This was the title to a sermon a friend of ours preached once. Can you figure it out? Black is the blackness of sin. Red is the blood shed on the cross by Yahshua our Saviour. And white is the purity we are given when the black is washed away by the red. In this story though, the colours do not symbolize these things. See if you can guess what the colours mean before the end.
When I moved into my current house, I was pleased to find a bird feeding tray attached to the back veranda. In response to me putting out wild bird seed many delighful birds came to give us the pleasure of their company. If I fail to feed them for a day or so, they make it known to me by flying around my head or perching on the railing and chattering to me until I get the hint.
My room with this computer is separated from the veranda by a row of windows and glass doors, so I can look out at the birds as I write. I Blu-Tacked laminated pictures of animals and birds with Scriptures to the windows. One day a couple of spectacular king parrots came to feed. If anyone has never seen a king parrot, the male is all red with green wings and the female is the same except she has a green head.
As I watched them my eyes suddenly fell on the picture just below them from where I was standing, but actually stuck on my window. It was a photo of a king parrot. The Scripture, I noticed, was: Trust in YHWH with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths (PRO. 3:5-6).
After writing about my two experiences in Africa, the king parrot and the Scripture brought to mind the other story I touched on last night. On the front of the white tee-shirt I wore across the Sahara was an Australian parrot.
It took us about a week to cross the Sahara. At first there were sand dunes and the very occasional town like Bordj Mokhtar at the southern-most point of Algeria. Just a border crossing really. But the true Sahara Desert is NOTHING like what we imagine. For four relentless days it is simply NOTHING. Flat, lifeless, barrren, not a sand dune or rock in sight. Just flat, hard ground. Not even a road. No tyre tracks. Maybe once a day we would see the skeleton of a dead camel, or the rusted-out body of an abandoned vehicle. We would take advantage of these for a toilet stop. But most times the boys would have to go to one side of the truck and the girls the other.
To find one’s way, they have helpfully set up little solar-generated lights every five kilometres. The next can only just be seen from the last through the ‘dimness’ of the hazy sunlight. In the evenings a little mouse would play under our truck. Obviously he had hitched a ride with us as no living creature could survive out there very long. Dave would warn us not to sleep too far from the truck because other trucks passing at night could run over us.
Some of us didn’t bother setting up tents, instead putting our mats and sleeping bags on the desert floor. One night as most of us were sleeping like this under the incredible masterpiece in the heavens, it started to RAIN! Then to pour! In the Sahara! One of the driest places on earth. It rained so heavily we all had to get into the back of the truck to sleep the rest of the night.
For the last few days there was a dust storm. And the dust was RED. A couple of years before this I had bought a pair of those wrap around sunglasses with little windows in the sides, when they had first come out in about 1985. Bruce had thought at the time they looked ridiculous. But I loved them. I took them on my trip, the only person with such glasses, and I was soooo glad. I was the only hobo with dust-free eyes.
Because we couldn’t wash our clothes, we just wore the same ones for a week. We were thinking that red dirt would NEVER come out and we would have to ditch them eventually because not only were they dirty, but stiff as cardboard. On the last day of this seemingly neverending desert, we started to see little villages, herds of goats, and thorn trees. Never has a gnarled old thorn tree looked so good. This part of the southern Sahara where it enters Mali is called the Sahel. Yes, Mali, where those poor people at that remote gas well were killed recently by terrorists. Mali is reputed to be one of the poorest countries on earth. It certainly was dry. We would trade couscous for water from their wells, never dreaming couscous would one day become a regular and loved feature of our own diet. Then it was all but unknown except in Africa where it is the staple diet crop.
As one of the nurses on the trip, I had the task of putting chlorine tablets into the 20 litre drinking water bottles. However I would always leave one without chlorine for me. I hated and still can’t stand chlorinated water. What I found was that my system became immune to the bugs in the local water very quickly and after my morning sickness abated, I was never sick like the others. Chlorine gas was invented and used to kill soldiers in World War I. When they no longer had a use for it after the wars, they simply put it into our drinking water. What better use for it? It is known to cause heart disease. Some of us went on a riverboat ‘cruise’ along the Zaire River on which we were forced to drink river water. I took a little bottle of iodine to put in that water. I won’t tell you what I have seen floating down the rivers of Africa! Iodine is natural so I had nothing against it.
One of the towns we visited on the edge of the Sahara in Mali was Timbuktu. Yes, that’s right, there really is such a place. Right now in 2013 Open Doors is putting out calls to prayer for the Christians living there and in Mali. They are being intensely persucuted by the hard-core Islamists taking over the region. When the first explorers visited the area around Timbuktu, they had to disguise themselves and dress like Arabs or they would be killed for being Christians. Times haven’t changed much in that remote part of the world. As a town, I felt Timbuktu was unimpressive. We stayed only about an hour.
At last we glimpsed the large town of Gao in the distance. What a sight for sore gritty eyes which feasted on it as we approached. The campsite was near the River Niger where everyone washed. All but us. We paid a bit extra to go have hot showers in the local hotel. How lovely to be clean again. I remember this traveller asking me, on learning I was a nurse, to give him his huge immunoglobulin shot against hepatitis. I did it, shuddering inside. I was starting to go off all drugs and immunizations by then. A year or so later I was to learn I didn’t need one myself as I’d been rendered immune. I must have had a mild dose of hepatitus without even knowing it. Trust in YHWH. Do not even TRY to understand His ways.
We stayed in Gao a number of days. On the second day a little boy of about eight attached himself to me and followed me everywhere. When I would go with some of the others to a hotel for a cold can of pineapple juice, this little guy would come with me and just sit. Then he’d jump up and take my money, go buy my drink, and bring it back to me. With his broken English, he offered to take my red-caked tee-shirt, shorts, and other dirty clothes to have his mother wash them for me for a small amount of money – $3 I think it was. What did I have to lose. I gave them over, but didn’t believe his mum would get them clean.
All the other hobos, upon learning what I had done, scoffed at me and said I’d never see the clothes or my money again. They all kept their dirty clothes for another day down the track, or tried washing them in the river themselves, not very successfully. But then Dave came into the equation and said he too gave his clothes to a boy to have his mother wash them. These little boys were trustworthy. He always did it.
The last day came, early the next morning we were taking off. Along came my little mate with my clothes. All perfectly folded and as white as snow. Everyone admired their brightness and shook their heads regretfully. I’ll never know how she managed that in the dirty waters of the River Niger. But these hardworking African women sure can wash. They put their lovely black hands to the job, scrub out the red dust of Africa, and make clothes sparkling white. Black plus red equals white. And YHWH directs our paths without us even asking. We just have to trust Him.