23. THE SAHARA DESERT
TCHAD (Republic of Chad) – As I stepped off the Air France plane onto the hot tarmac in the middle of the Sahara Desert, French Foreign Legion troops were standing guard. I smiled and made my way along with a few other people to the Immigration line at the N’djamena Airport in the capital of Tchad.
Civil wars had destroyed this desert land for years. The world seemed to have forgotten the poverty and starvation here. Only the “finest’ modern weapons now flooded the lands. Libyan troops, under command of Colonel Khadafy, controlled the northern third of Tchad. French paratroopers and the Foreign Legion controlled another third. The mid-section was virtually a no-man’s land.
I checked through Immigration okay and went to claim my cross in the baggage area, stopping to ask the tough looking, but smiling, Foreign Legion troops the whereabouts of Colonel Lewis, Commander of the First Battalion Red Beret French Foreign Legion.
A man, speaking in a heavy Scottish accent, replied, “There is no person and no unit by that name in the French Foreign Legion.”
How can that be, I wondered. There must be a mistake. But no, I asked over and over up to as high a ranking officer as a Major in the Legion, but I still heard, “No, no one by that name, nor any unit of that name.”
Later, I found it was a set-up.
Six months earlier, while in London, I had met twice with a man who said he was the Commander in the French Foreign Legion. We had eaten together. He told me, “The French Foreign Legion invites you to Tchad. You are needed there. The people need you. You will be our guest.”
Now I’m here, I knew God wanted me to be, but I had felt for weeks that I would not finish this trip. It seemed as though the Lord was saying, “You won’t finish this trip.” I could only think that it would end in death, because I knew that I would not leave because of fear. What lay ahead was like a mystery.
I found a hotel room and tried to meet Christians, but in this Muslim dominated country, Christians were about as friendly as if I were the enemy. They remarked, “Oh, you can’t carry the cross here.” The only friendly Christian people I met were the Moffets, the United States Ambassador and his lovely wife. They had me over for dinner and Ambassador gave me a stern warning about the possibility of kidnapping and possible death.
From my diary. I feel covered by God. He surrounds me and His fullness overflows me. I feel a strange light is around me and that my prayers are just floating up to glory. I did not sleep during the night, I only prayed. The knowledge of the deep struggle ahead fills me. I packed my backpack, put it on the cross, and lay down on the ground to pray. The Lord spoke. “Go, but you shall not finish this trip.”
I gritted my teeth, smiled at the hotel employees, picked up my cross and started toward the war torn capital city, which was really like a small village. I had no interpreter and no way to carry enough water into the desert. I only had my cross, a backpack, and God.
I walked past blown-up and bullet-riddled buildings. Soldiers were everywhere. Most of the people were in Arab headdress and robes. A few trees offered shade but most of the time the sun beat down with merciless passion. Sweat poured from me as I went on toward the main market. I may die, but I will not flee. People stopped to talk, but they spoke only Arabic or French.
Finally as I passed by the U.S. Embassy a young man came up and asked if I needed an interpreter. He had spoken to me the day before, and was the only person who wanted to go with me. The young man requested a motorcycle. It was too hot to walk he told me, but he would carry the backpack and a supply of water. I prayed and felt okay to take him, even though I had a strange feeling that trouble lay ahead.
After I gave him some money he left and returned later with a much more expensive motorcycle than the money would have paid for, but I decided not to question it. The people at the Embassy said he did not work for them, yet the man told me that he did. We started off together, he being the only companion that wanted to go with me, whatever his motive.
Oh, did I ever sweat. Water poured from me. Crowds of people gathered around and I preached and walked through the city, on past the major military roadblock of troops on the bridge, and then I was in the Sahara Desert. Small scrub bushes, an open vastness of sand, a few clusters of houses were scattered along the way, and at times, great distances between villages.
I drank water all day in the scorching Sahara Desert. As I carried the cross it was 104 degrees in the shade. My watch has a thermometer on it and showed the temperature would go to 130 degrees.
One afternoon around 4:00pm, while standing beside the road, a pain slashed into my right side. It became constant pain. There was no relief. I walked and prayed until I reached a village just before dark. The mud huts with straw tops were the homes for about 75 people. My interpreter arrived by motorcycle ahead of me and had arranged for us to sleep in the village. I could hardly sit down. I found out I had kidney stones and was bleeding. I prayed and hurt, but God gave me no relief. Little children were all around me, touching my skin and trying to be friendly, but I was in such pain I could hardly keep from screaming.
I must get to the hospital in Ndjamena, but it was two hours after dark and it was illegal to travel after sunset. This was civil war, and the French and Libyans were in the middle fighting. Anyone on the road would be shot without warning. My interpreter did not want to go, but I said, “Kidney stones are one of the most piercing and hurting pains a man can have. We go or I go alone. I’ll come back and get the cross later, but I must try to find some of relief.”
We both got on the small motorcycle. I put my backpack on and we took off through the night. The motorcycle had lights on it. It was very rough as we tried going over sand, rocks, and through the brush. Finally we got to a road and, or course, a roadblock. It was very dangerous to approach the soldiers, but we were shouting and approached them very slowly. The soldiers shined lights in our faces and held guns to us. There was no way that we could pass, but they saw I was bent over in pain. They remembered me as the man with the cross, so they let us through. Finally, after several roadblocks, we arrived at the city and went to the hospital.
The hospital was an old building where no one spoke English. People were sitting all over the floors and wandering around. The doctor motioned for me to come in. He could understand a little English, but my interpreter was explaining my symptoms. There were dirty, bloody rags lying all around. Old vases and files were on everything. While I was trying to explain how I felt the doctor wiped off a needle with a rag. The needle had been used before. He filled up the syringe and gave me a shot and a few pills and said, “Come back tomorrow. We will probably have to operate on you tomorrow afternoon.”
I was hurting so badly I could hardly stand it. I went back to the old hotel where I stayed before, checked back into the same room, laid down and slept about an hour. At midnight I awoke.
I was still hurting and in so much pain. I prayed through the night. I knew I had to either go back and get the cross, or go to the hospital, or leave the country and try to get medical attention somewhere else. As I prayed in the early morning hours, I felt the Lord say, “Go, get out now. It is finished.”
I began to sort of argue with the Lord. “No, Lord, I’ll stay. I’ve never turned back before. I will be operated on here. I’ll finish the walk here or I’ll die here.”
But, the Lord said, “It is finished. Am I going to have to do something more to you to get you to leave? Get out! I led you here, now I’m telling you, go.”
If I had ever felt God telling me to go somewhere, I felt God telling me to get out of Tchad now! There was a feeling of death and it seemed like the devil wanted me to stay so he could kill me. When I heard the Lord say, “You won’t make it,” all I could think of was that meant I would die.
Even before coming to Tchad, I had the feeling that my main battle was going to be with water. It was a battle with water … my water… my urine. It was my kidneys, my kidney stones. I thought, I must get back and get the cross. God had only told me when I started, to go south. He hadn’t told me how far to go or where to go…it was very strange. Normally, He tells me from this place to that place, but He had only said, “Go south.” Now He was telling me to leave the country. I knew that God could heal me, but He chose not to. He brought me back to my room and now He is telling me to get out. I had eaten nothing all day or all night, the pain was so bad. Now when the Lord says, “It is finished.” It is finished!
At dawn I met with my interpreter. He said he would find a driver and we would return to the cross and bring it back into the city. I don’t feel led to tell the entire story but I was almost killed on that return trip. Nothing more will be said about it, but I do, believe God used the kidney stones to get me out of a death or kidnap plot that was foiled by leaving so soon!
I made arrangements for the twice-weekly flight from Tchad to Paris and left that day at noon. I was in immense pain as I arrived in Paris. But, I had missed connecting flights to the United States or to England where I could get to a hospital. The next morning I awoke in my hotel room near the airport still in great pain. As I sat up on the bed ready to book a flight so I could get medical attention, the Lord Spoke. “Arthur, go to Switzerland and start this week with the cross and carry it through that land.”
I flew to Basel, Switzerland. A wonderful doctor checked me and found kidney stones on the X-ray and began giving me medication. It was a Wednesday night when I arrived in Basel and on Saturday I began my walk with the cross from the center of Basel. I was still in great pain, but after about an hour of walking and sharing Christ with the interested and wonderful Swiss people, I realized I was fine. No more pain. Hallelujah!
I marvel at God’s ways, I don’t have to understand, just obey. If we have to have an explanation we are asking the wrong question!