Christmas in Revival
Written by Heidi & Rolland Baker
SOMEWHERE IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: FRIDAY, 8 DECEMBER 2006
The spinning wheels are spraying mud as once more we push and try to get the old Toyota Prado to move. Wiping globs of mud off my glasses, hat and shirt in the cold night air, I take another look with my dying flashlight. Need to dig more. Find more rocks. The seven of us slip, slide and fall in the deep, heavy muck as we try to figure out what to do. All of us are praying. No one is around to help but gorillas in the forest…
The sun has long since gone down. We’ve been struggling on this impossible road for hours all afternoon. We’re not sure where we are — some eight thousand feet up in the remote mountains of northeast Congo near Rwanda. We know it’s the Kalonge District, but haven’t checked a map like I usually do. We do know that the thick dark trees around us in this area have been a refuge for tens of thousands of rebel troops in the recent past. Right now we are completely alone, except for the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit…
After enough digging we make forward progress, engine racing and smoking, car shuddering. We are sliding out of control back and forth across the road with a sheer cliff dropping off just to the right, and we can hardly see through the spattered windshield. We suddenly lurch and the left front wheel hits a big rock sideways. The tire blows and goes flat. The car is on a slippery incline, but somehow we get the tire changed with a jack deep in the mud. But a hundred yards down the road the whole left front wheel suddenly falls off and our axle is buried. We search the black ooze for missing nuts, rob nuts off the other wheels, and finally all the wheels are back on with just enough nuts to keep us going.
Then we break a shock absorber strut, and then the water pump. Leaking oil is dripping. Our radiator is blowing clouds of steam out from under the hood. In this lush, rainy forest we cannot find a stream, and consider putting our precious bottled drinking water in the radiator. We coast downhill to save the engine when we can, and keep digging out over and over. Our 4WD truck is without a diff lock.
At three a.m. we are exhausted and can’t go on. It’s so cold and rainy we can’t sleep out, so we all squeeze back into the truck with our luggage and try to sleep a bit. We are so jammed we can hardly wiggle. We are wet and filthy. The windows steam up. Our backs ache and our legs cramp up. No position is comfortable for long. But we’re stuck, and we try to doze off. The forest is buzzing with insects. The moon is shrouded in clouds, which part briefly at times to display an intense array of stars so unfamiliar around city lights. But we are happy, we have time on our hands, and I consider where Jesus has brought us…
Joseph Mushengezi is our Iris Congo lead pastor. He was born in Kalonge, and spent seventeen years in this most remote mountain area before ever seeing the nearby main town of Bukavu on beautiful Lake Kivu. This northeast corner of Congo has been a hotbed of conflict that has killed 4 million people since 1998, prompting a Time Magazine cover story titled, “The Deadliest War in the World,” 5 June 2006. This article calls the Congo “so vast and ungovernable that it has long been perceived as the continent’s ultimate hellhole.” The country is bigger than all of Europe, and is packed so richly with resources that it is continually the victim of exploitation and chaos. Peace in Africa is not possible without finding answers for this huge nation at its heart.
Much of eastern Congo is in ruins. Roads and railways are washed away. Hospitals are destroyed. Electricity is rare. Government troops and rebels are both the cause of torture, beheadings, rapes, massacres and burned villages. There has been a peace deal and an election, but the dying continues, greatly aggravated by hunger and medical neglect. We were just back in Joseph’s village where we bought property and built a church and school. Many of our church ladies have been raped by soldiers. Their husbands won’t come back to them, and they are full of STDs. Children die every day in our school. Many eat only a handful every three days. There are no jobs. Soldiers are hungry, desperate, often unpaid and dangerous. The village children in rags have seen so much violence that they make AK-47 toys out of banana trees.
Yet in the last few days at our church in Kalonge we have seen the presence of God overwhelm the prevailing mood of despair. Never in all the world have I seen greater intensity of prayer and worship. They sob, they agonize, tears pouring down their faces. Their powerful voices soar with electrifying worship. They laugh in the Holy Spirit with joy unspeakable. Their joy to suffering ratio sets a world record in my experience. Their memories are healed. They look forward with huge anticipation to what lies ahead — revival across Congo! We began with 28 churches under Joseph last year, and now we have 85. The word has gotten out: God does miracles and makes people happy! Key leaders are joining us from the government. Joseph has a fiery vision from God for touching all of Congo. And yet again we are starting at the bottom with the least of these, right here in Kalonge. They deserve our support, our hard-earned money, our time and our lives.
All of us actually got a little sleep. We wake as the sky lightens and silhouettes the mountain ridges and tall trees around us. With new energy we contend with the road once again and limp downhill back toward Bukavu. At one point we coast into a small roadside camp of ragged government soldiers posted there to guard against rebel attacks. They are huddling over charcoal fires, completely mystified by this muddy wreck of a truck steaming and smoking down the road containing foreigners at five in the morning. We explain our night-long struggle, and soon we are laughing arm-in-arm having our pictures taken with them, AK-47s hanging off their shoulders. On we go down the mountain, running the engine only occasionally. Just as we reach a town with cell phone coverage, we get another flat tire and are really stopped. We make calls and wait for a rescue vehicle, play with local kids, eat sugar cane, and fall asleep on a cement sidewalk. It was a long night. No one can believe our truck made it that far.
In Bukavu we continue our meetings, this time in a tin-roofed, muddy room leaking in the pouring rain. But again an intense cry of desperation, longing, worship and affection rises up to heaven from our people with a purity and beauty that brings me to tears again. My spine is tingling with energy and pleasure at this outpouring of supernatural life I am feeling. There is no room for despondency in the presence of God! The Holy Spirit pours out faith and joy. And then in our last meeting I speak on offering our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord. Our relationship with Him becomes complete as we approach Him with confidence and make Him happy with all that we are. Life is more than miracles of survival. It is being safe, secure and in love with our perfect Savior.
A wild ride in a minibus over a winding road through beautiful mountains to Kigali in Rwanda brings this mission trip to Congo to an end. We remember all our meetings in Goma, Kalonge and Bukavu. We preached everything we could that we thought would be helpful. We spent hours with eager pastors who were so glad and encouraged to be a part of Iris Ministries, and especially God’s family worldwide. We heard testimonies as people lined up to tell us what God had done for them. Now we commend our Congo churches to Jesus until we see them again. May He shower them with mercy and grace, power and glory, by His Spirit, and provide for them abundantly with resources, visiting teams, long-term missionaries, and encouragement of every kind.
FROM HEIDI, BACK IN PEMBA: WEDNESDAY, 13 DECEMBER 2006
What an amazing year. Our hearts our full of gratitude to the Lord for allowing us to participate with Him in this revival in Mozambique. Thank you for all your love and support. God has been faithful to us and He has surely used you! Around twelve thousand people are fed each day and five thousand children are being cared for in Iris Ministries. Thank you for remembering the poor.
As another year comes to an end, I have been thinking about what is most important in ministry. Intimacy with God is always my greatest priority. I have given Him my mornings. What a delight to minister out of fullness. As long as I spend time in the secret place, I am able to get through any trial. My heart is longing to be more like Jesus, who emptied Himself out for us. These words from Luke 9:23 have touched me deeply, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” As we pour our lives out for the poor we find treasures in the people He gives us to love. I feel like one of the richest women on the planet as Jesus brings us new children to care for each week.
Relationships with our family in the Lord are also very near to God’s heart. I have found God leading me to work on relationships with my Mozambican discipleship groups. They are the ones working with us to bring in this rich harvest among the poorest of the poor. We will lead from the low place. We will give our lives for love. We will listen together to the heartbeat of God.
One of my greatest pleasures is trekking deep into the bush-bush, setting up my tent and making new friends in a simple mud hut village. We were just in Lua, a remote village about five hours from Pemba. It was pouring rain as we ditched pot holes hour after hour. My friend Shara’s Land Rover broke down in the middle of the bush, and the other vehicles were all stopped by police with machine guns and told they were not allowed to go anywhere. After lots of prayer and talking, we were all on our way again. We were now six hours late and the people were still waiting, singing and dancing with the most exuberant praise I have ever seen!!! I love watching Jesus use our precious children to fearlessly testify of God’s glorious transforming power in these remote villages. The first night I called for the deaf, but there were not any there. So I started praying for a man who had been paralyzed for five years. Miraculously the power of God came on him and he walked!!!!
The next morning they brought the deaf. Two deaf children were instantly healed. The crowd got so excited and filled with faith. They told us we had to get two more deaf mutes whom the whole village knew so they could be healed as well. Another friend Nicky drove to get them, and just as we expected, glorious King Jesus healed them as well! Many people gave their hearts to the Master and were filled with His life. We ended our outreach by opening a new children’s home run by our local pastor and his wife and mother. The children are all staying in their village in local housing, and are being discipled by the pastor. We set them up with a family of goats so they could help support themselves. The bush people are very hospitable and open to God. The ladies have deep dark tattoos on their faces and often rings in their lips. They love knowing they are loved, and gladly meet their redeemer and savior Jesus!
I pray your year will be filled with the glory of God. I pray you will grow even deeper inside His huge heart of love.
Much love in Jesus,