History

Iris History Heidi in her element: sitting with the poor

Introduction

Iris Global was founded as a dedicated Christian missions organization in 1980 by Rolland and Heidi Baker. At first based in the United States, it encompassed short-term evangelism trips to the Philippines, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Hong Kong, until in 1985 Rolland and Heidi moved to Indonesia. Eventually denied permanent missionary visas in Bali, Rolland and Heidi then moved to Hong Kong. There Iris’s activities were focused on the care and evangelism of residents of the poorest and most crowded slums. After four years Rolland and Heidi left the church they had planted to enroll in graduate theological studies at the University of London. While in England they planted another church, Believer’s Centre, and continued to work especially with homeless street-sleepers, along with university students, lawyers and businesspeople. It was a small but beautiful cross-section of the Body of Christ, and all worshiped together as close brothers and sisters in the Lord.

In 1995 Rolland and Heidi came to Mozambique, Africa, where they have concentrated their ministry ever since. Their U.S. administrative offices are in Redding, California, USA, but Iris has expanded to Iris Canada, Iris UK, etc., as charities in many countries. Iris missionaries are founding new bases on mission fields around the world, and one-third of the time Rolland and Heidi travel and minister at churches and conferences wherever the Holy Spirit leads them.

Chihango to Machava

Upon arriving in Mozambique, the Bakers – along with a small team of Iris staff from England and South Africa – were offered charge of the Chihango center, a previously government-run children’s center forty minutes from the capital of Maputo. Conditions were bleak. Over thirty years of warfare within the nation’s borders left an enormous population of orphans, with countless others living in extreme poverty. Government aid was nearly nonexistent. At Chihango – which represented the government’s best effort to care for homeless children – food was scarce, living quarters stark and medical care all but absent. The most “incorrigible” children from street gangs were often brought there as a last resort. Physical and sexual abuse were common. A very large proportion of the children were infected with STDs. Thievery was to be expected, especially from the officials in charge. Efforts at education were insignificant.

On one of Heidi’s first visits to the children’s center, she gave away an open bag of potato chips from her truck window as she prepared to leave. This began a miniature riot. Children instantly attacked one another, tearing at the bag. They bit and clawed in the dust for the last of the chips. In the mostly empty buildings, roofs had collapsed onto bare concrete floors. Chihango displayed all the most terrible realities of the developing world, but Iris had also found what it had sought, a place where it could make the greatest possible difference in the day-to-day lives of those who had lived as the unwanted.

Upon Iris’s takeover of the center, there were about eighty children resident. Conditions began to improve quickly. A local church was planted. The spiritual response from the children and many in the community was enormously enthusiastic. Dilapidated buildings began to be renovated. God provided more than enough food, every day – which at times required various miracles of finance, unsolicited aid from strangers and occasionally of supernatural multiplication. The Iris staff began to take in more children from the streets, and after a year there were three hundred twenty at Chihango. Despite story after story of extreme neglect, most of the children began to show a remarkable joy in short order. They worshiped and prayed with all their hearts. Many were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to manifest healings, visions and many other spiritual gifts.

While all these things occurred, witch doctors often chanted curses around bonfires at the property’s edges at night, and the echoing sounds of AK47 fire, both far and near, were heard daily. Electricity was sporadic, and maintaining access to clean drinking water was difficult. Many thousands of dollars worth of goods were stolen over the passing months. Bureaucrats obstructed paperwork in an attempt to acquire bribes. Corrupt police and displaced ex-soldiers stopped vehicles constantly, extorting bribes for trivial or invented violations. Burglars broke into the property repeatedly. The staff at Iris underwent many muggings, and some were supernaturally rescued from lethal threats. These were relatively small difficulties compared to what was coming.

As Iris was to discover, the former administrators of the Chihango center had been removed unwillingly from their post. Prior to the U.N.-mediated ceasefire and elections in the early nineties, Mozambique’s government had been Marxist, and elements of the old paradigm – explicitly anti-religious, and insisting on centralized control – still survived among a few officials. The former administrators had met with some of these middling officials and convinced them to try to oust Iris, despite previous agreements.

One day men came to the center with legal documents mandating that Iris cease all of its religious activities, as well as any “unauthorized” distributions of food, clothing and medicine. Two days were given for all Iris staff to vacate the center, should these conditions not be accepted. Any property remaining after that time would be confiscated. Heidi was informed that she personally could not re-enter the property. It was also said around the community that a contract had been put out to kill her (for twenty U.S. dollars).

The former administrators, knowing that Iris would have to refuse these demands, were already positioned to resume control of the center – along with the many improvements that had been made in their absence. No one could say what would happen to the now greatly increased population of children who would be left without foreign resources and subject to greedy, corrupt guardians. With no other options, the Bakers and the rest of Iris’s staff were forced to pack and move out immediately. They left exhausted and in great anguish. The children were immediately forbidden to pray or sing any of the worship songs they had learned. Many more of the activities they had enjoyed came to a sudden stop. They missed their friends at Iris, the long-term staff and the short-term visitors. They greatly missed Papa Rolland and Mama Aida. So when they next entered the big dining room, which had also been used as for church meetings on Sundays, they simply began to sing praise and worship songs at the top of their lungs. They were beaten and chastised for this, but in the end they absolutely refused to accept the changes. They would take their chances on the streets rather than live under such rules.

One by one at first, and later in groups, almost all of them left Chihango and began to hitchhike and even walk the many hot miles back to the city. Since arriving in Mozambique, the Bakers had been renting a small, single-story house in Maputo, where relatively stable power and access to the post office and other government buildings made for a workable administrative center. Staying there now, uncertain of their future in Mozambique, the Bakers suddenly found themselves surrounded by a swelling crowd of children who wanted to stay with them and worship God, no matter what. There was no space for so many, but it was unthinkable to turn them away. Dozens began to camp at the house, cheek-to-jowl out into the little concrete yard under tarps, and their numbers were growing fast. Iris’s people began scrambling to find some sort of emergency location for the children to stay. Two small Christian missions heard about what had happened, and volunteered to keep groups of children in some of their unused buildings for up to three months. Their offer came just in time. Everyone who had fled from Chihango found shelter, by a slim margin.

At one point during the week after this exodus, with more than fifty children still packed in at the Baker’s house, food had run begun to run low. Nelda, a friend from the U.S. embassy, came to visit the Bakers, bringing a pot of chili for the immediate family. “I have a big family,” Heidi replied. Nelda protested that she had only brought enough for the Bakers, but Heidi gave thanks for the food and immediately began serving it to the encamped kids. The pot, brought to feed four, was not empty until everyone had eaten!

The situation continued to appear desperate for some time, but as the three months were coming to an end, Iris was donated undeveloped land in the neaby town of Machava by sympathetic officials. Some old army tents – and one big circus tent – were provided, and practically overnight a new village of children sprang up where a week before there had been only grass and trees. It was even more basic than Chihango had been, but it would do for the time being – and the children were overjoyed. Iris’s little community had prayed long and hard for water, both in spirit and in the natural. Very soon, a new well was dug at Machava, yielding fresh, clean water. Iris now had an abundance of both kinds of water.

Always Enough

By the end of its third year in Mozambique, Iris had acquired and lost one major center, begun a new base from the dirt up in Machava, and purchased a new compound at Zimpeto, an outlying district of Maputo. Zimpeto lay at the outskirts of the capital, close to what Heidi calls her favorite church: the “bocaria,” Maputo’s largest dump, where crowds of the poor scavenged mountains of trash for a scant living. Many of the greatest miracles Iris has witnessed occurred there. Many circumstances at this time remained difficult, but all the most bitter setbacks – of which there were many more than can be told – were more than offset by extraordinary wonders and the manifest presence of God.

One such event, which has permanently shaped the values of Iris, occurred when Heidi, exhausted in the midst of the Chihango struggles, flew out to a Christian renewal conference in North America. She was in especially desperate need of renewal, exhausted by the work and the responsibility of over three hundred children who called her “Mama Aida.” Finances were tight. Two doctors had just told her she absolutely could not make the trip because she had a serious case of double pneumonia and blood poisoning. But being stubborn in faith and spirit, she boarded a plane anyway and flew more than thirty hours to the conference.

At the very start of the event God opened up her lungs and allowed her to breath freely. Each day after, amid constant worship, teaching and prayer, her strength increased. She spent many hours receiving prayer from loving people on the ministry team. Heidi often tells of finding it difficult to be still and receive after years of speaking and teaching, but this soon became a deeply healing time for her. One night she began to feel like she was having birth pains, and lay groaning in intercession for the children of Mozambique. She began to see them. There were thousands coming towards her. She cried, “No, Lord, there are too many!” Then she saw Jesus, and heard him say, “Look into my eyes. You give them something to eat.” He took a piece of his broken body out of his side and it became bread, and she began to give it to the children. Again Jesus said, “Look into my eyes. You give them something to drink.” He gave her a cup of the blood and water that flowed from his side, and she gave this to the children to drink. The Lord said, “There will always be enough bread and drink, because I paid the price with my life. Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” She returned to Mozambique with supernatural strength.

Ever since, one of the absolute core principles of Iris has been to offer a home to any child found in Mozambique without a family, regardless of financial or other considerations. The numbers grow. Today Rolland and Heidi cry out for a continuation of the visitation of God experienced by the children of H.A. Baker’s children’s center in China long ago. More testimonies are now accumulating than can be written – but the great story of this rising generation of children is just beginning.

Growth and Current Events

Iris experienced explosive growth throughout the late 1990s and 2000s. As more and more children found a home in Iris, and more outreaches brought multitudes to the Lord, people began asking Iris for pastoral training. Pastors long isolated in the countryside requested “bush conferences,” and when they occurred people would often walk for days to gather at them. Hundreds, then thousands of new churches sprang up, and many old ones became affiliated with Iris. In the West many began to hear about events in Mozambique, and Rolland and Heidi were invited to speak in nations around the globe. Foreign volunteers came in increasing numbers.

When Mozambique was rocked by catastrophic flooding in 2000 and again in 2001, Iris’s far-reaching network of rural churches became an effective arm of relief. It was a terrible time, and despite a sudden influx of international aid, hundreds of thousands were displaced and suffered greatly with hunger, disease and loss of life. Iris, however, was positioned to work extensively in the temporary refugee camps, and was able to feed many thousands beyond its usual numbers. There was also desperate spiritual hunger among battered survivors, and a great outpouring of the Spirit fell upon them. Most international attention moved away quickly, but Iris remained with many more to care for, physically and spiritually.

Children’s schools (including several of the top-ranked schools in the country), Bible schools and clinics began to open under Iris. An international school for missionaries opened in the mid-2000s. When the Zimpeto children’s center had been moderately well-established, Rolland and Heidi left it in the capable hands of Steve and Ross Lazar from Australia, and moved permanently to Pemba in 2004. A coast city in the far north of Mozambique, Pemba was surrounded by unreached tribal groups with pagan and syncretistic beliefs. Today the “unreached” of these tribes are fast dwindling. Almost every outreach to a village results in a new church, usually catalyzed by miraculous healings.

As churches swelled and community outreaches multiplied, Iris began to expand into other nations, opening bases in similar ways. As of this writing, Iris is active in fifteen nations, and is still growing. As expansion has proceeded far faster than all initial expectations, Iris is hard at work to develop effective, Spirit-led new organizational capacities to serve the movement. Our coherence thus far has been entirely miraculous: all told, Iris Global currently feeds well over 10,000 children a day, as well as various members of many other communities, currently including 4,000 families in Malawi. Its network of churches also numbers more than 10,000, including some 2,000 churches among the Makua people of northern Mozambique. Iris operates five Bible schools, in addition to its three primary schools and its school of missions in Pemba. Current major projects include continuing outreaches to very remote coastal regions via Iris’s recently acquired boat, expansion of Iris’s air transport abilities, investment in a range of cottage industries, and a special well-drilling initiative. Iris, having recently acquired a drilling rig by generous funding from several U.S. churches, intends to transform life in desperately dry villages everywhere possible. One by one.

Many more projects are under consideration. National leaders are rising with wisdom and power, and many new nations beckon beyond. We believe that all the best is yet to come. May the Word of God spread in power to the remote corners of the world, and may the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, people who have never before tasted the goodness of God, be drawn to the King’s great banquet!

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Founded in 1980 by Rolland and Heidi Baker, Iris Global is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the Great Commission around the world.