OUR STORY – Chapter C8

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C. THE DOROTHEA MISSION MINISTRY

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PROPAGATING THE RADIO PROGRAMS IN LESOTHO

The radio is a tool and a wonderful tool at that, for while sitting in your studio, you can speak to thousands of listeners at the same time, even those way beyond the borders of your own country. To gain the attention of these listeners requires much ingenuity and effort. That is why most radio stations avail themselves of every opportunity to become visible to and attract possible listeners. They would for instance set up a temporary studio where a show is in progress for they know that for the duration of the show, thousands of people will be moving around. Normally such a studio has a window through which the public can watch the broadcaster or disc jockey at work and communicate with him by means of an outside microphone and a loudspeaker. The public would then be invited to comment on the exhibition or send messages to families and friends which would be broadcast live. In this way the radio station becomes known and builds a personal relationship with hundreds or even thousands of people in the course of a couple of days who would then hopefully in future, tune in to this station.

But what do you do when the people you wish to target are spread all over the remote areas of a neighbouring country like Lesotho? Well the basic principle of becoming visible to possible listeners remains the same, but you have to adapt your strategy. So what we did with our Sotho program, was to print thousands of pamphlets, stating the name of the program, frequencies and times when we could be heard, and a description of the content of the programme. With these we set off for Lesotho in a 1500cc 4 x 2 Mazda pickup with a canopy. The team consisted of only two people, namely Shadrach Maluka of whom I spoke earlier, and me. We decided to enter the country at the most northern accessible point and work our way down southwards along the western border. Lesotho, of course, is a mountain domain with the Maluthis being the central range. Most of the developed areas are at the foot of the mountains, along the borders, but we also wanted to reach those people dwelling within those mountain ranges so that they too could hear the Good News of Salvation. A verse which popped up in our minds was Isaiah 52:7: “How lovely upon the mountains are the feet of him that brings the good message, that announces peace; that brings good tidings, that proclaims salvation; that says unto Zion, your God is King!” (Isaiah 52:7)

On approaching the border, we were delighted to learn that pastor Reinhart Bonke (who, since then, has become a world-famous evangelist) was holding a campaign in that area. At that stage he was still doing his work on a smaller scale. We found him camped in a small caravan, spent some time chatting about our respective ministries and then went on our way.

On enquiring from the local people what the road was like into Lesotho, they grimaced and told us that, a few days earlier, another vehicle had tried to enter Lesotho by the route we were now intending to take, but was towed back by a span of oxen. This was not very encouraging but after consulting with the Lord, we decided to give it a go. Being used to negotiating difficult tracks in remote areas, we had little difficulty in making our way down to the river. Crossing the Caledon, however, was an obstacle we never expected, for it was flowing strongly and there was no bridge of any kind whatsoever. The Lord however knew all about this obstacle beforehand. He Who made a way for His people through the Red Sea and 40 years later again through the Jordan River, always has a solution when we run out of plans. A couple of metres from the opposite bank, a Land Rover was parked in the riverbed and a couple of people were busy washing it. We waved and shouted to attract their attention and then enquired how we could get across with our little pickup. They indicated for us to remain where we were, then got into their vehicle and backed up slowly, twisting this way and that until they reached the bank on our side. We were amazed that the water, though rising up against the vehicle, never seemed to get into it. They explained that there were rocks underneath the surface that provided a safe passage and by following right behind them, we would get across. We were very hesitant to do so for we did not want our vehicle to end up on its roof right at the first border of the country to which we wanted to bring the Good Tidings, but the sun was setting and so we decided to trust the Lord to bring us safely across. We drove almost bumper to bumper with the Land Rover every step of the way and though our pickup often lurched alarmingly from side to side and dipped its nose and tail deep into the fast flowing current, we finally made it to the opposite side and followed the Land Rover up against the embankment to where the ground levelled off and we could safely stop. We were so encouraged for we clearly saw God’s hand in bringing us through the Caledon and took it as a sign that He would assist us to overcome all the unforeseen obstacles that were still ahead of us.

We followed the road down to Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Teyateyaneng and up to the capital city of Maseru, sometimes making excursions into the interior of the country. All the way, while I was driving, Shadrach handed out pamphlets while explaining the contents. We were also delighted to find people that had actually been tuning in to our programs.

Regarding Lesotho. This little country of 30 000 square km (approximately the size of Belgium) is entirely landlocked by the Republic of South Africa. It is also known as the Kingdom in the Sky for the entire country rises 1000m above sea level and ¾ of its terrain consists of mountains, the Drakensberg and Maluthis being the main ranges. Thabana-Ntlenyana with its peak of 3482m is the highest mountain in Africa south of Kilimanjaro. With its often snow-capped peaks, deep gorges and major rivers, Lesotho is a most scenic country. It was established more or less in 1860 by the Sotho king Mosheshwe 1 at Butha-Buthe in the north-east. He later on moved his kraal to the mountain fortress of Thaba Bosiu where even the Zulu King Tshaka’s impi’s had to give up their endeavour to subject him and his people. It is said that after their final failure, he sent down a herd of cattle to them with the message that since it seemed that the Zulus had no food in their country, he wished to present them with this gift. Lesotho became independent in 1966. Its economy has never been strong enough to sustain its people and thousands of its male population have, for many decades, been working on mines in South Africa.

Lesotho also is renowned worldwide for its Lesotho Sun Roof of Africa Rally (Race). The Lesotho part of the race cuts over its northern mountain ranges from Butha-Buthe through Moteng Pass to Moghotlong and includes Sani Pass on the east. “It is considered to be one of the absolute toughest off-road endurance events in the world, attracting the world’s best Xtreme Enduro competitors to take on the challenge.” (Quoted from its website).

At Maseru, our picnic came to an end for there we turned inland to cross Lesotho from West to East, over the Maluthi mountains. Although of course not at all comparable with the rally course mentioned above, it was, in those days (approximately 1974) no child’s play, especially with no backup vehicle. This was the most hazardous journey I had ever undertaken in a two-wheel drive vehicle. It was just one mountain pass after the other: Bushmen’s Pass, Modimo Nthuse Pass (God Help Me Pass), Blue Mountain Pass, Likalaneng Pass, Cheches Pass, Mokhoabong Pass (2860m) and many more. Uphill the little 1500cc Mazda laboured mostly in its lower gears. When reaching the summit of a mountain, the view into the valleys below was breathtaking with the road just a pencil thin brown line connecting one mountain range with the next. Sometimes I would slip the gear lever into neutral, pull up the handbrake and just sit still and worship God for His awesome handiwork. From those peaks one would often be above the level where the eagles were normally flying and, looking down on them from above as they were effortlessly soaring, searching for prey, you had the sense of being one with them, detached from the earth. But then you just had to return to reality, engage the gears and get on with your journey. Negotiating those endless downhill twists and turns, required skill and concentration. Shadrach had both feet firmly planted against the front end of the floor board and every now and then I would just hear him whispering: “Oh, the corners, the corners!” Though I was in my early thirties and quite fit, my legs felt lame after a couple of hours of incessantly working the clutch and brake pedals.

Towards late afternoon we became quite concerned for we did not know where we were, how far the next village was and whether we would be able to reach it at all. That wonderful little instrument called a GPS, had not been born yet. We prayed about this issue as I was driving and after a couple of minutes I noticed the lights of a vehicle, very far behind us but drawing nearer quite fast. When it caught up with us, I stopped and it drew up alongside us. It was a lorry (a truck) and though its body was quite compact, its wheels were enormous and towered above us. The driver stared down from his cab in amazement. We enquired as to the way ahead and after some more dumbfounded gazing, he said that there was a river a couple of kilos ahead and if we managed to cross it, we should be able to reach the next settlement where we could overnight. He was working for an Australian firm that did mercenary work for the Lesotho government.

By that time night had fallen and so had our spirits. On reaching the river, I changed into second gear and gunned the engine. We cleft the water like a speedboat and all went quite well but right at the other side of the river, there was a very steep ridge. The front wheels leapt over it but the vehicle had lost momentum and the rear wheels just, just made it onto the edge of the ridge where the engine stalled. I jerked on the handbrake, sat breathless for a moment or two expecting us to slide back into the river. Then, when I was sure that we were stationary, I started the engine, gunned the motor, released the handbrake and by the Lord’s grace and a mighty push by His strongest angels, we dashed up the incline and were safely on the home run. Soon afterwards we arrived at our destination, as tired but also as grateful as can be.

We had arrived at a Roman Catholic mission station. The staff were very friendly, offered us overnight accommodation which we gladly accepted, and invited as to join them in an excellent supper. Since they seldom received visitors, they were hungry for conversation and were looking forward to an evening of us fellowshipping with them.

Having answered all their questions regarding ourselves, our ministry and the purpose of our visit to Lesotho, I asked whether I could read a portion of Scripture and pray for them. They gladly accepted my proposition and so I took out my English Bible and read from chapter 9 of the book of Acts which deals with Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. One of them, named Saul, was a medical practitioner from Italy and also a Roman Catholic. He was ecstatic to learn that there was a Bible character with the same name. He must have been a very nominal Catholic. Having shared his joy, I then spoke on Paul’s miraculous conversion and how he, apart from Christ, became the most important character in the New Testament. I also spoke on the essence of his teaching as found in the books of Romans and Galatians, namely that people are saved, forgiven, born-again by trusting in the complete work of Christ and not in their own good deeds, and was delighted to note with what concentration some of the members of staff were listening. We were of course totally exhausted after our day’s journey and made a beeline for bed.

Though Shadrach and I differed from them in our understanding of the Word of God, we admired the great work they were doing in the efficient running of a hospital up there in the mountains. We were told that many years back, when the hospital opened, they bought deep freezes in South Africa that operate on paraffin, removed the doors to make them somewhat lighter, then strapped them onto mules and, in this way, transported them all the way up to the hospital. This must have taken them many days, if not weeks to accomplish. What tremendous drive some people have!

The next morning we made an early start as usual. First of all we distributed tracts and our radio pamphlets both to the patients and to the nurses in the hospital and then continued on our journey. The road called for patience and endurance. The crests of many of the smaller hills consisted of one enormous rock like a dome which means that the road disappeared on reaching it and continued from some or other point on the other side of it. I often had to get out of the vehicle, remove some of the loose stones in our way and find the best route to traverse the rock so as to meet up with the road on the other side – a time consuming exercise.

We often splashed through crystal clear mountain streams in which we could replenish our water supply. Along the way we often passed a Sotho man on his surefooted pony with a colourful blanket draped around his shoulders and a conical shaped grass hat (called a Mokorotlo) on his head. What really touched my heart again and again, was the sight of a small hut high up on those mountain slopes where a solitary little herd boy, not much older than twelve, spent most of his days watching over his father’s cattle. Every now and again someone from the kraal would bring him a small supply of maize-meal but apart from that, he would not receive any other visitors and of course had to take care of himself as far as the preparation of food was concerned. I so longed to be in a position to go up there, live with him for a couple of days while sharing the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ. He would have ample time to contemplate, unlike our young people living in the cities whose minds are bombarded with all kinds of inputs, most of which do not benefit their souls.

What also thrilled our hearts was the fact that our shortwave transmission could be heard clearly all over those mountain ranges. This proved to us the value of our hard work. By vehicle we could pass through those regions only once in a lifetime, but by radio we could visit every village, every hut, every day. Unlike down below in the towns like Maseru, there was no FM reception up in the mountain areas, so everyone who had a radio, tuned in on shortwave and would most likely pick up our broadcasts.

At last we reached one of the larger settlements called Thaba Tseka where there was some sort of a grocery store where we could replenish our supplies. Having done so, I saw Shadrach surrounded by some angry men, pointing in my direction while speaking to him. I was rather concerned about this and prayed that the Lord might intervene for it would be most unfortunate for him to be attacked. I would then have had to intervene and an incident like that would most probably end up in court and keep us from returning to South Africa for many weeks. After a while they seemed to calm down and Shadrach returned and got into the vehicle. He explained that they were very politically minded and accused him of going around with “that White dog”. I felt so sorry for him for having to take the brunt of people’s anger towards us Whites, but could do nothing about it, apart from praying for him for wisdom and for his safety.

From Thaba Tseka we travelled in a south easterly direction, then, where the road branched, we turned left in a north-easterly direction, passing through Taung, Linakeng and Molumong and went as far as Mokhotlong, where we stayed for the night. The next day we retraced our footsteps to Taung, then turned left in a south-easterly direction. Early that morning we pulled up next to one of those crystal clear mountain streams to have a proper wash and I also had a shave. From there the road seemed to continue endlessly and the sun had already set when, at last, we saw the few tiny lights of Tsoelike winking at us way down at the base of the mountain range along which we had been travelling since daybreak. On arrival, Shadrach was accommodated by one of the local people while I slept in the back of the pickup, as usual.

The next morning we were all smiles, believing that our risks and hardships were over since we had left the mountain ranges behind us and were in the lowlands, travelling along a road that ran more or less parallel to the border of the country and continuing like that right up to Maseru where we intended to cross over into South Africa. We set off in a south-westerly direction, travelling up to Mpiti where we turned left and shortly afterwards arrived at Qacha’s Nek, a border post giving access to South Africa. I first of all bought a comb (a huge African type comb) for I had lost mine somewhere along the way and had to rake my hair into place with my fingers for a some days. Our next stop was the petrol pumps to fill up the tank for the last part of the journey.

I had hardly paid the pump assistant, when the left door was opened by a youngish African man who commanded Shadrach to move up, got in, slammed the door shut and commanded me to drive to the police station. I enquired who he might be and was informed that he was a private detective acting on behalf of the Lesotho Police Department. Apart from that, he would say no word and as we arrived at the police station, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a couple of policemen that really meant business. The leader questioned us while we remained sitting within the vehicle. Since his command of English was rather poor, I left it to Shadrach to explain to him that we were missionaries from South Africa, propagating our Christian radio broadcasts. He also gave them a few pamphlets we were displaying as well as of the Gospel tracts we had with us.

This did not convince them of our bona fides and good intentions at all, so we were told to remain in the vehicle and one or more of their colleagues were appointed to keep a strict watch over us. They took up a stand a few yards in front of our vehicle, each slammed a bullet into his old Lee Enfield rifle and watched over us as if we had just committed a series of murders. One hour followed upon the other without us knowing what their intentions were. Very little conversation passed between Shadrach and me but fervent prayers went up from our hearts. At last the station commander and a retinue of subordinate staff, emerged from the building, walking briskly towards our vehicle. What now? Would we be locked up or executed? After staring at me and then at Shadrach for another couple of moments, he heaved himself up to his full height, looked right over the pickup and informed as that they had checked with their head office at Maseru and we were free to resume our journey. Without wasting another moment, I nodded in acknowledgement, started the pickup and left the premises without a backward glance.

From that moment onwards we never again stopped in any of the towns through which we passed and we also made quite sure that we had passed the police stations before we spread our pamphlets through the windows which we knew people would pick up. The rest of the journey along the southern border up to Mohale’s Hoek, then along the south-western border through Mafeteng and finally travelling north-wards parallel to the western border up to Maseru, was uneventful though we never were quite at ease. At last we crossed the bridge over the Caledon River and the next moment we were back on South African soil. Shadrach, who had been born in Lesotho, pulled out his white handkerchief, wiped his forehead, shook his head and said: “Thank God, we are back in our own country.”

ONE THING I CAN SAY ABOUT ALL THE YEARS OF DOING MISSION WORK IS THAT WE HARDLY EVER HAD A DULL MOMENT.

INDEX

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