Just after sunrise we were on a small bus and headed west. Brad and I were partners for this shorter trip. In less than an hour we were at our starting point.
We had to backtrack a short distance to begin our route. We followed a disgustingly polluted canal south for several miles. Further ahead we would cross it; the ethnic groups we were seeking resided on both sides of the canal.
From time to time the cool and gentle breeze of the early morning would be defiled by the stench that arose from the waterway. The canal was little more than an open sewer. We walked along quietly, the silence occasionally broken by the sound of a chorus we sang, a prayer against the spiritual darkness, or the click of a camera shutter.
At the first village, a young man stood at the gated entrance. His smile and gestures let us know we were welcome. We started up an incline lined by acres of neatly manicured trees. This village had more prayer altars than I had seen in any other village -- spiritual bondage on display.
We meandered off the road making drops in strategic places. I remember thinking that the workers would probably find the materials by lunch time. I tried to calculate when we would be out of the area. We were not far from a major city and the police could be summoned here in a matter of minutes.
As we wandered through the orchard we came across an unusual shrub. I will try to describe it. Think of a small tree planted on each corner of a square. Picture those trees, all the same size, growing toward the sky, but having their brances intricately braided together. Each intertwining branch criss-crossed to form a perfect netting of little rectangles. It was impressive.
As we stood admiring this work of art, a man came walking toward us. We learned that he was the creator of the fascinating shrub. We asked him if we could take a picture of the master with his masterpiece. He posed for us.
He motioned for me to join him beside his tree; he wanted me in the picture with him. Next, he led me back up to the foot path; he wanted another picture! He put his arm around my neck and shoulder and we posed like old army buddies. But what happened next was the best. He asked for a pen and paper, wrote down his address, and let us know he would like us to send him a copy of the picture. We will!
Brad took the address and put it in an empty film canister for safe keeping. We left our new friend and headed toward the next village. A question was on both of our minds: "Did we just experience a key encounter? Could this be the door, opened just a crack, for the gospel to make its entrance?"