On Sunday we (Sally, Danny Hulls - MAF Chief Pilot, and myself) drove about an hour from home to the mountain area of Mohale Dam. We
met up with the three men from Berea District who were instrumentalin identifying the area we were planning to visit. We mapped out our plan and set off on Monday morning further into the mountains.
It was paved road for about 20 minutes then gravel that deteriorated to 4WD only. After one hour we reached the village of Sekolopata where we left our trucks and hired Basotho Mountain Ponies.
We headed off up the Senqunyane River Valley towards the village of Ha Thaba Bosiu. It was up and down, four times having to cross small streams and the larger river. We passed by several villages and met a few people along the way. As it is Spring here, we passed by fields that were being plowed by oxen teams (4 oxen, one man guiding the plough, and one man driving the oxen).
At one point we had to dismount our ponies and lead them across a rocky stream as they refused to cross with us on them. Turns out they are pretty smart as we found it very slippery. I also found out that getting back on a horse while wearing a back pack was not easy. The horse decided it was time to take off and I found myself looking up at the sky, flat on my back (actually, flat on my back
pack) with the horse happily walking away. I'm sure it had a smirk on its face... A second attempt found me on the horse, trying to get my foot in the stirrup while I held on tight to his neck. Sally found it quite amusing, and I guess I'm learning about riding. (We really should have taken riding lessons while we were in the US last year.)
After nearly two and a half hours of riding we reached the area we had identified as a potential spot for an airstrip and the village of Ha Thaba Bosiu. As you can see it looks pretty flat, but remember we would like about 2,000 feet of runway.
We were about an hour behind schedule and so we decided to split up our team. MAF Pilot Danny and Sally stayed at the airstrip area and the four of us headed on to the village (it was down a rather steep path towards where two rivers meet). Danny began to assess the area for the airstrip. It involved walking up and down the area to find the optimal angles for approach and takeoff, most favorable winds, and the most level area. He took a bunch of GPS locations and used an inclinometer to measure the rise of the terrain. Meanwhile, Sally was spending time walking and praying for this area while watching over their two ponies. She met a young woman witha child on her back and talked a bit. The lady told Sally that she was on her way walking to the closest clinic which was where we had come from that morning. Recall we had driven 1 hour by truck and 2.5 hours on pony and she was walking! Come to find out, people would even walk the whole day to reach the closest health center. Sally spent more time praying for the people of this area and praying that God would give us wisdom on how to minister to their physical and spiritual needs.
The three men from Berea and I got to the village and were fortunate to find Chief Majara there. As there really is no easy way to get a message there (no cell phone coverage), the chief and those in the village were surprised by our visit. We sat at his homestead with two other men as well as the chief's wife and friend and explained who we were and why we were there. We enquired as to how many villages were in the area and if hethought they would benefit from a health post and airstrip. After some discussion, they came up with a list of 31 villages that would directly benefit. They agreed to get us the names of all the villages and a census of those living there.
I also shared with them that I was both a doctor and a preacher of the gospel. They were curious as to what church I belonged to and if I planned on making them change their religion. I explained that I was not interested in that but in teaching them about Jesus Christ and following His ways. They were interested and like the idea that we could provide both medical care and Biblical teaching.
After an hour we headed back up the hill to find Sally and Danny to find out if the area looked promising for building an airstrip. We were happy to hear that the preliminary assessment looked good, although it would involve leveling one area and moving dirt to another part to make the airstrip. There's much more to building an airstrip (MAF has clear guidelines on it) but at least it looks like a favorable area that would give us access to the villages. We all got back on our ponies and began the long trek back to Sekolopata. I don't know horses well but I sure sensed that they were glad to be heading to their home and we were ready to go back. It was a beautiful ride back. We reached Sekolopata where we had left the trucks and then drove back to Mohale. It was just getting dark as we arrived there. We had supper together and talked about the survey trip. We were all pretty excited about the possibility of opening the area not only to health care but to the gospel as well. It was back to Maseru the next morning for Danny, Sally and I, and on to Teyateyaneng (Berea District) for the other three.
We are so thankful for what God allowed us to do and to see. We continue to pray for wisdom on how to proceed. I want to start building next week but I know that we have to go through the proper government channels for approval and for funds. It may be possible to ride into the area once a month to do a mobile medical clinic and evangelism while we work on building up the airstrip. I know we need patience, but I also know the desperate needs (both physical and spiritual) of the Basotho living in the 31 villages in the Ha Thaba Bosiu area. Please join us in praying for the people of that area, and for what we will do next.
All for His glory...