flight from NYC to Brussels, Belgium, will set us down in time to connect to our Nairobi, Kenya, flight, and on to Uganda arriving at 10:55 p.m. Wednesday night. At Brussels, we decided to buy a tooth brush because we packed ours in the luggage. We had to pay $ 4.40 Euros or $ 7.23. Things are expensive in Europe. We had to spend the remaining $ 2.76 for ice cream because they will not take Euros in Africa. While waiting for our flight we enjoyed watching the variety of people, and they seemed to enjoy looking us over as well. Both of us were wearing our African Safari hats.

We met a young African woman on her way home from Germany. Mary engaged her in conversation, hoping to win her to Christ. “Oh,” she said, “I’m a born again Christian.” We saw a couple of young men reading their Bibles. They both were Christians working in different ministries in Uganda. We were very happy when the plane touched down in Entebbe about 30 hours from the time were took off in Nashville. We have withstood the long schedule amazingly well. There is a time difference of eight hours from there to here.

Missionary Marvin Wright and his wife, Jewell, were waiting for us, and as soon as we cleared customs, paid out $ 30.00 each for Visas, we were on our way to the hotel to crash. The room was small, but comfortable. There were two beds with mosquito nets around them. This will be a first for both of us. The hotel was located on Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world. The first is Lake Superior.

After a buffet breakfast the next morning, we drove to the adjoining city of Kampala and made several stops at stores to pick up supplies needed back at the orphanage and school at Soroti where we will spend the first few days

It took all day to travel to the State Park where we will enjoy a Safari and a boat trip up the Nile River. The roads were undoubtedly the worst in the world. The trip would have taken less than two hours on I-24 or I-65. We paid our fee of $ 35.00 each and entered the State park and drove 15 miles on a dirt road through the forest to the Lodge. We saw about 20 baboons along the way.

Our room was a small round building with a thatched roof. Electricity is furnished by a generator that was turned on from 7:00 p.m. to 10:30 and again from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00. They furnished us a good breakfast with cereal, tea, an omelet, and toast. We left for the river in time to catch the first ferry across the Nile to drive for five or so hours through the 1,000 square miles of unfenced land. James our guide, with his automatic rifle hanging on his shoulder took us over one trail after another. We drove along huge Lake Albert which separates Uganda from the Belgian Congo.

We were delighted to see five lions, two giraffes, about 20 elephants, a couple hundred wart hogs, around 300 water buffalo, big Elk sized deer by the hundreds, about 500 deer of all sizes and at least six varieties. Some were no more that a foot high; while others were as big as horses. Guinea hens constantly ran across the road in front of our four wheel drive Honda pickup. Wild birds were everywhere. Hugh storks with dark red heads and yellow necks fascinated us as we drove along.

Back to the ferry we got lunch at a small restaurant and boarded the boat for our 3 ½ ride up to the most fascinating water falls that we had ever seen. Along the way we began to see eyes peering at us from the water, then ears. Finally a big hippo came up out of the water and walked across the landing and began to eat grass, ignoring everybody. Little did we realize that we would see almost 400 of them along the way. Some of them looked as big as oil tanks on a railroad car. They bunched together in groups of 5 to 10 in the different coves that we passed. We also began to see huge crocodiles with their mouth open ready to snap them shut on anything that came near. I would estimate that we saw at least three dozen crocs and twenty of them on one sandbar. In all it was an unforgettable experience.

After a good night's rest we set out for Soroti. It will take about six hours over the roads that would only take 2 hours at home. Our insides were sore from all the bouncing and to make matters worse I had picked up a stomach problem from a sandwich which was a day old. I suffered from this for three or four days.

Six missionary couples from BIMI work at Soroti. There is an orphanage, a school, a local church, several bush churches, a radio station, and a spirit of victory.

Sunday was special. We stopped along the 10 mile trip to pick up people and the pickup was bulging by the time we arrived. Pastor Wright’s son Nate also brought a pickup load as he came. There were about 120 in attendance. Music consisted of a guitar, and a big drum and a finger piano. As we sang there was an occasional Uganda yell from someone in the group. The women and girls went to one class and the men and boys in another. I preached a message on the two great themes of the Bible, “How to go to Heaven when we die, and how to be happy while we are still here.” Several came forward for various reasons. After lunch jet lag caught up to me and I felt sick. After a long nap, I came back. At the compound I preached at the evening service to a house full of over 150 folks. There were four missionary families, the teachers, workers and local people. It was a great service. I preached on, “Five men and five trees.” The electricity went off at 8:00 so we went to bed and tried to ignore the fact that it was noon back home.

The missionaries have been able to use their work funds to build nice homes with high walls around them. They have to have around-the-clock guards with guns at their gates. These gaurds are furnished to them for less than two dollars a day. Nathanial Wright and his family live in a rented house that costs about $ 400.00 per month. In contrast, one of the workers rents a hut in a village that costs him $ 2.50 per month. The living conditions are deplorable compared to our standards, but they have lived this way for hundreds of years. Along the roads there is a steady stream of people walking, many of them carrying big yellow 2 ½ gallon water cans on their heads. There are millions of bicycles, most of them with a flat seat on the back for passengers. It is not uncommon to see a mother with two or three children strapped to her back and front riding on the back of the bikes. It was also common to see four and five year olds carrying the heavy water cans on their heads. Cooking is done in the front yard using pieces of charcoal or wood for fuel. Large numbers of the people along the road were carrying big piles of wood and bags of charcoal to sell and trade.

One of the greatest blessings of the trip was to give one of my best suits to Raymond, a pastor of a bush church, who had graduated from the institute and started a church out about a two hour ride on a bicycle. It meant so much to him and so little for me. It was like giving him several months’ salary. Raymond has moved his wife and three children to the village and works full-time there. One of Raymond’s children died from malaria, which is quite common. Mary got caught up in the burden too, and gave one of the women her newest pair of shoes. We will probably give away more things before leaving for home.

The missionary who started the work here died last year at the age of 46 from cancer. We toured the school and orphanage. Bro. Wright has stepped in as leader and is well organized. He has 40 to 50 people working on various projects. Some were planting orange trees, and pineapple shoots. Someone stole one of the trees the first night after they were planted. Others were clearing a field for sports activities, some were building a wall. Another group was building an apartment for some summer missionaries who will come to help from Pensacola Christian College. Some of the orphans are here because a group of rebels just north of here killed a lot of people and left the children homeless. They hope to produce preachers and teachers with these children.

Each day two women come to the house and clean the floors, do the wash and dishes, and keep everything spotless. Mrs. Wright is able to use her special talents to help the teachers and students in the school and orphanage.

The beautiful gray stone that the house, the walls, and the school are built from, comes from a mountain just outside the town. It looks like Stone Mountain, in Atlanta, Georgia. Dozens of people go there each day and break the stones into smaller pieces that can be used to build with. These people work in the quarry all day for less than $ 2.00 a day.

Bro. Wright’s phone rang at 1:00 in the morning and one of the village women from their church was in labor. They wanted him to come with his pickup truck to take her to the clinic for the delivery. They had walked her out to the road to be ready when he arrived. When he got there the baby had already been delivered in the ditch along side of the road. He had them load both mother and baby in the back of his truck and they were off to the clinic, where the cord was cut. Both got along fine and the next day she and the baby rode home on the back of a bicycle.

On Wednesday we arose to another beautiful cool Uganda morning. I am feeling better from the dysentery problem and my strength is coming back. We leave at noon for Mbale and I will speak four times in the next three days. All the BIMI missionaries form Uganda will be there. Eric Bohman will drive 6 hours from Kenya to be in the meetings. One of the missionaries gave me 100,000 shillings so that I could buy anything I might need. That is about $ 60.00 USA. currency.

We praised the Lord for the good road from Soroti to Mbale. It took less than two hours. We passed by village after village and thousands of huts along the way. At Mbale we checked into the Mount Elgon Hotel. The rooms were nice with air conditioning, but the AC only worked occasionally because of the power drain. Missionaries were arriving from all over Uganda. We were delighted to see Tony and Christy Applegate from FRBC in Murfreesboro. Christy is Doris Todd’s niece.

Also we saw the Jeff Bassett family that we have supported from the early 90’s. The Olachea family were there. Bro. Olachea’s father was a class mate of mine at TTU in 1952 to 1954. A total of 24 families, including some single ladies, work in Uganda. I have met all these people at the meetings in Chattanooga when they were approved by the BIMI board.

The sessions were delightful. I spoke four times to the missionaries. The children had special sessions and play times. Bro. Bohman gave a tremendous message at one of the sessions. The meals were excellent and so was the music by the different groups. It moved our hearts. Missionaries are very special people. I found myself thanking the Lord constantly for the privilege of being here with them. I was able to give all the missionaries a copy of my CD with over 8,000 outlines, sermons, and helps. I also had several copies of Power Bible and gave them away as long as they lasted. The last day in Uganda was special. The men went golfing, the woman toured the market place, and I stayed at the hotel working on my journal and resting for the closing service. At eight thousand feet the air is thin and each sermon took a lot out of me.

I was flabbergasted to learn that they had met together and decided to pick up the cost of my plane ticket. This will probably mean that with the offerings sent to us from some churches and friends, all cost of the trip will be covered. I never cease to be amazed at the goodness of God.

On Saturday morning we ate a good breakfast, packed our belongings, loaded them into the vehicle, said our goodbyes, and headed for Kenya. Bro. Bohman had rented a car and driver to bring him to Uganda. The car companies have their own drivers. He had to get a hotel room and hang around the entire time of the conference. We cleared the vehicle at the border, passed by several dozen trucks lined up over a mile waiting for inspection. It would take them several hours to get through. We did it in about thirty minutes. After filling out entry forms, paying our $ 50.00 each for visas, we were on our way. A smooth tarmac soon ended, and we began a whole day on more of the worst roads in the world. Bro. Eric told us that Kenya is known as the beggar nation because of its poverty. Canada offered to spend billions to build roads across the whole nation, but when the officials and politicians of Kenya asked what was in it for their pockets, Canada refused to bribe them in order to help them. Corruption is a way of life.

We stopped in El Dorel at an authentic Chinese restaurant for lunch. The meal was excellent. After several more hours, the driver began to apologize for not filling up with gas. Sometimes it would be hours before another petro station would be found. We prayed, held our breath, jostled, and bounced, along until finally the welcome sign of a town with petro. We had imagined a two or three hour walk along a hot dusty road.

What a treat it was to come to the town where missionary Scott Hall and his family work. We exchange e-mails regularly. He, his wife, and two sons are fulfilling their calling there with over 300 coming every Sunday. People are being saved and baptized each week. They were delightful people. They took some pictures and later these showed up on an e-mail that he sent out to our IFB-Yahoo preachers list. Bro. Hall also has several other churches started by his preacher boys. We realized that these were very special people, too.

Within another hour we arrived at the Bohman house in Nyahururu. All four of the Bohman girls, Erica, Deborah, Heidi, and Julia came running with big beautiful smiles and hugs for everybody. Lori, Eric’s wife did likewise. Lori’s parents, Norman and Ellen Strong are very special, dedicated long time members of our Franklin Road Baptist Church in Murfreesboro and workers of the Sword of the Lord.

After a good meal we were ready to “hit the sack.” We are right on the equator, but because of the 8,000 foot elevation it was quite cool. We slept under a sheet and two blankets. We could see Mount Kenya. It is 17,000 feet high. There are several glaciers and much snow up there, regardless of being on the equator.

A busy day awaited us as we arose on Sunday. I preached to a church full of folks. They kept coming in even as I was giving the invitation. Pastor Phillips did an outstanding job interpreting for me. There were about 240 folks there. Several came forward at the invitation. After a hurried lunch we headed north to a village for afternoon services. We passed through an area where a herd of elephants had become enraged and tore down a woman’s house. Some thought it was because they smelled food inside. The road stopped at the edge of town and only those on bikes and those walking could proceed further. Trails and paths lead for many hours into the wilderness. Some of Bro. Bohman’s churches are back in these areas. The village was called Rumuruti. About 250 people crammed and squeezed into the narrow building and sat on little narrow benches. I preached, sweated, gave an invitation, and shed tears as I watched the people try to find a place to meet with God at the altar. Dr. John Reynolds and the people of Valousia County Baptist Church in Orange City, Florida, are building these folks a new church building.

Some of the folks at this meeting had never seen white people. They pointed and laughed at the fair skin and blond hair of the Bohman children. John, the pastor, led us in a lively song service with everybody clapping their hands. We came home exhausted because of the thin air at the high altitude, but happy to have the privilege of preaching the word of God to over 500 people this day. As we climbed into bed we suddenly remembered that the Sunday church service was just beginning back home.

On Monday a large group of the church people came for the morning and also for an afternoon meeting. The Lord really came down in these meetings. This is the base church for twenty one other churches that Bro. Bohman oversees. Some are deaf churches.

Late Monday we went to the feeding. One of the World hunger organization sends food every day for orphans. The local church distributes it to the areas of need. Many are orphaned by aids. Three of the children are orphans because their mother, who had aids, took them to the top of Thompson Falls intending to throw them over the 300 foot drop. One of the local women suspecting that she was desperate enough to do this, followed her and pleaded with her to take the children to the Baptist. “They will take care of the children,” she told her. The woman listened, gave the children to the missionary and died of aids.

We visited the falls on Tuesday morning. It was fascinating to see. The hotel, the grounds, and flowers were beautiful. We went on then to the church for the pastor’s fellowship meeting, where about 70 attended. I preached for about an hour, took a lunch break, then another hour and a half. Everybody in church came forward to the altar except nine, and many of those knelt beside their seat in prayer. Many of these folks had been traveling by taxi, bicycle, and on foot since 4:00 o’clock that morning. Some were dressed in their native dress. We were able to get some good pictures. I ended up giving another of my suits to a native pastor. I wish I had brought a dozen more. Several people came by and asked if we would come and do this again next year.

The devotion time with the children each morning at the Bohman house was a rich blessing. After a few verses and some discussion about them, we sang all four verses of “I need Thee every hour.” These children love Africa. They love to visit grandma and grandpa and other loved ones in America, but always want to know when are we going “home?” Our last night was a solemn one. The children know that daddy is going away for two and a half weeks to South Africa for another field conference and survey work. The warrior guard will come every night and keep Lori and the children safe. Guns are not allowed in Kenya, but he has his bow and arrow and he is an expert marksman. A yard man will come during the day and care for the grass, cleaning and fixing but mostly just being sure nobody bothers this family during the missionary’s absence.

After a lot of hugs and goodbyes, we drove away with all the girls waving and smiling. The trip to the Sweetwaters hotel took about 3 hours. The tent had a carpeted living area and a tiled bathroom. We enjoyed roughing it in-style. The big lanterns had been wired for electricity. A huge watering hole in the front had a ditch between the hole and the tents with electric wires to keep animals from crossing over. We saw giraffe, warthogs, and a variety of other animals coming for water. After a short time of rest, we headed out into the 90,000 acre reserve for a safari. We began to see animals everywhere. We saw hundreds of zebra, at least 50 giraffe, one female lion, a couple hundred warthogs a big black rhino, over 300 Impala deer, dozens of water buck, a couple hundred baboons, dozens of Thompson gazelles, two silver back jackals and a couple of big herds of water buffalo. One big tame Rhino was asleep by a big bush. The guide asked us to sit on him for pictures, and to hold on to his big tusk and smile for the camera. I was hoping he would not wake up. He ignored us.

After a fabulous breakfast we drove 3 ½ hours to Nairobi, stopped in a couple of malls, for souvenirs and gifts, then on to the Hampton house. We enjoyed two rooms with a kitchen between. That evening we visited the famous Carnivore restaurant. After soup, beverage, and a salad tray, the different waiters began to come by with long skewers filled with various kinds of meat. We ate Lemon chicken, gizzards, livers, pork, crocodile, beef, leg of lamb, sausage, and ostrich meatballs. The sausages looked like hot dogs, smelled like hot dogs, and tasted like hot dogs, but they insisted they were sausages. I came to the conclusion that calling something by another name did not change what it was.

We passed by the world's largest slum. A whole city of shacks built with cardboard, pieces of tin, and everything imaginable had sprung up in that part of the city. No white man dared go there. Any who did never came out. It was reported that 90% of the people who lived there were infected with the HIV virus. A priest told of being mugged dozens of times and finally when they realized that all he had was his robe, his rope to hold the robe together, and his underwear, they let him alone.

Our final morning began at 5:30 am. The 30 minute ride to the airport was scarry. Traffic weaved in and out just missing other cars by inches. A little later in the morning we would have had to add another hour to our trip. Bro. Bohman helped us with luggage. We cleared customs, and went through three different security screenings. Mary had to give up her comb because it had wire teeth on one side. It had passed dozens of screenings before, but they insisted it could not be taken on the plane. A cup of Kenya coffee and a muffin at the Java house met our needs until brunch on the British airways flight to London an hour later.

The 7 ½ hour flight to London was more comfortable than usual. After sitting and walking around for four hours in a mall area of Heathrow airport, the monitor asked us to proceed to the gate area for our flight. The airport shops featured, Gucci, Rolex, Harrods, Borders Books, and Starbucks coffee. The American Airlines flight took another 7 ½ hours across the Atlantic. I found a row of seats unoccupied, raised up the armrests, made a bed and went to sleep for almost three hours. We set down at Kennedy airport a few minutes ahead of schedule. We cleared immigration and customs with no problem and headed to an exit for transportation to LaGuardia airport for our flight to Nashville.

The shuttle bus did not run after 10:00 p.m. so we hailed a taxi. The fare was $ 21.60 compared to the $ 26.00 bus ride on the way over. Since we had been able to get some sleep on the overseas flight we found a table in a food court and spent the next five hours reading, writing, working puzzles, checking cell phone messages for the past three weeks, updating our journals, and waiting for the security people to open the concourses at 4:30 for our flight to Nashville at 6:00 am. Since this was getting up time in Kenya, we were not sleepy. It was great to be back in the good old USA, even if it is in New York City.

Our flight to Nashville only had twenty or so passengers, but once in Nashville, the plane would be full for the continuing flight to Dallas. Faithful Carroll Bryant was waiting and we were quickly home to a mountain of mail, suitcases full of dirty clothes, a warm house, and the most comfortable bed in the world, and those two suits that I gave away won’t have to go to the cleaners. We are extremely grateful to God for the experience of Africa, and to several churches and some friends who helped with the financing of the trip.

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