Manny And Dusky’s Impossible Dream

A story by Barry Chant

Manny was handsome, debonair, muscular and lithe. His golden hair shone in the sunlight and his eyes were like blue lakes in fields of russet marble. Dusky was attractive, companionable, shapely and bright. Her smile could shatter the most solemn frown and her voice ebbed and flowed like a melody. They were the ideal couple.

When they married they had a daring dream. As soon as they could, they would buy a small island, live there together and raise a family. With the passing of years, the family would grow and become a community, and then a city, and one day even a nation.

They were both healthy and saw no reason why they could not accomplish this. As long as they lived a sensible life style, watched their diet and remained positive, anything was possible.

They searched widely and soon found the island of their dreams. It boasted several large hills (or small mountains, as Manny preferred to describe them), a river that jumped and skipped its way down to the ocean, thousands of tropical palms and several shimmering inlets.

‘This is exactly what I imagined,’ Dusky exclaimed when she saw it. ‘It’s like a paradise.’

Soon they had saved enough money and they were able to purchase it—after all, there were not many people looking for such a lonely, isolated piece of real estate and the price was considerably less than it would have been for a similar area in or near a major city.

They assembled the supplies they thought they would need and were soon on their way.

‘I hope you’re happy here,’ said the ship’s captain, as they unloaded. ‘This is about as far as you can get from anywhere and still be on earth! Give us a call on your mobile if you need anything—if you can!’

They laughed and waved cheerfully as the ship departed. Within hours they had chosen a spot to set up house. They got to work and soon settled in.

At first it was idyllic. A warm year-round climate, plenty of time to swim and laze on the beach, long languid evenings and the comfort of each other’s arms when they finally lay down to sleep.

After two or three years, they began to think more about the future. ‘Manny,’ ventured Dusky one afternoon as they sat at the edge of the beach in the shade of a stand of soaring palms, ‘When are we going to have a baby?’

‘How would I know?’ Manny replied. ‘We’re doing what we can, aren’t we?’

But month after month went by and there were no signs of pregnancy. Painfully, an awful fear began to dawn on them that maybe a baby would never come. And if that were the case, what would happen to their dream? Could it be possible that one of them was not fertile? Was it Manny? Was it Dusky?

In reality, it didn’t matter. Either way, no child was forthcoming. Dusky felt it particularly, as the thought of holding a tiny, soft baby in her arms was one thing that had filled her every day with hope and joy.

To be fair, Manny was also looking forward to having a son of his own—someone he could teach and train to be a strong human being, and someone who would provide congenial male company as he grew to adulthood—although he did not feel the loss as deeply as Dusky.

‘Darling,’ he would say to her, ‘a child will come when the time is right. Don’t give up.’ And they would lie together most nights, not just for the delicious pleasure of it, and not just for the closeness, but also for the possibility of initiating new life.

Afterwards, Dusky would lie on her back, gazing outwards and upwards to the brilliant star-jewelled sky, wondering if maybe on this night conception had occurred. But finally, they had to face the reality that no matter what night it was, nothing was going to happen.

As they sat at the meal table one evening around dusk, Manny said gently, ‘Darling, I hate to admit it, but it seems as though no matter what we do, for some reason we are not going to have a child. Something must be physically wrong with one of us—probably me—and I think we just have to take a long-term view that we will never ourselves be parents.’

He paused.

Dusky nodded faintly. A tear crept from the bottom of her left eye, poised at the top of her cheek and caught the light, shining there like a newly-cut  diamond. Manny continued, ‘But somewhere in some future generation, someone will have properly functioning reproductive organs and children will be born.’

Dusky smiled at him half-heartedly. ‘Manny, I guess you are probably right. But I wish I could be the one to do it.’

‘And so do I,’ replied Manny quickly. ‘So do I but—‘

Dusky cut him off. ‘It’s all right, darling,’ she said, ‘I know you are only trying to be helpful and of course you are right. It’s just hard, that’s all.’

Manny got up, stood behind Dusky, reached down and put his arms around her neck. He kissed her on the top of her head. ‘Yes, I know,’ he murmured soothingly. Then, with eyebrows raised, he added, ‘But we’re not going to give up trying, are we, Dusky?’

She smacked his hands and pushed them away. ‘Hmph! We’ll see about that!’ she responded with apparent anger. But there was a smile in her voice and Manny smiled too.

Well, the years went by and generations came and went. Soon there was one young couple for whom everything functioned perfectly and a baby was born. A beautiful, silken-skinned, peachy little daughter. And then another and another. Gradually the numbers build up and the island did become a community and later a city and finally a small nation.

Manny and Dusky never lived to see the fulfilment of their dream. They didn’t need to. They had been confident that over numerous generations, nature would find a way. That given enough time, change would occur, even when it was impossible.

And they were right.

Weren’t they?

 

 

© Barry Chant, 2019.

 

 

Blue Chocolate

BLUE CHOCOLATE
A story by Barry Chant
‘Have you heard about the resurgence of blue chocolate?’ whispered buxom Beverley Trad one winter morning to her slender brunette friend Sophie Wise. They were both in their twenties, enjoying the embracive warmth of Linger Inn, a popular café that served the best coffee in the university precinct.
‘Blue chocolate!’ exclaimed the other. ‘Since when?’
‘I’m not sure,’ replied Beverley.
‘Blue chocolate?’ said Sophie again, screwing up her button-like nose. ‘I hope not.’ She was enjoying the pleasant aroma of freshly brewed coffee and the thought of blue anything at that point was not inviting. Besides, although it had always been available, blue chocolate had also been widely regarded with disfavour, even disgust.
‘It can’t be so bad if people like eating it,’ Beverley went on. She looked for the positive in everything.
‘But surely chocolate is brown by definition?’ wondered Sophie aloud, glancing slightly upwards, as if she was seeking approval from the ceiling fan. ‘Blue chocolate is a paradox.’
Rich, dark brown chocolate had been an integral part of planetary life for generations. It was well established that regular consumption was beneficial overall to both body tone and intellectual awareness.
‘Why would anyone want to change?’ mused Sophie. ‘Even the kids do better at school when they eat brown chocolate.’
‘Yes, and it can prove seriously detrimental when people exclude it from their diet,’ Beverley agreed. ‘Besides, it’s part of our cultural tradition.’
‘So why this sudden interest in blue chocolate?’
‘Don’t ask me,’ Beverley responded, ‘but I’m told there is a hidden and growing market for it.’
‘Surely not,’ replied Sophie.
‘Surely so,’ said Beverley. ‘I have it on very good authority.’
‘Mm,’ murmured Sophie. ‘Well, time will tell.’

And time did tell. As the weeks went by, the rumours escalated. More people were making, buying and eating the new confectionary. It was always behind closed doors: no one seemed willing to bring it out into the open. But the smoke wafted around, as it were, and it was a sure indication of fire.
Most people were not impressed. The community at large was conservative and wary of change. They regarded blue chocolate eaters with disdain and either rejected them or scorned them.

‘Have you heard about this blue chocolate stuff?’ the ever-brash Nate Query asked his mate Luke Smart, as they chatted after work. ‘Seems to be the latest fad. They say that as many as ten per cent of the population are going for it.’
‘More like one and a half to two per cent,’ replied Luke, leaning forward, his eyebrows raised. He had just graduated with a degree in social science and was eager to display his knowledge.
‘Yesterday’s paper said it was ten,’ argued Nate, his eyebrows lowered..
‘Well if the press say ten, it must be ten.’ Luke replied sarcastically. ‘But did you know
that this figure is based on research done among people who had no other choice? It was either blue chocolate or nothing. I’m surprised it wasn’t more like fifty per cent! The whole process was exaggerated and flawed. There were no proper controls.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘I read it in the paper!’ laughed Luke. ‘No, seriously, I’ve been boning up on it. Several surveys have been done recently and they all confirm the two percent maximum figure—except for one program that counted participants as users who had only tasted blue chocolate once in their whole lives.’
Nate looked thoughtful. ‘Anyway, what do you think about it?’ he asked, leaning his large frame back against his chair.
‘Me? It doesn’t matter what I think. It won’t make any difference to anything. But if you really want to know, I find the idea nauseating.’ He gave an involuntary shudder as he spoke.
‘Yeah, it doesn’t do much for me, either,’ Nate observed. ‘Real dark chocolate—well, I can understand people going for that. It’s… it’s natural. But blue chocolate… Ugh.’Nate was not alone in his attitude. People generally thought that anyone who preferred blue chocolate to traditional dark brown chocolate was crazy. How could you compare the two? It was like preferring thistles to lilies or grass-seeds to wheat. Who would even want to get close to someone who meddled with blue chocolate? The whole idea was revolting. Such people should be forced to change their ways.Nate was not finished. ‘The world would be a better place if we banned blue chocolate altogether,’ he said, ‘and banned the people who eat it as well.’

‘Well, I think that’s a bit strong,’ continued Luke. ‘You don’t help people by rejecting them. What people do is not the same as who they are. They’re still people, after all, and deserve the same consideration and acceptance as anyone else. If we looked close enough we’d find that almost everyone has a habit or a practice that we don’t approve. We still have to live with them and respect them. But there is another aspect to be considered. There are signs that blue chocolate is actually damaging to health and potentially dangerous.’
‘Really?’ asked Nate quizzically, his big frame leaning forward as he spoke.
‘Really,’ Luke replied earnestly. ‘There have already been admissions to hospital.’

Beverley Trad, always eager for the latest gossip, could hardly wait for her morning coffee with Sophie Wise at Linger Inn.
At last Sophie arrived and even before the coffee was served she plunged into her topic. ‘Have you heard the latest?’ she asked eagerly. ‘It’s about this blue chocolate. Two people ended up in hospital after eating it.’
‘Yes,’ Sophie replied thoughtfully. ‘I have heard. I hope it doesn’t become an epidemic.’
‘An epidemic? It won’t come to that, surely. It’s only chocolate.’
‘Well, no it’s not exactly only chocolate. It’s actually potentially dangerous—and not only to those who eat it. The virus is easily transmitted by handling the wrappings or using the same knife or drinking from the same cup.’
‘Oh, poof,’ said Beverley, her rosy cheeks rounding as she spoke. ‘No way. Not from chocolate.’ She was ever the optimist.
‘We might be surprised.’

And surprised they were. Within weeks the outbreak of a new disease was officially reported. They called it Anti Biological Enervating Toxic Syndrome, abbreviated as ABETS. Its symptoms were obvious—rising temperature, loss of appetite, severe pain, shortness of breath, dehydration, deterioration of bodily functions. But no satisfactory treatment could be found. Physicians worked furiously to discover a cure. Meanwhile the numbers of people
succumbing to the disease multiplied exponentially. And then one by one, deaths were recorded. One or two a week at first; then three or four; then seven or eight or nine or ten. And soon the similar figures were being reported not weekly, but daily.
The newspapers and news broadcasts were full of it. Each headline strove to be more sensationalist than the former. ‘Rare Disease Baffles Scientists… Public Warned Not to Share Utensils… Food Wrappings Labelled Dangerous… Saliva Breeds ABETS…’ And so on. All kinds of explanations were offered and all kinds of hoped-for cures reported.
Strangely, while the transmission of the affliction was discussed at length the cause was rarely mentioned. No one stated the obvious. All victims had one thing in common: they had all been eating blue chocolate. But no one suggested that sufferers should stop. They should be careful in handling it; they should be sure to clean up after eating it; they should never take an unwrapped piece from anyone else; they should even try tasting it without swallowing it. But no physician prescribed abstinence as a cure. Not one headline declared: ‘Blue Chocolate Identified as ABETS Cause’.
Inevitably, it was not long before it also became an indirect cause. People who came into close contact with blue chocolate eaters were also falling ill. Anyone was now a potential victim.

Some weeks later, Sophie Wise sat in her favourite coffee shop unusually immune to the avuncular aroma of freshly brewed coffee, tinkering with a sachet of sugar and staring blankly at the wall, her cup untouched, its contents growing cold. Her friend Beverley was not with her. There were times when Bev’s bright chattering and non-stop gossiping had annoyed Sophie and she had longed for a few moments silence. But now she would have given anything for the quietness to be broken by Bev’s raucous laughter or waterfall voice. But she was there alone. For Beverley Trad was lying in a hospital bed, her once round jolly cheeks shrunken and pale, her breath coming in exhausted gasps, her normally shining eyes dull and listless. She had only hours to live. She had become an innocent victim of ABETS.

In God’s good time, the epidemic waned. A semi-cure was found. It was not a complete answer, but it would lengthen life expectancy for a time as long as you kept taking the medication. So the crisis was averted and people got used to the idea that ABETS was with them. Most of the populace just stayed away from it. And as it had now touched people in all realms of life few even remembered how it had started in the first place.
And then something happened that not even the most optimistic blue chocolate eaters would have predicted. Instead of being blamed as perpetrators, they became pitied as victims. It was difficult to identify when this change actually happened. Gradually, the stigma diminished.

Sporadically and then more consistently, blue chocolate eaters became known as ‘Blithe’. No one knows who conjured up the term, but it began to appear everywhere. It clearly emerged from a need to find something short and sweet, a term that was both inoffensive and linked with pleasant connotations, a name that even a child could remember. So ‘Blithe’ became part of the language. No one dared use it any more with its original meaning. In fact, most young people didn’t even know there was an original meaning. And if they did come across the term in an old book or song they were variously puzzled or outraged or just plain amused. Ultimately, emboldened by this new acceptance, more radical eaters formed activist groups to promote their cause, demanding recognition, equality and freedom.

Luke wondered if he was the only person who felt as he did. ‘Nate, you studied literature. What do you think of the way the word ‘blithe’ is being used now?’ he asked.
Nate shrugged his shoulders. ‘It’s okay, I guess. People can use it however they like.’
‘But don’t you find it objectionable? To me it’s like having something precious stolen from me. I’m angry that such a delightful word should be restricted to the risky practices of a small percentage of people.’
‘Ah, Luke, you’re a pedant,’ laughed Nate. ‘Times change and sometimes we have to change with them. You need to learn to bend a bit. Loosen up. Don’t be so rigid.’
‘Maybe you’re right,’ mumbled Luke. ‘But I still don’t like it.’ He shifted in his chair, took a deep breath, sighed and slumped into a comfortable position
‘Well, no one else seems too worried,’ replied Nate, flexing his broad shoulders and stretching his elbows, as he leaned back. ‘People’s attitudes certainly have changed. I reckon it’s a guilt thing. People were once so aggro towards Blithes they feel guilty about it and now want to be nice to them.’
With a hint of a smile, Luke said, ‘Including you?’
‘Me? Nah. No way. I never badmouthed someone just because of their taste in sweets. I’ve always been mates with everyone.’
‘Yes, of course you have.’
‘Yeah, right. Besides I can’t help it if they’re hooked on junky stuff.’
‘Can we go back to your guilt theory?’ continued Luke. ‘You’re probably right. But I think it’s bigger than just blue chocolate. There’s been a general upsurge over the last few years of concern for all minority groups. Look what’s happened. Ramps for disabled people; greater opportunities for the disadvantaged; more respect for people of other skin-colours; greater tolerance for different religious views. It’s actually been healthy in lots of ways. It’s time we cared more for the marginalised and disenfranchised people in our community. They’ve been by-passed for too long. Our society needs to become more compassionate and understanding.’
‘Mm, that’d be true,’ agreed Nate, nodding his head, screwing his nose and scratching the side of his head thoughtfully.
‘The trouble is,’ said Luke, ‘disabled people and people of a different colour usually can’t do anything about it. It’s not something they’ve chosen for themselves. Eating blue chocolate, on the other hand, is a choice.’

As a minority, the Blithe community pushed their claims to new limits. Didn’t they have the right to eat blue chocolate if they wished? What harm did it do to the majority anyway? Why shouldn’t they be free to behave as they liked? Besides, why should the Government intervene in people’s private lives? How did their private behaviour affect anyone else? When some in the Government argued they had a responsibility to protect people from self-harm and believed this did give them grounds to interfere, Blithe people protested strongly that this was an infringement on human rights. Instead, they demanded that millions of dollars be spent on researching improved medications that would enable them to continue to eat blue chocolate without their health being affected. And how could a compassionate society like theirs refuse such a reasonable request?

As a result of Beverley’s death, Sophie read everything she could lay her hands on about blue chocolate. She was perusing a new report on her laptop in a quiet corner of the subtly-lit Linger Inn when she was interrupted by a voice she didn’t recognise: ‘Studying for an exam?’ She looked up to see a red-haired woman in her late thirties smiling down at her.
‘Not exactly,’ Sophie replied. ‘Just catching up on some recent reports.’
‘About what?’ the woman inquired.
‘Blue chocolate, actually.’ A stray hair had drifted down over one eye and she tucked it neatly back into place.
‘Blue chocolate? Mm, I have some thoughts about that.’
‘Why don’t you join me?’ suggested Sophie.
‘Thank you,’ the woman replied, encouraged by the warmth of Sophie’s manner and the openness of her expression. She drew up a chair and introduced herself as Wanda Whye.
Soon they were sipping coffee together while they chatted.
‘What do you think about the connection between blue chocolate and ABETS?’ asked Wanda. ‘I have a neighbour—Felicity—who likes to eat it.’
‘From the reading I’ve done,’ Sophie replied, it seems to me to be a perilous practice, not just because it may cause disease, but because it is also dangerously delusive. People think of it as just a sweet, but it actually gets an almost unbreakable grip on those who eat it.’
‘Felicity certainly seems to be hooked on it,’ said Wanda. ‘She believes she has a genetic disposition towards it. She says she was born that way.’
‘In other words, she can’t do anything about it and therefore she can’t be held responsible.’
‘Yes… yes, that’s what it amounts to.’
‘Just like someone who is born left-handed or white-skinned.’
‘Exactly.’
‘And you agree?’
Wanda was a bit taken aback at Sophie’s direct approach. ‘Well… yes… I guess I do.’
‘Do you know there is no scientific evidence whatever for that?’ Sophie persisted.
‘Really? I thought it was well-established,’ Wanda counter-attacked.
‘I’m afraid not,’ replied Sophie, stirring her coffee before taking a sip. ‘If you check out the various reports, many of them are either inconclusive or poorly controlled. There may well be developmental issues that lead to a person choosing blue chocolate—such as childhood upbringing, peer pressure and the like—but ultimately the choice is individual. Putting it bluntly, we can’t do anything about being left-handed or tall or short or brown or white, and we can’t do anything about experiencing hunger or thirst—but usually we can do something about how we deal with such matters: what we choose to eat or drink, for example.
‘But you hear it everywhere—“Born that way”,’ protested Wanda.
‘Oh yes, but it’s never been established,’ said Sophie. ‘Obviously, we are all born with a need for sustenance but we can still decide when, what and even whether we will eat. Most people would argue we were born with a disposition for healthy food such as dark chocolate, but that doesn’t give us licence to eat it whenever and wherever we like or steal it or be powerless to say no to it.
‘Then there are others who can’t afford dark chocolate or maybe have a genetic dysfunction that affects their digestion and so on. In that case, we just have to accept it. There are others again who claim they are born with a desire for alcohol or nicotine, but even if that were true, being born with a certain disposition doesn’t compel us to follow it. At the end of the day we all make choices.’
‘Well, yes, I guess so,’ Wanda replied thoughtfully, trying to grasp Sophie’s point. A ray of sunlight was now shining through the window and her red hair glowed like a coronet of gold.
‘And there’s something else,’ Sophie continued. ‘Remember what I said about it being addictive? Even one or two samples are enough to capture one’s appetite. It seems there is a significant number of tasters who actually don’t like the product but find the craving so strong they can’t control or resist it. Once the pattern is established it’s almost impossible to break it. Which is why people feel it is part of their makeup. It becomes such a driving, urgent, burning, yearning desire they cannot imagine ever being any different.’
‘So it’s dangerous even to try it?’ asked Wanda.
‘Evidently so.’

The push for acceptance of blue chocolate did not diminish. New medication was developed which allowed people to go on eating it with diminished negative effects. There was even a new brand of blue chocolate that, like decaffeinated coffee, filtered out one of the more dangerous ingredients, but it was not widely taken up.
Most of those working in the media wanted to be seen as champions of the despised and rejected in society and so they agitated forcefully for Blithe people’s freedom to eat whatever they desired. When one of their readers had the temerity to suggest that regular consumption of blue chocolate actually shortened life expectancy, the response from the journalistic fraternity was immediate and voluminous: scorn, ridicule and derision. The claim was ‘heartless’, ‘offensive’ and ‘inappropriate’, they shouted. Not one of them actually tried to dispute the assertion rationally or to raise a significant factual rebuttal.

Nate and Luke were locked in a debate on the subject. ‘Are you sure you’re not just blueanoid?’ suggested Nate.
‘What do you mean?’ Luke goaded him, knowing full well what he meant.
‘Well, you’re just against the whole idea,’ Nate explained.
‘And that makes me paranoid?’
‘I’m not saying that,’ protested Nate.
‘But you are,’ said Luke. ‘“Noid” derives from “paranoid”. To call me “blueanoid” is to say exactly that.’
‘Well, I didn’t mean it so strongly,’ Nate said, apologetically. ‘I just meant you don’t like the whole idea of blue chocolate.’
‘That’s true,’ the younger man replied, feeling a kind of impatient anger beginning to rise within him. ‘Even so, I object to that term. I mean, I don’t agree with stealing. Does that make me kleptonoid? I don’t agree with fornication or violence. Does that make me pornanoid or violenoid? Can’t I dislike something without being accused of suffering from a psychotic condition?’
‘All right, all right,’ said Nate, glowering. ‘I take your point.’ He shuffled in his chair. ‘I didn’t make up the term and I should have thought before I used it. And I know you said once before that the Blithe people have been unfairly treated by society generally. I know you are not paranoid about it. But you still don’t believe in chocolate equality, do you?’
‘That’s an oxymoron.’ said Luke, ‘a contradiction in terms. All kinds of chocolate are not equal. Dark chocolate and blue chocolate are by definition different. If people want to eat blue rather than brown, that is their choice. But let’s not pretend it’s the same thing. Eating dark chocolate is beneficial; eating blue chocolate is detrimental. It’s as simple as that. To suggest they are even similar is to demote the word chocolate to a meaningless lexical lowest common denominator.’
‘What?’ repeated Nate.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ laughed Luke. ‘I’m just a pedant.’

The Blithe community were persistent and insistent. They sensed an opportunity to secure a place of acceptance from which they could not be moved. They began to demand that it should be illegal to speak against their lifestyle; that blue chocolate should be given equal recognition with all other kinds of chocolate; that their confectionary habits should be accepted as just as healthy as anyone else’s; that it should be compulsory to teach children this in all schools; and that they should be treated with compassion and understanding without any attempt to require them to change their ways. But there were still many people with conservative attitudes and traditional values who feared the ultimate outcome of such policies and they were not entirely successful.

Wanda and Sophie had become regular friends and were meeting regularly for coffee at the Linger Inn café.
‘The more I read about blue chocolate the more concerned I am at the number of people who seem to be trying it,’ said Sophie, her brows gathered over her green eyes. ‘Once upon a time it was regarded with suspicion and concern. Now it’s reached the point where it is almost universally accepted as a normal thing to do.’
‘It’s gone further than that,’ replied Wanda. ‘At their school, my two children are not only being told that it’s all right to eat blue chocolate if they prefer it, but they are being positively encouraged to try it. What can I do? They have no idea at their age what is best for them. They certainly have no predisposition towards it—or anything else for that matter.’
‘That is appalling,’ said Sophie. ‘Left to themselves, kids will obviously go for anything that looks or tastes nice or seems to be exciting.’Continue reading

Those Two Questions

It was a hot, dry, late summer’s day in Adelaide, South Australia, the driest State in the driest continent on earth. Our twelve year-old daughter Becky was a new student at a prestige College and we had promised to pick her up after school.
We pulled up in our light blue Volkswagen Combi van. There were children everywhere, bustling their way out of the school ground, shouting to one another, waving, laughing, talking, arguing.
Just in front of us an impatient mother was trying to hurry two dawdling youngsters to her car. A boy wandered by with one shoe lace undone, his shirt hanging out and his tie dangling loose half-way down his chest. Three girls stood in a huddle giggling together. A gangling older boy was doing his best to engage an attractive teenage girl in conversation.
But Becky was nowhere to be seen.
‘Perhaps she’s around at the other gate,’ suggested Michael, her younger brother by two years. So we drove around the block, but still there was no Becky.
‘She’s must have caught the bus,’ my wife suggested.
‘You are probably right,’ I agreed.
So we returned home, expecting to find Becky there. But the house was locked, silent and empty when we arrived.
Worried now, we set off back to the school to search again. It seemed to take ages to agitate our way through the late afternoon traffic. The sun flashed and shimmered from the streaming cars and sizzled on the melting bitumen of the road, making me squint as I drove. The air pollution built up, increasing the discomfort of the baking afternoon heat.
But when we arrived, there was no sign of her. There was rising tension in our hearts as we could not help but wonder what might have happened to our daughter.
Then at the corner, on the other side of the busy main road, with peak-hour traffic growling its weary way through the heat haze, now compounded by exhaust fumes and hot rubber, emerging from a public telephone box beside the nearby the local store, forlorn and alone, Becky appeared.
I hurried to her and, in spite of the heat, hugged her close. She looked up at me, her eyes wide, not with anger, and not with tears, but with a kind of bewildered, pleading puzzlement. ‘Where were you?’ she said plaintively. ‘Why didn’t you come?’
What could I say? I was her father and I had failed to be there when she needed me.
She explained how she had been detained after school for some reason which I cannot remember – it was not important then and nor is it now – and had obviously reached the meeting point after we left.
‘I went to the shop for some change to phone you,’ she continued. ‘But you did not answer. I went back to the shop for more five-cent pieces but every time I called home no one was there.’
‘Didn’t you realise that if no one answers, you can get your money back?’ I asked gently. She shook her head. That made me feel even worse.
Still, the reality was that she was safe and sound. We were all soon back in the car and on our way home. And today she can hardly remember anything about it.
But the whole affair tugged at my heart strings as it does even today. I am not particularly sentimental, but every now and then something sneaks past my defences and finds a breach into my heart. This is what happened with Becky’s two questions. Where were you? Why didn’t you come? I shall never forget them.
And I sometimes wonder if one day, on that great day of the Lord, I might face someone else who is lost and without hope – from China or India or Uganda or even from the streets of Sydney or New York – someone who has never heard the good news that God loved us so much he sent his Son to die for us – someone whose life has been bleak and dark – someone who will look at me with a tears of pleading in their eyes, and ask me the same two questions.

Copyright © Barry Chant 2006

Taking Up The Cross 21st Century Style

Large crowds were following Jesus. So He turned to His disciples and said, ‘Let us find an air-cooled auditorium where the people can sit down in comfort.’ And the disciples searched until they found a suitable venue. They hung large signs outside reading, ‘Salvation-Healing Crusade here this week. Hear Jesus of Nazareth. See signs, wonders and miracles. Bring the sick and suffering. All welcome.’ About five thousand men, plus women and children, attended the opening rally.
There was a large stall near the entrance where people could buy autographed scrolls of Jesus’ teaching or togas and scarves inscribed with the words ‘Jesus of Nazareth Ministries Inc. © AD 31.’
Then Jesus called the chief musician to direct the singers and other players. They played loudly on harps, lyres, timbrels and flutes. And the people stood to their feet and sang psalms many times over. They clapped their hands and made a joyful noise to the Lord.
Then Jesus said –
If anyone comes after me and does not love his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.
And if you do not put on rich garments and the finest raiment and believe that you shall have whatever you say, you cannot be my disciple
For he who follows me shall have rings on his fingers and bells on his toes and he shall have music wherever he goes.
For he who follows me must have a good self-image and see himself as worthy of the kingdom of God.
In the same way, any of you who wants to be my disciple must realise that by following me, you will have the best of everything. You will certainly ride in the latest model chariot and have all the denarii you need. You will be dressed in fine linen and live in sumptuous palaces.
Indeed, whatever you desire you shall have, just as whatever I desire, I have.
Do not worry about providing for your family or future. Just name it and claim it, confess it and possess it, blab it and grab it, believe it and receive it and all will be yours. For God wants you to be healthy, wealthy and wise.
You have a unique destiny. You must fulfil your potential. Only believe.
And the people rejoiced to hear His words, for He spoke as one having much wealth and prosperity, and they longed to go and be likewise.
And Jesus continued to teach them, saying,
Anyone who follows me must lay down his cross and go before me. For suffering is the result of sin and my way is a sinless way.
Blessed are you when all men speak well of you, when they praise you and support you, for so they have always spoken of the prophets of God. Therefore, if any man come after me, let him take out his wallet, get all that he can, and follow me.
And again the people wondered at the gracious words that proceeded from His mouth for they sounded too good to be true.
Then the musicians began to play a sweet maskil of a daughter of Israel, saying, `Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, for the gospel is free, but as it is written in the volume of the book, Just as I am, I come to Thee.’
And Jesus said to His disciples, `Tell the people to close their eyes and bow their heads.’ And the people did so.
And Jesus said, `If you would like to make a decision to give your heart to me, I beseech you to raise your right hand. Fear not, for no one can see you.’
There were some who were afraid, but at the words of Jesus, they raised their hands.
Then Jesus said, `I see those hands. Is there another?’ And it came to pass that when all the people had responded, Jesus asked them to stand to their feet, and behold, there were some who did stand.
Then Jesus said, `While the music is playing softly and the choir is singing, this is my commandment that you step out here to the front, so I can pray for you.’
And as some of the people hesitated, He continued to instruct them, saying, ‘Do not be afraid. I will not keep you long. Only the heathen think they will be heard for their empty repetitions. The prayer will be brief and there are some disciples here who will talk to you for a few minutes and give you a little scroll. Your friends will wait for you. You will be home in time for dinner.’
And lo, some of the people did come, and they took the little scroll.
But He did not tell them that it would be sweet as honey in their mouths but that it would turn their stomachs sour (Rev 19:9).
And He did not tell them that to follow Him they would indeed carry His cross.
And He did not tell them that it was only by losing their lives that they would find them.
So they went away happy.
For a while.

Copyright © Barry Chant 2004

Snug As a Rug In a Bug

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Barry Chant
Snug as a rug in a bug

It had been a bitterly cold night. I was weary and stiff. I wiped the condensation from the car window and looked out to see two grey kangaroos feeding quietly just a few metres away.
Vanessa opened her eyes slightly and closed them again, tight. She blinked a couple of times and eventually sat up straight, shielding her eyes against the light with her hand.
‘What time is it?’ she asked drowsily.
We had been married about a year. Young, enthusiastic, full of life and hope, we were beginning our quest to change the world.
A few weeks before our wedding day, I had graduated from Teachers’ College. My first appointment was to the High School at Murray Bridge, a country town some eighty kilometres from Adelaide, South Australia, where we lived.
We had not been there long when a call came from a little church in Pinnaroo, another 180 kilometres further east, in the Mallee. They had no pastor, had heard of our arrival in Murray Bridge, and wondered if we could visit them occasionally to preach the Word.
It was an invitation too enticing to be resisted. But there was a major hurdle to overcome. We had no car. We said ‘Yes’ anyway and arranged to go. Phil, a fellow-teacher, offered to drive us in his little green Austin car and we set off eagerly one Saturday afternoon.
That night about twenty people gathered in a hired hall. The building was normally used as a kindergarten. There were gum-nut babies painted all over the front of it. Inside, the floor creaked and there were children’s pictures and posters on the walls. The piano needed tuning and the chairs were tortuous. But we had a meeting.
We sang the old songs and I preached the best I knew how. Looking back, I shake my head with despair as I realise how immature my preaching was and how little I really knew of life, of people and even of God. I console myself by believing that somehow God filtered those messages to make them meaningful.
We stayed overnight and next morning held another service before setting off for the two-hour journey home.
Soon we were committed to a fortnightly visit. We scraped together a few dollars and made a down-payment on a Volkswagen car. We even had to borrow part of the deposit. Our Vee Dub was a kind of chartreuse colour, in the classic ‘beetle’ or ‘bug’ shape of those days.
By this time, we had learned that one of the Pinnaroo farmers had an empty shearer’s hut on his property that we were free to use. Not wanting to upset other people’s families by taking over their children’s beds, we opted to stay in the cabin. It was basic, but liveable. It meant we had to take food supplies with us and provide our own bedding, but we didn’t mind. We had a key and we didn’t need to notify anyone of our coming.
The farm was a few kilometres out of town. Once we reached the main house, we had to follow a bush track that led a couple of kilometres further to the shack. Often there was no one at the homestead, as it was a sheep property that could be managed from a distance.
One night, as we drove to the cabin, all was going smoothly, as expected, when suddenly the track disappeared completely from view—which was not expected. We found ourselves skidding through deep, soft, wet uneven earth. Someone had ploughed the paddock, track and all. There had been rain that afternoon and the earth had turned to sticky mud. We were now trapped in the middle of it. The wheels began to spin and it was difficult to steer. I tried to accelerate but this only made things worse. The car slipped and slid like a drunk skater. We had to go slower. Eventually we stopped. There was no moon. Around us, everything was pitch black.
It was late. It was dark. It was cold. We couldn’t move.
‘What do we do now?’ I asked annoyed at our predicament.
‘Looks like we’ll have to sleep in the car,’ Vanessa suggested.
‘In the car? You won’t be able to do that,’ I answered. ‘You’ll be awake all night. You need a good bed before you can sleep.’ I paused and then wondered aloud, ‘Perhaps we could walk to the hut?’
‘Through this mud? Carrying everything?’ she replied. ‘I don’t think so. And where is it, anyway? You can’t see a thing out there. I think I’d rather stay in the car, even if I don’t sleep.’
There was nothing for it but to settle down and wait for morning. VW Beetles are neat and compact. They are not designed for sleeping. It was impossible to stretch out or even to hug one another. We twisted and turned. We struggled to tuck our bedding around us to keep warm. We tried to find comfortable positions without dislocating our necks. It was a long night. Finally morning came, and here we were, stiff and aching, tired and weary, with a church service to conduct in a couple of hours’ time.
Vanessa cleared a spot on the front window and looked ahead. In the light of day, our situation did not look so bad. The soil had dried a fraction. It still clung fiercely to the tyres but it had firmed.
‘Oh, don’t tell me,’ she lamented with a sigh. ‘Look, we are only a few metres from the next paddock. We almost made it last night.’
She was right. Just ahead of us was a well-grassed block of land with a well-marked track running across it. Maybe we didn’t need to spend all night in the car after all. I thought mournfully of what a warm bed would have been like. I started the motor and tried to ease the car forward. It moved slowly. Gradually we slithered our way to the fence, and into the next paddock. We yelled with delight as we drove easily to the shack where we able to make breakfast, to clean up and to prepare ourselves for the day.
Finally, it was time to leave. We packed up, said a prayer, locked the cabin and clambered into the car. We decided our only hope was to follow the tracks we had left the night before. At least we could see them now. There were some anxious moments, but by and large we made it without incident.
We were young, we were flexible. Before long we were regarding the whole episode as an exciting adventure, a story worth telling to our friends.
I would never choose to sleep in a Volkswagen again. Once was enough. On the other hand, there was something special about that one cold, dark night bogged in a paddock in the remote, sparse Mallee country of wide South Australia. It was hardly suffering for the gospel—on a scale of one to ten it was barely even a one. Compared to Paul’s shipwrecks and beatings and stonings and fastings, it was nothing.
But on the other hand, doing it for Jesus did give the experience a touch of divine grace. And when trouble comes, that does make a difference.

Sabotaged By Satan?

One cool South Australian afternoon in 1990, my wife Vanessa and I were driving back to Adelaide from a trip to the popular ocean town of Victor Harbor. We were cruising nicely along the motorway, enjoying our relaxed time together. It was chilly outside but in the car it was warm and comfortable. We were at peace with God, with each other and with the world. Or so we thought.
As we passed under an overpass, suddenly we were startled by a loud, sharp crack like a gun recoiling right beside us and the windscreen in front of Vanessa exploded like a bursting star. The glass was shattered. A large rock went bouncing from the bonnet of the car off to the side of the road.
For a few seconds, we lurched from side to side as I momentarily lost control, but fortunately I could still see through my side of the windscreen and I was able to steer us safely to the shoulder of the motorway. I scrambled out and looked back to see what had happened. There, high above us on the overpass, were two lads about eleven or twelve years old. At first I thought they were laughing but then I realized they were actually scared. Clearly, it was they who had dropped the rock and it had done more damage than they had expected. They grabbed their bicycles and rode off like frightened rabbits.
The embankments on either side of the road were too steep and too high to climb. So I clambered back into the driving seat and drove on as carefully as I could, looking for an exit. Eventually we found our way up, back and on to the overpass. By this time, of course, the boys were no where to be seen. I hoped they were scared enough not only to run away from me but not to do such a dangerous thing again. Had it been my side of the pane that was smashed, and my visibility obscured, who knows what might have happened?
I had the windscreen repaired the next day. ‘But don’t be in a hurry to drive the car,’ said the repair man. ‘The glass will need time to settle in.’
‘We are planning to go to Melbourne tomorrow,’ I explained. ‘I have to be at a conference there.’ Melbourne is roughly a day’s drive from Adelaide.
‘Well, ‘ he said, ‘You’d better avoid any bumps. But if it works loose, I won’t accept responsibility. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.’
Staying in our home at the time was April, a pretty dark-haired American sixteen-year-old who was in Australia as an exchange student. We set off to Melbourne as planned, taking April with us. There were no apparent problems with the windscreen.
A few days later we were heading home again. We had planned our trip so we would arrive back in Adelaide well before dark. The day was cold and overcast and there were frequent gusty rain showers, the kind that make you shiver just to look at them. Nevertheless, it was warm in the car, we were cruising well and making good time. But about half way back, on the open road, the motor stopped. Just like that. No warning. No choking or stuttering. No clouds of smoke or strange rattles. No shuddering or shaking. Just quietness. It was as though the ignition had simply been switched off. I eased the car silently to the side of the road and tried to see what was wrong. But with my mechanical repair skills basically limited to changing tyres and filling the petrol tank, this was a forlorn hope.
A helpful passer-by offered to send a mechanic from the nearest town, about ten kilometres back. I thanked him and we settled down to wait. It was an open road and a cold, damp, slicing wind was skating viciously over the paddocks. There was little to do but sit in the car and try to keep warm. Vanessa took the opportunity to continue reading Frank Perretti’s This Present Darkness, a novel about angels and demons and spiritual encounters, which she had nearly completed. Eventually, over an hour later, a tow truck appeared and a half an hour after that the car was in the workshop.
‘It’s the computer,’ said the mechanic. ‘Somehow or other, it has got water in it. Bothered if I know how.’
‘Could it be a leaking windscreen?’ I asked, tentatively, not wanting to appear more ignorant than I actually was.
But I had guessed right. The glass had sprung a leak and water had dribbled down on to the computer. Apparently it was only a matter of drying it out and within half an hour we were on our way. As a result, it was well after dark when we finally reached the Mount Lofty Ranges, the last part of the journey before we descended to the plain city of Adelaide, resting comfortably as it does between mountains and sea.
I was driving. Vanessa was dozing. April had fallen asleep in the back seat. Suddenly, to my astonishment, we hit a patch of road covered with ice. In all my fifty years of living in Adelaide, I had never seen ice on the road, not even in the hills. But here it was. Without warning, the car spun wildly out of control. Round and round we went, two or three times, the tyres sliding like ice cubes on a kitchen bench. Had there been another car travelling in the opposite direction, a crash would have been inevitable. But the road was empty.
We spun around again. On one side was a steep drop; on the other, behind a safety fence, a row of large trees. I wrenched desperately on the steering wheel in what was a vain attempt to steer the car. April sat up with a look of panic on her face and screamed out loud. Vanessa stared straight ahead and cried, ‘Jesus! Jesus!’ not as an ignorant Aussie act of blasphemy, but as a heartfelt cry of desperate faith, and began to pray in tongues.
I felt a ray of hope as we slid away from the steep drop to the right. At least we would not go tumbling and rolling down the hill, bouncing and jerking like a dislodged boulder, until we crashed with a sudden jolting impact into the rocks below, to lie there still and quiet, possibly in the cold embrace of death. But my alarm increased just as quickly as we skidded towards the steel safety fence to the left, behind which was a large eucalyptus tree. In a flash, I had visions of a major crash, of a crumpled, ruined car, of my wife being thrown against the windscreen and suffering dreadful lacerations, of April sustaining serious injury, her pretty face spoiled forever, of trapped limbs and twisted bodies and spinning wheels and maybe even of the everlasting silence of extinction.
But the car turned slightly to the right, our speed dropped steadily and gradually we slowed to a gentle stop on the side of the road in an almost perfect parking position. I could not have placed it better if I had tried.
It had all happened in seconds. We sat quietly for a few moments and then relief and gratitude overcame us.
‘Whoh, I thought we were gone then,’ I gasped, still rather amazed.
‘So did I,’ whispered Vanessa.
‘Me, too,’ added April.
‘Well,’ I continued, ‘praise the Lord that we are all OK.’
‘Thank God there were no other cars on the road,’ Vanessa added, and as she did a vehicle passed by swerving and sliding wildly until it slowed down to a safe speed. Had it been a few seconds earlier, it could have ended all our lives. Not long after that a police car appeared, with signs to warn travelers of the danger.
We drove slowly on until the risk was over and within an hour we were safely home.
One of the advantages of teaching is that students often come up with refreshing and thought-provoking questions. One day a blond-haired young man who had been a Christian believer for just over two years asked, ‘How much does the devil know? Can he predict the future? And how does he steal, kill and destroy?’
What happened to us over that wintry weekend in 1990 brought those questions back to mind again. Could Satan have predicted such a turn of events? Was it all a plan on his part to cut us off and hence to discontinue our important work for the Kingdom of God? Was it he who put into the hearts of two lads the foolish idea of dropping a rock on our car? Who knows?
But one thing we do know is that whether Satan attacks us or whether we simply face the common dangers of living in a fallen world, our heavenly Father does watch over us and care for us. He protects us in this life and he prepares us for the next. As Paul puts it, whether we live or die we are the Lord’s. And that’s good to know.

Trapped In The Outback

A true-life story of hope

It’s a frightening thing to be lost in the Outback. I know because it happened to my family and me.
The year was 1974. We were heading for a family holiday in the northern Flinders Ranges, a place of wild, steep, ragged hills, sharp-pointed grass and rambling, stony creek beds, guarded by towering river gums. There were five of us, myself, my wife Vanessa, our two school-age children Rebekah and Michael and our eight-month-old baby son Clinton
We first spent a weekend in the mining town of Broken Hill, where I spoke at a young, growing church. From there, we had planned to retrace our steps half way back along the highway to our home city of Adelaide, and then turn north again. But the map showed a minor route cutting across the desert which would save us hours of travel. We decided to take it.
It was a soft, quiet, sandy road, and we cruised along it enjoying the crisp country air, the squawking birds and the vast blue sky above. After a couple of hours, it sloped down into a wide, dry, creek bed, its ochre sand spread out before us like a newly-formed beach, although we could see where the track emerged on the other side. I dropped into a low gear and headed for it.
About half way over, the wheels began to spin. I revved the engine, gripped the steering wheel with clenched hands, as if that would somehow help, bit my lip and forged on. In the sinking sand, the trailer began to act like an anchor, dragging us back, but our second-hand Holden Station Sedan grunted on and we crawled out the other side.
‘Wow! That was close!’ said eleven-year-old Michael.
‘A bit too close,’ I responded. ‘I hope we don’t have to cross any more creeks like that.’
But the sun still shone. The breeze still blew. The birds still whistled. We were still in holiday mood. And so we drove on.
We made our way up a small rise from which the road proceeded down into a valley where there was an open gateway ahead of us. It should have been easy going. But what we saw was astonishing. I stopped the car and we all sat amazed at the scene before us. The whole valley was full of water. It spread out like a huge lake, shining and glimmering in the sunshine. It was almost to the top of the gateposts—where the track we were to follow simply disappeared under a metre of bright, cold, deep water.
There was plainly no way through.
‘Looks like we’ll have to turn back,’ I said sadly. Then I thought about that dry creek bed. I was not sure we could cross it again. We were trapped between the two.
When we drove down to the water’s edge we discovered what had happened. There was actually a great dam to our left which had overflowed into the valley. But the water had subsided somewhat and there seemed to be some kind of track along the top of the dam wall.
I am normally a cautious type, but when I get in the Outback, something changes, somehow, and I seem to be overcome by a wild, irrational desire to take risks. ‘I think we could actually drive along up there,’ I suggested. ‘I’d like to have a go.’ The kids were excited about the idea. Vanessa was not so sure. But we did.
It was an adventure. We had to follow an elevated track with deep water either side. If the earth crumbled or the dam wall gave way, we would slide into it. At least we wouldn’t die of thirst! We all held our breath as I drove slowly and carefully, inching our way along, ready to stop at the slightest hint of danger. But in fact, the wall proved to be substantial and solid and led us safely through to the other side of the lake where another obviously disused track probed through the grass ahead of us. It was not the road on the map—just two wheel tracks through the bush—but there was nothing else.
It had been a good year. Where there was normally nothing but stony plains with stunted growth like the stubble on an old man’s chin, the grass was waist-high in places. Occasional stands of scrubby acacia trees punctuated the landscape. And there was wild life everywhere. Kangaroos bounded and bounced away from us. An emu with a trail of chicks behind it strode away imperiously through the bush. Another tried to out-pace us and then ran into a fence again and again in a wild attempt to distance itself from us.
Hordes of brilliant wild flowers, including the impertinent black-and red Desert Pea, grew not only alongside the track but all over it. Protected plants they may be, but there was no way we could avoid crushing them as we journeyed on. It was obvious the track had not been used for a long time.
‘Dad, let’s stop and look at the flowers!’ cried thirteen-year-old Becky. And so we did, we crawled among them like playful infants, trying to take photographs which would capture the moment for ever. We were very excited. In previous years we had never seen the Desert Pea like this. In fact, we had been lucky to see more than a stray, puny plant tucked away in the rocks.
We continued without difficulty until late afternoon. It became clear that we would not reach our destination that night and we began to think in terms of finding a camping spot. Then, unexpectedly, without any warning, we came to another wide, dry creek. My heart sank. We stopped and examined it. The sand was very deep and very soft. There was no way we could cross it. Frustratingly, just a few metres away, on the other side, the track continued firm and straight as ever.
There was an old wire fence running along the track to our left. We could not go that way. I walked further up the creek to the right. The terrain here was flat, with low grass and no trees and we could drive along it easily enough if there was a better place to cross. Finally, I found a spot where the creek narrowed and the banks were not too steep. It was worth a try.
I lined the car up in the best position, revved the motor, put my foot down and headed for the crossing. The wheels whirled, sand spraying behind them. The front of the vehicle reached the bank on the far side. I urged the old Holden onwards. But at that point the back wheels began to sink deeper into the sand. They spun like wild things, but the more they whirred the deeper they sank. Soon the body of the car itself was sitting on the sand. We were hopelessly stuck.
We tried digging beneath the wheels and stuffing grass and sticks under them. But no matter how deep we dug there was endless sand. And as soon as the motor started and the wheels turned, the bed of grass and sticks disintegrated and spun away like discarded rubbish.
‘Maybe someone else will come along and help us,’ said one of the children. They tore the sides off a cardboard carton and made two signs which read, ‘Car stuck along creek. Please help.’ A large arrow pointed in the right direction. They hiked back to the track and installed the signs on either side of the creek. It was a forlorn hope, but worth a try. For all I know those signs might be there still.
There was nothing for it now but to set up camp and wait till morning. We ate our evening meal around a small fire as the Outback night dropped on us like a great black canopy. Later, as we lay in our sleeping bags inside our large blue family tent, I began to worry about what might happen. We could be there for weeks before anyone found us. We had enough food for a few days and we knew where there was plenty of water, although it was a very long hike back to get it. Was it feasible to try to walk on ahead in the hope of finding someone to help? We really had no idea how far it was.
By now, the children were asleep but I was not. What if my foolishness resulted in us being stranded or even lost forever? I thought particularly of our baby son. What would become of him? We were a very long way from any other human being. A station owner at the beginning of the track knew we were making this journey, but there was no reason for him to come looking for us. No one at the end was expecting us. We could disappear for weeks before people at home would become concerned. If no other travellers took this track we would be very, very alone.
My fears were not helped by the stillness all around us. There was neither sound nor light anywhere. No animal. No bird. No moon. Just never-ending blackness all around. At night, the Outback can become very dark and eerily quiet. It is easy to feel afraid.
As I lay there, eyes open, looking blankly upwards, I heard a sound that filled me with alarm. It was the spattering of rain drops on the roof of our tent. This made things even worse. What if there was a torrential downpour? What if the creek began to flow? I remembered horror stories of flash floods and of water cascading down Outback creeks, taking everything in their path—rocks, boulders, branches of trees, and, yes, motor cars. What if our car, sitting right in the middle of the creek, was engulfed in a raging stream?
It was then, I remembered some basic truths. The first was that no matter what the problem, there is always hope. I thought of Paul’s words of counsel to the young church at Philippi, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6, 7).
I also remembered the wise advice of that writer of ancient times, ‘Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!… And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken’ (Eccles. 4:9-12). It is always good to share the load.
I turned to Vanessa. ‘Are you awake?’
‘Yes,’
‘I have to say I’m rather worried about this situation,’ I confessed.
‘Me, too.’
‘I seem to have got us into a bit of a mess,’ I continued.
‘Well, I didn’t try to stop you,’ she said.
‘I wish I knew what to do next.’
‘Why don’t we pray about it?’ she suggested.
And so we did. Together, the two of us claimed the promise to the Philippians for ourselves. And it happened. We both felt a deep, settled peace and knew that all would be well, I spite of how bad things looked. For the first time for many hours, my heart was filled with hope.
Then I remembered one more thing. Problems always look a lot worse at night than they do in the morning. I would worry about what to do when I woke up.
Just as we were dropping off to sleep, I had an idea. Why not reverse the car out of the creek and try again some other way? I was just about to tell Vanessa my idea when she said, ‘I’ve been thinking. Instead of trying to go forward, could you back the car out?’ We both felt that God had spoken to us.
Next morning, when we awoke, we were delighted to see that the sun was shining. After breakfast I said to the kids, ‘We’ve got an idea. But first, let’s empty the trailer, unhitch it and try to drag it across by hand.’
So we did. We unloaded all our gear and, and while Clint sat in his pusher and tugged playfully at a suspended rattle, blissfully unaware of the dilemma we faced, Becky and Michael and I lugged it across the creek. Then we manhandled the trailer and to our surprise found it quite easy to shift. The rain had actually hardened the sand. What we had feared would be a problem turned out to be a blessing.
Now we were ready to try the idea Vanessa had thought of the previous night. We got our one shovel and our bare hands and we began to scrape sand away from behind the car. Because of the rain, once we dug down a few inches the ground became firmer. Then I got in the driver’s seat and instead of trying to go forward, attempted to reverse the car back to where we had started. It worked. Soon it was on solid ground.
Now came the big task. ‘Let’s see if we can create a track across the creek.’
We dug further and cleared away as much of the soft sand as we could. It took two or three hours, but eventually we had actually made a way across the creek. Now we were ready to try to get the car across again. I gave the car a bit of a start, hit the sand fairly fast, but managed to keep going. Without the trailer, and with the hardened sand, there was enough momentum to carry us across and with loud shouts and hurrahs from the kids, and a great sense of relief for Vanessa and me, I made it to the other side.
It took a long time to dismantle the tent, collect the rest of our scattered belongings, lug them across the creek, and repack the car and the trailer, but eventually we were done. We forged on, following the track, wherever it would lead us. There were no more hazards. We continued for several hours, enjoying the wild scenery and the wild life.
At one point, to our great surprise, beside the track, we came across a telephone box, complete with old-fashioned wind-up telephone. We tried it, turning the handle furiously and waiting for an answer, but predictably, there was no result. Presumably it was a hangover from pre-radio and pre-motor cycle times, so station hands far from the homestead could still make contact in a hurry.
The country side began to change and large trees began to appear before us. And then, suddenly, through the trees we saw a house, smoke rising from its chimney. The kids cheered and with a rising sense of relief, we pressed on. As we drew near, a man appeared beneath the trees, Akubra hat hung low over his forehead and one thumb stuck in his belt.
We pulled up. ‘Where in the dickens have you come from?’ he demanded.
When we told him, he remarked, with some wonder, ‘No one’s been through there for a year. It’s impassable.’
‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘It almost is.’
It was after dark when we finally arrived at our destination, the camping ground at Arkaroola, in South Australia’s far north. By that stage the exhaust pipe had broken and was dragging on the stony road, clattering and banging as we went. We didn’t care. We just wanted to get there. And finally we did.
We had witnessed the triumph of resourcefulness over foolishness, of hope over despair.
It was at Arkaroola that we encountered hordes of red back spiders. But that’s another story.

Copyright © Barry Chant 2004.

Mr Ack

When I was a child our Sunday School superintendent was a man named
Mr Akroyd, a tall, dark, thinly- faced Baptist layman in his fifties. Looking back now, I can see that he didn’t have the faintest idea how to relate to children. He never used any gimmicks. He never pandered to our wants or tried to make things more interesting. He made no attempt to entertain us. He treated us as if we were all miniature adults.

Every Sunday, summer or winter, he would turn up in his black three-piece suit. I suppose there were at least a hundred children in the senior school, with another fifty or so in the kindergarten. The older group met in the main church, where we sat on the church pews, swinging our feet above the plain, dusty floor-boards that we couldn’t reach. It was only in later years that the church could afford carpet, and then only in the aisles. We boys preferred the back rows and sat there whenever we could.

The program was always the same. We would start with a hymn followed by a prayer. Then there would be some announcements and then another hymn. After this ‘Mr Ack’ as we all called him, would lead us in a long intercession. Then there would be another hymn, an offering and classes.

Mr Ack had a repertoire of about ten hymns which he would rotate week by week. One of his favourites was, ‘Thou didst leave Thy throne’ with its lovely refrain ‘Oh come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee.’

Another was—

Who is He in yonder stall?
At Whose feet the shepherds fall?

Then came the chorus—

Tis the Lord,
O wondrous story
Tis the Lord
The King of Glory
At His feet we humbly fall
Crown Him, crown Him
Lord of all.

It was a great Christmas hymn, but it seemed to us that we sang it at least once a month throughout the year. We boys used to love the word ‘humbly.’ We looked forward to it, bright with anticipation. Although we hardly sang any of the rest of the song, we all joined in enthusiastically on that word. We placed a long, strong emphasis on the first syllable—‘HUM- bly’ the letter ‘m’ resonating on our mouths.

The organist was literally a little old lady—a diminutive white-haired soul whom we only knew as ‘Miss Tilly.’ She lived in a large rambling house with a wild unkempt garden a few doors along the suburban street in which our modest church building stood. She came regularly every week and pumped away at the primitive pedal organ. There were no other instruments; the age of guitars had not yet come and there was no piano in the church sanctuary.

I cannot remember her ever talking to any one or ever coming to any other function of the church. But she was always there for Sunday school. In winter, she would wear old fashioned white long-legged pantaloons and we would peer with delight at the lace frills beneath her modest skirts, just over the tops of her shoes. For a group of boys, she was a fascination. If the rumours were true, she died some years later of malnutrition, the result of failing to look after herself properly in her old age.

But the thing about those hymns is that, although no children’s workers in their right mind would even contemplate using them in Sunday School today, with their Elizabethan English and their dreary organ accompaniment, the lyrics and the sound biblical doctrine they contain, are firmly bedded in my mind still today, over fifty years later. I still know many of them verbatim.

When Mr Ack prayed, it was always the same. He had a deep sonorous voice, that rang out with ecclesiastical tones and he used identical phrases week in and week out. I can still hear him interceding for the ‘great, world-wide missionary enterprise.’ I had no idea what this was, but it always sounded impressive! Today, I am glad he prayed that way.

Every year we had Sunday School examinations. Only a few children volunteered for these, but I was one. My older sister had regularly topped the State and I guess there was some pressure on me to follow her example. These were sometimes held in his home, where his wife, a kindly, smiling buxom woman always made us welcome. For some reason, she was never seen at church. I had no idea why.

Of course, anniversary time was always a special event. A man whose name I have long since forgotten used to come from a neighbouring church and, patiently waving his little conductor’s baton, teach us the songs we were to sing. We would practise for about two months beforehand. For the occasion a tiered wooden platform would be erected above the pulpit and choir stalls, obliterating the golden mural text which every other Sunday reminded us that ‘They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.’

For two Sundays, three services a day, we sang our songs to the crowded church as members, adherents and parents flocked to fill the seats. Although the boys as a group did not show much enthusiasm for singing, after I turned to the Lord at the age of ten, I joined in with zeal. I am not sure it improved the overall performance.

It was usually spring time, and the aroma of the flowers that decorated the church always struck me, although as a boy I would never admit it. On these occasions, Mr Ack would take a back seat, except perhaps to give the ‘intimations’ of the ensuing services.

Then came the Tuesday night prize–giving. I still recall a wonderful little book of Greek legends I received one year. It was hardly a spiritual volume, but it did introduce me to another magical world and another culture which has had more than its share of influence on Western society today. And as I read those mythical tales of nymphs and shepherds, gods and goddesses, heroes and warriors, my imagination was stirred to dream of great exploits myself.

Mr Ack also used to run the boys club. We met in the back hall on Monday nights where we tumbled on straw filled mats, bounced off a heavy wooden springboard onto a rickety wooden horse and swung on parallel bars smoothed to a dark shine over the years by hundreds of sweaty hands. How we never suffered injury is a matter for wonder. Sometimes we played indoor cricket or joined in team games with great, heavy misshapen medicine balls. Mr Ack never participated. He wore the same suit on Monday nights he wore on Sundays. But he was always there, keeping an eye on things.

He wasn’t the sort of man you could talk to. I can’t remember ever having a one-to-one conversation with him. But I guess, looking back, he must have had a love for children, especially boys, that motivated him to do what he did. I for one remember with gratitude the input he had into my life.

Somehow, although to the modern eye he used all the wrong methods, the Spirit of God made good work of it anyway. So thanks, Mr Ack, for being the Lord’s instrument in the life of a small boy who received more than he knew at the time and perhaps more than he ever will know this side of heaven.

Marching To Zion

I still remember the first time I saw ‘Pop’ Justice.
I was the new pastor at a small church which had been established about five years earlier. We used to meet in a hired hall on a busy road, where the noise of passing traffic was a constant growl in the background and the bare, dusty floor boards added to the echo.
Someone at some time had organised a special function there and left shining blue, gold, silver and red paper stars hanging by the dozen from the ceiling. It was only months later that we learned we could remove them.
In an effort to reach new people for Christ, we invited a guest speaker to come for a few nights and conduct some special meetings. Our own few faithful people came along but we were not overwhelmed by visitors, to say the least.
Then one night Pop Justice appeared. He was an old mild-mannered, silver-haired man, with a pointy nose, sad eyes and a severe stoop which made him look shorter than he was. When the preacher, a lively, loud and enthusiastic speaker, got to the end of his address, he invited people to go to the front of the hall to meet him so he could introduce them to Jesus. One person rose gingerly to his feet and shuffled his way forward: it was Pop Justice.
From that time on he began to attend our church regularly. One day I visited his home. It was a small cottage jammed between two large factories. More than once, the factory owners had tried to buy him out, but he would not budge. The place was dark, with drawn blinds and varnished woodwork. And there were newspapers everywhere. Great stacks of them in every room. In fact, there were piles of all kinds of things throughout the house. It was plain that Pop simply could not be bothered cleaning things up.
The kitchen was dirty and untidy, with unwashed dishes in the sink and food scraps on the bench. And there was the pervading smell of foulness that I was beginning to recognise in the area where we ministered—as there were many homes like this, where people were either too poor or too sick or too tired or too lazy to care.
It was obvious that something had to be done. One of our elders, a man named Murray, said, ‘I’ll look after him. Leave it to me.’ So Murray got busy and found a guest house where Pop Justice could stay.
After some weeks, we discovered that the old man was being abused and manipulated by the lady in charge. Pop was a gentle soul. He would not argue or defend himself. He just went about his small daily affairs with dignity and quietude and was an easy prey for the unscrupulous. So Murray got busy again and found a new place for him where life treated him more kindly. Now the old man was clean and tidy and well-fed.
Three or four years went by. Murray would bring Pop to church where people got to know him and although he never said much, to appreciate him and love him.
Then one day he fell ill and before long he passed away. It appeared he only had one relative in the world, a niece who was anxious to do whatever she could, but who really hardly knew him. So she and her husband worked with Murray and arranged his final affairs.
Then came the day for his funeral. We decided not to have a grave-side service. We would farewell him from the church. By this time we had our own building, a modern, airy hall, where the sunlight streamed in and the atmosphere was bright. There was a goodly number of people at the service and several paid fine tributes to the old man. Murray, in particular, spoke glowingly of his simple faith, his steadfastness, his persistence in the face of trial and his gentle spirit.
Finally, the service was almost over. We chose for a final tribute Isaac Watts’ grand old hymn—
Come ye that love that Lord
And let your joys be known,
Join in a song with sweet accord,
And thus surround the throne.
We’re marching to Zion
Beautiful, beautiful Zion,
We’re marching upwards to Zion
The beautiful city of God.
As we began to sing, the pallbearers took their places beside the coffin. They lifted it, not just waist-high, but shoulder-high. Then with great dignity and with solemn purpose, they began to move slowly up the centre aisle, bearing Pop Justice aloft, on their shoulders, like a fallen hero, towards the entrance doors. It was to be a triumphant departure.
As they walked, the people sang—
Let those refuse to sing
Who never knew our God
But children of the heavenly King
Shall speak their joys abroad.
We’re marching upwards to Zion
The beautiful city of God.
The small procession moved slowly and we struggled to sing as the tears began to flow. An old man who had lived and died virtually unknown was on his final journey, not from room to room, not from guest house to guest house, but this time to a heavenly mansion, prepared for him by the Lord he loved.
The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets
Before we reach the heavenly fields
Or walk the golden streets
Slowly, step by step, the pall bearers moved along the aisle. Handkerchiefs emerged as people tried discreetly to wipe away the glistening tears. But they sang on, notwithstanding—
Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground
To fairer worlds on high.
Today, over thirty years later, I still recall the scene as I stood on the platform watching that small group leave the building. They were silhouetted against the brightness and I found myself squinting to focus against the glare. Pop Justice was moving from darkness to light.
My last memory is of the casket being lowered into the hearse and then being driven away as if to heaven itself—
We’re marching to Zion
Beautiful, beautiful Zion,
We’re marching upwards to Zion
The beautiful city of God.
I stood there quietly, not wanting to move, knowing that all too soon I would have to socialise. I thought of the words of Paul. We do not grieve, he says, as those who have no hope. I smiled, straightened my shoulders, stepped down from the platform and followed the old man out the door.

Copyright © 2004 Barry Chant

Hiding God’s Word

I am forever grateful for the people who taught me to memorise Scripture when I was a child.
My mother died when I was ten years old. A few months later, to get me off his hands for a while, no doubt, my Dad sent me to a Scripture Union boys’ camp at Victor Harbor, a popular holiday town in South Australia. I was actually two years too young to attend, but because of the circumstances, they allowed me in.
The speaker at this camp was a wonderful children’s evangelist named A.H.Brown. His story-telling ability was legendary. If I live another fifty years, I shall never forget his breath-catching, heart-stopping narration of the tale of Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. And I am sure I shall never hear anyone tell it better.
My first encounters with Mr Brown (as we always called him) were not promising. One night we were all sitting around a camp fire while he related an African fable in which a rabbit climbed a tree. Protected by the half-darkness, I turned to the lad next me and exclaimed smugly, ‘How long since rabbits have been able to climb trees?’
I was not as well hidden as I thought. Mr Brown stopped short, turned slowly, glared at me, and said sternly, ‘I told you when I started that this was only a fable.’ My embarrassment was acute.
On Sunday morning, one of the lads went down the street and bought a newspaper. I didn’t know it, but we had been expressly told that going to the shops on Sunday was forbidden. I picked the paper up, sat on a seat outside and began browsing through it. Suddenly, a voice called urgently. ‘Quick! Bring it in here!’ I looked up somewhat puzzled and began to wander into the dormitory.
Behind me, the others could see what I could not see – the figure of Mr Brown looming awesomely upon me. Before I reached the door, he caught me. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘Not only do you break the rules and buy a newspaper, but you try and hide the fact by running inside when you see me coming!’ He gave me no chance to explain. The paper was confiscated and I was then unpopular with its owner as well!
That night we all went to the local Church of Christ for the evening service. Mr Brown was the preacher. He spoke on John 3:14-15 –
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
He told a dramatic story about an old medieval manuscript which depicted the people of Israel in the days of Moses trying desperately to save themselves from a plague of venomous desert snakes. Some struggled, others prayed, some relied on helping their suffering neighbours, others tried to flee – and all failed. But those who simply looked at the snake on the pole were saved. And so Mr Brown invited us to look to Jesus.
I sat at the end of one of the church’s unusual slatted pews, stirred by this simple, vivid message. Young as I was, and out of favour as I had become, I felt impelled to stand to my feet. I did. I looked. And I was saved.
Looking back, I can see that the little Baptist church I was attending at the time had many weaknesses, but they did teach me some powerful principles. ‘If you want to grow as a Christian,’ they said, ‘you must pray and read the Bible every day.’ To be honest, I didn’t always do it! But sometimes I did. They introduced me to Scripture Union notes. These were of enormous value. Through them I discovered some of the great evangelical authors, whose writings also were to stand me in good stead. In recent years, it has been my privilege to write for Scripture Union. This has been a special joy.
Then at the age of 14, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. What an impact this made on my life! It seemed that I could hardly get enough of the Word of God. I used to rise at six every morning and pray and read the Scriptures. In summer time, it was a pleasure. In winter, it was not so easy! I can still remember huddling over my little table in my cold un-heated sleepout (the only heating we could afford in our home in those days was the kitchen stove and a small kerosene heater in the lounge room, neither of which was of any help to me), wrapped in overcoat and gloves, with a woolen scarf around my neck, studying the Bible and wrestling with God in prayer.
Somewhere I found a small red-covered note book and wrote reflections on my reading each morning, until I had actually completed a commentary on the whole gospel of Mark! The over the next couple of years, I did the same with John. I tackled Revelation next – but that proved rather more difficult, as did the Minor Prophets! Nevertheless I struggled on. I kept and treasured those notes for many years – although I confess I never read them – until, to my sorrow, they were destroyed in an office fire in 1987.
There was only one other Christian in my class at my high school, but within two years, we doubled our numbers. We used to pray together at lunch times and encourage each other.
Then in my sixteenth year, I transferred to another secondary school, and found myself in a large class of 48 boys, of whom eleven were Christians! What a year we had! We weren’t very popular with the others, but we certainly made our presence felt. We all made a covenant with each other that every school day, we would learn one verse of Scripture by heart. Taking a clue from a missionary speaker who visited our lunch-time prayer group, we labeled the memory verse a ‘W.T .’ – a ‘wondrous thing’ (Psalm 119:18, AV). Then each day, as soon as we met, we would challenge each other to quote our ‘W.T.’ That year we learned by heart the whole of Romans 8 and numerous other passages.
Later at University, we continued the practice of exhorting each other to regular prayer and Bible Study. I remember confessing to a friend one day that I had missed my Bible reading. ‘How could you miss it?’ he asked in astonishment. I was so ashamed, I kept it up without a break for a long time after that! Today, the value of that regular input of God’s Word is immeasurable. How grateful I am to God that he brought the right people across my path to encourage me in learning it by heart.
In recent years, I have continued to try to memorise Scripture. I have also tried to do it accurately. Many people know the Bible in an untidy way. The verse they want is half-way down the page, in the first part of the Bible, underlined in green, just near a thumb-smudge. This is fine as long as we have our own Bibles! I discovered that accurate learning of Scripture means knowing chapter and verse as well and being able to find a text in any edition of any translation.
Moses said, ‘These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts’ (Deuteronomy 6:6). And David wrote, ‘I hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you’ (Psalm 119:11). I thank God that I learned these principles while I was young enough to derive the greatest value from them.