Rock of Ages

The day my newfound Kenyan friend saved my life is a day I

will never forget. He probably didn’t think much of it, but I will always be grateful to him for rescuing me from my own foolishness.

In May 2011 I traveled on my first expedition with GOA. We were visiting Western Kenya where our team was working with local leaders to find community building opportunities. As we discussed various topics, a man named Robert told us about some caves near his home that he wanted to show us. He said they’d been there for thousands of years and had markings on the walls. Of course we were fascinated, but it would be dark soon, so we decided to postpone our explorations to the following Sunday.

I anticipated this adventure for three wonderful days of visiting, teaching, learning, dancing, and singing with hundreds of school children. The big day finally arrived, and since it was our last Sunday in Kenya, we wanted to visit some church services before heading to the caves. I wore my long white skirt and white tennis shoes, that way I was appropriately dressed for both worshipping and hiking.

At the conclusion of the meetings, we said goodbye to our church friends and hired a driver to take the six of us 45 minutes over dirt roads that were un-passable, in my opinion, since they had been washed out by rain. I was fascinated by the driver’s determination to get us to our destination.

When he took us as far as we dared go, we walked the remaining few miles to where we planned to meet Robert. As we walked along the red dirt road, I paused from time to time to admire the landscape of rolling green hills sprinkled with little grass huts, contrasted against the stunning palm tree-swept sky was breathtaking.

Often we passed clusters of children standing in the tall grass watching us with curiosity. They were usually shy at first, but when we pulled out our cameras, they boldly approached us and waited as we captured their beauty. We continued walking, collecting followers from each group we passed.

We finally reached Robert’s 10-acre property where he told us his ancestors had lived since the stone-age. I felt as though I was standing on holy ground. While we waited for more explorers to join us, Robert showed us his modest mud home and garden.

“Do you want to see ground-nuts?” he asked. He found a stick and dug at the base of a plant that stood about knee-high. He then reached into the soil and pulled out a peanut. I laughed that I had to go all the way to Africa to learn that peanuts grow on roots, not branches.

“You cannot eat them now,” he explained. “… after we roast them in a pan on the fire. Very delicious.” He showed us other types of colorful beans that he grew, as well.

When we finally reached the caves I discovered they were actually overhangs beneath clusters of gigantic boulders. We climbed inside and could tell that people had built fires and lived there from time to time. But I was more fascinated watching the small children climb to the tops of the huge rocks. Some were over 20 feet high.

It was one such rock that two of the men in our group decided to climb. Robert went first to show the way and they all agreed that barefoot was best. Steve and Brent made the climb appear as effortless as Robert did.

The rest of our group stood watching from below.

I regretted wearing my long, now off-white skirt as I too wanted to give the boulder a try. Some of the men discouraged it, and the women stared in disbelief.

“How hard can it be?” I thought. I grew up in Wyoming climbing sandstone structures similar to this. Sure, that was thirty years ago, but I decided to try, anyway.

I tied the front of my skirt to the back between my legs and removed my shoes and socks. I knew that once I got momentum, I had to keep going because if I stopped, I would certainly slide back down, scraping the skin clean off my arms, legs, and body since the boulder offered no protrusions for support.

I lost my grip only once toward the top, which set my heart racing, but I recovered and scurried to safety. Once there, I turned to my eager audience below and gave a muscle-man pose. They cheered in a show of obvious relief.

The risk was worth it. A light breeze cooled us from the hot, African sun, and the view was stunning. We could see miles of green rolling hills, grass huts and palm treeing in every direction. We soaked in the moment for as long as we could and snapped a few pictures.

Then it was time to climb down. Robert went first, then Steve. He said it was easier than climbing up. Brent followed some children down the backside, but that direction looked even more dangerous.

“I can do this,” I said softly.

“Sit down and crab-walk. Lean back against your arms for support,” Steve coached, seeing my hesitation.

I started down feet first and immediately my foot slipped. I lost all confidence and scrambled back to safety. Most my strength comes from my legs, but there was nothing to support my feet. I took another look at Brent’s route and lost hope. Everyone below looked as worried as I was.

Visions of sleeping at the top of the boulder swirled through my mind. The only other option I could imagine was a helicopter flying in to rescue me, but that was unlikely. I could be there for days.

Finally, Robert climbed back up and placed his hand beside my foot and told me to step on it. I wasn’t sure that would help and I was afraid my weight would crush him, but I did it anyway. As soon as my foot touched his hand, my fears melted and I knew I would be alright. He put his other hand against the rock and told me to step on it with my

other foot. We alternated hand and foot as I crab-walked to the bottom.

When a person risks his life to help you, trust him. Your reward will be worth more than life. You will have an eternal friend.

Everyone cheered when I arrived safely on the ground.

“I love this man!” I declared and kissed his beautiful hands.

I learned then, more than ever, that we need each other. When we get ourselves in situations that we cannot solve on our own, there is always someone who can help us navigate to safety. And when a person risks his life to help you, trust him. Your reward will be worth more than life. You will have an eternal friend.

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