Ending 2020 on a high note

Last night, the 2020 Word Riders tour finished on a high note with a formal function commemorating the 10th anniversary of this far-reaching outreach event.

The highlight of the evening was a presentation of some of the special moments that encapsulates the unique character of this very remarkable ministry.

A special dinner to commemorate the 10th Word Riders tour
The founding members of the Word Riders and Bible Society colleagues: Clive van Rooyen, Francois Sieberhagen, Gerrie van Dyk and Bennie Francke.

Tour organiser, Francois Sieberhagen, reiterated that the success of the tour hinged on the loyal group of motorcyclists who return to place Bibles in the hands of children who need it most every year.

A bakkie loaded to the brim with Bibles
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news

In a congratulatory message, Rev Dirk Gevers, CEO of the Bible Society, commented that the Word Riders has become an integral part of the Bible Society’s mission of providing affordable Bibles to people.

The last day of school visits delivered another treasure trove of wonderful memories.

A heart-warming sight at the first school was to see all the Grade 7s eagerly paging and reading from their new Setswana Bibles.

Grade 7 learners page through their new Setswana Bibles

Teachers and principals at the majority of schools expressed their heart-felt gratitude towards the Word Riders for reaching out in a desperate time when people fear being together and when learners need hope and reassurance ahead of the exams.

The warm reception we received everyday was humbling and encouraging, and clearly indicated the need for spiritual nourishment among the teachers who face tough challenges in performing their daily duties.

It gives one hope to see that, in a time where biblical values are increasingly coming under fire from social norms, the Bible still has a place in the hearts of those tasked with educating our leaders of tomorrow.

Thus ends another fruitful and blessed Word Riders tour – a different tour taking place in a different and strange time. Yet, what this tour has clearly shown is that seasons change, the world can be turned on its head, fear can try and capture the hearts of men, but the King is still alive. The love story of God sending his own son, Jesus Christ, to die for his people, who was raised from the dead and in so doing now offers the gift of salvation that brings hope, peace, love and eternal life to all.

The Word Riders 2020 group

A beautiful day

Faith is hard.

As humans, we want to know everything, control everything, fix everything. And although in certain situations those might be considered honourable qualities to have, at other times it could get in the way of what God is trying to do or has planned.

Gerhard Genis, a Word Riders veteran, reminded us all tonight that, just as it is written in the Bible, God is ultimately responsible for the future miracles that we pray for in these children’s lives. He said that those times when we question whether the children have understood our message or whether our visit has made any impact at all, we are questioning and even challenging God’s almighty power and what he is capable of doing.

“We have been called to give that child a Bible, it is then up to God to water that seed and take the process further,” he said.

The calling of the Word Riders is placing Bibles in the hands of children

Although there were a couple of schools on our list where no Grade 7 learners were present due to the rotation system put in place as a result of COVID-19, there were several special moments that will be remembered long after this tour has finished.

For many children the meals they get at school are the only ones for the day

Danie Ueckermann shared one bittersweet moment with the group.

“At one school, the principal asked whether she, too, could have a Bible. We explained that there were only enough Bibles for the children. However, after giving each child a Bible there was one left. When we asked her whether there was a child absent, she said that one of the learners had passed away. But as it turned out, the girl’s mother was at the school and we could present her with the Bible, which she received on behalf of her child,” Danie said.

Richard and Elaine Matchett, Hekkie van der Westhuizen and Marius de Kock dropped by Sinai Primary School, the smallest school the Word Riders have been to in the 10-year history of the tour. This tiny school only has 50 learners in a four-room prefabricated building built on farmland that was given to the community by the previous farm owner.

The Word Riders at Sinai Primary School

“The school is run by a staff of wonderful ladies, they are believers and passionate about their jobs, and the children are so well behaved. As there were only seven Grade 7 learners at the school, we could spend more time connecting with the children and staff.

“Afterwards the principal summarised our visit beautifully. She said all the stories I’ve been teaching you about the Israelites going out of Egypt, the Ten Commandments, and Jesus, you can now read for yourselves. That was just a really lovely confirmation of what we were doing,” Richard said.

“May the good Lord continue to bless your organisation with the good work you are doing and enlarge our territories.” – A message from MsThokozile, teacher at Sinai Primary School

Carina Francke was in awe of a school they visited, which had its own prayer choir.

“When we arrived at the school, all the Grade 7s stood in a semi-circle to welcome us. Standing in front of them were boys and girls wearing frocks. They were the intercession team of the school. The way they interceded was through song, as well as a rhythmic recital of short and powerful Bible verses. The principal was also a firm believer and told us that religion is becoming an increasingly forbidden subject within the educational sphere but that it would remain in her school as long as she was there. We have never been to a school where they sang, prayed for and blessed us in such way.”

The intercession team

Maryke de Bruyn added that her husband, Riaan, exchanged numbers with that same principal. “Shortly after we arrived in Kimberley we received a call from her asking whether we had arrived safely because they were praying for us to reach Kimberley safely.”

It was the first time ever that a school checked on the Word Riders in that way.

And this is the beauty and wonder of the Word Riders tour.

An I-have-my-own-Bible smile

Praying for change

As we leave the larger towns in North West and venture further south into the rural settlements that surround smaller towns like Sannieshof and Delareyville, the rampant poverty and overall inhumane conditions some communities are facing, both shock and break one’s heart.

In two completely different areas, the Word Riders had to navigate roads flooded by raw sewage. In the last instance, a stream of sewage was flowing down the road where the local clinic, an elementary school and the primary school we were visiting were situated. The entrance to this community also appeared to be the local rubbish dump with countless plastic bags and other rubbish strewn across the surrounding field that was also turned into a marsh thanks to the nearby sewage leak.

Sewage flowing past two schools and the clinic

North West has frequently been in the news because of protests and looking at the conditions many of these people are forced to live with, it is understandable why this area is a brewing pot of civil unrest and violence.

Yet, at the same time, we encountered friendly faces willing to help us without being asked to do so.

Word Rider Elaine Matchett commented on this very fact, sharing with the group how she received help to roll rocks away from the pavement to allow the bikes passage to escape splashing through the sewage on the roads.

“I love riding on the bike as it allows me to connect with people along the road,” she said.

Rev Clive van Rooyen tells the children more about the Bible Society of South Africa

Japie Wieringa said that today was a day of smells.

“First there was the smell of sewage and then later we drove through the smell of a burning mattress. These are all bad smells but then as we made our way to Delareyville this afternoon, a farmer was ploughing his field and I caught the smell of freshly churned soil. I love that smell. And that is what we are doing here, each one of us on our bikes is like a little tractor that goes to a school and ploughs and sows into a child’s life by giving him or her a Bible and praying with them. We must pray that God waters and lets that seed grow in that child’s life,” Japie said.

The Bible is a beacon hope

Prayer was one issue that Johan Barnard touched on.

“At the one school we visited, there were about 100 kids lined up outside the fence who are not at the school. When I asked one teacher why these children were there, she said they had come to get food. Half of the learners were at school and the other half would come the next week, but learners came to school for the food,” Johan said.

“Today, I realised we have a prayer mission. We start with these children by giving them a Bible, but we need to pray that the adults in this country start to take responsibility. That they must hold those who have been appointed to lead them accountable. We can only pray for changed hearts to see that happen,” he added.

More prayer is what is needed

A message of love to drive out fear

The schools visited by the Word Riders are more often than not situated in very rural parts of our country. English, for many of these children, is a second language and not a fluent one at that. Given that quite a few of the Word Riders, by their own admission, only speak English in “self-defence,” it is understandable that there will be some broken communication along the way. Often, this makes it difficult to connect with the children in the short time we have available.

Working in the North West province, we are currently distributing Bibles in Setswana, English and Afrikaans. One group visited Zeerust Primary School, where the language barrier was not as much of an issue with the Afrikaans-speaking children. There, Word Rider Magdaleen Pieterse received some insight into the uncertainty, anxiety and even fear that many learners are experiencing due to COVID-19.

Social distancing is adhered to while visiting the schools

“When I asked them which high school they will be going to next year, they said they don’t even know whether they will be passing Grade 7 this year, as their marks are poor because of the interrupted school year,” Magdaleen explained.

Francois Sieberhagen concurred. “We were at one school where the little ones were every so often herded out of the class, ordered to stand in a line a distance apart and then their hands were sanitised, before being ordered back into the classroom. One can only imagine what fear and anxiety that brings about for these young children,” he added.

One of many cute faces that greeted the Word Riders today

In the context of these circumstances, it is even more critical that these children receive the Bible with its message of hope and a godly love that drives out all fear.

At two different schools, the Word Riders heard the same message from the principals who affirmed the need for Bibles in schools. “When I went to school, we had Religious Studies (as a subject). We don’t have that anymore and it is visible in our learners, in their lack of moral fibre and manners. That is why we are so thankful for your visit today and for this blessing of the Bible that you have brought us,” one principal said.

Exploring their new Bibles

Another first for the Word Riders tours happened today – we were joined by a group of cyclists who cycle to raise funds for Bibles and also distribute Bibles to schools during their annual North West Cycle for Bibles tour. Both these groups have a huge heart for Bible work and support the Bible Society. It was good to serve together at some of the schools today.

Members of the North West Cycle for Bibles team joined the Word Riders in distributing Bibles at the schools today

Yet, another wonderful moment was seeing the children opening their brand new Bibles for the very first time and eagerly starting to read. One can only hope that this becomes a daily habit and that the seed that we have sown here today will be watered and will grow to fruition to give these children a blessed and purposeful life.

Children read from their new Setswana Bibles

Giving a Bible is godly work

Today, the Word Riders visited the first 13 schools on what is officially called the Western Tour.

The motorcyclists split into three groups to distribute Bibles to Grade 7 learners at schools in and around Rustenburg and Swartruggens.

At Boikagong Primary School, the Word Riders were greeted by Innocent Mokoto, one of the COVID-19 safety officers responsible for taking visitors’ temperatures and documenting their details.

“I like your vibe man, pulling up with BMW bikes doing God’s work. You got me feeling like it is this way in heaven as well because this is really awesome. I think the kids are going to love it too,” exclaimed Innocent, who also preaches at a local church, with a sparkle in his eye.

Innocent Mokoto

New additions to the group this year are Charl Keevy, Johan Cilliers and Jacques de Villiers who also shared their first impressions this evening.

“It is a great privilege to be with you on this tour. Today, I tried to imagine what the children experienced with us being there. And what the Lord has taught us is that we will be known by the love that we have for one another. I feel very welcome in this group and it is because of the love among yourselves and it that same love that was evident when we engaged with the children. It is easy to give a child a Bible and be off, but if they see the unity among us and we can convey the importance of that to them, it could leave a lasting impression on them,” he said.

Sharing the Word of God with children

“I have always had the need to join a motorcycle club or group and then the Word Riders came along. It truly is a blessing to be part of such a wonderful group of people,” Johan Cilliers said.

“I was somewhat worried about what I would say when I had to speak to the children for the first time, but if you take on things in faith, you only have to make yourself available to be used. When I finished speaking to the children, I actually felt that I had said the right things and that was a great experience,” Jacques said.

A gift of hope in strange times

Japie Wieringa who toured with the group before, returns this year after an absence of two years. He shared a moving testimony about his wife who had recently donated a kidney to a dying 32-year-old mother of two young children. After his wife Estelle told him that she wanted to give her kidney to save this woman’s life, he told her it was an emotional decision. But he sought an answer in the Bible.

“I said, Lord, this book is your love letter to us and if we have a problem we can go to you. I come to you today and ask that you show us what to do. Immediately after praying my finger landed on the verse (Matthew 10:42), which reads: ‘And if anyone gives even a cup of water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.’ Well, water is a kidney.

The Word Riders prayed the Lord’s protection over the schools

“The preparation process took a whole year but today that girl is so healthy and it is thanks to the Word of God. Therefore, I want to encourage you, this is not just a Bible outreach, what the Word Riders are doing is godly work.”

The gift of a brand new Bible in her heart language

A miracle tour in abnormal times

The Word Riders tour of 2020, which officially started today (Sunday, 8 November 2020), is a historic event for several reasons.

Firstly, it is the 10th anniversary of this incredible event that aims to reach learners of schools situated in some of the most rural and poorest regions in South Africa with the Word of God. Since the tour started in 2011, with a mere eight motorcycles, it has grown to a group of over 40 bikers who take part annually in this outreach event that forms part of the Bible Society of South Africa’s project, Bibles for Grade 7 learners.

According to Dr Francois Sieberhagen, organiser of the Word Riders tour and Mission Programmes Manager at the Bible Society, some 37 000 Grade 7 learners have received a Bible through this tour over the last 10 years.

“If one has to factor in the number of children that have been impacted by this tour, the number increases significantly as there have been many times where we have had the opportunity to address the learners of the entire school, telling them about the work of the Bible Society and the importance of the Bible,” he explained.

The second reason why this tour is so remarkable is the fact that it is happening at all. As COVID-19 struck at the beginning of the year, the subsequent lockdown regulations in the country brought all activities to a virtual standstill. This also meant that the brakes were put on the Word Riders tour, which usually takes place in March/April.

Yet, there was faith and hope that the tour could still take place this year.

“When we started planning this tour in June, we were still in Level 3 of the lockdown,” Pastor Bennie Francke said during our gathering in Rustenburg this evening. “We had no idea whether the situation would change so that this tour could take place. Yet Francois said, ‘I have Bibles that need to be distributed and they will be distributed,’” Bennie continued, commending his colleague for his faith and grit in pushing through these adverse conditions to pursue the Bible Society’s mission of a Bible for all.

So here we are, 39 motorcycles and their riders including several passengers, ready to distribute 6 000 Bibles in parts of the North West province, Northern Cape and Free State.

We are not sure what to expect at the schools. The COVID-19 safety regulations mean there will be no more huddles when the Bibles are shared with the children; no holding hands when praying together; and a spontaneous hug, a high five or a fist bump will also be taboo. But from the beginning, this has been a miracle tour, and we believe that this is only the start of the miracles that God has planned for the week ahead.

A bit broken but not beaten

The 2019 tour was by no means an easy one. The tour’s track record in terms of serious incidents and accidents had been unblemished up to a week ago. This year, the tour saw four of our team members needing medical treatment in hospital.
One of them was Gerard Genis, who cut his leg open on Wednesday evening and rejoined the group this afternoon.

The Grade 7 learners of Union High School enjoyed the visit from the Word Riders.

“Every year, I look forward to the tour. It was my deal with the Lord when I was so sick. I told him I would spend a week every year serving him using my own time and money, if he would just heal me. That is how I ended up with the Word Riders.
“So when I was lying there in hospital I asked the Lord, ‘Why me?’ But after a while I started asking myself, why not me because I met the most amazing people while I was in the hospital.

“I was really excited to sleep over at that farm on Wednesday night, but the Lord took that away from me because he had other plans. We must remember what this tour is about – to place Bibles in the hands of children.

Tour organiser, Francois Sieberhagen, was only too happy to have Gerard Genis (right) back with the group following his injury.

Dawie Oosthuizen took stock of the influence that the Word Riders has had since it started in 2011.
“I have the privilege of looking back on eight years of the tour. If you include the Bibles that we’ve distributed on this tour it adds up to 27 000. That is quite a number. It reminds me of the scripture in Revelation about how our good works will follow us into heaven. I am constantly thinking about the impact this project has had in the lives of children and other people.

Big smiles and Bibles.

“The hope that we have sown in the hearts of young children and many other people along the way will only be revealed in the hereafter. But it is something that continues to draw you back to be part of this tour,” he said

This morning, the Word Riders visited the final 10 schools in and around Graaff-Reinet. One of them was Lingcom Primary.

What the Word Riders tour is all about; placing Bibles in the hands of children.

The visitors were humbled by the tenacity, hope and faith of the school’s headmaster, Edmond Carelse

Despite the dilapidated state of the school which was built in 1968, recent acts of vandalism targeting the school building and a lack of any running water, the school and its staff hold firm to the hope that God will see them through.

Lingcom Primary School is struggling, but the staff and pupils have faith in God to turn things around.

“This is an opportunity where you learners can realise how important the Bible is. It is the truth, the Word of God showing you how you should live. With everything going on around us, we are still a privileged country. Our children can still go to school. If you look around the world, there are children who haven’t gone to school in years because of murder, death and war.

The Bibles that this school received were funded by the #BibleBubbies project where one school raises funds to buy Bible for a less privileged school.

So another Word Riders tour comes to an end with some 3 700 children receiving Bibles of their own.

The Word Riders 2019 tour group.

Joy on the back of a beat-up Bantam

The Word Riders experienced several heart-warming and memorable moments today whilst visiting schools in the small towns of Uniondale, Willowmore and Aberdeen.

Bibles of their very own

At one school, Bennie Francke met a most gracious principal.

“There was this beautiful red stoep, and I noticed that it was particularly shiny. It was the only entrance I saw, so I walked over it, maybe five steps, and entered the principal’s office. When we finished working with the children, I asked him if we could exit the same way we came in, through his office. He said of course,  and added that the paint on the stoep hadn’t  completely dried yet, but he was so glad that our dusty footprints were there because we brought the Good News and now it will always remind him of our visit,” Bennie said.

Koos de Wet shares the love of Jesus with a group of boys.

It was this same principal who also offered to guide the Word Riders to their next school.

“He drives a Bantam bakkie and any child who was willing, jumped onto the back, all of them armed with their new Bibles. We took a drive through the town and those children were waving their Bibles for all to see,” Marius de Kock recalled.

“We were behind the bakkie and whenever there were people along the road the children shouted: ‘We received the Word of God today,’” Maryke de Bruyn added.

The two Can-ams on tour are usually the main attractions at schools. Here Johan Barnard prays with his group.

“You could see the principal’s gratitude. There are really good school principals here, but they are fighting a losing battle so every bit of help that comes their way they appreciate immensely and that warms the heart,” Marius concluded.

Deon Swanepoel leads the children in song.

At another school, Clive van Rooyen had a special word with the principal there.
“He told me there is that story in the Bible of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go looking for the one lost sheep. He said, ‘Today we feel like that one sheep that was found.’”

These boys couldn’t wait to start reading their new Bibles.

More close calls

In yet another incident, Piet Kemp was knocked off his bike by a vehicle in Graaff-Reinet.

He was knocked out cold, and rushed to the hospital by ambulance, but thankfully didn’t sustain any major injuries. He was back with the group by dinner time and is ok.

Alet Richter has also rejoined the team after her fall on Tuesday evening. She is on crutches, and in much pain after injuring her hamstring, but still helped to distribute Bibles today.

In pain and on crutches but Alet still helps to hand out Bibles.

A vicious cycle

There is a sad theme that haunts the small and remote communities that we are travelling through this year. The lack of high schools in these towns means that many learners either have to go to a secondary school in one of the larger towns with hostel accommodation or have to travel over huge distances by bus or some other form of transport. Neither is a viable option for these impoverished families.

Fist-bump buddies

This means that many of the bright-eyed children to whom we are handing Bibles this week will drop out of high school simply because it is what their situations dictate. And so the poverty cycle continues. “There is brokenness and loss here because there are children here who aren’t going to make it. They are our future, but there isn’t money or any way or means to help them realise their dreams,” Carina Francke summed up the situation this evening.

Janette Fourie prays with learners after blessing them with their Bibles.

“Most of them want to be doctors, lawyers, nurses or serve in the police service. When I tell them that they will need a matric certificate to pursue those careers it is as if they aren’t aware of that fact. “What I feel we can do to plough back into these communities, apart from giving them Bibles, is to give something of ourselves by speaking to the hearts of these children. So that they can know that someone, somewhere, cared enough to visit them and tell them that they are important. That is something that has eternal value.”

Chris Devenish shows a couple of boys how to read the Bible.

On a more positive note, one of our first stops this morning was at Joubertina Primary School, where we were welcomed with open arms. The principal told us that he was a product of that same school and that he has been a teacher there for the last 35 years. “It is no coincidence that you are here today,” said the principal of another school. “We  just had representatives from Correctional Services, the police and Social Development visit us before you came,” the principal said.

Maréne de Wet tells the children about the cross.

They were joined by a prison inmate who told them his story and how sorry he was for the turn his life took. The children all agreed that they wanted to stay on the right path.
“There is the tool that will tell you how to stay on the right path,” he said pointing to the row of Bibles meant for his Grade 7 learners.

Gerard Genis illustrates a point by using his pocket knife.

An update on our injury list: Alet didn’t break any bones and was discharged this evening. However, Gerard Genis cut his shin badly whilst mounting his bike and then needed to be rushed to hospital for stitches. It will be his turn to spend the night in hospital in George.

All the pupils of Joubertina Primary School had the opportunity to listen to what the Word Riders had to say.

Henk Seevink tells his group to take in that new Bible smell.

The children thank the Word Riders for their Bibles in a very special way.

A trying day

Today was a tough day. Yet, in spite of much misfortune, the Word Riders still managed to distribute 765 Bibles at seven schools in the Jeffreys Bay, Humansdorp and Tsitsikamma area.

A group of boys eagerly accept their Bibles from Janette Fourie.

When visiting schools located in some of the most impoverished areas in the country it is a given that the roads one would travel to get there would be in a bad state. Negotiating badly eroded gravel roads and tarred roads littered with potholes has become par for the course on Word Riders tours. However, today was the first time we had a real scare. One of the support vehicles went through a massive dip (not the first of the day either) and the trailer it was pulling disengaged and connected with the vehicle, shattering the back window in the process. Thankfully, this happened on a relatively quiet road when there was no other traffic around.

The shattered window of the Vito bus.

In an incident later on in the day, Alet Richter, the only female Word Rider on the tour this year, came off her bike en route to her sleeping quarters in Joubertina. A treacherous gravel road was again to blame. She seriously injured her leg and was rushed to the Mediclinic George where she is currently waiting on her X-ray results.

Alet Richter engages with two learners at Stulting Primary School in Humansdorp.

In our daily recap this evening, Carina Francke, shared how she tested some of the children to see if they could read the Bibles that she handed to them.
“One girl could not read the two words, ‘The Bible’, that was on the cover of the Bible I gave her,” Carina said taken aback.
At another school, a Grade 7 teacher revealed how alcohol abuse is ruining the lives of the children.
“About 40% of the Grade 7s in our school struggle with learner disabilities. Much of that is related to Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. In this group of Grade 7s who are receiving Bibles today, five of them can’t read. The rest who struggle, can read but they read slowly and not at the required standard. In that sense, these Bibles are a good thing. It gives them something they can read at their own pace,” the teacher explained.

A boy inspects his new Bible.

She says the other problem is capacity. The school has 900 children with 60 children in one Grade 7 class alone.
“These children are not allowed to fail more than once in every phase, children who struggle are simply put through to the next grade,” she elaborated.
And that is why it is quite common to find a Grade 7 learner who cannot read.
This makes the Bible Society’s Bible-based literacy material so valuable. Although the two booklets, available in all 11 South African languages, are aimed at Gr R to Grade 2 learners, it could also be used to teach struggling students like those at this particular school. A package containing two of these booklets as well as information on how to order them from the Bible Society, free of charge, is given to the Grade 1 teacher at each of the schools the Word Riders visit.
“The teachers are very excited once they open the books and see what it is all about. Many of them can’t believe that it is also free, ” one Word Rider noted.

Magda Barnard grew very fond of one of the girls she gave a Bible to today.