Breaking barriers and bringing hope

As the sun set on the final day of the Word Riders 2017 tour, it was apparent that something very powerful was at work both within this group and in the work they do out in the sowing field.

Children being taught Psalm 119:105.

For first-timer, Chris Devenish, it truly was a life-altering week.

“It was an awesome, life-changing experience. I can’t describe it any other way. Riding (the motorcycles) was fun but the way it opened up our eyes – we, who come from a privileged background… it was absolutely amazing. I can now understand why this man cuts in front of me in the traffic, because I now know where he comes from. We need to understand that there are some of those little ones that we saw this week who will never leave the village. So the guy who managed to leave the village and is now cutting in, he rose up and we should respect that. I get home every evening hot under the collar because of people driving the way they do. That needs to change, and it is going to change. It has changed – thanks to the Word Riders.”

The tour was a life-changing event for Chris Devenish.

Richard Matchett is equally excited about the country’s future after his experiences with the children this week.

“I apologised to a teacher for making a row and upsetting their day, she just laughed and said, ‘the children are very excited that white people have come into the village’. I thought that is a very interesting perspective, I thought she would have said, ‘…that bikers have come in’, but it was just this distinction and an appreciation that our worlds overlapped. When we, as South Africans, really do cross these invisible lines it causes more excitement than we realise. The country wants to move forward. The country wants to join hands and be family. I find it incredible to see these little people who are going to be the people that are going to make our country work in future. We need to keep praying that they will grow up into adults who will really take seriously the ideas and dreams that are in their heads and pray that the Lord takes these seeds and grows them into mature Christians to be part of his plan in South Africa,” Richard said.

Mavis Thomas hands out Bibles.

Koos de Wet was grateful for travelling mercies.

“We did not expect the whole off-road thing. We did an off-road course a while back during which I dropped the bike in the mud several times and I told myself that I will never ride on a gravel road again. And then we come on this tour where we face these serious off-road conditions.

But, I think the Lord is also good to us in the sense that we do need to walk on difficult paths, like it says in Psalms, ‘…he causes me to stand on the heights.’ I think on this trip he has made us stand safely on high places and we thank him that no one was injured.”

Pieter Heystek helps some children with pasting a Bible Society sticker in their Bibles.

Dirk Gevers, CEO of the Bible Society, joined us this evening after just returning from a trip to Europe where he attended a publishers convention.

“I was in a little town outside of Berlin and the theme of the convention was Breaking barriers and bringing Hope, which was very significant given where it was held. As I listen to you all this evening, I think that could just as easily have been a theme that would apply to this Word Riders tour – breaking barriers and bringing hope is exactly what you have been doing this week,” Dirk explained.

Children reading from the Bibles they have just received.

“When I read about the Off -the-map Tour it actually took me back to when the Bible Society began 213 years ago.

“That is exactly what happened – a little girl, Mary Jones, walked 47 km where there were no roads because she so desperately wanted a Bible of her own. Then Reverend Thomas Charles, did exactly what you did this week, but he did it on a horse. You took your bikes into places where maybe cars can’t go readily and you took Bibles to the children so they didn’t have to walk 47 km to get a Bible. What you are doing is absolutely in the tradition and the spirit of Bible Society work, which is taking the word of hope to people who need it.”


The Word Riders 2017 group.


Off-the-map Tour sows far and wide

It really took all the skills and nerves of steel of the Word Riders to get to their schools this morning. The recent heavy rain had sent streams of water gushing down resulting in a maze of trenches, in some places a foot deep, on large parts of the back roads of the rural areas that were visited.

This school was on the absolute outskirts of a rural settlement and bordering the dense bushveld.

As these roads are the only way of accessing these schools, there was no other way but to steer the bikes along these deceptive surfaces. There were quite a few tumbles as the bikers fell victim to these ditches.

This, along with the problem of finding some the schools led to the 2017 tour being named, The Off-the-map tour.

Beautiful smiles always makes any visit to a school extra special.

But as tour organiser, Francois Sieberhagen, said this evening, the fact that these roads are so horrendous means that not a lot of outsiders ever travel along them and, therefore, so far into these rural parts.

“Today, we had truly taken the Good News to the people who otherwise would not have received it,” he said.

Filipino Word Rider Mayette Yara engages with learners.

The team members agreed that although getting there was tough, the reward of visiting the schools and being able to distribute Bibles to the grade 7 learners, more than made up for the effort.

“Even if I knew what the roads looked like beforehand I still would have gone, because of the children at those schools,” said tour veteran, Deon Swanepoel.

Danie Ueckermann, Luke and Francois van der Walt teach the children what they should do with their Bible.

Luke still draws great reactions from the children.

Bennie Francke also pointed out that although it is only the grade 7 learners who actually receive Bibles, a visit by a Word Rider group is more often than not an occurrence that is experienced by all the pupils of a school.

“If one thinks that each of the 80 schools that we have already visited have about 200 learners each, it means our message has reached close to 16 000 children. We have made a massive impact in this area with regards to the spiritual realm and we should not underestimate that. We have done great work,” he said.

A couple of Grade 7 learners praying.

Many of the Word Riders noted that although these schools are way out in the deep rural areas where poverty is widespread, they were impressed by the discipline and neat appearance of the schools.

“We had an amazing experience which just illustrated the importance of a headmaster or leadership team at a school doing a job well and also on fire for Jesus. One principal in particular, was very involved with what we were doing. The staff at the different schools were lovely, the kids were well-behaved and got involved and you could see that there was just an excitement there,” said Richard Matchett.

The Word Riders travel where few others can, to bring the Gospel to poor communities.

​Nothing in our own strength

This morning the Word Riders distributed just over 1 000 Bibles to 16 schools in the Bushbuckridge area.

Bibles cover a table in one of the classrooms.

Most of these schools are only accessible by badly eroded roads and the mixture of loose sand and heavy ditches made riding a very tricky exercise indeed.

Mark Matchett chats with a group of boys.

And, although, there were a few incidents of bikes going to ground, it had more to do with trying to negotiate the patches of sand too slowly. Fortunately, the members of all four groups made it back to the resort safe and sound.

Receiving a Bible is a momentous occasion.

After a quick lunch and a bit of a rest, it was back on the bikes for a visit to the nearby Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.Here the group were given a lecture about the types of wildlife at the sanctuary, the main reasons why they end up there and how most of them are released back into the wild.

Lito Flores enjoyed posing with a cheetah.

This was followed by a tour which afforded the group the chance to engage with a cheetah and several birds of prey. It also included feeding vultures.

Danie Ueckermann engages with one of the birds at the centre.

As we literally came face to face with one of the lions at the centre (with only a fence separating us), I couldn’t help but wonder how it must feel like to encounter this majestic but deadly animal in the veld. What chance would I stand to defend myself against this powerful beast? Immediately, the story of King David came to mind. A young man whose heart was filled with love for the Lord and who, with only his staff and slingshot, had defended his father’s sheep against bears and lions countless times.

King of the jungle.

It once again, clearly illustrated that we can do nothing in our own strength, but that we “have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives” us, as is promised in Philippians 4:13.

This is what the Word Riders are doing. We are normal, everyday individuals, who love riding motorbikes, love the Lord, and want to see others get to know and love him by having access to his word, the Bible.

On our own, we can perhaps put the Bible in a child’s hand and sow a seed, but it is God who through his will and almighty power will make that seed grow to the glory of his kingdom.

A Bible in the hand.


Every day is a good day to spread God’s word

Today was another very fruitful day of handing Bibles to children.

Among the challenges were dusty and sandy roads, difficulty locating the schools and the heat.

However, the beauty of our surroundings here at the Blyde River Nature Resort and the even greater beauty of the work that is being done for God’s kingdom far outweighs any challenges that have come the Word Riders’ way.

As is the case with every tour, there were several special moments during the Word Riders’ engagement with the children. These photographs capture only some of those wonderful moments.

A table full of Bibles ready to be sown among the children.

Marelize Nel illustrating the importance of reading, listening, remembering, meditating and doing what the Bible says.

Eric Schuck leads a group of children in prayer.

Dawie Oosthuysen leads a group of children out of the classroom for a chat about their new Bibles.

Chris Devenish shares with the children.

Very glad to have her own Bible.

Neels Beukman explaining the pamphlet to the children.

A young girl reads the instructions out loud in the Help, How should I read my Bible? pamphlet.

Being shown how to look up a verse in the Bible.

The temperature rose well above 30 degrees celsius today.

Captivated by his new Bible.

Callie Bam giving words of wisdom about the Bible.

This tour a life changer

The Word Riders received warm welcomes at all the schools they visited.

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”’ – Acts 20:35

This verse rang true for the Word Riders as they distributed the first Bibles this morning.

All four groups were excited by the warm, sincere and appreciative reception they received at each of the 18 local schools visited.

The group who covered the schools in the Nkowankowa region were met by the district manager for this region.

“I thought I should be part of this visit to the schools in this area because it is for a good cause,” she said as she indicated that she will be travelling with the group to their four schools.

“I believe that if they are taught at this age, who God is, as they grow up, even if they leave the way, then one of the good days, they will come back. I think it is a very good thing that you are doing,” she added.

The Word Riders praying with some of the children.

One of the main points of discussion during this evening’s feedback session was the question of the language barrier.

“In some instances it was as if you were looking into glazed-over eyes, with children who cannot communicate with you at all and who cannot understand what you are saying,” said newcomer to the group, Rika Matchett.

Tour organiser, Francois Sieberhagen, agreed that the language barrier is one of the main challenges on the tour every year, but that possible solutions like using very basic English and speaking slowly and perhaps having a teacher to interpret could go a long way in bridging this divide.

Another tour novice, Koos de Wet, thoroughly enjoyed the children’s singing.

 One of the Filipinos Eric Schuck is greeted by some children at one of the schools.

Getting so caught up in engaging with the children, led to one of the humorous moments of the day.

“At the next school I greeted a couple of the boys with a fist bump, the way they greet each other, and the next moment I was mobbed by children wanting to give me fist bumps and high fives and about seven of those hands were covered in ‘pap’,” he recalled, much to the delight of the rest of the group.

Mark Matchett reiterated the fact that the Word Riders are indeed building bridges.

“There was this shy boy, who we played the game with where we tried to pull the Bible from his hand. Later on in the group as we opened the Bibles and went through the verses I could see him opening up. As we walked back to the bikes he followed me and as we turned off, he said to me, ‘I will miss you.'”

One individual deeply affected by his first Word Riders experience is Chris Devenish.

“It was absolutely amazing. Last night I still saw black and white, I’ll be honest about that. Tonight I don’t see any colour. I can’t wait to hug those little ones tomorrow. And this all started today.”

Charl van Rooyen engaging with the children.

“What I found amazing, is that those children have dreams to be engineers, doctors, chemists and even a CA. I don’t think there are too many white children that age who even know what a CA is. This has had a much bigger impact on Hanli and me than the impact that we have had on them,” Chris said.

With regards to the communication barrier, Johan Pieterse, reminded the group that they are only there to do a small part.

“We see these glazed-over eyes but we must not underestimate the power of God’s Word. It is often the boy who doesn’t appear to understand that takes something away from the experience. The Word is there for people like that. This is seed we are sowing and have prayed for at the start, this seed will fall on good soil. That child might just hear something while we are there, and he takes it with him where it can grow.”

Tomorrow the work begins

Persistent rain and misty conditions meant the Word Riders had to carefully navigate their way along the breathtaking but very slippery Magoebaskloof on their way to Letsitele this morning.

The motorcycles on the church grounds drew some curious onlookers.

A small group of 15 bikers rode ahead to attend a service at the “Ned Geref” Church Letsitele led by Word Rider, Rev Gerrie van Dyk.
Wet and drenched to the bone, the group were most appreciative of the warm reception they received at the quaint, beautiful church.

Thomas Freysen ready to hit the road from Polokwane to Letsitele.

The majority of the tour group had the luxury of sleeping in a bit as the Reformed Church Pietersburg service they were attending, was only a couple of blocks away in Polokwane.
Here Word Rider, Rev Pieter Heystek, led the sermon.

The beautiful interior of the church in Letsitele.

Afterwards there was time for some quick refreshments before it was back on the bikes to join up with their fellow biker brethren in Letsitele.
The church in Letsitele treated the group to a traditional South African lunch. Although the Filipinos had previously been introduced to the concept of “wors” (sausage) they were still uninitiated when it came to that other local staple “pap” (porridge). That would all change at Letsitele where the tables groaned with bowls of boerewors, large potjies of pap, tomato and onion relish and some of the largest loaves of bread I have ever seen.

What-a-lot-I-got. Mavis Thomas poses with the huge and very delicious home-baked bread that the Word Riders were treated to at Letsitele.

After enjoying the fine fare, it was time for the “not-so-long-haul” to our stopover for the night, the AKTV resort at Die Eiland. The trip took them along stretches of citrus orchards as the region is known for its Valencia oranges.
At the resort the bikers had time to relax in the heated swimming pools before it was time to discuss the arrangements for tomorrow when the first Bibles will be distributed at the schools in the areas around Tzaneen.

Bringing the word of life to others

The Word Riders’ arrival at Polokwane (or Pietersburg), the first stopover on the 2017 tour, coincided with a severe thunderstorm and heavy rain.

As they were welcomed at the Reformed Churches of South Africa Pietersburg congregation by Rev Sarel Venter later in the evening, he jokingly thanked them for this blessing.

“In Pietersburg we don’t say, No thank you, to any rain,” he said, highlighting the dire drought situation in many parts of our country.

On the way to Pietersburg from Kempton Park, the bikers had their first taste of riding in the rain during this tour. As there has never been a tour where the Word Riders have not encountered wet weather, this was taken in their stride.

The six Filipino riders who are joining the 2017 tour before the departure from the Bible House.

However, it was a somewhat new experience for one of the Filipinos.

“When it started raining I thought we were going to look for shelter and pull over, but we just rode through it,” said a slightly surprised Bernadette Escobar after the riders met up in Pietersburg.

But, our overseas visitors proved to be more than capable of riding in our local conditions, especially enjoying the wide open spaces of Africa.

Tour newcomers Christo Pieters and Magdaleen Sclebusch introduce themselves to the group.

During our visit to the Pietersburg church where Rev Venter and the members of his congregation treated the group to a very tasty supper, the customary welcome and capping of new members took place.

Several Word Riders participating in their fifth tour, also received pins commemorating this special occasion.

Marlize and Hein Nel received the pins for being part of five Word Riders’ tours from Andrea Sieberhagen.

The group was also given some insight into the workings of the Word Riders group in the Philippines thanks to a presentation by “Long John” Escobar.

Tomorrow the group splits into two to attend services at the Pietersburg church as well as a church in Letsitele. Reverends Pieter Heystek and Gerrie van Dyk from the Word Riders group will be leading each of the services respectively.

In a parting word, tour organiser Francois Sieberhagen, read Philippians 2:13-17.

“Let us go into this week, understanding what a wonderful privilege it is to bring the word of life to these children,” he said.