Pathfinding in the Dark

September 12, 2015


Earlier this week I went with Jacob, my Swahili translator and co-laborer in the Bible school, to his home village to attend the send-off of his sister. A send-off is a celebration that is held right before a lady gets married. It’s a time for the family and friends to give her gifts to be prepared for marriage. It is in some way similar to the American bridal shower, but since it is a Tanzanian celebration it includes a bunch of singing and dancing. 

I was asked to share a short speech, but since I didn’t know in advance, I wasn’t sure what to say. They seemed to like what I said because they interupted me with shouting and dancing and they did the same when I ended.

Certainly it will be a day to remember. But the memories will have little to do with the actual send-off. What will stick with me for a long time is the ride home.

I had arrived in Jacob’s village by way of bus, but for the way home, Jacob and I got on the back of a motorcycle. Normally I don’t ride motorcycles much in Tanzania, since motorcycle accidents are one of the leading causes of fatality here. But since it was evening time and we would mostly be traveling on dirt roads I knew there wouldn’t be much traffic (we encountered less than ten vehicles during the 30 mile trip). Plus riding a bike would be better than spending the night in the village and catching the bus at six in the morning. 

We started when the sun was already setting. After about fifteen minutes into the trip it was dark. It was only 7:30pm, but the sun had already completely set and there was no moon  to be seen anywhere. Because of the darkness it was hard to see. And since it was hard to see, we lost the road—which was easy to do since it was just really a dirt trail without any type of signs or markings. We went around on different paths trying to find the right way home. I wasn’t really concerned at that time and I said mostly joking, “I guess we’re sleeping with the hyenas tonight” and “tell my father that I love him.”

We started to take different paths trying to tiff the road. Sometimes we back tracked to try a different way. But the darkness made it impossible to get our bearings straight. At this time I started to be a little concerned. I pulled out my phone and tried to gets directions from the internet. I soon realized this was futile because my battery would probably die before my 2G EDGE signal could pull up the results and Apple wasn’t really in the habit anyway of charting rabbit trails in the middle of the Rift Valley. (We actually did see a rabbit-like creature during the trip. Jacob got off the bike to try to catch it so we could eat it later, but it was too fast.)

It wasn’t like we could stop and ask for directions. There were no 7-Elevens in sight. Since most people in these village regions don’t have electrifying, you couldn’t even see any houses off from the road to stop at. We stopped going in circles and Jacob tried calling a friend that he knew in the near facinity to see if he try to come find us so that he could help us find the way. I prayed a silent prayer that Jesus would help us find the way. 

Suddenly a man came out of the darkness to see if we needed help. His house must’ve been off in the darkness and he probably heard us talking. He drew a map in the dirt. It was very simple—just a few lines, but it was the best map I’ve ever seen. I wanted to hug him and almost did, but I was sure how he would respond to an estatic mzungu (Swahili for Westerner) grabbing him. 

We now knew the way, but that doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing (smooth riding?). Jacob and I had to get off the bike often and walk behind as we went through sand pits or rough terrain. I thought, “we are spending more time waking behind the bike than riding it.” That was a gross exaggeration, but you get lost out in the middle of the African wilderness in the dark of night and see what you think. 

I looked up at the stars and thought how beautiful they were. It might have been more enjoyable if the motorcyclist and motorcycle were not on top of my left leg. We had hit a sandy patch and tipped over. I said, “just leave me here and get me tomorrow.” My muscles might have hurt, but at least there was nothing wrong with my sarcastic, dry humor. After we got up and going, the bike stalled while climbing an embankment and we had to drag our feet to keep from drifting backwards and tipping again. During this time rough riding, Jacob was behind talking about how these things are just part of the life of a missionary. We finally hit blacktop and the last leg of the trip was easy.

While we were riding along, I started thinking about what might be learned from this. (Circumstances like this never cross our way without bring a little insight with them.) This is what came to me—in life, when it is dark with difficulties and troubles, it is easy to get lost. It is easy to get so focused on how dark it is that you don’t even realize you stepped off the right path. 

In our times of darkness, God usually sends someone by to give us directions. It’s easy to listen to directions when you are physically lost in the middle of the night, but not so easy when someone tries to help us in our spiritual darkness. Why should we listen to them when they can’t really know where we’ve been and where we are going? But we should listen to them, otherwise we might stumble around in the dark a lot longer than is necessary.

We will all face difficulty in life, but we don’t have to dwell in it forever. Listen to the people that stop you when you’re wandering in the night. Listen to their direction back to the right way. Like Psalm 197:14 says, God can bring us out of darkness. And it might be that when you leave your darkness, you’ll have a story to tell—like I did.

Matthew Derocher

Written by Matthew James Derocher who writes about biblical subjects and teaches in a Bible college in Tanzania, Africa. You can follow him on Twitter