This is the story of the “miracle safari” – a recent 4 200km mission-impossible road trek from Johannesburg to Mombasa, to meet a tight business deadline.
But, to appreciate this prayer-powered story, we need to step back more than 40 years to the day that Steve Kalue was born in a hospital in Uganda.
A different baby
As Kalue’s mother surfaced from an anaesthetic a missionary doctor prepared her to meet her third son for the first time, saying: “We are going to bring you the baby. When you see the baby, you will see that the baby is different. He is very different from the babies that have been born into this hospital so far.
“But he is not just different in his appearance, he is different because God has given you somebody, a child that is different, who is supposed to make a difference.
“So I want to prepare you before anything happens, before your relatives see the baby, before your husband sees the baby, I want to tell you this.”
Kalue said his mother only told him a few years ago about the doctor’s words – words which had a profound impact on the course of his life.
Kalue was born with albinism. He was the first albino to born in the family as far as anybody knew. Albinos carry a stigma in Africa, said Kalue, and his arrival was a shock to his parents and relatives. His maternal grandfather – a prominent high priest in ancestral worship – pronounced that he was a curse on the family and that it was necessary to perform certain rituals.
But Kalue’s mother remembered the missionary doctor’s words about God’s special purposes for her “different” son, and she shielded him from the rituals. The doctor’s words always stuck with her and throughout her son’s childhood she continued to protect him from rites that the family wanted to be performed.
His father also somehow overcame his shock and throughout his childhood encouraged his son to believe that God had made him different in order to show that he could use him differently, and that there were no limitations on him.
In addition to the stigma of albinism, Kalue faced physical challenges associated with the condition – poor eyesight and extreme skin sensitivity to sunlight.
His eyesight problem was especially challenging at school where he often could not see the blackboard and people said that he should go to a school for the blind or a special school.
But his parents, who were schoolteachers and attended the Anglican church, insisted on sending him to normal schools where he did well academically.
During secondary school, at the age of 13, he had an encounter with Jesus through a Christian fellowship at school. He accepted Jesus as Lord of his life and became a passionate Christ follower. He led the school Christian fellowship in high school and became an assistant pastor at the Miracle Centre church in Kampala, with whom he would go out on outreaches and crusades.
Due to tough economic conditions, his parents separated when he was 14, with his mother going to South Africa and his father staying in Uganda. During this time the church became a refuge to him and during his high school years he stayed with a pastor.
He went on to university where he completed an industrial B.Sc. After a short work stint in Uganda he moved to South Africa to be close to his mother.
He ended up in East London, where he connected with Foundation Ministries, then led by founder Derek Crompton. During this season he went to Bible college, went on mission trips around Africa with Foundation Ministries, and planted and led several churches.
At a fellowship meeting in East London, one evening, a member of a branch of an international engineering firm in the area mentioned to him that they had a problem with a major contract because a consultant had left.
So I asked him what the contract was about. And he told me what it was about. And I said I can do that type of thing, and he was like ‘Wow! I thought you were just a pastor’,” said Kalue.
And so began a new chapter of his life. He successfully ran the big project for the company for whom he worked for two years, before starting his own firm, USK Environmental and Waste Engineering, in 2004. His business flourished and in 2011, feeling he had outgrown the Eastern Cape he moved to Johannesburg.
He said God’s favour continued to be on the business as they did work for mines, major companies, municipalities and the East London and Coega IDZ projects.
He said USK adopts a very relational approach – not just solving technical problems but building relationships with clients that sometimes led to ministry.
In 2013 the company changed its focus to the problem of water contamination in the oil and gas industry – a shift that paved the way for the miracle safari, the story which we will pick up again now.
Kalue’s company was approached by a global French engineering firm working for Total, regarding a contract in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzinia. They were awarded the job – by far the biggest they have ever undertaken in terms of managment, capital outlay, and every other aspect.
“So it’s daunting, its scary. it requires like out-of-the-box thinking. We are kind of beyond our limits – just walking on glass,” said Kalue.
But at the time of taking on the project he was mindful of the missionary doctor’s words at his birth, which his mother had only told him about a few years before, and his father’s words in his childhood that there were no limitations on him.
“So I say I’m going to do it and figure out how I’m going to do it and trust God along the way,” he said.
An ‘impossible’ mission
By the time he was given the go-ahead to start the project there was a major complication. They had to start in Mombasa, Kenya in nine days. To get started they needed to transport heavy equipment to the site. There was not time to get their equipment onto a ship. And so they decided to send the equipment to Mombasa by road – a feat which people in-the-know said was impossible in the time-frame, given that there were multiple border crossings where bribes were normally requested, and where delays of two to three days were typical. What is more, the contract specified a penalty of $4 000 (R52 000) a day that they were behind schedule.
They loaded 1.4 tonnes of drilling equipment and other gear on a 10-ton truck, and sent the truck and a support bakkie on their way, with drivers who had never been out of the country and who were unfamiliar with the complicated international paperwork.
And they started praying.
They created a ‘miracle safari’ WhatsApp group comprising, Kalue, his wife Grace, John and Lisa Crumpton (leaders of Foundation Ministries), and a work colleague, to track the drivers and share prayer requests. By then the French engineers were flying to Mombasa and Total was holding meetings in France. All eyes were on them.
Despite the heavy load and the poor roads, the convoy’s progress kept exceeding their expectations. The border crossing between Botswana and Zambia, where it is possible to wait for days for a ferry across the Zambesi River, was a big worry. But they crossed on the day they arrived.
At border posts the road team contacted Kalie saying officials wanted bribes to get them through fast.
“But we told them: ‘No, we trust God’,” said Kalue.
He said his wife, Grace, had emphasised upfront that the project was from God and that He would orchestrate everything throughout the journey.
A mechanical breakdown somewhere in Zambia was quickly sorted out on the road as the mechanic on the road consulted with USK’s mechanics in Johannesburg. A fallout with an agent who then tried to make things difficult for them did not stop their exceptional progress either.
Against all odds, and powered by prayer all the way, the convoy reached the final border – between Tanzania and Kenya – on the Saturday before the Monday that they were due to start working in Mombasa.
The last hurdle
But although they were only two hours’ drive away from their destination, the last border proved to be the greatest obstacle.
Corrupt officials demanded bribes and the vehicles were stranded there for three days, putting the Monday start in jeopardy. Facing this final hurdle Grace got her mother in Chicago to activate a US prayer network, and Kalue made his way to the problem border post. On his way he was sent a word from John Crumpton, from Micah 2:13, that the One who breaks open the way was going before him.
When he reached the border it was late on the Monday night, but amazingly, a senior customs official was on site — he had returned to work after remembering something he needed to do in the office. Kalue got to speak to the official who agreed that the truck and equipment could be released the next morning. Somehow God gave them wisdom to put equipment in the bakkie on the truck, and the next day when the truck was released, a bribe (which they refused) of 500 000 Kenya shillings (R64 000) was demanded for releasing the bakkie.
Free to go, the truck and equipment finally reached the project site in Mombasa on Tuesday – a day after the project was due to start. But there was even grace for that – the new moon crescent was sighted in the Middle East on the Monday and the end of the Eid fast was declared, making it an Islamic public holiday for which USK were granted an exemption.
“It was just a testimony of God’s goodness,” said Kalue.
What did he think God had in mind next, I asked.
He replied that it seemed he was in a season of multinational business expansion. However he believed God would use the business channel to advance His kingdom.
He said that in his heart of hearts he would be most comfortable preaching and sharing the gospel with tens of thousands of people who were hungry for God, as he had done in another season of his life.
“I have these kinds of tensions, I’d long for that but also love this… what God is doing in my business. And I see God is doing it. It’s not like I’m chasing after it.
“So I am learning to see how these two are going to kind of converge … and it can probably happen in a way that I’m not used to, or have not seen before. But I know that all of this is a part of this big kingdom purpose.
“And I am hungry – ready at any given time – to do whatever God wants,” he said.