It is sometimes in looking back that we see God's hand at work. Recently, on the penultimate day of our cruise, we were moored at Seabrook Locks, just below the middle lock of three, near Ivinghoe in Bucks. We had two more Seabrook locks to do, plus two more at Marsworth on the Grand Union main line, followed by eight narrow locks down the Aylesbury Arm to Wilstone. It is always useful to share with another boat when doing the wide locks, so when a boat appeared behind us, we hoped to share with them.
However, we soon discovered that they were travelling with another boat. So, we waited a little longer for another boat to share with. We eventually decided to go on our own but noticed that the two boats in front were still on the lock bollards because there was very little water up in the pound ahead. James went to investigate and found a guy from CRT was letting water down from the canal further upstream, where there were some boats above the top lock waiting to come down.
Having decided to move from our mooring to get in the queue, another boat soon came up the lock behind, so we were delighted we had someone to share with. Very soon, four more boats arrived behind us, until we had a queue of eight boats. When the next pound looked deep enough, two boats came down, and the two boats in front went up.
We couldn't see any more boats coming down, so we emptied the lock again and shared the lock with the boat behind us, crewed by a couple called Simon and Mary. Mary had never steered before and Hazel tried to encourage her with a few tips. While the boats were ascending the lock, Hazel and Mary were deep in conversation when Mary asked about Canal Ministries and said she was a Christian and asked about the Christian cross on our boat.
We carry a good selection of Christian literature on our boat, and Hazel was able to give her "How do locks work?", a Canal Ministries leaflet, and "Why Jesus?". Simon and Mary were only going as far as Pitstone, so after the next lock, Simon volunteered to operate the swing bridge for us while we said our goodbyes and carried on without them.
Expecting to have to use the two Marsworth Locks on our own, around the corner we found a hire boat called Narrow Escape, one of the two boats that had been in front of us. They were now by themselves, so we were able to share the next two locks with them. We parted company at Marsworth as they were heading up the 7 locks to their base at Cowroast. We turned left at Marsworth Junction, to start our journey down the 14 locks to our home mooring in Aylesbury.
As we were going down the first two locks, a Canal and River Trust man appeared and helped with the lock, which was useful, as you can't cross over the gates on the Aylesbury Arm, unless they are closed. As we went further down the arm, we discovered that he had gone ahead and opened a top paddle on each lock, so they were all filled and ready for our boat to enter. This was a real blessing.
Then a guy called Paul appeared, and volunteered to help us with the lock gates all the way down to Wilstone. He has just bought a boat to live on, due to difficult circumstances, and he told us that in October he will be bringing his boat to the Aylesbury Arm, where he hopes to spend most of the winter. So, there is the question: "What if?".
What if the water levels had been OK? We would have gone earlier, and not met Simon and Mary, and not given them the literature. Our timing was such that we had a boat to share with in every wide lock, and we had people who helped us on every narrow lock. And we were able to spend some time with Paul, who we hope to meet again on the Aylesbury Arm in a few weeks, and perhaps have a fruitful and deeper conversation.
This is an example of a good day of boating, serving the Lord, and being blessed by Him. Not every day is like this, although we often have meaningful conversations, and give out leaflets when appropriate.
We always say that divine appointments and readiness to share our faith are the two keys to ministry on the waterways.
We are now back at our home base in Aylesbury, and planning to use our church boat, Beacon, to create an opportunity for outreach in the Aylesbury Town basin. It will probably involve tea and cake. Perhaps we will see Paul there.
In His Name
James and Hazel Bell
Canal Ministries - sharing God's Love on the Inland Waterways.