Cowboy Boots in Darkest Africa
by Evangelist Bill Rice
Far away, high on the valley's rim, we could see the palm trees that looked like tiny matches against the sky, but beneath those palm trees were canteens of water ... and that water meant the difference between life and death.
Just after four o'clock in the morning, we parked the Pie-wagon in a cluster of tall palm trees. We were high on the rim of a valley that stretched long and wide below us. Daylight comes early on the Congo equator, but it was still dark in the valley so far below.
Austin Paul and I and the eight natives climbed out of the Pie-wagon and began checking our hunting gear. Bwana Paul and I loaded our high-powered rifles and I strapped my Magnum six-shooter around my waist. The natives tested their spear heads to be sure that they were firmly in place.
A few minutes later, Austin Paul decided it was light enough for us to begin making our way to the floor of the valley below. Grass grew waist high down the steep slope and it was sopping wet from the heavy night dews. We held our rifles above our heads with one hand as we began making the long and often painful descent. I say often painful because again and again, my feet slipped out from under me and I skidded lickety-split on my backside until I could grab another handful of grass and get myself stopped!
By the time we finally reached the floor of the valley, I was drenched to the skin from the droplets of dew that covered every blade of the tall grass.
Although there was no stream of water in the valley, there were numerous seep holes, Mr. Paul explained, where animals could drink. The place was alive with game, and we expected to kill as many large bushbucks as we needed within an hour's time. The main problem was to get the game back up out of the canyon. That, however, was why we brought the eight natives along.
Big Game for Big Crowds
When Austin Paul wrote and told me what to bring with me to Africa, he said that I must be sure and bring a high-powered game rifle. But I vetoed the suggestion. I love to hunt but I was not going to Africa to hunt for big game. I was going to hunt for souls and I wanted to put all of my enthusiasm and energy into the soulwinning campaigns. So, I decided to take only a powerful new Magnum six-shooter. I figured this would be all the protection I would need against wild animals.
But as soon as we started out on the revival trail in Africa, I realized that Austin Paul had been right and I had been wrong. I learned the hard way that it is a long distance between supermarkets in the African jungles and bush. Early in life I had acquired the habit of eating often and much — and if I was going to keep that habit, it was necessary that I help bring in the game that would put meat on the table.
And we tried to have meat for all the people who came on the first day of each revival campaign. We usually began these campaigns on Monday night. Several days before, we would send out runners who would say to the people, "A tall man named Rice has come across the water in a big bird. He has a message straight from GOD. He will tell us what God wants us to know. Bring all of your wives and children and food and stay for one week."
How the people came! Long lines of people from every direction. Women with baskets on their heads and babies tied to their backs. Children walking single file behind their parents. They came by the dozens, by the hundreds, and even by the thousands!
It was like the camp meetings of America's early days. The population of entire villages came! I have never preached to so many nor seen so many conversions in the same length of time in my life. They came for five services a day, sitting on the ground, usually in the open air.
On Sunday night we would close one revival. On Monday we would travel to the next, often hunting game as we traveled. We always tried to have a couple of buffalo or half-dozen bushbucks to divide among the natives the first Monday afternoon. Although game lives in Africa in abundance, it is difficult to kill with bow and arrows or spears. Accordingly, most natives do not get enough meat, and they were always pleased when they had meat to flavor their "feasts" when they arrived at the revival location.
"Sweeping" the Valley
When we reached the valley floor, it was agreed that Austin Paul and four spearmen would walk one-half mile toward the further side. I allowed him fifteen minutes and then began walking slowly down the valley toward a distant spot on the horizon.
Usually Bwana Paul and I had good luck on our hunts. But this simply wasn't our day. We saw very little game, probably because the breeze was constantly changing directions. Wild animals have a keen sense of smell, and when they get the scent of a man they usually put on a disappearing act that would make Houdini look like an amateur. What little game we did see was usually a half-mile or more away — a distance too great for accurate shooting.
At the end of two hours the heat was oppressive and I had begun to be in physical distress. Shortly after arriving in Africa I had contracted malaria. The old-time missionaries all knew that it was malaria; but the regional missionary medical doctor, a young Englishman, knew it could not be malaria because I had not been there long enough. So, he refused to treat me for malaria. By the time I got around to an old-time missionary doctor several weeks later and a simple blood test was taken, the situation had become rather alarming. I suffered from dysentery and lived hourly with nausea.
It is not a nice thing to talk about, but I just may have broken the world's record for regurgitating! As fantastic as it sounds, more than once while preaching I was forced to leave the platform to run and vomit and then would rush back to the platform without ever missing a word or delaying the service! You see, I always had to preach through an interpreter. Sometimes there would be five or six or seven interpreters lined up with me on the platform. I would shout a sentence and hold the gesture. I spoke in English. Austin Paul would translate from English into Bangala. A native next to Mr. Paul would translate from Bangala into Kingwana. The next man would change Kingwana into Lugbari, and so on. After I had shouted a verse of Scripture or made a remark in English, I would leave the platform, and run around to the back of the Pie-wagon to throw up. Then I would rush back on the platform and be ready for the next statement in the sermon!
So after walking for two hours, I was suffering from a blinding headache. We had not eaten any breakfast that morning, and I had not taken a drink of water. By six o'clock the heat was oppressive, my head was throbbing, and I was weak and nauseated. I asked the warriors with me if any of them had canteens of water, and they told me that the men with Austin Paul were carrying the canteens.
We walked another hour and then another. It was 9:30 when I finally decided I simply could not go any further without water. And yet, I hesitated to send a runner to Austin Paul. So often a man will be stalking game when a runner dashes up to ask some question and it will spook the game and cause the hunter to miss the shot. About 9:30, however, I decided that game or no game, I had been foolish to wait even this long without water. I motioned one of the almost-naked spearmen to me and was about to send him to find Austin Paul and water when another of my men, scouting a few yards ahead, whispered excitedly,
"Opisi, Bwana, bodi!"
"Come, Mr. Boss," he had said, "I see a deer."
The Longest Shot of the Day
The native, perhaps twenty yards ahead of me, was kneeling behind a large ant hill that was four or five feet high. Crouching, I made my way to him and peered over the mound. But I didn't see any deer anywhere on the ground that sloped up ahead of us.
"Oya ozi," I whispered. Roughly, this means "how many;" but he understood that I was asking how far away the deer was. He replied something that I did not understand and then took his spear and aimed it as though it were a gun. I followed the sight of the spear and finally saw the bodi.
It was a small deer facing us. He was about 325 yards away (Austin Paul later stepped it off); and at that distance, looked no larger than the edge of my hand.
I motioned to the native that we should try to get closer, but he shook his head in disapproval. Picking up a handful of dust, he let it sift slowly between his fingers. The wind was changing and, in another moment, would be at our backs, blowing our scent directly to the deer. It was either take a shot now or get no shot at all.
The native slowly climbed on the ant hill and thrust the point of his spear in the clay. I slipped up beside him, knelt on one knee, put my left hand around the spear, and rested the barrel of the rifle on that hand. I knew it was a long shot for plain peep sights and even a crack shot would probably miss, and I am certainly no crack shot.
I took careful aim, held my breath for a moment to hold the gun more steadily, and squeezed the trigger.
The deer jumped into the air, turned, and disappeared in the knee-high grass. He was down!
My four men ran forward to begin dressing the deer. Presently, from my right, I heard shouts and Austin Paul and his four men quickly approached. "I knew that you had made a kill," Bwana Paul said, "because you shot only once."
I had sat down on the ant hill and Bwana Paul noticed, at a glance, that I was about all in. He asked me if I had drunk any water.
I thought he was joking because Mr. Paul has a rare and wonderful sense of humor. He was usually very cheerful under the most trying and exasperating circumstances — one of the greatest morale builders I have ever known in my life.
Right now, however, I was too sick to appreciate humor.
"Don't joke, Bwana," I told him. "I've never been so sick in all my life. Please call the native that has the canteens."
Austin Paul looked at me incredulously. "I'm not joking," he said, "Don't you have the water?"
It turned out that neither of us had the water canteens. They had been left behind in the Pie-wagon that was several miles and several hours away.
"Bill," Bwana Paul said, "this could be mighty serious, but I think that we will make it back all right. I know the natives will because they do not suffer from the broiling heat like we do. Besides, they find stuff to drink that would kill us."
"Now, Bill, none of us are going to wait on the other. We are all going to start out, but if you can't keep up, we are not going to wait on you and we are not going to help you. But we will come back for you as soon as we can."
"Whatever you do — don't panic!"
I unloaded my rifle and handed it to one of the spearmen to carry. I unbuckled my gun belt and strapped it around the neck and under the arm of another. And then we started out.
I brought up the rear of the column. We began moving at a steady walk. It had been a long shot when I hit the deer, but I had a feeling that hitting those canteens was going to be the longest shot of the day.
And I was determined to make it.
Where Was Lazarus
I don't believe I could describe that walk. It was a nightmare of horror. Part of the time I was in a daze. Part of the time I felt as if I were walking in my sleep and actually wondered if I were. There were many times when I would feel a thud and then noticed that my face was in the grass and it would take me several moments to realize that I had fallen again.
It seemed that I was always getting behind the other men — sometimes because of falling down. There were times I had to stop because of my sickness. Then I would walk fast and even trot in an effort to catch up. There was no trail to follow, and I was so afraid that I would lose sight of the others and not know which direction to go. (Actually, Mr. Paul had sent two men on ahead to get water and come back with it and these two natives actually did get lost! We didn't see them again until late that afternoon.)
Every time I stumbled and fell it was sheer agony to make myself get back on my feet and begin walking again. As soon as I realized I had fallen, I would pull first one knee and then the other under my belly, then force myself up on my hands and knees and then onto my feet. Sometimes I would stay on my knees for a minute or so, trying to rest. At one such time, the native who had my rifle came running back to me. He excitedly pointed and there, just a few yards away, were two giant bushbucks staring at me. The native tried to hand me the rifle so I could shoot them. It was ironic. I motioned the native away as I whispered through bloody lips, "Boyo, te." (Literally, yes, no. Meaning, "Yes, I positively will not!")
Bloody lips? Yes. I cannot explain it, but my lips had swollen enormously and then had begun to split open.
I had never before known what it was like to be really thirsty . Oh, again and again I have ridden or walked for hours without water and have badly wanted a drink. But never in my life before had my entire body actually suffered for lack of water.
My lips were swollen and parched and split. My tongue, too, was so swollen that it seemed to fill my entire mouth. My mouth was dry. I could feel no moisture with either my tongue or a finger.
There was a horrible, sickening pain throughout my body. It almost felt as though a giant open hand in my stomach had begun to close, drawing my insides together.
Someway the idea struck my feverish mind that I ought to buy some water. I don't know where I thought I would buy it or from whom. But I began trying to figure out what I had that I could exchange for water.
At first I decided I would give my two cameras and my six-shooter for just one glass of water. Soon, however, I had added my car and clothing and books and agreed to give them for just one sip of water!
When I didn't get any water, I began thinking of what else I might have to trade. Before going to Africa, Princess and I had sold our home in Wheaton, Illinois, in order to get money for the trip. The money not earmarked for Africa we had given to missionary work. So I didn't have any house, or I would have thrown it into the bargain. I had less than one hundred dollars in money but gladly offered that in addition to the cameras, gun, clothing, and car.
I was not only willing to give everything I had but was willing to settle for less water. Just a spoonful would have seemed so wonderful. Then it occurred to me how refreshing it would be if only I could plunge a finger into water and then put that finger in my mouth.
It was then that I remembered the cry of the rich man in Hell,
"...have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame."
It had never before even occurred to me that the rich man had only requested the drop or so of water that might cling to a man's finger! But it certainly made sense to me now, and I could appreciate the request.
After that it seemed to me that I could hear, over and over and over again, the rich man begging, "Send Lazarus...let him dip the finger of his hand in water and cool my tongue... Send Lazarus..."
I don't know how in the world I managed to keep up with the other men. But I did. When we finally came to the end of the valley and could see the palm trees high up on the rim above us, I was still at the end of the line — but I was still there!
I did drop further and further behind when we began the long climb up, up, and up. Using the tall grass as hand holds, we slowly made our way to the plateau above. All of us were exhausted and soaked with sweat when we finally reached the top.
A few minutes later we were sprawled out in the shade, sipping that wonderful life-giving water!
At first, Mr. Paul gave me about one tablespoon in a tin cup. Then he spread a wet cloth over my face.
Several hours later, when we had finished the water and had slept, we drove to the revival service. The swelling had gone from my tongue and lips, but it was very difficult for me to speak and the message was brief that night.
Many times, in the days that followed, I dreamed about that dreadful day. Again and again, I was awakened when I came to the place where the rich man began crying for the wet finger of Lazarus.
And hundreds of times, in my waking moments, I have contemplated the plight of the rich man in Hell.
Of course, that man could have been saved and should have been saved. But doubtless, he gave the salvation of his soul little consideration — until it was too late.
Good Neighbor, isn't it strange that all of us have a tendency to ignore eternal verities until it is too late? All of us realize that we are going to die one day. We all believe the Bible that says, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). And yet those who are lost go on without Christ. And those of us who are saved do not get excited about our unsaved friends and loved ones until it is too late.
I'm sure all of us have considered the fact that the rich man must have bitterly regretted that he never had turned to Christ for forgiveness and salvation.
But I wonder how many of us have ever considered the fact that Lazarus, too, may have bitterly regretted that he had not won the other to Christ!
Death is real. Heaven is real. Hell is real. All of us need to face these simple truths and we need to face them now.
My unsaved friend, I urge you to turn to Jesus Christ and be saved today. Proverbs 27:1 says, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth."
And Hebrews 2:3 asks an obvious question, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"
I urge you to take warning from the rich man who died and went to Hell when he could have been saved.
And, my Christian friend, let me remind you that if you are ever going to win your loved one, if you are ever going to give out a gospel tract, preach a sermon, sing a song, or witness in any way for Christ — you must do it now, while you live, and while your unsaved friend lives.
Cowboy Boots in Darkest Africa by Dr. Bill Rice may be ordered from:
Bill Rice Ranch, 627 Bill Rice Ranch Road, Murfreesboro, TN
37128-4555. Phone: 1-800-253-7423.
Bill Rice's life reads like a story! Whatever life was for Bill Rice, it certainly was not dull. Born in 1912 and reared in the cattle country of west Texas, he was breaking wild horses at the age of thirteen ... orphaned in his teens ... worked his way through Baptist college in Texas ... the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago ... rapidly became a nationally-known evangelist, conducting revival campaigns from coast to coast and overseas.
Although a full-time evangelist, Bill Rice found time to hunt big game in Africa, become an experienced airplane pilot, serve on several mission boards, and author several books and gospel songs.
One unique phase of his ministry was his work among the Deaf. Because their oldest daughter was deafened by meningitis, Dr. and Mrs. Cathy Rice were made to realize there were millions of Deaf in America who needed to "hear" the Gospel. So they built a camp where Deaf could come and see the wonderful story of Christ. Known as the Bill Rice Ranch and located near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, this ministry continues to this day as a camp for the Deaf and hearing, as well as a conference ground.