The bridge

The bridge

When we came to the first bridge I knew we were in trouble. The river was a torrent and water had already risen right up to the bottom of the bridge. I could see that on the other side of the bridge part of the road had already been washed away. My heart sank.

We were really late leaving Gidagwajeda that afternoon. The meeting with the parents had started late, and then the conversation was long -- very long. Then the rain started and it was dark before it was time to be dark. Part of me wanted so much to rush things and for us to leave without eating, but of course I knew that was totally unthinkable. How could guests who had come to their village leave without eating? When it started raining, a lot of people kindly suggested we spend the night -- and of course the village would have taken us in and found a place for us to stay -- but we needed to make it as far as the little town of Katesh to sleep if we were to have any hope at all of getting back to Madisi the next day. We'd already been traveling for nearly a week, but we had to get back because both Justin and I had classes to start the new semester at the college.

We got out in the light drizzle and crossed on foot, checking out the bridge as best as we could. It did indeed seem safe to pass. My only worry was that once the car got across the bridge with that road half washed out, the steep incline right at the end of the bridge, and the mud being so slippery, that one tire might slip into that part that was washed away and the car might flip down into the water. I smiled without wanting to when Justin said he knew I was worried because I had taken my laptop out of the car and was carrying it with me.

I stood in the rain, took a deep breath, and watched as Justin slowly and carefully succeeded in getting the car across the bridge and up that hill. Ntula and I jumped back in the car, and having conquered the bridge, we were all now in a real jovial mood. The conversation was good, the laughter better, and the time passed quickly as Justin wracked up kilometer after kilometer getting us closer and closer to Katesh.

And then we got to a bridge where there was no choice but to stop, turn off the engine and just give up. Other vehicles had already been there for hours already and the whole bridge was under water. Lots of water. And you could tell the current was strong and swift. Not too long after we got there, though, the first few people started making the crossing, wading through the rushing water. People carried their goats on their shoulders. We watched two young men drive a herd of unwilling cows through the water across the bridge. The current was strong and people and animals struggled. Then other vehicles went across. But they were higher up with bigger tires and further off the ground and even though the water pressed hard on them, they made it across. We all agreed that there was no way we could do it with our little RAV 4, four-wheel drive or not, and it would be foolishness to even try. We waited.

Night fell.

We sat there in the dark.

Occasionally Justin would turn the headlights on so we could see how much the water had come down. Mostly we just sat there.

And then I don't know how it started but they started re-telling speeches I gave ten, fifteen years ago when I was their headmaster. How they could remember those things, things I had said, speeches I had given, seemingly word for word. It all brought back memories. I used to stand up at assembly every morning -- that was my pulpit, my theatre, my fun -- that was where for five years I had my time every morning to talk with them all about things, to punish, congratulate, teach, cajole, help them to see things in new ways. So many days, so much fun, so many kids. It was so fun thinking back to it all. Listening to them was like turning tape recorders on and getting to listen to things I had long forgotten. We laughed so much. There in the dark the conversation shifted and flowed. We talked about everything from raising their kids, to how God expects us to treat the neediest, to life with Josh and Jonathan. The hours passed.

Several times they rolled up their pants and waded across the bridge, and I think maybe it was the third time when they decided we could make it across with the car. It's easy now to look back on it and forget how frightened I was that we were doing it, but they had been exceedingly careful, and when Justin made the decision to drive the car across the bridge, he did it perfectly. And then he drove the remaining two hours on the muddy and slippery roads. We couldn't talk much anymore because in the rain he needed to concentrate hard on the driving.

We didn't make it to Katesh until well after midnight and then guesthouse after guesthouse was full and so we didn't find a place to sleep until well after one. I slept hard. Justin and Ntula did as well. And so we left late. We stopped for gas and Justin got out and came back with the little bottle of Azam mango juice that everyone knows I love. What's that for? You believed in me last night. I got one of those embarrassing lumps in my throat.

It's been over two years now that Justin has been driving, but this was the first trip I was making with him. I could have taken over the driving last night. Or, given that Ntula has a couple more years experience than Justin does behind the wheel, I easily could have told Ntula that he ought to drive.

But what I wanted Justin (and Ntula) to understand now was that all this had very little to do with trusting and believing in someone's driving. It's about showing Austin and the gang who had just come from Zambia that we trust and believe that they really can build schools in Zambia. It's about believing that our students could build an HIV/AIDS clinic. That they could build schools. And with Justin now having the responsibility of working with all of our students at the college, he's got to choose if he wants to believe in their abilities. It was time to pull out my grandfather's old sermon that he had impressed upon me so many times from three verses (11, 12 and 13) from Ephesians 4, making sure that they understood that it wasn't our job to do the work, it was instead our job to prepare others to do the work. And part of preparing them was believing that God really could -- and would -- work through them.

When we first showed up at that bridge, the thought did cross my mind (several times in fact) that if only we had not fallen so far behind schedule we would have made it this far before the bridge had flooded and we would probably already be in Katesh, we'd be eating a nice dinner, we'd be going to bed early. Had we been on time, I would have totally missed out.