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.

A heart of gratitude

Gratitude seemed to be the theme for the day. Gratitude for those giving and those receiving.

Henk Seevink, one of the two newcomers to the tour, was amazed at the state of some of the villages his group visited.

Magda Barnard gives a group of girls their Bibles.

“Not many people get to see what really goes on in the villages. The people who live there simply have to make do with what they have. The roads leading to the last two schools we visited were so bad that a vehicle could hardly get to them. Only a couple of the bikes managed to make it there,” he said. “But the gratitude of the staff and the children was unbelievable. The way they received us! The children push to get underneath your arms and they hold onto you. The gratitude at those schools really was something amazing. We planted a cross today; I hope we planted it really deeply.”

The Word Riders had a busy day as they placed a third of the total Bibles for the tour at schools today.

Hein Barnard who also joined the group for the first time this year noted the Bible poverty in the region.

“You can see the hunger for God’s Word in these rural areas. You see it in the communities and you see it in the children.”

One of the principals also asked him if he would be willing to come, as an outsider, and give a talk to the children about discipline. This request, as well as a heartfelt conversation another teacher at a school had with Marianne Jacobs, put the state of many of the country’s schools into perspective.

“She told me the school has serious financial problems, they have problems with the children, problems with the parents and that their principal has been placed on sick leave. I told her that Jesus can help remedy this situation and we prayed together. When we left she told me, ‘God has done a miracle here today’,” Marianne explained.

This incident highlights the fact that even though the Word Riders’ main focus with these Bible placements are Grade 7 learners, the schools, teachers and communities are also in dire need of the transformative power of God’s Word.

When you read the Bible you must talk about it as well explains Dalene Pieterse.

Koos and Marêne de Wet returned after their initial tour in 2017 and were once again very grateful to be part of the group.

“How can one ever thank the Lord enough for the privilege of working with these children, seeing that look of excitement in their eyes and hearing them singing and praising God, grateful for the Bibles they have just received,” Koos said.

Happy to have a Bible.

Expanding God’s Kingdom

The 2019 Word Riders tour officially started this morning with members making an appearance at three different churches.

One of the groups attended a service at the Crossroads Christian Fellowship where Rev Hein Barnard, one of the Bible Society’s Organising Secretaries in the Eastern Cape and a newcomer to the Word Riders tour group, led the sermon. His topic was the Kingdom of God and whether its importance receives its rightful place in our lives.

Rev Hein Barnard (centre) was presented with his cap by Bennie and Carina Francke this evening making him a fully fledged Word Rider.

The kingdom of God should be the first thing on our minds in everything we do. Jesus is our King and it is his plans that we should be concerned with, first and foremost. Not our own.

It gives one great joy to think that for the next week the Word Riders will again play their part in expanding God’s kingdom here on earth.

Every kilometre that we ride, every school we visit, every Bible we distribute, and every child’s life that is changed, all of it, is seed that is sown in an effort to expand the kingdom of the King of Kings.

Before the tour had officially started, there were already some incidents. Yet, God has been gracious and merciful.

One of our oldest tour members, Burger van der Westhuizen (75) fell on Saturday night seriously injuring his shoulder.

Initial thoughts were that he suffered a broken collar bone. However, after an overnight stay at the hospital in Port Elizabeth, the doctor concluded that he had torn ligaments in the shoulder.

Despite taking a nasty fall and having his arm in a sling, Burger van der Westhuizen, is excited to complete his fifth Word Riders tour.

Although Burger cannot ride a motorcycle, he is still adamant about being part of the tour, his fifth one to boot. However, he will be travelling snugly in one of the support vehicles.

Word Riders Ian and Mavis Thomas were still on their way to Jeffreys Bay when they discovered their bike had a severely torn tyre. Fortunately, they found a friendly, local motorbike mechanic who could help them replace the tyre and see to it that they get back on the road safely.

Ian Thomas (right) and the friendly motorbike mechanic, Guy, who came to their rescue.

The damaged tyre that had to be replaced.

Either of these two situations had the potential to be life-threathening, yet we believe that the kingdom work the Word Riders are doing is a blessing to others and that God will continue to bless us and keep us safe.

Some of the Word Riders stopped off along the Van Stadens Pass to take a look at the 140 m high Van Stadens Bridge

Word Riders take on the Eastern Cape

It is only days before the Word Riders set off on their annual tour. This year, their travels take them through the Eastern Cape.

The tour will kick off at Port Elizabeth on Saturday with the first stop being the surfing hotspot of Jeffreys Bay.

Then we will make our way through apple country towards Joubertina, then Uniondale followed by a visit to the beautiful town of Graaff-Reinet with its rich architectural heritage.

During the trip, the group of 59 comprising 37 bikes will distribute 3 687 Bibles to Grade 7 learners at 54 schools.

Please pray for travelling mercies and that the seed of God’s Word will land on fertile soil.

The route which the Word Riders will travel this year

A prayer for Winfred

The children are the ones who receive Bibles and a kind word during the Word Riders tour, but the Word Riders take away just as much, if not more from each tour.

One of the special memories of this year’s tour is that of Winfred Smith.

Ben van Aardt engages with pupils from Sederberg Primary.

While visiting a school on Thursday, Marelize du Plessis was approached by a woman from outside the school grounds.

She said that her son had just a received a Bible from the Word Riders. He has dyslexia and this has led to him being made fun of at school. Her son’s condition prompted the mother to read up a lot about dyslexia and child development. She learned that children, and even more so children with dyslexia, should know what they want to become by the age of 10.

Sederberg Primary in Clanwilliam was one of the last schools the Word Riders visited.

So when Winfred turned 10, his mother started prodding him to find out what he wanted to be one day.
“From the beginning he wanted to be a pastor,” Marelize relays the story.

His mother thought this a ridiculous notion given his reading disorder.

Her young son, however, knows the Bible and he has faith that he will be succesful in pursuing this godly calling.

He said, “Mom, Moses couldn’t speak either, yet God sent him Aaron to help him. The Lord will send me an Aaron as well to come and help me.”

Burger van der Westhuizen listens as a child reads aloud from his new Bible.

Winfred’s mom asked the Word Riders to keep her son in their prayers so that he could fulfil his calling of becoming a pastor.

And that is all that we can do now – pray. We have sowed the seed of God’s Word, the Bible. It is now up to the children to make the choice of reading that Bible and allowing God to work in their hearts and lives.

Children page through their new Bibles.

So this is our prayer for Winfred and all the rest of the 4 537 children who each received a brand new Bible:

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4

The 2018 Word Riders group.

Learners helping learners

To be a Word Rider requires time, effort as well as a financial commitment. Without the support of these members of the public that make up the group, the tour will never happen.

Dawie Oosthuizen prays with a learner from Augsburg  Agricultural Gymnasium in Clanwilliam.

The Bibles that are distributed during a Word Riders tour are mostly sponsored by these individuals. People from all walks of life who raise funds through their churches, friends or by approaching businesses for sponsorship.

Last year, a new project was introduced to complement the Word Riders outreach tour. The #BibleBubbies initiative is aimed at Word Riders approaching schools in their respective home towns and then asking them to raise funds for Bibles. These Bibles are then distributed to Grade 7 learners at other schools. By having learners help other learners in this manner, they are made aware of both the work of the Bible Society as well as the need for Bibles among their peers across the country.
Pietersburg High School in Polokwane was among the first schools to get on board with the #BibleBubbies project. Willem and Dawn Swiegers were the Word Riders  instrumental in getting this school and its learners involved.

Dawn Swiegers illustrates to learners the importance of fully engaging with the Bible. 

Today,  the first of these Bibles were given to learners at schools in St Helena Bay, Velddrif and Clanwilliam.
Apart from the Bibles, the pupils from Pietersburg also made bookmarks for and wrote letters to the recipients of the Bibles.

In this day and age of digital communication, it was quite special to listen to Dawn as she read some of the handwritten letters aloud.

Handwritten notes from pupils of Pietersburg High School accompanied the Bibles they donated to schools along the West Coast.

“A school in Pietersburg decided to generate money to buy Bibles for you in St Helena Bay, for each and every one of you to take it home, to keep it with you. We are so, so blessed,” said the principal of St Helena Bay Primary, Mr Williams.

The R21 000 raised by Pietersburg High School will provide four schools with 380 Bibles.

Word Rider, Willem Swiegers, played a pivotal role in getting the #BibleBuddies project off the ground.

“I’m convinced that the #BibleBuddies project will go from strength to strength,” said Francois Sieberhagen, organiser of the Word Riders tour.

Eager for a Bible.

Blessings from babes

Distributing Bibles to Grade 7 learners of schools in mostly rural areas is the main focus of the Word Riders tour.

Yet, as it is such a unique and impactful way of reaching both students and teachers,  for the last couple of years the tour has also been used to highlight the Bible Society of South Africa’s Bible-based literacy project.

So when a group visits a school, one of our team members asks to chat to the foundation phase teachers. The teachers are then introduced to the two Bible-based literacy booklets, My first Bible Do and Learn Book and My 2nd Bible Do and Learn  Book. These books are intended for use by Grade R, 1 and 2 pupils.

Word Rider, Andrea Sieberhagen, presents one of the school principals with the Bible-based literacy booklets.

It was during an occasion like this, that Alta van Aardt, experienced another first today.

Elaine Matchett chats to a teacher about the Bible Society’s literacy project.

When Alta was introduced to the foundation phase teacher at Dirkie Uys Primary in Moorreesburg, she was asked to go to the class because the little ones knew about the motorbikes but weren’t allowed to go to the hall with the Grade 7s to see what it was all about.
“When I got to the class, they asked me a number of questions about who we are and what we are doing. After explaining our visit, I told them that I have to leave now. That is when the children all got up and surrounded me. The teacher then asked them if they would like to pray for me, and they said ‘yes’ lifting their little hands and placing it on me.”

Two boys then took turns to pray.

“One prayed for our safety – that we musn’t fall and be injured (his father also rides a motorbike so he knows all about falling) and that we musn’t get caught in the rain. The second boy was very specific in his prayer request and asked that we should have enough to eat along the route.”

Very happy to receive a Bible.

They also asked if they, too, would receive Bibles when they are in Grade 7.

Alta says it was a remarkable to see and hear a bunch of six- and seven-year-olds pray like that.

“I have never experienced something like that.”

Alta with the Grade 1 class that spontaneously decided to pray for her and the rest of the Word Riders.