A small flame

A small flame

Down Memory Lane - River Crossing

When I was growing up, the road between us and the mountains was the Gusap Highway. An unpaved, two-lane road, it was bumpy in dry season and bone-jarring during rainy season when the rain washed deep ruts into the dirt. It wound through the hills outside our little town, cut across the valley between fields of sugar cane, and climbed into the mountains. We traveled the road often, for places like Chuave and Goroka where my parents ministered to village churches. When I was a little girl the road also crossed many rivers, none of which had any bridges. Some were tiny, splashy streams that dampened our tires and might splash my hand when I held it out my window. Others were larger and much more serious. During rainy season they became swollen and fast and quite dangerous. We sometimes heard stories about vehicles being swept away as they tried to cross. Sometimes the people inside the vehicles didn't make it out.

Some of my earliest memories involve these rivers. When we came to a large river, my Dad would stop the car and assess the situation. If the water was too high, the current too rapid, he might put a rock at the edge of the water and then we waited. By watching the rock he could tell which way the water level was moving. If the river was rising, then the best course of action was to go back the way we had come. There were no towns for hours, but we might find a mission station tucked among the hills that would let us stay for a day or two until we could try again, or we might have to drive all the way back to our starting point. If the water moved lower on the rock, then we knew that it was just a matter of time before the river became safe to cross. We would stay where we were; a few times we even slept in the truck beside the river and crossed the next day.

As the river became less swollen, other vehicles might decide to cross and Dad watched them carefully to see the route they took through the river, trying to figure out where the safest place to cross was. Some parts of the river would have ruts or gulleys, hidden by the rushing water, where a wheel might become lodged and the truck get stuck, so the specific route he chose was important. If we were fortunate enough, as we often were, to have Papua New Guinean friends traveling with us, one of them would often volunteer to walk through the river ahead of us. Their feet, with leather-like soles from going barefoot since childhood, could feel out the riverbed for the most level surfaces and my Dad could follow their guidance.

During one crossing, I think I was 3 or 4, I can remember my parents asking some locals who were walking across the river if they would carry my baby brother and I across. They passed us out of the truck windows, and our new friends carried us across in their arms. I can remember sitting with them on a large rock on the other side of the river, watching as our truck worked its way across the river, engine revving and water sloshing up its sides. I was too little to full understand the danger that must have caused my parents to hand us out of the windows to safety.

Once we reached the other side of the river safely, Dad would step on the truck's breaks over and over, drying out the break pads so they would not fail us on the next mountain. After an especially harrowing crossing we often celebrate with a snack Mom had packed for us. On the bank of the biggest, scariest river, the Sousi, we even chose a tree as 'our' tree and we sat in its shade after each safe crossing eating cookies.

Each time Lord chose to grace us with safety, and in all our river crossings we never came to harm. By the time I was in high school the most dangerous rivers had been bridged and drives to the mountains, while still not danger-free, became much less scary.

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