Mountain Ponies

We visited a small church in the mountains of South Africa near the border with Lesotho. This was a remote place which seemingly grew 3 tons of rocks per acre – this is how weak the soil was in the mountains. Everything seemed to be scrawny and thin here; the cattle, horses, trees, and even the people. While having 5 white-skinned people visit this mountainous community was a novelty, it did not seem to translate over into having more people visit the church and begin a relationship with Jesus. All we could expect was 15 to 20 souls participating in any religious event. This continued until they announced during the week that church would be discontinued on Saturday. I was confused, so I asked them what they were planning for Saturday, as we had come from such a long way to be with them?  They informed me,

“Tomorrow we are taking off and riding our mountain ponies up into the hills to hunt foxes.”

When I informed them of my desire to accompany them on this fox hunting journey, many of the villagers looked at one another and laughed. One of them said, “There is no white man alive who has ever been able to ride these ponies into the mountains.” Now there’s not much I can do in life which borders on the excellent, but one of these is the ability to ride any pony or horse, no matter its size, disposition, gender, or breeding. When I was just a young boy I used to train unruly horses for other people for the fantastic amount of $40 per animal. Therefore I was a little put off by these villagers insinuating my ability to ride their ponies was in deficit.

Seeing I was adamant, and not about to back down, they invited me to meet them the next morning at 6 am for their fox hunting ride into the mountains.  It was a bit of shock to find almost the entire village surrounding the home where this Kentucky boy was to join the men of the village and ride over the mountains.  I’m not entirely sure, but I believe people were laughing and I felt fairly certain they were taking bets quietly on how long I would tough out the journey, or how long before I fell off and had to make my way back to the village on foot.

Now I have to admit this was one of the most wildest and challenging rides I ever attempted. These Lesotho Mountain ponies could climb like a goat. I have never experienced anything like it before or since this challenging ride into the mountains of Lesotho. These ponies could put their front feet on a rock ledge and pull themselves up. When we went down steep mountainsides covered with rock shale, these ponies would sit on their backsides and slide down the mountain. It was like no other ride. For the first few miles the men in our pony entourage would look back at me, waiting for me to fall off, ask to go home, or just quit.

Every time they turned to look back at me I just goaded my pony faster until I was riding in the front with the leaders for most of this mountainous terrain.

It was a breathtaking ride and one of the most strenuous activities I have ever attempted. It made some extreme sports look like playing a game of Monopoly. Yet I started the trip and I finished the trip, to the great surprise of many. Now I have to admit the next morning I could barely walk as I was so sore from riding that skinny pony on a broken saddle through so many mountain ranges. I could barely stand up. I could barely lift my arm to brush my teeth. My legs felt unattached to my hips. My backside felt as if it had been kicked by King Kong. Yet we were there to meet with the 10-15 good church folks for the entire week, minus the Saturday of foxhunting. Whining and complaining to my wife I put on my Sunday best and went to the church to participate in a 4 to 6 hour service.

To our surprise the church was packed. Seemingly most of the village was now ready to attend Sunday services and listen to the Good News which Jesus always brings. We had no clue what the difference was between the simple crowd on Friday and this packed audience on Sunday. I wondered if it was my articulate manner of speaking, or the winsomeness of my wife, or just the attraction which our 3 sons bring to any equation?  Soon after the service began one of the elders came to us and said,

“The entire village has turned out today to attend worship and hopefully to have their lives changed. The village cannot stop talking about how you rode your pony throughout the entire fox hunt yesterday. They believe any white man who can accomplish such a feat has certainly brought truth to their village. Your ability to ride the pony yesterday has served to verify the truth of your presence and message.”

I thought to myself, “Four years of college and three years of seminary, all that Greek and Hebrew, and professor after professor. And yet all I really had to do to be a positive witness to this village was to come from Kentucky with my ability to ride a ragged pony over a bunch of rocky mountains.”

It is amazing, and sometimes disconcerting, what gives the Gospel a hearing.