My wife, Kay, and I recently travelled to the Kimberley with our friends, Howard and Carol. Howard, a retired Anglican priest, served with me as an Army Reserve Chaplain. As we each drove around in our Nissan Patrols, we jokingly referred to ourselves as ‘Padres in Patrols.’
My expectation of the trip was that we would enjoy camping and visit the many wonderful sights the Kimberly has to offer. I was surprised, however, by the great conversations we had with people we met on the way.
A major part of our journey included the Gibb River Road, notorious for its roughness and toughness on vehicles. Both of us managed to shred tyres and damage rims. After my first tyre damage experience, and knowing that I was only half way along the road, I was slightly anxious.
Suddenly, literally in the middle of nowhere, we came across a sign, “Over the Range Tyre Service 2 kms.”
We pulled into a fairly rough, but well laid-out workshop and were approached by a very friendly guy dressed in the proverbial blue singlet, shorts and boots. He immediately held out his hand, greeting us with, “Hi I’m Neville, what’s your name?”
Immediately, I felt at ease and knew he was going to get me back on the road with confidence. As he attended to our needs we chatted, sharing stories together. All the while he put us at ease, giving us tips and advice for the journey ahead. As someone said, “a real oasis in the middle of a desert”.
As I reflected on my conversation with Neville, his friendly and welcoming greeting, his ability to put me at ease, I realised I would always like my church to be that kind of oasis in the desert.
Our second encounter happened a few days later. We had stopped for lunch and another vehicle pulled up, and as you do in the outback, struck up a conversation with the driver. Just him and his dog, travelling to and from Cape York, now on his way home to Rockingham. He noticed a couple of our tyres needed attention, so Howard, Carol and I set about to rectify the problem and Kay was left to continue the conversation.
We solved the tyre problem, said our goodbyes and were back on the main road, when Kay conveyed the conversation. After the usual chat about places he had been, he indicated to Kay that he was completing his ‘bucket list’. He shared that he was dying. He pulled out some x-rays and showed her where his body was riddled with cancer. The doctors had done all they could, given him medication, and wished him well for the journey.
On reflection, we worked out that he didn’t want to be alone at that moment and wanted to tell someone his story. We both said a quiet prayer asking that God would be with him as he continued his journey.
I would always like my church to walk alongside people who face the great challenges of life and death.
Our third encounter took place at the Home Valley Resort. Due to a long day on the road, dealing with another ‘shredded tyre’ we arrived late. It was dark, so we pulled into an area reasonably close to a couple of families. In the morning we awoke to the sounds of the families having breakfast around a campfire. We struck up a conversation and pooled stories about the journeys on the ‘Gibb’.
Our new friends were from England and New Zealand and hired ‘Brits’ campervans, travelling from Broome to Darwin. Tips and advice were swapped and then they invited us to share some special bread. They made the dough in the morning, let it rise during the day, roll it into small balls the next morning, flattened it and cooked it on an open fire. It was the best bread I’ve tasted for quite some time.
Kay responded by cooking damper, which we ate together. Needless to say we all chatted around the campfire about who we were, where we came from and what we used to do before retiring. It didn’t take too long before we were exchanging contact details. In the sharing of bread, literally, we combined hospitality and a willingness to give something of ourselves – a basic human caring for each other.
I would always like my church to continue to be a place where people meet, where bread is distributed, and where communal stories encourage us on the journey of life.
We came back refreshed, with many wonderful photos of places visited, and with the memory of meeting some amazing people who gently and compassionately travelled the journey with us.