When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven — Nehemiah 1:4
On Monday I joined retired Anglican Bishop of Port Elizabeth Eric Pike and a group of walkers on the 14th of 19 stages of the 200km Nehemiah Prayer Route that touches every ward of Nelson Mandela Bay.
As we left the KwaNobuhle shopping mall on our way to Despatch, I asked Bishop Eric about his wife, Joyce, whose dream of walking the full route with her husband ended in Motherwell, during the sixth stage, when she tripped on a small spike protruding from a pavement and fractured several bones.
He said she was in good spirits and praying for the walkers. She was very disappointed that she could not complete the prayer route walk for which she had trained hard. He said both of them were fully committed to the walk which marks the official launch of the prayer route. There had never been any doubt in either of their minds that he should go ahead with the pilgrimage after her accident, he said.
Bishop Eric, a veteran long-distance walker, who celebrated his 83rd birthday on the inaugural prayer route walk which began on November 4 and ends on Saturday, said he was grateful to God for his current good health, despite past ups and downs.
“He has made me well enough to do this — it’s His calling and I must do it.”
He said despite his past walking experience and his preparation for the pilgrimage, he approached the walk entirely dependent on God to give him the grace to persevere through each day.
“It is a prayer walk with prayer points for us to pray for different communities but I must admit there are times when I am praying more for myself — that God will give me grace to keep going.
“I know that God is with me. I don’t have to ask Him to be with me. But I have to learn to be aware of His presence — so, as I walk I am praying when it is hot and windy: ‘Lord make your presence known. Let me know your presence.”
Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” — Nehemiah 2:17
Bishop Eric said the prayerful pilgrimage through Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch has been a wonderful journey with God and a wonderful time of fellowship, especially with the people who have walked regularly with them.
He said the route provided opportunities to reflect on the city’s past as well as it’s current state. He recalled a powerful time of prayer the team had at the site in Langa, Uitenhage, where more than 21 people were killed on March 21 1985 when police opened fire on a crowd of funeralgoers on the anniversary of the Sharpeville shootings.
He said he was appalled by how much litter he saw lying around the metro and concluded that it was a reflection of the sense of hopelessness that many felt as a result of issues like poverty and unemployment.
The journey had also provided memorable lighter moments. In Zwide, “the hometown of Siya Kolisi”, a man sitting on the roadside wearing a Springbok jersey had called out: “Bokke!” as the prayer group passed by. That was something that would never have happened a few years ago, he said.
Another time he needed to go to the loo. He considered going in an alley between shacks but decided that would be disrespectful to people living in the area. So, he approached a woman washing clothes in her yard and asked her, in Xhosa, which he speaks fluently thanks to his early years in the Transkei, if he could use her toilet. The highly-amused woman, showed him to her outside toilet, and returned to her washing where he could hear her shouting to her neighbour about this white man who wanted to use her toilet and had spoken to her in Xhosa.
“I care about our people and I believe that by prayer-walking through the metro, we can make a difference,” Bishop Eric said.
He commended Trevor Jennings and his fellow Transformation Christian Network team members and partners who had conceived the prayer route. He said they had done an excellent job in planning the route and providing logistical support to the launch prayer walkers.
The Nehemiah Route was birthed in prayer by a group of church and business leaders who have been praying together for years around a vision to restore the broken walls of the city as Nehemiah restored the walls of Jerusalem in biblical times.
Asked for his feelings about the inaugural prayer walk, Trevor Jennings said it had been mind-boggling to view the metro with its many huge challenges through prayer goggles.
Now the question is what are we going to do about what we have seen and prayed about?” he said.
He said one of their first actions would be to report back formally to city leaders.
“We cannot continue to rely on politicians to solve the enormous problems of the city. The Church must come up with solutions,” he said.
He said he was highly motivated by Nehemiah’s example in the Bible of rebuilding city walls and he believed that “as families and wards working together, we can do it!”.