D8. VARIOUS MINISTRIES AND OCCUPATIONS
TAKING OFF TIME TO PLAY
Lest I have been sinning by depicting us as super spirituals, let us take a breather while I draw the curtain on another side of our lives.
Once our eldest son, Frans, had completed his matric and one year of training at the Police College, he was happy to come and stay with us for he was, of course, still unmarried and was not earning much of a salary. Since he was without a motorcar and I would not allow him to use mine, he bought himself a racing cycle to be somewhat mobile. At that stage Martie and I had been physically, or should I say sports wise, very inactive for we had to discontinue our weekly tennis game since her back was giving her some discomfort. When Frans came home one day with his beautiful, sleek, fairly lightweight bicycle, I was sufficiently interested to buy my own. What I bought was a second-hand, oversized Hansom road cycle which I found at a swop shop.
On getting home I pushed it out of the gate, into the street and hesitatingly heaved myself into the saddle for I had not cycled for scores of years and was wondering whether I would still be able to do so. I went slowly around the block, then once more and finally decided that I had not lost this ability. On the first weekend, accompanied by Frans, I cycled for about 3 km and was very proud to make it back home all in one go. A couple of weeks later, Frans and I tackled a 35 km circular route, accompanied by Martie, driving our car. We stopped every 5 km, laid the cycles aside and sat down in the car for a rest. After many such pit stops, we finally made it back home. I was now convinced that this could become a very interesting and enjoyable sport which indeed it did.
Though Frans did not continue to accompany me, I cycled two to three times every week, doing 20 to 30 km on Saturdays. Gradually I became fit and sometimes took part in fun rides of up to 105 km, once a month. Though I never excelled, I always managed to complete the races within the allowed time and gradually gathered a stack of medals that are still draped on a coat hanger in my wardrobe.
Then, when Jaco, our younger son, left school, he also bought himself a road racing bike and we sometimes cycled together.
On 12 March 1995, Jaco and I did the Cape Argus race around the Cape Peninsula. We were well prepared, Jaco especially so. He had had sufficient time to practise and was developing into a very strong rider. I, on the other hand, had my doubts as to whether I would be able to finish the race within the allotted time. Because of the large number of competitors, we were divided into several groups and set off at five or ten minute intervals. (Nowadays there are some 30- to 32,000 entries but in that year there probably were about 24,000.) My nerves were all uptight when the shot sounded, but we both got off to a good start and Jaco shot ahead like an arrow from a bow, leaving me well behind right from the beginning. He was hoping to do the race in a very good time. I just plodded along but gradually gained confidence, picked up speed and actually enjoyed the race very much. I completed the approximately 109 km in 3 hours 45 minutes; an average of 29,23 km/h, which I felt was not too bad for a man of 54.
I was expecting to find Jaco waiting for me at the winning post, but he was not there and looking around all over, I could find no trace of him, so I waited and waited until, some 45 minutes later, he came steaming over the finish line! I just could not believe my eyes. On enquiring what had happened, he told me that the brand new stem of his bicycle to which his handlebars were clamped, snapped and the next moment he sat on the saddle, helpless, holding the disconnected handlebars up before him, with no brakes and with his feet clamped to the pedals. By God’s grace this did not happen at full speed downhill, but right at the crest of a hill where he was going at a moderate speed. A number of spectators, noticing his predicament, charged towards him, grabbed hold of the cycle and helped him to dismount, but what now? “Fortunately” there happened to be a stall at that exact spot to assist riders with small repairs to their cycles. They managed to strap the handlebars back onto the stem in some or other way, enabling Jaco to complete the race, for which I really admired him. The question was: between the two of us: who won the race, him or me? Well, as someone said: “If you want to know who won the match, look at the scoreboard,” and, looking at the scoreboard, the father aged 54 beat the son aged 20 in the 1995 Cape Argus cycle race! That was great fun.
On 31 October 1995, I bought myself a better used road cycle, though this one was a bit under-sized and a month later I managed to do 153 km all in one go. On 26 December that year, Jaco and I set off on a cycle tour through North–Western Transvaal. Martie and Jaco’s girlfriend, Debbie, accompanied us in a light truck towing our caravan. In order for the ladies also to have something to enjoy during the tour, we stayed over at holiday resorts every second day. In total we covered 643 km at an average of 28 km/h. The longest distance we did, was between the Ben Alberts nature reserve, outside Thabazimbi and Vaalwater, some 135 km. There were many challenges along the way such as when we found a promised caravan park to be nothing but abandoned pig sties way out on a farm. On returning to Vaalwater, the local butchery had run out of meat and when we wanted to continue on our journey to Nylstroom, we were told that the bridge across the Sand River had washed away so that we had to make a detour along a dirt road, with Jaco and Debbie tucked away in the caravan.
How Jaco and I appreciated the showers of the Hennie de Witt resort where we could at last, after all that drama, rinse off the sweat and salt that had accumulated on our bodies during our 135 km ride to Vaalwater. But that was not the end of our challenges, for on our next stage, from Nylstroom to Warmbaths, I had five consecutive punctures before I discovered that they were caused by a small slit in the tyre where a piece of glass had cut it. Every time, as I sat in the grass along the way attending to my damaged tyre, Martie and Debbie looked down aloofly upon me from the height of the truck’s cab. The next day, between Warmbaths and Pretoria, it was Jaco’s turn for punctures but we got home all in one piece. Such mishaps, though not enjoyable when occurring, make for good memories when recalling them afterwards.
However, my real test came for me at the age of 57, when we decided to do a tour from Pretoria through the eastern Transvaal and down to Pennington, south of Durban. This time we were not accompanied by a vehicle and had to carry everything we needed in small rucksacks on our backs. We could see that Martie and Debbie were very concerned when dropping us just outside Pretoria on the road to Trichardt, but men have this itch within their bones and have to do something abnormal from time to time to remain normal and cope with the challenges of life. Our first stage of 133,7 km as well as the next stage of 81,1 km to Ermelo, were very enjoyable and without any mishaps.
On leaving Ermelo on the third morning, however, we found that the temperature had dropped considerably for, unknown to us, a cold front was moving across the country and within the next kilometre, sleet started coming down. We were not prepared for this at all, riding in cycling shorts and short-sleeved shirts. That day’s journey turned into a nightmare for the temperature kept dropping and showers of rain poured down on us. Every now and then a large truck would pass, showering us with a sheet of water. Jaco’s hands got so numb that they once slipped off the handlebars and he almost got run down by a truck. About half-way to our destination, we stopped under the cover of a bridge and, while jogging on one spot to keep our legs and bodies from freezing, we ate some sandwiches to replenish our strength. When, after 110 km we arrived at Piet Retief, we were a sight for sore eyes and the servant girl at the home of our relatives where we were to stay over for the night, got such a fright when looking at us through the window that she would not open the door at first. When we finally gained entrance, we made a beeline for the bathrooms and soaked our bodies in the delightfully hot water. By that time we were not blue, but actually white with cold. Our riding gear was of course soaked with water and mud, but we managed to borrow some clothes and then sat down to a hearty hot meal.
The question now was whether to continue on our journey having done three stages but with four more left. It would have been a great disappointment to turn back, so, before going to bed that night, Jaco and I prayed and prayed, trusting the Lord to make a way for us. At about three the next morning I got up, went outside and as I looked up into the sky, saw a small opening in the thick layer of clouds. This gave me hope that the Lord would indeed do a miracle on our behalf.
The next day broke with dark clouds still covering the sky and intermittent rain, but by 11 a.m. it somehow cleared up a bit and we decided to tackle the next stage of 101,4 km to Vryheid. We had also managed to buy ourselves some sweaters though they were not of much help. By then the mountain ranges and landscape all around us were covered with snow and lead grey clouds stretched from horizon to horizon – a very depressing atmosphere indeed. The up side of it was that it did not rain, so we did not experience as much cold as the day before.
What I did not tell Jaco, was that I had been unable to contact the lady at whose place we were due to stay over that night and would have to scout around for accommodation once we arrived at Vryheid. I silently prayed as far as we went. Some ten km before reaching our destination, a car passed us, then stopped on the wayside and a lady got out and motioned for us to stop. When we got to her, she enquired whether I was “Pastor Ben”. When I said I was, she introduced herself and explained that it was arranged for us to stay over with her for that night, but that her cell phone had been defective for a day or two so she did not know whether we had been trying to make contact and did not have my phone number either. She then gave us her address and said that she would go ahead and prepare our bedroom.
Oh, the wonderful grace of our God. He never slumbers nor sleeps, His telephone line never is engaged or His mobile phone disabled by having a flat battery or out of airtime. His eye is continually upon us and He watches over us as a mother watches over her little toddler. Blessed be His holy Name! We enjoyed such wonderful hospitality that night and that from a complete stranger. She even gave us her car to drive around in which I appreciated very much for I had been at school at Vryheid and wanted to show Jaco where we had lived and the school I had attended.
The next morning we were off to Melmoth, a very tiring stretch of 128,8 km, during which we had to climb the formidable Drakensberg range. On reaching our destination, I was exhausted; not so with Jaco for he was a young man of 23, getting fitter by the day as we journeyed along, compared to my 57 years on planet Earth.
We had been unable to prearrange accommodation and Jaco was not happy to stay over in the only available hotel. So, what were we to do? As we stood in front of the ABSA bank discussing this issue, a lady stepped out of the building onto the pavement for a smoke break. I asked her whether there was any guesthouse where we could spend the night. She promised to find out and get back to us. Some time passed and just when we were beginning to despair, she returned, saying that the only guesthouse which could accommodate only one person was fully booked, but that she had spoken to her husband and that they were happy to take us. As she was speaking, he stopped next to us in his police van, got out, looked us over for a few moments, possibly deciding whether he could believe our story of having cycled down all the way from Pretoria, then broke into a broad smile, stretched out his hand and welcomed us. He was quite an interesting character, in appearance and conduct very much like a Wild Western sheriff. Though worldly people, they were a very friendly couple and treated us to an excellent meal. After having washed our riding clothes (for we had only one set) Jaco and I bedded down in a double bed in the spare room.
Just after daybreak the next morning, we were off to Umhlali, a small town on the eastern coast, north of Durban, a distance of 143,5 km but not all that exacting because we were going downhill on the eastern slopes of the Drakensberg most of the way. What discomfort we did, however experience in full measure, was the hurting of our bottoms, for they had by then been punished on those hard racing bike saddles for some 555 kilometres. Every morning, the first 2 to 3 km was pure torture. The muscles of our upper legs too, were quite painful, but these were small discomforts and we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves.
That night we found accommodation at a small hotel. Our bodies had been working very hard and our hunger knew no bounds. We ordered one meat dish after another until the wide-eyed waitress whispered that she had no more meat left in her fridge. However, she made us some delicious sandwiches for the next day. We then went to bed but that was not to be the end of Jaco’s experiences for the day, for his bed broke during the night, causing his body to remain in a jack-knife position till the next morning.
Then we were off on the last stage of our journey. We travelled very well, stopping over at the Durban beach to eat our sandwiches and then continued down to Pennington. What an exhilaration we experienced when, at last, the little town’s sign-post stood right there in front of us. We had covered a distance of 826,8 km in 33,57 hours at an average speed of 24,35 km/h, doing some 118,11 km on average per day. What a privilege for a father and son to be able to share such experiences and, in so doing, cementing their relationship with one another.
After visiting with our relatives for a day or two, we returned to Pretoria by train where Martie and Debbie warmly welcomed us, much relieved that we had returned home safely.
Although Martie sometimes went cycling with me and Debbie once accompanied Jaco on a tandem bicycle in a cycling race, neither of them really took to cycling but both, especially Martie, would be game for a hiking tour. We did two of those, the first in the vicinity of Waterval-Boven: a two day hike during which we were accommodated in railway carriages. The scenery was fine, but the route was not very challenging.
Our second hike was at Magoebaskloof in the Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga). This was a very challenging five day trail of 80 to 90 km. The landscape was mountainous, the climate, rainy and foggy. (I recently surfed the Net to check whether my facts regarding this trail were correct, but it seems as if the original trail as we walked it at that time, no longer exists.) Martie and I were very hesitant to undertake it for both of us were in our 50’s and not so sure whether we would make it. Once we had committed ourselves, we prepared for the long walk by loading our rucksacks with three or four bricks each and then going on shorter hikes in the Pretoria area.
So eventually, we made a booking, got a date and set off; that is Martie, Jaco, Debbie and I. This indeed was a very taxing hike but we managed to keep going and, though suffering hour by hour, absolutely enjoyed the experience. (What I mostly appreciate about such long hikes is that by the third day, all memories of civilisation just fade away, and you get caught up in that atmosphere of peace that nature exudes.) The overnight accommodation was primitive, but the scenery was superb and the panoramic views from up top of those mountains left us breathless.
I think it was on the third day that we came to a split in the trail where we had to choose between an easier route along the base of Black Mountain and a very taxing route crossing the mountain itself. Martie and I opted for the latter, but for Debbie it was a difficult choice for her knees were giving her some trouble. In the end, we all decided on the High Trail. Scaling that mountainside drained from us every bit of energy and the women had to rest frequently, so I decided to go ahead and get some food prepared for us. On the way up, I passed through huge rock formations, so majestic and awesome to behold, that I felt I was on holy ground with my faith rising up within me to a level where I felt capable of walking on the water as Jesus did.
Time however, was slipping by, and I proceeded to the top of the mountain where I found some level rock formations where we could sit down to rest and have a bite. By then we had run out of water but there were puddles of crystal clear rainwater caught up in the hollows of the rocks for our use. I lit our little camping gas burner, filled a pot with water and had it boiling when the other three members of the team arrived. (On such hikes I always found great enjoyment in preparing some hot food when out there in the bundu.) After a hasty meal we continued on our way, for by then it was midday and we still had a long distance to go.
On reaching the building where we were to spend the night, the women were totally exhausted and Martie was quite certain that she would never be able to get up and continue the next day. Jaco and I left the two of them to wash and refresh themselves, while we went to some huts where African people taking care of the building and surroundings lived, to see if we could perhaps buy some maize- meal from them for we felt like having some traditional “pap” and roasted meat.
On our return I walked a little distance up the hill, away from the building, and came across a troop of wild horses. We had read about these in a brochure. Their ancestors apparently belonged to prospectors that had, many, many years before, been searching for gold at Pilgrims’ Rest in the valley down below. On leaving the area, they turned their horses loose which then roamed freely all over, multiplying as time went by. As I stood watching them, the magnificent leading stallion, came towards me, prancing at every step, the herd cautiously following for they were as inquisitive as I was and then, when he apparently felt he was taking a bit of a risk, spun around in one blur of movement and raced off across the plateau with the whole troop following at his heels, hooves thundering on the damp earth and manes and tails flying in the wind. Oh, to be transported back in time and to have a glimpse in the Garden of Eden of the animals as God originally created them.
Wonder upon wonder, the next morning, Martie was able to get up as usual and so we continued on our way. The route also led us through the historical little town of Pilgrim’s Rest where we spent a couple of hours, then trudged off again, up and up to the crest of the mountains and in the end, down to the spectacular potholes at Burke’s Luck where I managed to get a lift back to the starting point to collect our car so that we could return home. What a privilege we had to share those experiences with our son and with Debbie, who later on became our daughter-in-law.
The Lord is so gracious to allow his children, even those in the ministry, so much scope to enjoy themselves on condition that they never put their pleasure above Him, for then it becomes an idol that disgraces Him and undermines the relationship. One has to be very sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as to the use of one’s time, funds, energy and other resources. Once one has these priorities properly in place, one’s sport becomes very enjoyable and a means to glorify Him and causes one’s faith to grow as one trusts Him in all the challenges you experience. Our bodies were designed for an amount of physical exercise and having sat on a chair, staring at a computer screen, 6 to 8 hours per day, I find it very relaxing to go for a spin on my bike. It also releases stress and tension that build up while attending to one’s responsibilities. While out there on the open road, even when participating in a race, my heart is often so filled with joy, that it just overflows into praise and I cannot but sing unto Him in my heart, or even out loud.
But I say again: sport must never become an idol. Some three months ago I was to participate in a 108km road race at Bloemfontein that I had been training for for many months. Then, on the night before the race, as we were in a guest house and I was preparing my requisites for the next day’s race, I sensed the Lord whispering so very softly to me: “Ben, you have been training very hard for this race, if I were to ask you now to abandon it and return home, what would your answer be?” Overwhelming emotion surged up in my heart, tears came to my eyes and I replied: “Lord, why are You asking me this question? You know that I will not hesitate for a moment but will immediately pack up and return home without a trace of regret. You are way, way above these worldly pleasures.” Needless to say, the Lord then released and blessed me to participate in the race and even do very well (according to my standards.) Oh, the grace of God that, as time goes by, manages to remove the heart of stone, the heart of a person even like me, and replace it with a heart that loves Him and is, after many years of rebellion, able to have joy in pleasing Him.
THE JOY OF THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH!
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