Twelve Incredible Hours
day arrived for my departure to Loudon Mission and at sunrise I sallied forth on my
two-stroke motor cycle on the first stage of my 125 mile journey. Most of my clothing and
a supply of petrol had been sent off a few days previously. I was dressed in khaki shorts,
shirt and red-draped pith helmet. On my cycle carrier was strapped a box of food, over my
left shoulder a water bottle and a haversack containing sandwiches, sweets, bottles,
booklets, my diary and a tin opener. Strapped lightly on my back was a specially covered
quart tin of petrol in case of emergency. Although my journey was through animal-infested
jungle country, I carried no weapon.
As the sun was setting I reached my half-way station, about nine hours after leaving Livingstonia.
Four incidents stand out beyond the race through the bush fire in these nine hours. One concerns a very old man sitting by the roadside. He had taken part in many massacres in the old days, being of the staunch warriors of a chief. He was attracted to the early missionaries, became a follower, a convert and leader of a mission labour force. With advancing age, semi-blindness and inability to walk far, he was lead each day by his friends to his wayside boulder where he gave instruction, advice and prayed with all in need and distress. He was loved by all.
As we talked I shared my sandwiches and sweets with him and on parting his words to me were, 'Friend, you are young. You will meet trial and pain sometime, so store up faith in God and love for Christ and you will never be sad and overwhelmed. I speak from experience. God upholds all who trust Him.
Those words proved a tower of strength to me within less than twenty-four hours and scores of times since!
The second incident concerns a mother and child. The noise of my cycle could be heard for miles around and people came down the mountains, or up from the valleys, to greet me. The black mother and child sat practically on the path so I had to stop. The child was ill in a state of partial coma.
'Please, sir, pray for my baby, bless him in prayer and with your hand,' was the mother's plea.
Here was a challenge to my belief. I looked at the naked child covered in dozens of sores and so very poorly. I laid my hands on the child, prayed, offered some words of comfort and as I had no medicine wrote a note to the mission doctor, some thirty miles behind me and, after giving the woman some money, told her to hurry to the doctor.
The face of the mother brightened and as she rose, hugging her precious little one, she said, 'May someone be kind to you as you have been kind to me!'
Episode three is soon told. Near to a streamlet I spotted a bird tangled in a clump of thorns. The surprising thing was how it survived so long from the many other deadly creatures around. Before relieving it I crushed a sandwich and sprinkled it on the path. Thousands of ants swarmed round the crumbs before I got the bird freed. It was a shrike. Soon he was on the ground having a jolly meal of bread and ants. To my surprise he was quite tame and as I made off he followed for some distance, chirruping merrily.
When I reached a fairly wide and fast running river there was only a narrow bamboo bridge, some sixty feet long and about twenty feet above the noisy swirling water. The carrier I had sent off in advance with petrol was waiting for me, a wise smile across his face. He could read my anxious thoughts, for he said, 'The bridge looks unsafe but it is really very safe. Let me lift the front wheel, you take the back wheel and we'll go slowly across!'
It was some crossing. The slim bridge swung from side to side like a hammock, but as I looked at the smiling face and listened to the reassuring words of my dark-skinned friend, I was hopeful. I was thankful to reach the other side where my good and trusty carrier remarked, 'Were you afraid of the bridge, sir?'
When I replied, 'Yes,' he answered with the advice,
'When I feel afraid, I just ask God to help me. Don't you do that?'
I was humbled; here was a man only a few years under the sway of the Gospel giving me an example of absolute trust.
Each of these incidents filled me with a sense of elation as I made the last mile of my journey past cheering crowds of Africans into the beautiful mission station of Ekwendeni. What a welcome too I had from the mission staff, a welcome that has to be experienced, something one finds difficult to describe.
After a hot bath, change of clothing, delicious meal and long chat about things in general, I went to bed about ten o'clock, slept soundly and was up, dressed and ready for the road before six the next morning. The lady of the house had already packed my haversack with lots of eats and tit-bits; also the petrol tin on my cycle had been replenished. As I had developed a slight temperature and headache, my breakfast was a light one of fruit, maize porridge, coffee and buttered toast. My host had overhauled my cycle and according to plan I was on the track once more in the cool of the morning.
For mile after mile I bumped over bleak, inhospitable country without seeing man, beast, reptile or bird. The sun was rising fast, the air became very hot and twice I had to stop to allow the engine to cool. At an appointed spot I met the man who had been sent in advance with petrol. He filled my cycle tank, then we stood under an isolated tree eating a meal. After giving me route instructions he retraced his steps and I pushed on into the bush road.
At times I felt the fever rising on me and buzzing noises in my head seemed to clash with the rhythm of my engine. Once, I slowed down to assess if all was well with the cycle, when I wobbled and crashed into a tree stump and rebounded on an ant heap. Both shin bones were badly grazed and bleeding; my head was reeling and to add to my discomfort my whole body was pouring with sweat and though a merciless sun was beating upon me I was shivering with cold.
I knew there was no help of any kind for miles around, so I moved to the tree stump, sipped some water from my flask, tried to eat an orange but could not, sucked some homemade sweets and was feeling a little more settled when an invasion of ants and flies of all sizes suddenly took a liking to me. I looked at my pocket watch. It was just ten o'clock. I had idled away nearly half an hour since my crash. I felt limp, but the buzzing insects made me move and with an effort I was astride my cycle and in a few seconds leaving my tormentors behind me.
My head cleared a little. I worked out I was about an hour's distance from the Government Station where a mission doctor was waiting with his car to drive me to my destination. It was a comforting thought.
So far my little cycle had behaved splendidly under difficult circumstances. It was sturdy, but at times I became aware of faulty strokes and belt rattlings and I wondered, was it the machine, or was it my imagination through my increasing headache and shivering.
In this frame of mind I came to two broad paths, one to the right to the Government Station and one to the left to the mountains. I was about to slow up when I saw a rodent rush on to the path and in a flash a huge bird swooped down and caught it in its talons. At that moment something happened. My cycle bucked, there was a violent jerk, my helmet strap broke and I was pitched from my machine and was knocked out on landing.
Later, I came to, befuddled and asking myself, 'Where am I?' There were strange and throbbing noises in my head and stinging stabs of pain in the nape of my neck causing ringing sounds in my ears. My fingers moved a little but power seemed to be out of my arms; my body ached and my legs were numb and lifeless. I shouted, but all I heard was an eerie mocking sound of my echo. Again and again I called out to be answered by jarring echoes. With an effort I turned over only to find I was lying on damp grass, my clothes soaking, tongue swollen in my mouth and it was very very dark all around. I know I did not panic although I was quite afraid. Pains seemed to stab at me from all over my body and though my mind was confused, I thought on the words of old Lot Harawa, the crippled semi-blind old man I met by the wayside and his words of comfort -'God upholds all who trust him.' I saw again the young black mother with her baby, pleading me to lay my hands on her child and pray and her salutation echoed in my sick head -'May someone be kind to you, as you have been kind to me!' There came the vision of Kondamiri Soko at the bamboo bridge and his testimony, 'When I feel afraid I just ask God to help me.' Strange as it may appear, I also thought of the tangled bird in the clump of thorns, its sheer delight at being released, the way it had also enjoyed its meal and how it followed me and sang for me along the road for some miles as if in thanks for being saved.
How long I was like this I do not know. With an effort I turned over and raised myself up. I felt ill and pained, depressed, but not so afraid, for I had prayed and weak as I was, I had faith. My water bottle was still over my left shoulder. There was only a little water in it. I took a sip but couldn't swallow for the pain, so I spat it out. With movement in my arms again I fumbled in my haversack, which was also over my left shoulder. I could find no food, no sweets; my booklet, diary and tin opener were there, also a box of matches. How they got there I will never know, for I did not smoke, but sure enough they were matches.
Feverishly I lit a match. Never was a glow of light so welcome, yet it scared me, for in the flickering light I saw my hands were lacerated and caked with blood. The sudden darkness alarmed me. I pulled out a booklet, ripped out the pages and lit them one by one. The warmth was comforting. From where I was sitting I scraped for grass and twigs and soon had a little fire. I remembered my watch. In the light I saw it was ten o'clock. 'Oh dear!' I thought, 'EIGHT HOURS TO DAYLIGHT!'
From bird and animal calls around me and the extreme cold night air, I knew I was up some mountain. Onto the little fire I put another booklet and it added to my warmth. To keep up the light and ward off animals I added a text book. In desperation I swung on to my knees and crawled around in the flickering light, gathering twigs. I saw a small tree, managed to reach it and pulling myself up broke off branches. It was a painful ordeal but I was determined to keep the fire going.
The times I tumbled are all but forgotten, except for the series of hurts and terrible pains. Once or twice I was stunned by the falls but I managed to keep the fire going somehow. My efforts were not in vain, for by midnight I was surrounded by branches to afford me some protection from animals and I was exhausted by my efforts. I wanted to sleep but sleep did not come, so the next best thing was to rest, relax and try to bear the ordeal as all the bruises, cuts and bumps started to smart. Frequent stabs of severe pain in my head worried me but also served to keep me awake.
The fire which had been smouldering flared up and in the light I saw that my stockings, shorts and jacket were ripped and torn and my legs, body and arms were slashed with cuts and scratches. For the first time I saw the extent of injury. All at once my system felt like a block of ice. Shivers took hold of me and while in this state of extreme helplessness and distress I cried aloud in prayer as I had never prayed before. In this mood I collapsed in sheer exhaustion.
My next conscious thought was a feeling that something was moving through my crude barrier of branches. The fire was far down through inattention, but the red glow was sufficient to pinpoint the crouching bulk of a leopard and its two bright eyes. I had seen such bright eyes before and I could not mistake them. Without thinking I gathered the smouldering embers of the fire in my naked hands and threw them at the eyes. There was a crackle, silence and darkness!
My mind worked quickly. Out came my precious diary. A few pages were pulled out and lit, then more and more pages. The light was wonderful. Scraps of red embers, twigs, anything was added to the glow until I had a fire going. Looking at the time was another surprise, it was twelve thirty a.m. In the excitement of throwing the burning sticks at the 'glowing eyes, I remembered I heard something fall. Looking around me I found a flat tin of sardines. It must have fallen out of the small pocket on the outside covering of my water bottle. I never found out how it got there. My tin opener came in handy. I could not swallow the fish but found the oil soothing to my swollen tongue and throat. I also rubbed my hands, knees and neck with the oil - it considerably eased the smarting. I even rubbed some oil on my head, but it was of no avail - the pain was so bad at times that it felt like someone driving a knife into it.
The fire was now burning quite bright and the warmth was pleasing. Believing I had improved I made an effort to stand, but all in vain. Each time I got halfway up I crashed to the ground. However, I was determined to stand. I slung my haversack over a broken branch on the little tree nearby and pulled myself up.
This operation was carried out many times until eventually I actually stood and moved my legs. In my joy I bent and gathered an armful of twigs and tossed them on the fire. This I repeated until in the bright light of the bonfire my watch revealed that it was five thirty a.m. As if by magic I looked up and saw that the stars and swirling mist had gone. Far down the mountain side I could hear rooks crowing and somewhere in the distance dogs barking. Then with amazing rapidity the sudden dawning of a new day and the lovely beams of the rising sun. Morning had come - there was hope.
In complete surrender to God I thanked Him for this protection and asked His guidance once more. It was all too evident now that I was up the mountain, far from the Government Station. A score of thoughts coursed through my brain - 'How did I reach this spot? Where was my cycle? Would my strength be sufficient to reach safety?'
I could now stand up with ease, but walking was the problem. Something was hampering the coordination of brain and legs. With great caution I moved a step at a time through the bush. I staggered and stumbled and fell quite often. Ground mist was now hanging thick on the dense vegetation. I was soon soaked and chilled and my whole flesh was very painful. To make things more distressing my tongue seemed to fill my mouth, my eyes did not focus properly and the nape of my neck and head throbbed incessantly.
I had one consuming passion to get down the mountain and with this resolve I forced myself on. At one point I tripped and tumbled heavily and in my effort to get up I saw what looked like a narrow path. I crawled to it and to my delight I saw the marks of my own boots. Crawling about I realized the prints were indeed mine. My job now was to go cautiously and keep my head. Before rising to my feet I said quietly, 'Thanks be to God. He leads and I will trust Him!'
It was nearing nine o'clock when I came across my cycle. The petrol tank was empty. The box of tinned food on the carrier was missing. With an effort I pulled the cycle upright, got astride the saddle and ever so quietly free-wheeled down the path.
My journey was short lived. Some thirty yards before me were two animals like lions. For a moment I took my dim vision off the path, the next my cycle struck a stone and I was catapulted into a thorn bush, quite close to two terrified baboons who scampered into the jungle. My cuts and lacerations were considerably increased as a result of my sudden flight. I could not extricate the cycle so I made a cairn often stones on the path, an indication to anyone that something of value was at hand.
The ordeal had upset me for a few minutes, but with hope in my heart I set out staggering and tumbling, laughing and weeping, slumping against shrubs for breath.
At one point I paused to count and concluded that I had covered five miles from dawn until I came across my cycle and by the look of things it would be twenty miles to the Government Station.
The sun was slowly rising in a cloudless sky and by ten thirty a.m. it was about ninety degrees in the shade. At one point I saw a small steam and crawling on my hands and knees through the dense foliage I reached a boulder at the side of which was a small pool. I filled my water bottle and took a drink. The cool water on my tongue and throat was agony. My head throbbed and to add to the torment my nose gushed with blood and as the pool turned crimson I wondered, 'Was this out-of-the-way pool to be the end?' I slumped over the boulder, crying, shivering, praying and then suddenly a wonderful peace came over me. With a desperate effort I crawled back to the path and with the aid of two stout branches moved slowly forward, trailing my legs with every step.
It must have been at least 110 degrees in the shade for the heat was overpowering by twelve noon. My movement was halting and slow; my clothes were soaked in sweat, yet at intervals I shivered with cold. Strange noises and voices inside my head encouraged me to go on. Mechanically I trudged on in the stillness of midday, for all creatures rested from the heat, until to my astonishment I heard a galloping thundering sound behind me. Turning around I saw an amazing sight: a herd of angry buffalo bearing down on me. In front was a massive bull, his head lowered. I could not move and yet again I found myself thinking, 'Is this to be my inglorious end?' I remember saying, 'Lord, halt the brute.' On and on came the maddened bellowing bull. What could I do indeed as my only weapon of defence was a tin opener and it was still in my haversack. Yet somehow I wasn't afraid. In me was a confident feeling that God had much more use for me in future. I did not flinch. I watched as the herd regrouped and once more, led by the huge bull, they scurried over the hillside.
Again, a feeling of calm came over me. I turned round and still leaning on my sticks, resumed my journey, quite confident I would reach some hamlet or encounter a native.
At about one thirty that afternoon I was thrilled to see two natives coming my way. Within speaking distance they stopped, turned on their tracks and disappeared. No doubt my blood-splattered and tattered clothing, cut and swollen features and drunken appearance scared them off.
Half an hour later another native was on the path, his eyes staring as he enquired in an awesome whisper, 'Are you Bwana Mwakuyu?'
I could only nod and my words were all mumbled and quite incoherent. He burst into tears, his anxiety so genuine as he wailed, 'What can I do, sir? What can I do?'
Some years previously he had worked for me at Livingstonia and we liked each other. From somewhere in his folded loin cloth he produced a small notebook and piece of pencil. On one page I wrote, 'If you follow this boy he will lead you to me' and signed my name.
I was able to make the boy understand he had to give my note to the first white man he met or take it to the Government Residence, also to inform any other natives about my plight.
At exactly four o'clock I came to the forked roads where I remembered I was thrown from my cycle. It was the place right enough. The skid marks were still to be seen. Nearby was the box of tinned food, the broken straps and the empty petrol tin.
I was actually leaning over my sticks looking at the tin when a car came speeding down the road from the Government station. The native had run twelve miles and handed my message to an official at the residence. Within seconds, strong kind hands were holding me up, a blanket was wrapped around me and with ease and gentleness my pained body was lifted into the car. The older man and another young official soon had me on my way and within an hour I was at the Residency.
An Indian doctor stripped off all my clothing and dressed my wounds. From the crown of my head to the soles of my feet were numerous cuts and bruises. My feet and hands were a frightful mess of raw flesh. Every now and then the beautiful eyes of the Indian doctor looked into mine with the apology, 'I'm sorry to hurt you. Do you forgive me?' He did not hurt me, at least if he did I was quite insensitive to the pain.
Later than evening my medical missionary friend arrived. I was thoroughly examined by both doctors. Some injections were given, then I was told of my dangerous condition. I recall saying, 'God will preserve me. I know he will!'
I was told I slept for fourteen hours and not for one minute of that time was I left without medical attention. Neither white person nor coloured slept that night. All were so upset and distressed at my serious condition.
Two days after my rescue, a party set out to check the somewhat disjointed and incredible story of my night on the mountainside. To the amazement of all they found the place at which I had stayed the night, the pile of wood ashes from the fire, the trees stripped of branches, some unburnt leaves from my diary and booklets, the sardine tin and the outer covering of the match box. Some distance away they came across the bleached bones of a native carrier who had disappeared two weeks previously - the victim of a wild animal. It may have been the same creature who had evil designs on me! The searchers also came across the small cairn of ten stones and, close by, the motor cycle. They saw the stream and the boulder where I had crawled to get water. As one man said, 'An inaccessible spot where only a desperate man could reach!' They confirmed the account of the buffalo bull's mad rush, the skidding hoof marks and the clods of earth thrown up.
They calculated that after falling off my cycle at the forked roads I had cycled, pushed, lifted and actually carried the motor cycle sixteen miles and nearly 2,000 feet up the hillside, over almost impassable country in my fevered actions. They also came to the conclusion I had stumbled another four miles after leaving the motor cycle until I collapsed.
The investigating party described my journey variously as, 'Incredible!', 'Impossible!' 'Fantastic!' and, 'Beyond belief!' Yet it was accomplished, but I cannot recall doing it.
There is forever a twelve hour blank in my life, a period in which I managed to perform a most amazing feat of physical, mental and spiritual endurance, accomplished in weakness and malarial exhaustion.
At the Government station I was slowly nursed back to a condition of sitting up, lessening fever and healing wounds. I was treated with the utmost kindness by all white and coloured alike.
The day came for my departure. Willing natives carried me in a hammock, seven hours each day for four days. A doctor escorted me all the way, sleeping in a camp bed near me each night in a tent or rest house. The men who carried me in the hammock were wonderful, considerate, kind and patient. They loved me as much as I loved them.
Kondambiri Soko, with a group of my own workers, met me at the bamboo bridge. They had fixed long streamers of bark string and convolvulus from the swaying bridge to the rocks below, so that my crossing would be steady.
Lot Harawa, the semi-blind and crippled disciple of Christ, was at his wayside place to offer his blessing for my recovery and, strange as it may seem, at the spot where I released the bird tangled in the thorn bush stood the mother with her child. She was returning from hospital where her little one had made a perfect recovery. Such incidents gave me courage and determination to get well.
Back at Livingstonia, in my home with wife and family, I was visited by our own and government doctors. They were all very kind but could do little to relieve the increasing attacks of fever and unconscious bouts. They described my illness as cerebral malaria and sunstroke. From over twelve stone in weight I was reduced to one pound over seven stone.
It took nearly a month before I was fit to travel home to Scotland. A medical missionary accompanied me all the way. The journey was an ordeal. Three days in a small Lake Nyasa steamer, a day's car ride, one day in a train, a ferry crossing of the Zambezi, six days and nights in a train to Cape Town, sixteen days in a Cunard liner and the Southampton to Scotland trip. With stops I was thirty-two days on the journey, but it was good to be home.
I was seen by specialists in tropical troubles by authorities in various diseases, in nursing homes, hospitals and at home. For a period of years I was desperately ill. Many types of injections, medicine and rest treatment were tried - all with indifferent results.
Doctors said work was out of the question. I must resign myself to poor health, something I would not accept. I told them I believed God was trying and testing me and out of all my pain, suffering, tribulations and distress, health would return and with it happiness and peace. Most of them admired my optimism and courage but held out slender hope of any kind of active work. I knew my faith would triumph and the medical men would be wrong. For I now knew the truth of the words of the semi-blind and crippled Christian gentleman, black Lot Hawara - 'God upholds all who trust in Him.'
I had been invalided from Africa and further service there would be foolhardy. I was sad, but my boyhood determination to do Christ's work in Africa had come true.
2, Part 6, 'Early poetic inspirations' shows how some ideas about home, love and work were
recorded. Appendix 4, Part 6, 'Unsorted letters from Dr
Laws' verifies what had to be accomplished and what was being achieved.
Appendix 4, Part 6, 'Unsorted letters from Dr Laws' verifies what had to be accomplished and what was being achieved.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.