Congo and Beyond!
Written by Heidi & Rolland Baker
SOMEWHERE IN CENTRAL AFRICA, 27 APRIL 2005
Dark rain clouds loom on the northwest horizon, directly in our flight path. Row after row of mountain ridges stand before us. We have no weather briefing. We have never flown this route before. We are heading for yet another country, but do not have a landing permit, or visas. No airlines fly where we are going, and the journey by road through the forest below is long and dangerous. Air traffic control in Kigali clears us to eight thousand five hundred feet on track, releasing us in calm tones to the unknown.
We dodge initial rain flurries, but soon we hit the inevitable downpour. Sheets of water strike our windshield with furious intensity, wildly distorting all forward vision. Our state-of-the-art noise-canceling headsets barely tame the roar of the rain beating on our Cessna’s aluminum skin. But I can see down, and I know from my charts what elevations lie ahead. On we press, our destination less than an hour away.
The storm is very localized, and soon we get through it and move on. But the clouds hang low and we must descend and angle our way back and forth to clear the wild terrain below by hundreds of feet. Shadowy cliffs and peaks materialize and fade in the mist. Huts hide in tiny clearings among trees on hilltops. Now the ridges are lower, and ahead we get our first sight of the lake we are expecting. We see only a corner of it, but we are excited because we know it marks the border of our next ministry frontier, the Democratic Republic of the Congo!
Soon Lake Kivu opens up before us, a jewel sixty miles long with its inlets and islands spread below in a creative array almost five thousand feet high in the very center of Africa. We are far from the plains of the Serengeti that we flew over yesterday, and even farther from the beaches and sand of Mozambique over a thousand miles behind us. We are compelled to preach the Gospel here too. In the service of our King we have eagerly taken hold of this opportunity to bring more revival fire to a region long isolated by instability, violence and bloodshed.
Beside me in our heavily loaded Cessna 206 is Surpresa Sithole, our international director of Iris Ministries along with Heidi and me. He incessantly presses me in the Lord for more ministry flights to the north and west of Africa, and beyond. Darfur, Ethiopia, Angola, and on to the Middle East — our vision is revival, visitation and the unmeasured outpouring of the Holy Spirit all the way to Jerusalem from southern Africa. The seeds of this movement sprang up in 1998 with a small band of pastors who gathered for Bible school at our fledgling children’s center in Maputo, Mozambique. Since then a fiery hunger for God has spread across the land in spite of floods, famines, weaknesses and troubles without number, heavy demonic attack, and the world’s worst poverty.
We had loaded our Cessna with as much sound equipment as we could fit into the plane with our luggage. Then back in Rwanda we also squeezed in Pastor Joseph, our host in the Congo, and his young son, who just barely fit on his lap. Our seats are all fully forward, and we can hardly move, but we are almost there. Our destination is Bukavu, a town on the south shore of the lake with a small strip usually in use only by military and humanitarian aid organizations.
I just have a simple chart, and have to call area control at Goma for Bukavu’s tower frequency. We descend over the lake looking hard for still another airport I have never seen before. The runway is hidden behind a hill, and as we come around, one end slowly comes into view. We make radio contact, and extend our downwind to make room for a military transport on final approach. We land and taxi slowly on the rough tarmac toward a group of planes at the far end of the field. A marshall is waving his arms and directs us to a stop. Then things get intense…
Obviously a small private plane hasn’t landed here in years. Soldiers in combat fatigues, carrying machine guns and rocket launchers, stand nearby and stare at us with near disbelief. Officials and military officers press forward, soon hammering us with questions. Where is your permit? Who said you could land here? What are you doing here?
That’s why we have Joseph with us. He has made informal verbal agreements with airport officials at Goma for our entry into the Congo — our one option at the time, but Goma has no aviation gas, and we only had enough fuel to fly straight to Bukavu and back. Before this flight Joseph assured us that landing directly at Bukavu, his home town, would be no problem, but now we are a very big problem. We are drawn into an office, just an empty room with a bare desk, for a major, lengthy “discussion.” Joseph is masterfully calm and Surpresa and I just stay quiet. It emerges that Joseph is known as a local church leader and is respected by all involved. Phone calls are made, voices are lowered, papers are signed, and we are given stern instructions for the future. God has prepared the way in exceptional circumstances through the favor of a godly reputation.
But we are still extreme curiosities at the airport. Uniformed flight crews of UN helicopters and NGO transports pause to inspect our little white-and-blue plane and the Iris Ministries logo on its tail, and wonder at us. We have to push it way off into the dirt to park it away from the prop wash of much bigger planes. Finally we are allowed to unload, and all can see from our speakers and equipment that we are here to preach. Armed guards let us out the gate, and another crowd is waiting for us — this time laughing, shouting, jumping and waving their arms with excitement. They are local Christians, and they are overjoyed. The Iris missionaries have come! They are not alone! Jesus has heard their prayers! Their family in God is growing! Let revival burn!
A car pulls up to take us into Bukavu, and it is the mayor’s private Land Cruiser, even if an old model. The drive is surprisingly long, and punishing on this road. Following the lake shore, we can see that we are in an exquisite setting, an idyllic vacation spot for Europeans in a colonial past long gone. But soon we also see that war and fighting have reduced Bukavu to a broken, impoverished shell of a town mired in deep suffering. We are told that less than a year ago the town was controlled by rebels, and the shooting in the streets was so fierce that residents had to hide in their houses for weeks at a time. Even now instability is great, soldiers are everywhere, and more fighting is expected, especially with elections coming up. The government cannot control all of this huge country, and anarchy is spreading.
It’s a gray day. Only a few streets are paved. We bounce and lurch over deep ruts and potholes. Rain comes and goes. We can see from storefronts, shacks and stalls along the way that the local economy is barely functional. We know that millions and even billions of dollars have been stashed away in foreign bank accounts by various groups plundering Congo’s vast mineral wealth, leaving the people in deep poverty still. Africa’s wars are fueled by struggles over wealth and resources, but Mozambique has very little to fight over but a coastline.
We turn into a narrow alley, and as we move on we see a crowd of people apparently waiting for us. We get closer and as they recognize us they suddenly break out singing and dancing. They are intense, excited, jubilant! We jump out, and ignoring the rain and deep, sticky mud weighing our shoes down, we run into their embraces. The Congolese kiss on both cheeks and bump foreheads to greet each other, and we learn quickly. Surpresa and I came to inaugurate Iris Congo with a conference, and we are here! This is it! We finally made it!
The people have been waiting for days. Many have come long distances. Everyone is expectant; the mood is electric. This is a tremendous moment! Jesus has not forgotten them! Let’s have church! We gradually move to the conference “center” by stepping one-by-one through a narrow door in a cement block wall into a courtyard. Mud and water are all over the floor under scattered benches. There’s a tin roof, but it’s not big enough and we have to put up plastic sheeting for the rain. There’s no electricity, but we brought a generator and soon I have our sound system set up. Hundreds of people are crowded in and we can begin our first session!
This is Africa, so we have drums, we have rhythm and harmony, we have dancing, we have bright costumes, we have plenty of energy and life even on this dark, gray, wet day. Surpresa and I are introduced. Everyone is wildly enthusiastic. They have been looking forward to these days with us with all their hearts. We are humbled and intimidated. Who is adequate for these things? —but God has made us adequate as servants of a new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6). I begin to speak quietly and gently, reminding the people that God responds not simply because we pray loudly and get excited, but because we love Him. Within a few minutes the Holy Spirit has taken over the meeting. In just a flash the people are no longer dancing and performing before the Lord, but are agonizing for His presence and company. Perspiration and tears are pouring down faces. Young and old, men and women are shaking and collapsing with emotional intensity. Longing and desperation are boiling to the surface and exploding. Pent-up suffering is being released as hearts fall deep into the gracious heart of the most romantic lover in the universe, our Savior and King. I cannot speak much more. All Surpresa and I can do is pray over people. Fire has fallen already. Desire has attracted the Spirit of all comfort and joy.
We realize we are in a different sort of place. This is not church as usual. The people will not be denied. They cannot passively wait on God. In their extremity they know Jesus is their only hope. They can only do one thing: cry out with every ounce of life remaining in their souls. Existence in this world has been so cruel to these people that they don’t look for relief anywhere but the Creator and Redeemer Himself. Without any effort on our part, Surpresa and I watch the Holy Spirit release these hearts passionately reaching out for life.
How have we come here? What makes this visit so special? How does this movement we are a part of grow so spontaneously, and with such heat and speed? Most who know Africa are aware that millions have died in the Congo and Sudan in recent times over fighting caused by conflict over race, religion and natural resources. Hearing that Mozambique was a relatively peaceful haven, Congolese refugees poured into Maputo near our Zimpeto children’s center, and we got involved with helping many of them. One Congolese lady was so moved by the work of the Holy Spirit among us that she told her brother back in the Congo that he had to come too and not miss out, and that was Joseph! In desperation and hunger last year he started off on a journey to southern Mozambique. Almost penniless, he rode rickety buses, hitchhiked, took ocean ferries down the coast, and eventually came to Pemba and then Maputo. Completely blasted by the Holy Spirit, he returned to Congo on fire and called to pioneer Iris Congo. He has completed the arduous registration process, French documents and all, and for months has called for Surpresa and me to come initiate our first conference. Meeting us in Rwanda to help us over the border and through all the possible corruption and interference, he has brought us to one of the most spiritually hungry spots we have ever experienced.
Joseph has been a pastor, and he brings twenty-eight churches into Iris right at the start. Many of the pastors of these churches are at these meetings. Others have been longingly waiting for us at Goma and other locations, but we only have time for Bukavu on this trip. These churches are poor, without even the most basic necessities of administration, like electricity, paper, a desk, lights or a file cabinet. They function in tiny bare rooms with leaking ceilings and dirt floors. We had to bring US$ cash so we could feed everyone over three days of meetings, and we cook the plainest food in big pots over wood fires on the floor. Our physical conditions are cold, wet and dirty, but in these hearts present this day we see the intense heat of hearts drawing near to God with rare force and energy.
The Holy Spirit continues to fall strongly on us for three days. Some of course are watching wide-eyed and wondering from the back, but in the front desire and faith are igniting a real revival. The Holy Spirit is emotional and passionate, and often very physical. He is intense, burning up with love, anxious to break out and overcome people with supernatural life. He knows how to respond to each person’s cries, and how each needs to be loved. The blazing presence of God burns out every evil thought, each petty desire, all selfish ambition. There is nothing left but what God wants, what he values, what dazzles and thrills Him! We are being transformed into fit companions for the King!
As always during these frontline forays into new territory, it is an extreme challenge to present in our limited time what the people most need to hear. But increasingly we learn to relax and flow with the Holy Spirit, praying that God’s every purpose for this trip will be fulfilled. Through all the tears and laughter, repentance and joy, worship and celebration, healings and deliverances, we find time to teach the most basic and critical foundations of the Gospel. This movement does not chase health and wealth, or manifestations, or signs and wonders. We preach Jesus and Him crucified, and the power of the Cross. Nothing counts but faith working through love, producing joy! We seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these other things will chase us! We are learning how to be rich in good deeds, and blessed with godliness and contentment. We are falling in love with Him who is love, until nothing in this world attracts us like He does…
After all these years of preaching in the bush among the poor and faraway, we realize we have seen just the beginning of what God plans for Africa. North Africa, considered almost off-limits for the Christian Gospel, is beckoning. Jesus has no competition once His reality, love and power are known. Angola and West Africa are calling. The multitudes want what is real. Our bodies are exhausted, our time is stretched beyond endurance, our wisdom for shepherding this movement is finite, but each morning we find ourselves renewed by the power of God. These pastors in Bukavu are ready to preach all across the Congo, taking the fire of God everywhere they go. We must encourage them; we must do our part; we must obey. Our lives are worth nothing to us, if only we may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given us — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24).
We have to go, but it’s not easy. The people are begging us to return soon, reaching out for all the business cards I have, asking for more prayer. This revival is their life and hope in Jesus. We finally make it to the airport late in the afternoon. A thunderstorm is closing in, and sunset is not far behind. The airport officials are not impressed with our urgency, slowly and deliberately plowing us through paperwork, inspections and fee payments. Guarding soldiers need to be paid. Now the rain is torrential and we have to wait even longer. It lets up and finally we taxi out, take off and head toward the dark, cloudy southeast and Kigali. Again we are skimming ridges in the rain and mist, barely seeing our way. Kigali’s airport is mercifully more clear. We land just before dark, the only small plane at the airport, and find that there is no aviation gas in the country. But that is another story… Our Congo adventure is over, and yet only just beginning…
JUNE: A MONTH LATER
Our pace continues to accelerate. In May we hosted hundreds of visitors who came to participate in major conferences in the bush of Mozambique and Malawi, a tremendous logistical challenge. Thirty thousand gathered in the remote town of Morrumbala, Surpresa’s birthplace, for meetings with Todd Bentley and his Fresh Fire team, and twenty thousand in Bangula, Malawi, with Che Ahn and his HIM team. We and our staff threw ourselves into the ministry with all our hearts and strength as well, seeing God do many miracles among us all. We have so much more to report!
Next our staff journeyed to Bilene far to the south for our annual staff retreat, a richly appreciated and needed time when our own Iris family could relax and enjoy the powerful presence of God. Heidi, Surpresa and I loved this chance to bless and encourage our “troops,” and for us all to be greatly stirred by our prophetic guest speaker, Jill Austin.
Then Todd, Che, their teams and the rest of us headed for our northern base of Pemba and continued meetings there in a large tent we just shipped in from Dubai. At the same time our new school of missions geared up with over two hundred international students. Pemba’s remoteness and limited infrastructure resulted in construction delays and other stressful conditions that exposed visitors dramatically to the reality of how most of the world lives. But beautiful and willing hearts plunged in and helped on all sides, and the Holy Spirit is richly on the school. Many have come to be utterly broken, transformed, and taken to a new level, and they will get the desire of their hearts.
And so the Holy Spirit is moving among us and other ministries around the world faster than we ever imagined. We have lost our love of this world. The Kingdom is our pearl of great price. Our King is our greatest possession. And the poor and desperate of the world are running to Him. They will not miss His fire and glory. They will not be left behind. They will not lose the riches of their inheritance in Him.
Jesus is worth something. He is worth everything. We ask our readers, Who will lose their life for Him in order to gain it? Who will suffer hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, and run the race to win? Who will join us in the harvest field, sparing nothing? Who wants to burn with life and passion in pursuit of what is pure, perfect and eternal? Who wants to love as Jesus loves?
We fervently want to communicate our deepest gratitude to all those who are helping us in so many ways. We are overwhelmed by the family of friends Jesus has given us all over the world who are supporting us, visiting us, interceding for us, encouraging us and sending us material goods. We are using your resources in every way we can, and we wish we could show you how in vivid detail. Support is being continuously invested, as it has been all along, in our children’s centers, churches, Bible schools and bases for food, clothes, dorms, schools, vehicles, medical clinics, maintenance, ministry outreaches, Bibles, books, courses, communication, transportation, emergency needs, sound systems, construction, water and sewage systems, generators, electrical installations, aviation, airline travel and countless other necessities. You are amazing! May Jesus richly respond to your great sensitivity and generosity!
You are supporting seven bases and five Bible schools just in Mozambique, South Africa and Malawi, and we are beginning Iris Ministries in Tanzania, Indonesia, Congo, Sudan and India as well. Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Angola and Zimbabwe are next, as Jesus leads. Many other countries in North and West Africa, and also Asia, are on the horizon. All these countries and bases need infrastructure, encouragement, long-term missionary leadership, and also short-term ministry of many kinds. We want to help with start-up costs wherever we go, and then encourage generosity and faith for finances as we have tried to model.
If you want to be involved with us, you can email us at email@example.com, and we will refer you to others on our staff as well in Mozambique and other countries. Soon we will have a central office in Redding, California, associated with Bethel Church, which will be able to channel inquiries and information more efficiently and thoroughly. We keep past newsletters and linked photos at our web site www.irisglobal.org, and much administrative information at www.irismin.com. Online PayPal donations can be made at both sites. Support can be mailed or wired with the information at these sites.
Our new ministries in Sudan, Congo, Indonesia and India welcome your visits and help, and I can give you contact information by email. Each of these fields is a very different situation, but share our Iris Ministries “DNA”: lower still, stop for the one, carry His glory, honor His Presence, always enough, laid down lovers, happy kids in Jesus, jars of clay, etc!…
In our next newsletter we want to concentrate on the work of the Holy Spirit in our home turf of Cabo Delgado Province in northern Mozambique. Heidi and our teams have been experiencing more miracles of healing by far than ever before. Whole villages keep coming to Jesus at a time. And now our missions school is totally immersed in this amazing harvest in the most improbable circumstances. On we go in Jesus!
Much, much love in Him,
Rolland and Heidi