Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

A Bus with Green Wheels

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Parked in the compound of the Shalom Christian Centre, Jhelum is a London transport Green Line bus. But that is not something extraordinary, the fact that it has green wheels and that these came in response to a ‘specific prayer’ is. The story is best told by the soft-spoken and bearded Rennie Gold who runs the Centre.

‘Before we came to work here at Jhelum, we were at Gujranwala and this place where we now live was an old mission hospital in an rather derelict condition. To expect anyone to come here for a mission conference or any kind of conference at all was like asking for too much. I wanted to put Jhelum on the map and I remembered a climbing friend of mine who had recently moved to the Fen District in England where it is completely flat and he had taken up canoeing as an alternative to climbing. So I thought that Jhelum with its smashing mile wide river could be a great place for a similar sport which could go hand in hand with work at the Centre.

‘So when we returned from our next leave we had a second-hand kayak mould and some basic tools for making fibre-glass kayaks. Within the first month we had knocked out our first kayak. This was June 1982, and by the end of the next year we had built three.

‘Every afternoon the boys would have to walk a mile to the river to go boating and swimming and then walk back. This was a bit too much, it absolutely exhausted them. It kept them out of trouble all right, but it also left them useless for the rest of the evening. I knew what we needed was some kind of transport. However, we did not have any money so I went down to Gujranwala to see Kenhold, with whom I had worked at one time, to see if he could lay some money aside for us to buy a Ford Transit.

‘Ken asked if we had prayed about it. Of course we hadn’t because we were still not sure what kind of vehicle we needed. “God loves to hear specific prayer.’ Ken said, “For instance if you were to pray for a white Ford Transit with green wheels or a blue one with pink wheels it is not beyond God to provide – right down to the coloured wheels.” This was how Ken could typically avoid the issue and come up with something spiritual at the same time.

‘On the way home I and the two volunteers were talking about what Ken had said and it was agreed that God did indeed answer specific prayers, so we stopped the car by the side of the road and said a little prayer which went something like this: “Heavenly Father, we have heard that you like to hear specific prayer, so we would like to ask you for a Ford Transit with green wheels. And we are not joking. Amen.” Subsequently I was ogling every Ford Transit that went by to see what colour its wheels were just to know what chances our prayer stood. To my horror I did not see any green wheels at all.

‘This went on for several days until one of the boys wrote in the visitors’ book, “Let me know when the Ford Transit with green wheels turns up.” Now, it is usual for visitors not just to sign their names in the book, they like to riffle through it to see what others have written before them and soon I had people wanting to know this business about the Transit with green wheels. I, therefore, devised a stock answer saying that if we received a vehicle with green wheels we would know it had been sent by God, but if it came with ordinary wheels there would be no way of knowing if God actually had something to do with it. So He’d better get his act together.

‘Not long after that I realised that a Transit was not what we needed. We had forty boys and a dozen kayaks to take down to the river and what we actually needed was an army truck or a bus. At about this time we had a visit from a chap called Alan Whit so I asked him for advice about buying an army truck. He said, “You don’t need a truck, what you need is a bus and as a matter of interest I do have an old London bus which will serve your purpose very well.”

‘All I wanted was some advice; I certainly was not interested in his London bus. Anyway, he showed me a photograph of the vehicle and blow me down! this thing was green with nice green wheels. I could not believe it; we had prayed for a Ford Transit with green wheels and here we had a London bus with wheels painted the requisite colour. I told everything to Alan and he said that we had simply not being praying big enough.

‘I told him we had no money to pay for it but Alan said if the bus could do our job he would be quite willing to drive it out to Pakistan and give it to us for free. I was rather undecided so we left it at that. He returned to England and I went back to my work. The first available free time I went off to Gujranwala to ask Ken’s advice again. But he was not one bit enthusiastic about the green wheels; on the other hand he was worried about the cost of maintaining a 1953, 9.6 liter, twelve miles to a gallon London bus. I was quite indignant. Here we were having prayed so fervently for a Transit with green wheels and when God sends a London bus with green wheels Ken comes up with all sorts of insignificant and imaginary problems.

‘Until this time I had always gone to Ken whenever I had a problem and now I felt that God was trying to take me from underneath him, so I prayed to God and asked him what the situation really was about the bus with green wheels and was it something that He was doing or if I was having some sort of a mental problem. Therefore in order to find out if it really was God’s will I decided to put a test to Him and this was to see if I could get an import license for the bus. Now we all know how difficult it is to procure this coveted document by simply telling the truth and not passing out bribes. I knew that was going to be a good test for God.

‘I went into Lahore and the man I had to see was someone called Ejaz Ahmad and true to form he said, “What? You want to import a bus? Impossible. You cant do it because it is not personal baggage.” Nonetheless I told him the whole story and he asked me to write out an application and that he would send me a reply after a week, but the way he said it I knew it did not mean anything. I wrote the whole three page story and gave it to his assistant who was a much more accommodating sort of a man who read it through and said, “I don’t know what to say about the green wheels, but you will certainly get it after much struggle. Inshallah.”

‘This hit me like a ton of bricks; it was like God saying to me, “Don’t leave this; stick with it.” And I decided to see it through to the very end. This assistant said that if I got refused in Lahore I should go to the Chief Controller of Imports and Exports at Islamabad and if I got refused there I should see the Secretary of Commerce. So I got refused both at Lahore and Islamabad and ended up with the Secretary.

‘He heard me out and said that he would like to help me for he believed that God answered prayer. After much coming and going the Secretary of Commerce gave me the assurance that I would get my import permit. And so it was that on October 22, 1984 Alan arrived with the bus in a thick cloud of black smoke. But this was not the end of my troubles because I had laboured under the delusion that I would not have to pay any custom duty on such an old bus. Officialdom however, expected us to dish out duty at the rate of sixty percent of half the original price. Now in 1953 the bus had cost about three and a half thousand pounds. Working out on that basis the levy came to about sixty thousand rupees.

‘We did not have that kind of money and it meant that if we could not pay the custom duty we would have to drive the bus back to England when we went on leave the following March. This gave me six clear months to sort out this problem. This time, therefore, it was the Central Board of Revenue to see if I could get an exemption from custom duty. I started with the Third Secretary at the bottom and worked my way up to the Secretary through refusals and appeals. It turned out that they were refusing me exemption fearing that every mosque and seminary in Pakistan would be clamouring to God for duty free Pajeros and Coasters.

‘I was asked to come back a few days later and when I did the Secretary greeted me by saying, “Congratulations, Mr Gold. We are giving you the exemption on the bus, and we are doing it simply because of your trust and faith in God.” I could hardly believe my ears. In the end I had not only received waiver from custom duty but also from the additional five percent surcharge.

‘When the dust had settled I referred to God again, “Lord,” I prayed, “what was the rationale behind giving us an old London bus when you could have given us a coaster or something else?” Three things came into my mind. First, it will do our job. Secondly it will last as long as we look after it and thirdly, it has no jealousy factor. Imagine the things that would have been said about Shalom Christian Centre had we prayed for and received a Pajero from God.’

And so it is that the London bus with green wheels is parked in the compound of the Christian Centre at Jhelum and occasionally can be seen ferrying a load of young men and their kayaks to the river. And while the mullah screams himself hoarse from his public address system and gets no response from God only because his words are empty; devoid of faith and belief, someone, somewhere prayed ever so quietly and received from the Giver what he had sought. Surely there is in this story a lesson for the mullah to imbibe and build upon.


posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 11 June 2013 at 19:03, Blogger Bushra Saeed said...

beautiful piece

At 12 June 2013 at 19:11, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Bushra.

At 15 June 2013 at 01:13, Blogger Asher said...

Awesome story of Faith..........

At 15 June 2013 at 11:51, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Believe (in whatever you may believe in) and do the right thing. That seems to be the moral here.

At 18 January 2015 at 21:35, Blogger Saved_01 said...

I have had the opportunity travel in that bus and Canoe in river Jehlum while attending conferences at Shalom Christian Center thus can say for sure that Mr. Gold really was a man of Faith!

At 19 January 2015 at 12:12, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Very nice to know that Saved_01. Rennie is indeed a good and decent man.


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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days