By Jack Crabtree
BJ (yes, I’m throwing him under the bus) had the great idea of sending our families to town in the helicopter, while we guys would walk to town (which lies several mountain ranges away) with some of our Wantakian buddies. Not wanting to wimp out, Jeremy and I agreed that this was possibly the greatest idea ever. We tried to train a bit for the hike, but nothing could have adequately prepared us.
Nearly fifty Wantakians left Pinji village with us at 10 a.m., and we walked all day. Pinji sits at about 7,200 ft. elevation, and we quickly descended several thousand feet…then we began to climb again. At one point, my vision blurred, and I thought I was going to vomit, so the Pinji guys administered an old standby: fresh ginger with “ancestor salt” (which they ingeniously make from ashes). I ate it…and I think it helped, but after 30 minutes my gastrointestinal issues were back with a vengeance. Luckily, Zofran kept everything inside where it belonged.
At nine that night, the guys let us stop and sleep. Three hours later, they woke us up and informed us that hardest part of the walk lay ahead, and we needed to get moving. They said encouraging things like, “We haven’t even started walking yet. We haven’t even left the village.” The big mountain was coming up, and they said they didn’t like to hike it in the daytime. “It’s too hot and there’s no water,” they said. “All you do is look at the mountain, and you feel tired.” Hmmm.
At three in the morning, after descending another steep thousand feet and crossing two rivers, we made it to the base of the mountain (or Mt. Doom as I lovingly refer to it now). We loaded up on water and began the ascent. Eleven hours of slipping on shale and a few false peaks later, we made it to the end of the ridge. If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “There is no more ‘up’ now,” or “It’s not far now,” during that 11-hour climb, I’d be a rich man. I was out of water, but at least we were finally beginning the descent to road!
Our guys were looking after us and encouraging us. Tapman, one of our good friends, was like my mother/drill-sergeant. Ten hours into the hike, he refused to let me carry my pack and slung it on his shoulders. When I wanted to rest for just a few extra minutes, he commanded me to get up and start walking. He knew I’d start cramping, if I sat for too long. He passed me bits of sweet potato every now and then. Our Pinji guys are a big reason we kept going.
By 4 p.m. we hit pavement outside a station called Okapa. Out trip was over, all we had to do was catch a public bus, and 4 hours later we’d be in Goroka town with our families. We’d been walking for the last 27 hours. Sadly, however, we had another false peak. Apparently, we missed the final public bus by about 15 minutes. It would now be a two-hour hike to the station, where we’d sleep the night and catch a ride to town in the morning.
My wet feet were covered in blisters, as we drearily meandered toward the station. Tapman took off at a sprint. We were too exhausted to be too puzzled, so on we shuffled. Jeremy said a quiet prayer that went something like this, “Lord, I’m not sure if we really need a car, but it would be awesome if you could send us some sort of vehicle.” Five minutes later Tapmen pulled up in the passenger side of a 4x4. He’d convinced the owner to drive all of us (including the 20 Wantakians who’d stayed back and walked slowly with us) to Goroka that night. We all piled into and onto the truck, and by 9:30 I was zombie-walking toward my front door and reunited with my family.
Was it worth it? Yup. Many of our friendships were much deeper now. The people got to see us struggle. We definitely shattered their myth that everything is easy for “whiteskins”. Now we understand what they mean when they say they just “went to town”. We modeled dependence on them. We showed that we weren’t going to give up just because something got difficult. There are going to be plenty of false peaks in our ministry, but with God’s help we need to keep marching past them toward the goal of seeing God’s Word being read and lived out among a thriving indigenous church in the Wantakian people group.
Can’t wait to see all their faces tomorrow!