Pastor Anderson begged, cajoled, argued, and even offered to pay extra. Nothing changed the captain’s mind.
Everything was going wrong. First, the porters had taken far too long to load the goods in Bulawayo. Then the oxen were uncomfortable with the heavy wooden yoke and refused to work together. Then the water ran out, and now one of the wheels had hit a large rock and nearly fallen off the axle. Traveling hundreds of miles through rough and hilly Africa was always difficult, but on this trip the devil seemed to be pushing them backwards.
Pastor Anderson wiped the sweat-stained cloth across his forehead once more, breathed deeply, and aimed the wooden mallet at the peg he’d cut to fix the wheel.
I didn’t need to hit it that hard, he thought as the peg split into three useless pieces.
Pastor Harry Anderson, along with a young African helper, was taking a heavy wagonload of supplies from the end of the railroad, up through the desert, across the Zambezi River, and then through roadless dust to the new school at Rusangu. Anderson was a missionary from America, one of the founders of the school at Solusi, one of the kindest men to walk the dust of Africa, and a Christian leader the local people had learned they could trust.
The Rusangu school would be the fulfillment of a dream, a call God had given him several years earlier. The classes would bring the truth of God’s love to thousands of Batonga people who had never heard the gospel, and it seemed God was leading every step of the way. Already, students had come, begging to be taught by the missionary from America. The books, salt, sugar, dried fruit, and other supplies in the wagon would give the school new life.
His knife carved a new peg from the dead branch he had found near a tall anthill. This time he whacked it more softly. Hit it square, and without anger, he thought to himself.
The peg stuck, and with the wheel rolling smoothly again, Pastor Anderson and his young helper drove on toward the Zambezi River crossing. There were no roads near the Zambezi River at that time, only a winding, twisty native footpath through tall grass and woods. They followed this, dodging trees if they could, cutting down those that fully blocked their path.
“This is certainly not a vacation,” Pastor Anderson wrote in a letter home. “The halo of travel disappears about the fourth day one is stalled in the sand or stuck in a mudhole.”
“We need to get to the river crossing before sundown,” Anderson said to the young man, just as he had already said to him a dozen other times that day. “The old British sea captain who runs the ferry will take us across if we’re there before the sun goes down. If we don’t get there in time, he’ll be gone, and we’ll have to camp on this side of the river. I do not like the campsites on this side. I want to go across and camp where there’s a large acacia grove on a low hill just across the Zambezi. There’s good grass there, and strong trees we can use to tie down the tent.”
The helper listened to the pastor’s voice, understanding enough of the words to know that he must keep the oxen moving forward, yet wondering what it would be like to see a real sea captain.
When the road dipped through an ancient streambed and the oxen struggled in the deep sand, they both got off and walked beside the lead team, encouraging the oxen onward.
It was slow, hard, and frustrating going.
The old sea captain was just lowering his flag as they drove down the road to the ferry.
“Too late, Anderson,” he shouted. “I’m done for the day and am going home right now. See you tomorrow.”
Pastor Anderson begged, cajoled, argued, and even offered to pay extra. Nothing changed the captain’s mind. When he began to walk down the path to his home, the pastor lost it and shouted many salty words in the captain’s direction. The old man stopped, started to say something, then took a puff on his pipe and walked on home.
Pastor Anderson and the young man made a silent camp in the nettles above the river.
In the morning they were first in line at the ferry. The old sea captain smiled, welcomed them, and carried them safely across the river. Anderson was silent, paying the bill with a frown.
“I want to show you where we should have spent the night,” he muttered to his young helper as he drove the oxen up the green hill toward the grove of tall acacia trees.
There was a tent, a large wooden wagon, and a still-smoldering fire in a clearing at the top of the hill. Pastor Anderson called a greeting, but there was just silence in the acacias.
The young man found them first. The well-worn soles of a pair of leather boots.
That was all they found. Except for the obvious prints left by a pride of lions who had visited the camp during the night. The trader who had camped here last night was gone. Taken by the lions.
Pastor Anderson knelt beside the tent, put his hands in the paw prints, and wept. While the young helper watched, Pastor Anderson confessed his pride, his anger, his frustration, and his cruelty to the old sea captain.
Later, much later, Pastor Anderson and the young African helper drove the oxen back down the hill toward the ferry landing, where they waited patiently for the old sea captain to bring the ferry to their side of the Zambezi.
“I was wrong, sir,” Pastor Anderson said when the old sea captain looked down at him from the ferry’s deck. “I was wrong in the way I treated you. I was wrong in the way I spoke to you. I was late, and I was angry because I wasn’t getting my way. This morning God reminded me that He knows best and is always walking ahead of me to protect me. Please forgive me.”
The old sea captain took a long pull on his pipe and then nodded acceptance of the apology.
“Anderson, today you are once again like the Man you follow. I’m glad you’re still with us.”