The other day I went up to the Dwimorberg. The Dwimorberg is a group of mountains in the middle of Gondor. Through those mountains runs a valley that is sung about by travelers here in Gondor. Last week I made a day trip up there with Frodo and the Team to see a guy about doing a drinking water project. Three years ago I went up there and it changed me.
Three years ago I was working with Oin and Gloin. They were not then and still are not now followers of Jesus but I love them and continue to pray for them. I guess you could say that praying for them is what began this whole story. I had not spent any real time with them in a while so I was praying that the King would put us together. Two days later I needed to make a trip up to the Dwimorberg. The Team was down in Anfalas so I called up Oin and Gloin and invited them to join me on a short half-day trip. We would go up to the regional capitol, introduce ourselves, and get permission to do some projects in nearby villages. A nice relaxing day for me. I needed a relaxing day. It had been a while since I had had a vacation and as a matter of fact I was planning on taking the family camping the very next week. We just needed to do the closing ceremony on the Anfalas project (the next day) and then I could take a break.
We drove out two and a half hours to the Dwimorberg and had a good meeting with the area leader. After the meeting I asked him about a good camping spot for my family and me. He said that there was a beautiful spot just up the road. In fact, a local guy from that village was here and he would be happy to show us. I met the guy and to my surprise he was a truck driver who had helped us on one of our projects before. He told me about a beautiful waterfall 56 kilometers up the valley that was one of the most beautiful sights in the country. He said we could camp right across from it and it would be great. I asked if we could go see it. He inquired what kind of truck we had and I replied that we had a small locally made vehicle. I suppose you would do well to imagine a 1976 Ford Pinto with four-wheel drive. He thought it would be ok so off we went.
We climbed up and over one pass and then on to the next district. I was confused- why were we going so far east when we should just go north? I later found out that only the big trucks could go the short way. We went up and up and then the little car started having problems. We thought maybe it was the fuel filter so we cleaned it out with the air pump that everyone keeps in their car for just this purpose. It seemed a bit better but I was concerned. It didn’t feel right. Still, we drove on. Down a two-mile stretch of road that ran long and straight and steep to the bottom of the valley. Then the car really started having problems and several times I suggested we go back. Each time our guide insisted we were almost there. Just a little bit further. When a situation begins to get desperate it is amazing what you will believe.
The car surged and died, surged and died, surged and died in a rhythm that was driving us mad. I prayed many times for the car’s miraculous healing. I bargained with the King, “Just think of the glory you would get if I called out to Jesus and the car was suddenly fine.” I called out but there was no reply. Slowly, my prayers changed, “Lord, will you please just help me keep my temper so that I will not embarrass you?” It reminded me of our University basketball team. We never cheered for them to win, just not to embarrass us too badly. But finally, the car died on an island in the middle of the riverbed, which was this valley. In case I forgot to mention it, we left all semblance of road behind at the bottom of the valley and now we were criss-crossing the river stream amid one of God’s largest rock collections. As we sat there with no idea how to tune a carburetor in the middle of nowhere two guys came up on horseback. They told us they were great mechanics so I gave them the wrenches and I took the reigns of their horse. I road around the riverbed for a while talking a lot to the Boss from a top of the horse. I plead with Him to get me out of there. He replied short and to the point as He often does. “I am granting your request to spend more time with Oin and Gloin so stop complaining and get over it.” The day wore on. I walked the horse over to the car. As I looked down the entire top of the engine was covered with tiny pieces of carburetor. I was not encouraged. Unbelievably, the guys put the whole thing back together and the car started again. It ran exactly as it had before. Surge- die, surge- die, surge- die. I was exasperated. I told the guys we were going back (it would not have been possible anyway) but the trucker told us that we were almost there. I lost it. No, he was lying we have been almost there for over 60 kilometers and this was only supposed to be a 56 kilometer trip. He replied calmly. He said look up the river valley. See that clump of trees about four kilometers ahead? That was his village. Ok. We went for it. Surge- die, surge- die for four kilometers. We reached the village and the car surged up on to the bank of the river at the foot of the village and died its last.
I was totally exhausted and totally irritated. It was five in the evening and we were stranded miles and miles from home with no vehicle and no communication. We had no phone or radio and everyone back in Minas Tirith would have no idea why I went to the Dwimorberg for a few hours and never came back. They would be very worried I was sure. So, as we sat there drinking some fruit juice and munching on some bread Oin said, ‘Hey, we have come this far do you want to see the waterfall?’ I really didn’t but they did so I asked how much farther it was. It was just a mile away. Fine let’s walk. No, the trucker’s neighbor had a truck we could use. It was- and I am not making this up- a 1970 Fire Truck. It was gutted out in the back to take passengers around. The neighbor took out the crank, turned it hard and we went up the river. The waterfall was as beautiful as they had described. Three natural springs on top of the mountain poured water cascading down through the rocks and trees. We stayed until dark and then climbed back down to the Fire Truck. It wouldn’t start. Finally, I cranked the crank while the driver fiddled the knobs and off we went. We slept out on the porch and enjoyed a beautiful starry night and then got up at 4:00am. Village life. Ugh.
So, you can imagine that they don’t get lots of visitors and before too long everyone was coming around to see the guests. Gloin is a very strict Muslim and he was loving this place. Everyone there was very devout and as we waited for the trucker’s son to go up the valley and find a vehicle we could use they all got into a debate about what the most important thing in life was. As they concluded that the most important thing in life was to know what is clean and unclean. They defined it in several different ways to show how very clever they were. I was irritated. I thought how James 1:27 declares that true religion takes care of widow and orphans in their distress. Finally, the village leader asked who I was. Gloin was somewhat embarrassed at that point. He had portrayed himself as a very devout Muslim and here he was traveling with me, an unbeliever. He said, ‘Oh, this guy? Well, this is Strider. He is a very good man. He doesn’t drink, or smoke, or touch his wife in public. He is here to help people. He uh, he uh.’ The leader cut in, ‘He is like us!’ ‘Uh, no. He is um…. um…. um….’ I finally said, ‘I am a follower of Jesus.’ ‘Yeah, that’ he said. But the village leader thought this was fine. He asked me a couple of questions about what the West is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and then when he was satisfied with my answers (too long to retell here) he said, ‘Will you give us a teaching this morning?’ I was floored. But of course, God had already told me what to say. So, I told them about James 1:27 and how God is much more concerned with how we care for one another than what kinds of rules we keep. That led to Matthew 25 and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, and that led back to the opening line of that parable, ‘When the Son of Man comes in all his glory….’ So, I told them all about Jesus. They listened very patiently- even eagerly with some good questions- but when I got to the crucifixion they said that I was wrong. Jesus did not die on the cross- a real prophet of God could not. He was taken directly to Heaven. I told them that I disagreed but I would not argue with them here in their own home. They really respected that and although I have questioned in my own mind whether that was the right thing to say the result was very good. They seemed to really receive my teaching and moved a few steps away from legalism. They had never heard any truth ever before. This was totally unexpected and a great double blessing because not only did I get to share about Jesus in a completely unreached village but Oin and Gloin were sitting right there listening to it all as well.
Finally, a big truck came and drove us off down the valley. We stood up in back of the old…. how should I describe it? It was like a 40 year old dump truck that had seen too much abuse and didn’t dump anymore. At any rate it only broke down once and propelled us up the valley at the speed of two friends on a casual stroll. We came to another small village but no better transport could be found so we lumbered on. Just after noon we were overtaken by my own Nissan Pathfinder. Legolas and our driver had come looking for us and found us at last. I was much relieved to climb out of the very uncomfortable truck and get in my own car. I radioed back home from the car’s radio that the guys had found us and we should be back in a couple of hours. We then rounded a corner and sank the car straight in the river. Yes, apparently by following the truck tire tracks that had gone before us we had gone where we ought not have gone. The car was hung up on some rocks under the front end. The engine continued to run- God bless diesel engines- but we could not move. I tried the radio but realized that even if it worked I would not be able to tell as the speaker was under water already. I could not open my door for the rush of the river against it and climbed out the window instead. I swam around under the car for a while and cleared out the rocks but now that the vehicle was full of water it could not reverse up the bank and it could not go forward into even deeper water. We prayed and waited. After a little over an hour a truck came along. We convinced the driver to pull us across. He did but cautioned us that there were three more places like this that we would not be able to cross. I paid him $50 to turn around and lead us out of here. It took three more hours and he did have to pull us out three more times before we made it to actual road and could head on to Minas Tirith unhindered. It was dark by that time and the headlights shimmered eerily on the road, as they were more than half full of water. They stayed like that for almost a year.
When we reached home my wife, Arwen, declared there was no way we were going camping up that valley with no road. We went up over the pass instead- in the Toyota- and camped at a beautiful lake. We stayed there a week while Oin and Gloin and our driver climbed into our own truck and went up to get the Pinto back. The last day we were there it rained all night. We were soaked to the skin and everything we had was wet. We piled in the Toyota and headed home. When we got over the pass and down the mountain we were stopped. The road was washed out for sixteen kilometers in landslides and floods. We stayed two more days in nearby village where I had more opportunities to share my love for Jesus with our impromptu hosts. Finally, on the third day we left the Toyota and walked across the washed out places. After a couple of hours of walking Legalos and our driver caught up to us and we made it to the Nissan which had mostly dried out from the week before. As we came into Minas Tirith for the second time in two weeks without the car we went out in Legalos said that perhaps we should not drive out anymore. I told him that if he didn’t have the heart for spiritual warfare then he was in the wrong business.
Truthfully though, I am not some M on testosterone. I am a regular guy who is not all that much of a mountain man. But this much the King has taught me: We will arrive. It will not be by the road we choose. It will not be by the plans we have made. There will be unexpected twists and turns but we will get where He is taking us. And it will be fun. The darkness does not like the light. It will not go down easily. There were four Mazars- holy places- that we passed up in the Dwimorberg and every one of them had real spiritual power to keep people in bondage. There is a battle to fight. Last week we went up there and looked at the rushing river and decided not to cross. But next month we will cross that river and then maybe I will have another story to tell. Not the story of a macho man and one heck of a Nissan Pathfinder, no. But the story of how God is undoing the works of the evil one by shining light in dark, dark places.