Core values at Iris: simple, controversial and not optional!
Written by Heidi & Rolland Baker
09/8/2010 | Pemba, Mozambique
IRIS GLOBAL LEADERSHIP MEETINGS IN PEMBA
It was an unlikely spot for a leadership conference aiming for global revival! Hidden away in our cozy little African prayer hut on the beach, with stiff ocean breezes whipping our crude canvas walls, we gathered together to represent our worldwide Iris family. Far out of town on a rough, sandy road under clear, brilliant African sky by day and under a starry southern array with a bright moon by night, we met with God and melted together in His Presence. The natural ambiance felt wild, raw and peaceful; the spiritual ambiance was a milestone in our Iris history.
For the first time we convened our key Iris leaders from bases around the world to pray, soak, worship, dream and find unity together. Well over one hundred missionaries and nationals from dozens of countries descended on little Pemba in our remote corner of Africa. For days we ate and drank, wept, laughed and celebrated together as we built each other up with faith-building encouragement and testimonies. We were so honored to have Bill Johnson as our guest speaker, and he brought such an atmosphere of depth and holy presence. We were awed as we began to grasp the extent of what God has been doing among us, and the strength of our family bonding. We as a missions-oriented body are in fact enjoying God and our life of service to Him to a degree Heidi and I never anticipated thirty years ago when we first headed for the mission field.
The meetings were also a chance for us as leaders to articulate like never before what it is that makes Iris “Iris.” The word is Greek and also Portuguese for “rainbow,” as Heidi and I began as a Christian dance-drama ministry called “Rainbow Productions.” We saw our different creative talents as colors of a rainbow that the “Son” shines through, giving a beautiful result.
We “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and have never tried to emphasize anything that is new, unique, clever or different. We try not to be controversial, and share with all Christian streams what no born-again believer can argue with: the glory of the basic Gospel, repentance and faith in Jesus, the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ, avoiding anything that would empty the Cross of its power, knowing nothing but Christ and Him crucified when backed against a wall, seeking righteousness that comes from faith, transformation through adoption by our Heavenly Father, and understanding faith working through love as the only thing that counts (Gal. 5:6), with the hope of attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Phil 3:11).
As we changed course from an itinerant evangelistic ministry to stopping for the poor, we became more and more holistic in our approach to missions. We had no choice. When people are thirsty and starving, the holiest thing we can do is offer a cold drink of water and fresh bread. But we’re not just social workers; we have fresh bread that comes down out of heaven, Jesus Himself! And so our ministry is not finished. We go on to “proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (Col. 1:28).
In the process we find that we cannot just be an orphanage, or a church, or a Bible school, or a humanitarian aid organization. We can’t just hold bush conferences, plant farms and engineer micro-investment. We can’t just specialize in education and technical assistance. We as a broadly-based international family must embrace all of the above, and more… All the while we share with Paul his attitude in Acts 20:24: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”
But we have discovered that some key elements of our lives and ministry in Jesus are controversial, although absolutely necessary. We think they should all be normal in the Christian life and in Christian ministries everywhere, not special and unusual. Heidi and I began naively in these areas, but now realize we must prize, protect and nurture these values in our hearts, and impart them to others. If we lose any one of these values, Iris would not function and be what it is today. When they all come together, it’s as though we have a spiritual chain reaction, generating life and heat in the Spirit! The following five values are not the only critical ones to us, but the Holy Spirit brought them to the forefront of our minds at our leadership meetings.
1) We understand that we can find God, and can experience intimacy, communication and companionship with Him in His Presence, if we share His love for righteousness.
Missions has often been taught as unromantic; it is disciplined obedience to the Great Commission. Prayer is hard work, feelings are irrelevant, getting the job done is what counts. We don’t need spiritual experience to proclaim the Gospel. We can’t expect immediacy and intimacy to be normal. We can function without His manifest Presence.
We feel the opposite. We’ve gone through enough fire and hardship to know that without actually finding God, in fulfillment of Jer. 29:13, we cannot do what we do. We cannot love with supernatural, unstoppable love unless we actually experience the love of the Father for us first. As the radiance and exact image of the invisible God, Jesus is a spiritual lover, our perfect and ultimate companion. Our first value is to know Him in a passionate relationship with a love that is stronger than death (Song 8:6). We major first of all not on mission strategy, methods, projects and fundraising, but having the life that the world needs and craves.
But neither are we attracted to mindless, impersonal mysticism, experience without content and relationship. We pursue passion and truth, not just eastern balance and serenity with no actual basis for happiness. We relate to God with our minds and hearts both; we engage with Him, and find life and joy in our interaction. When we find Him, we find and gain everything… Without Him, we can do nothing of real value.
2) We are totally dependent on Him for everything, and we need and expect miracles of all kinds to sustain us and confirm the Gospel in our ministry.
When facing great human need with our human frailties, we rapidly reach the limits of our resources, wisdom and love. We face overwhelming poverty, sickness, demonic attacks and every kind of evil. But with excitement and joy we aim beyond what we can imagine doing in our own strength. We run into the darkness looking for bad news because it is the power of God that gives the world hope. We don’t apologize for seeking and valuing power, because without it love is incomplete and ineffectual.
Heidi and I began our life of missions with the dream of living out the Sermon on the Mount, taking Jesus at His word that we did not have to worry about tomorrow. We imagined addressing extreme human need by example, living without anxiety, free to bless always with pure motives, looking to God alone for what our hearts and bodies need. We turn neither to the left nor to the right to gain support. At every obstacle our only confidence is in the Cross of Christ, and the conviction that God is thrilled to be trusted for miracles all along our way.
We believe we experience miracles because we value them and ask for them, understanding that He will give them to us only if they will not take us further from Him. For His sake we will lose our lives daily, knowing that by His power we cannot lose, but will be sustained and become more than conquerors.
The engine behind the growth of Iris in Mozambique has been a marriage of love and power; we do not have to choose between them, but can look forward to doing even greater works than Jesus, while remaining in His love.
3) We look for revival among the broken, humble and lowly, and start at the bottom with ministry to the poor. God chooses the weak and despised things of the world to shame the proud, demonstrating His own strength and wisdom. Our direction is lower still…
We are not experts. We haven’t learned how to do church and revival; we only know to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet. 5:6). We gravitate to the low things of the world. Competition and comparison with others don’t suit our DNA. We feel no pressure to succeed and excel, but we exult in doing things well by the power of the Spirit.
God’s ways are the reverse of the world’s. We waste our time on the uninfluential and the few, stopping for the one. We show where God cares when no one else does. We go to the neglected, the forgotten, the lonely. We will go anywhere, if possible, to minister to the meek and desperate, the poor in spirit, who truly understand their need of God.
4) We understand the value of suffering in the Christian life. Learning to love requires willingness to suffer for the sake of righteousness. Discipline and testing make saints out of us, and produce in us the holiness without which we will not see His face and share His glory. With Paul we rejoice in our weaknesses, for when we are weak we are strong. Under great pressure we learn to rely on God, who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9).
Jesus was rewarded for enduring evil opposition without sin. Our reward in heaven will be for the same — doing the will of God. We resist sin, to the point of shedding blood, if necessary, by considering His example (Heb. 12:3). Jesus is glorified now not because He exerted His power against His enemies, but because He overcame them with love. That kind of love entails suffering, the willingness to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him. He showed us the only way to be counted worthy, and the angels sing of him, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12). There is no shortcut to our heavenly inheritance. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom. 8:17).
5) The joy of the Lord is not optional, and it far outweighs our suffering! In Jesus it becomes our motivation, reward and spiritual weapon. In His Presence is fullness of joy, and with Paul we testify that in all our troubles our joy knows no bounds (2 Cor. 7:4). It is our strength and energy, without which we die.
The supernatural joy of the Lord may be the most controversial of our core values! But our aim is to impart so much of the Holy Spirit that people cannot stop bubbling over with love and joy! We pass through conviction and brokenness, even daily, but we are not left there. The Kingdom is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17), in that order. And in His joy we are all the more capable of compassion for others, unfettered by our own sorrows.
Heidi and I could never have endured this long without a river of life and joy flowing out of our innermost beings. We are not cynical and downcast about the world and the church, but are thrilled with our perfect Savior, who is able to finish what He began in us. We gain nothing by being negative, but we overcome the world with faith that we can cast our cares on Him. Joy, laughter and a light heart are not disrespectful of God and incongruous in this world, but are evidence of the life of heaven. We are not referring to cheap and foolish levity that ends in grief, but exultation in the truth and reality of our salvation, a powerful work of the Spirit.
We in these days identify with the captives of Israel who were brought back to Zion:
“Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him” (Ps. 126:2-6).
Riots in the streets of Mozambique
Early this month riots broke out on the streets of Mozambique’s capital of Maputo, protesting greatly increasing hardship because of rising prices. Bus transportation doubled in price, bread rose by 30%, and a 50 kg bag of rice climbed to half a month’s salary for the average Mozambican with a job (14% employment!). On top of that, the country’s currency was greatly devalued, very difficult for a nation that has to import so much to survive.
People disrupted life in the city by blocking traffic with bricks, stones, pipes and trees; upturning and burning buses; burning cars, tires and gas stations; throwing rocks at cars; smashing windshields; and attacking any who tried to break the blockade by carrying passengers.
Police moved in against stubborn crowds with tear gas, and began to shoot with both rubber bullets and live ammunition. Ten people were killed and 300 injured. Schools — including our own, businesses and the airport were closed down. The violence threatened to spread to other cities around the country.
Things have calmed down now, but this keeps us aware that Mozambique, now the world’s 6th poorest country, is still a land of desperate poverty for most. We have seen a huge number of people come to the Lord, and great blessing come to many, but we must press on until the Gospel covers the land. Join us in faith, and pray for peace, safety, godliness and prosperity in the face of tremendous challenges and demonic opposition. For fifteen years we have seen increasing revival in Mozambique; we will not stop now! Jesus, finish what you have begun, and make Mozambique a model for Africa in fulfillment of your promises… In the Kingdom of God, the best is always in the future!…
Losing one airplane, gaining a better one
For ten years I have written stories about how revival spread all over Mozambique in part because we had a Cessna 206 six-place light aircraft donated to us that allowed us to hold frequent bush conferences and do relief work at great distances from our home base. Mozambique is huge; its coastline would stretch from Mexico to the panhandle of Alaska. Roads are few, and most are very rough and nearly impassable much of the year, even with four-wheel-drive vehicles. Time and wear-and-tear on vehicles were issues that would have kept us from most of our ministry without the plane. We used it heavily, and I enjoyed flying it as my personal prayer cathedral in the glorious skies of east Africa!
But the devil tries hard to resist all that we do, and on the night of September 3, N4744F, my gift and hug from God, met its end. I was out of Mozambique, and our plane was being ferried by an American commercial pilot, Andrew Herbert, from Pemba to South Africa for service. Near the end of one leg of the trip, while beginning a descent from 8,000 feet in the dark into the city of Beira, the propeller broke off from the engine and the plane went nearly out of control. Diving at 2,000 feet per minute and struggling to keep the plane level, Andrew faced a forced landing in the pitch black night. Even with the landing light on, Andrew could see nothing, and plowed into trees in the bush. The plane was completely destroyed (see photo gallery), but Andrew miraculously survived with nothing more than a bad cut on his chin.
The crash happened around 7 pm, and then a couple friends from Beira searched for the wreckage for hours and hours, driving over rivers and swamps and getting stuck over and over, asking villagers along the way if they had heard or seen anything. Finally they were directed to the site and found Andrew at 2 am, alive, thrilled and so grateful to God for sparing his life.
The prop failure, which occurred after recently being maintained and signed off, is being investigated by aviation authorities. This again is a reminder that we are in serious spiritual warfare, and we need and value your prayer and intercession in every way. Our hearts and attention are now turned to the promise of taking delivery of a brand-new airplane by early next year, a Quest Kodiak. This is a high-performance ten-place turboprop specially designed for missionary bush applications. Its speed, payload, ruggedness, utility and short-field performance are just what we need now. We thank all of you who are praying and contributing toward this dream which we have had for so long!
Our completely redesigned web site will be online in a week or so, and we will keep developing it indefinitely. It promises to be much more inviting and informative for all who want to know us better and work with us. We have a huge vision for taking care of many more children, and so we are initiating a child sponsorship program that will allow people to easily help us who want to be part of our vision. After many technical and government delays, our well drilling program is moving ahead rapidly now, making a tremendous difference in the life of village after village. We just bought a 150-acre, fully-operational farm at a great price, which will provide enough vegetables to feed all our children at our main Pemba base. We continue to feed over a thousand children and staff in Pemba, and thousands of children through church-based orphan care around the country. Please email me if you are interested in working with us on these projects.
Spiritual state, challenges
Our greatest gratification comes from seeing the Holy Spirit fill so many spiritually hungry hearts with love and joy all over Mozambique, and at new and spreading Iris bases around the world. We understand that such great fruit also comes with the reality of disappointments, attacks, personnel struggles and tragic failures. The these will not keep us from being overjoyed with all that God has done among us. We live to experience His Presence, and to see Him bring about what only He can accomplish.
Specifically, our churches in our local province of Cabo Delgado around Pemba now number over 1,800, after eight years of ministry among the Makua, a people group of four million that were formerly considered almost unreachable by missiologists.
But we are also thrilled by the way God is using Iris missionaries and national leaders at many other Iris bases, and we want to make their stories and testimonies freely available to you as well through our new web site, www.irisglobal.org.
Again we want to offer our extreme gratitude to so many of you who support us amazingly, even in the middle of world-wide recession. We understand the hardships some of you face, and we owe you such a debt of love. We are trusting Jesus for our support, knowing that He can touch anyone at any time to help us, and so we are secure, whether we have much or little. But our desire is to bless not only the poor of Africa, but also our supporters. With Paul we have always been able to say that we are not looking for a gift, but are looking for what may be credited to your account (Phil. 4:17)! God’s way of blessing both you and us is perfect! We love you for caring with supernatural generosity…
Apply to missions school, short- and long-term missions
We need so much more help. We welcome applications from any who know us for any kind of involvement in our work. It’s hard to imagine any skill or calling that would not be useful in our environment. May our Father have His perfect way with us all!
Our spiritual warfare — intense!
We are engaged in a great struggle for souls in Africa, knowing that our warfare here, as everywhere, is not against flesh-and-blood, but against spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). Our battle has been indescribably intense in recent months, but at the same time we rest in our perfect Savior, who sustains us through the prayers of so many. We thank you for your rich participation with us in the work of the Lord!
Much, much love in Jesus,
Rolland and Heidi