MAPUTO, SEPTEMBER 2
Malawi stretches ahead, its hills rising seven thousand feet below us from the Zambezi River valley of Mozambique. Pure, dazzling cumulus clouds add grandeur to the fresh, clear air of the north, far from the smokey brush fires that have polluted the skies of Maputo around our center in the south. Heidi and I are squeezed into our Cessna light plane, sharing precious space with everything we need for a crusade in the bush: sound system, generator, tents, sleeping bags, lights, tools, lots of water. With worship music on in our headsets, we prepare our hearts.
We are excited, studying the huts passing below us and praying to understand the needs of yet another country and mission field. A peak ahead blocks normal radio transmission to Blantyre, so we use short-wave to reach Lilongwe and explain our intentions. What are we doing in Malawi, they want to know. We are holding a conference for almost one hundred of our churches in the unlikely town of Bangula in Malawi’s southern tip, and we need to be there tonight.
I last visited Malawi in May, when we had eighteen churches that resulted from a two-day visit by our staff a year earlier. Now we have more than a hundred churches in this dusty, forgotten corner of the country where white missionaries are almost never seen. Thousands of believers are begging for this conference. They can hardly believe we will come this far to be with them. They are so excited. Many are walking for days from their villages to be with us. Even our leading pastors from Mozambique are enduring long, tortuous bus journeys over terrible roads to help us with this wildfire revival.
Fueled up at Blantyre, we head for Bangula, still sixty miles away. I know it only by its GPS coordinates. We drop over the hills down to a low plain, hot and shimmering in haze. I pick out rivers and landmarks I recognize from my chart. I hardly know what to expect. Silva, our lead pastor in Malawi, has been working for months getting the word out about these meetings. Is anyone coming? How will we take care of them?
Up comes a river that I know runs right by Bangula. A town materializes, but it is small and spread out. I see dirt roads and dry brush. And I see no runway where the map says it should be. I circle around. “Help me look, Heidi,” I ask. “I don’t see any kind of airport!” But there is a curious open field at the center of town, crisscrossed by footpaths. Surely that’s not the airfield. There are cows all over it, and people wandering everywhere. Then I see the letters “B-A-N-G-U-L-A” dug in the dirt, obviously to be seen from the air, and a few markers at the corners of the field. A truck charges across the field, bouncing over the ruts through the crowds, and I recognize it as one of ours, driven up days earlier from Mozambique. I skim the ground to inspect the surface. There are holes, ditches and anthills, rocks and bushes, but I pick out a relatively safe line. Tanneken Fros, on our staff from Israel, is in the truck and waving energetically as we fly by her. This is the place. I go around. By now thousands of children are streaming across the field to watch us land. A few older guys are frantically waving them, and the cows, to the side with sticks. I coast in with full flaps and settle down as easily as possible on our oversize tires. The ground is rough and our plane shakes and vibrates to a stop in a cloud of dust. We are down and safe — and inundated with jumping, excited kids.
It’s obvious that a plane hasn’t landed here in years. This is an event! Everyone is staring. What have we brought? What is in that plane? We drag out our big speakers and heavy generator, and are mobbed by helpers. Somehow everything gets loaded into the truck, we find guards for the plane, and we are off to our first meeting.
It’s not in a church, or even a building. One of our Christians has a field with a couple of mud huts. We get there by driving in and out of deep gullies along a dry river bed, trying to remember how to get back. There isn’t much left of the town. Clearly the economy is dead. The countryside is gripped by drought. Dust blows down the street in swirls. People sit in the shade and stare without energy. The few shops are almost bare. All is in disrepair. But we find our “conference,” a big band of ragged, dirt-poor country peasants who have been waiting for us all day. Tanneken has bought them sticks and plastic tarp, which they have put up between the huts for shelter. They even nailed together some rough boards for a speaker’s platform, with its own roof of tarp.
It’s windy. The tarps are flapping and dust is blowing everywhere. A couple thousand people are trying to find bits of shade. We set up the generator way off in the bushes where it won’t be heard, position our big speakers, hook up our heavy amp, and we have a sound system! What a rarity.
This gathering is the poorest we have seen yet in Africa. All come without food. None of the children have shoes. Obviously most have never received medical care. There are swollen, infected eyes and feet, and terrible scabs and sores everywhere. To feed them we buy big cooking pots and all the beans and maize available in town. Our ladies stir these pots over wood fires through the day, babies strapped to their backs. Water is carried on heads from a well in a nearby village. We buy straw mats for everyone to lie on at night, and they sleep with their colorful skirts wrapped tightly around themselves. There are no lights apart from the flashlights we brought. We dig our own pit latrines.
But we came to preach, and we poured our hearts out for three days. Is everyone hungry for Jesus? Do we want His presence and touch? Do we want to be filled with the Holy Spirit? Do we want to repent of all our evil and idolatry? Yes, yes, yes, yes!! What have we come here for? Nothing less than the love of God in Christ Jesus, who died for us! We’ll never get love from a witch doctor. We’ll never find enough in our families. We’ll only find it in Jesus. If we have Him, we’ll have everything!
We teach all we can from the Word of God in our short time together. The people flood forward in every meeting, kneeling in the dust and hot sun during the day, and in the dark at night. They want everything they can get. There is no resistance to the Gospel. They know they are poor and helpless. This is their last chance, their only hope, and they know it. They are poor in spirit, and theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Their response grows. And then on the last day the floodgates of heaven are opened. Heidi preaches from the book of James on the practical realities of holiness, trying to condense a training program for pastors into one session. New churches are forming almost every day, and we must teach leaders quickly what they most need to know. Do they want the purity of God? Do they want to be washed by the Blood? Do they want the power of the Holy Spirit? Do they want the wisdom of God to lead their people?
We pray for just the pastors first. They throw themselves down before God, oblivious of heat, wind and blowing dirt. A mighty cry of prayer goes up to heaven. Young and old weep together. Rivers of tears flow. Hands reach toward God. Many are shaking in their intensity, unaware of anyone else but Him. Lost in worship and desire, many are pouring their hearts out in tongues. We invite everyone to jump into the things of God, to come forward, join the pastors and seek Him. And then for hours our conference becomes something like a Day of Pentecost for Malawi. No one cares about time, appearance or comfort. Even children are hit with the fire of God. Waves of glory and gratitude roll over us all. The roar of prayer continues. Jesus is getting what He wants: extreme passion for Him!
This is what we came for, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit: visions, miracles, utter repentance and the richest love in the universe crashing down like a mighty, pounding cataract on the poor and abandoned of the world. May the fresh, cool, refreshing mist of this living waterfall be felt all over Africa and the world. May the brilliance of its perfection spread everywhere with thundering power. May the Holy Spirit roll like a tidal wave over the hopelessness of this entire continent, undoing Satan’s worst.
How will we write down all testimonies, the stories of all who were healed, who received revelation and heard the voice of the Good Shepherd? How can we share the best of what God has done here with all our friends around the world? How can we tell you that God is truly able to bestow on the destitute of remotest Africa “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3)?
Pastor Silva is thrilled. He is beside himself with joy. He can’t stop saying over and over, “I’m so happy!” His people are not disappointed. The missionaries did come as promised, and so did the Holy Spirit. We have wildfire church growth in Mozambique, and now in Malawi too. How will we organize and supply next year’s conference, which will be so much bigger? We don’t know, but Jesus does, and we can hardly wait. Meanwhile we will keep trying to write down all that we see Him doing…
That night we show the “Jesus” film at Bangula’s “airport” for people who weren’t at our conference. In the dark we tie a sheet to poles planted in the dirt, train our video projector on the sheet, turn up the sound, and suddenly have an audience of four thousand. They press in on us and struggle to get still closer. The Gospel is clearly explained, and at the end all join in praying the sinner’s prayer. Our churches around Bangula will grow. Jesus is wanted and appreciated, and He will make His home with them…
They next day we pack the airplane before another huge crowd. Everyone wants to touch our bird and run their fingers over our Holy Spirit dove on the tail. We have a mighty farewell prayer meeting with our pastors. We are all burning with fervor for the future of the Body of Christ in Malawi. We tow our plane by hand to the start of the field, warm up in another cloud of dust, and rev our way into the sky again, looking back just enough to see a host of waving hands. How excellent it is to serve the King, and to see His Kingdom come!
SINCE THE FLOODS
Our corner of Africa has opened up wide to the Gospel since the severe floods in Mozambique earlier this year. World-wide attention was focused on a nation that previously had endured decades of war, drought and economic disaster in almost complete obscurity. The flooding was savage, but Mozambicans learned their need for God. Christians around the world interceded for the nation and gave generously with open hearts and hands. Whole rural populations came together in refugee camps and heard the Gospel all at once. Tens of thousands came to Jesus in our meetings, and other missions saw rich fruit as well.
Our red-hot, Spirit-filled bush pastors, trained in our short-term Bible school, dived into the camps and ministered with energy from God Himself. As the numbers of believers climbed, we planted new churches, appointed new pastors and brought them to Bible school too. Spiritual fervor among the flood victims shot up. They found out Jesus could drive out demons, heal the sick, and replace witch doctors with grace, beauty and love. They wanted Bibles more than rice and blankets, more than anything. We’d arrive, and they’d cry, “Let’s have church!”
As the flood waters receded, the refugee camps dispersed. The homeless are trying to start over, many in new locations. But our churches are intact as pastors stay with their people and they continue to seek God together. As fast as pastors come through our Bible school, more rise up until now we have almost a hundred in our current three-month session. We also find that our pastors and network of more than four hundred churches in remote rural areas provide us with the best possible distribution system for relief goods among those who need help the most.
Five months after the floods, agriculture in Mozambique is still in crisis. Seed and farming tools are needed by hundreds of thousands. Replanting has been delayed by a long dry season, and the upcoming rainy season may disrupt travel on roads that are still barely passable. The Mozambican economy, already one of the poorest in the world, has lost hundreds of millions of dollars to flood damage. Food, clothes, tools and medical help are still needed as much as ever, especially in districts untouched by previous relief efforts.
THANK YOU FOR GREAT GENEROSITY
Giving from around the world has greatly expanded the nature of our ministry. In this land of almost nonexistent infrastructure, lack of transportation is usually the most limiting factor in our operations. But we have been able to buy pickup trucks, Land Rovers and several 4-ton flatbed trucks that are now in constant use hauling goods, equipment and teams all over the country. Attendance at our meetings is limited strictly by the number of people we can truck in. Almost no one among the desperately poor whom we want to reach can afford even the twenty cents it would cost to get space in a tightly packed public transport van or pickup to get to church. And so we use our vehicles to make run after run to the streets and the city dump to bring all we can to church.
Rather than unloading our goods at government warehouses and leaving distribution to others, we are bringing relief to the countryside in the course of ministry through our network of churches. We are able to learn from our pastors the real situation out where needs are the greatest, and through them accurately address specific problems. As our churches increase and grow, our ability to combine physical and spiritual ministry improves.
Parcels of clothes, food, medical supplies, toys, etc., have been arriving in quantity at our Nelspruit address in South Africa, and this has been extremely helpful. Our very stretched staff may not be caught up in acknowledging all of these gifts, but please know that each parcel, packed with great love and often at great sacrifice, is so needed and appreciated. How beautifully Jesus works through His Body!
Wire transfers sent to Maputo, and all the checks sent to California, South Africa and Maputo have been a tremendously wonderful blessing from the heart of Jesus Himself. Much has already been used for food, blankets, seed, tools, equipment and logistics expenses of all kinds. And we are continuing to work with our pastors on ways of meetings needs among our believers and their communities that otherwise would never be helped. These days we are increasingly able to demonstrate the love of God in practical, ongoing ways, all part of God’s plan and the result of His Spirit’s powerful work in you!
PROGRESS AT OUR MAPUTO CENTERS
Our work has expanded greatly beyond our children’s centers, but they remain at the heart of what Jesus is doing here. Zimpeto, on the main highway just north of Maputo, is being developed rapidly. We are building as fast as we can get permits and carry out the work. We use very plain, simple designs and cement-block construction. Floors and walls are cement. The whole center is very sandy and dusty because of our soil, high traffic and lack of grass. Our children come from totally untrained, undisciplined backgrounds, so cleanliness and hygiene are a major educational challenge. Maintenance of water, electric, plumbing and septic systems under our circumstances is always a test of our faith, patience and resources.
We have built a medical clinic now, and a “baby house” specially for AIDS babies. Our church now meets indoors in our combination dining/meeting hall as we wait for a church building permit. More dorms are up, and we are planning a school building. Right now many of our children are being taught out in the dirt under trees.
We could scale back and have a much more orderly, manageable operation with the staff we have, but we press forward in faith and obedience to the vision Jesus gave us: “There is always enough because I died!” We never say “no” to a an orphan or a dying, abandoned child, and so we keep bringing them in. And Jesus keeps doing what is necessary to sustain us, after we have passed our own limits. He does this for the sake of His own Name, and He receives the credit and glory. As always, it is an extreme privilege to be immersed in such need and see how God responds. May we always be fit for the Master’s use!
Our much larger Machava property, further from Maputo in the countryside, was badly flooded early in the year, but visiting teams have been cleaning it up and we have hundreds of children there as well. Our Brazilian directors of Machava stayed on after the floods in spite of great hardship. This was a beautiful and effective testimony to the surrounding community, which was ravaged by malaria and suffered great need as a result of flooding. The people converged on Machava for prayer, worship and relief, and now the center is a thriving spiritual home for the area.
At both centers our children continue to be graciously touched by Jesus and unusually filled with faith and sensitivity. Their sweet softness and simple, beautiful prayer and worship are a model for us all. May they always bring great joy to Him, and to all who can recognize His handiwork in them.
A SERIES OF CONFERENCES
With our churches multiplying so quickly and our Bible school doubling in size in a year, there is a huge hunger for the things of God among us. One way of satisfying that hunger has been to hold our unique style of “conferences” in central locations for as many pastors and church people as we can get together. Our donated Cessna 206 aircraft has given us and our visiting speakers the terrific ability to travel long distances, frequently and on tight schedules, regardless of road conditions.
These gatherings are a massive logistical challenge, as again almost no one is able to pay for transport or food. But we pray and try everything we know to do. We send messengers out to our churches announcing our coming. We deliver bus money to distant churches so that if possible they can send representative groups. Many simply walk. Everyone arrives with nothing but the clothes on their backs. We meet in whatever facility is available, usually very broken-down and lacking any toilet or cooking facilities. We buy up all the huge pots we can locate, plain bulk food like beans and maize, put up toilet stalls with sticks and tarp, spread grass mats on the floor, and we have meetings for thousands of our people, Mozambican-style.
Since the floods this year we have had a stream of anointed visiting speakers along with their teams, and it has been a joy to connect “the best of the West” with the poorest of the poor in Africa. Among these wonderful friends Jesus has graciously brought to us have been Ian Ross, Lesley Leighton, Dr. Guy Chevreau, Don Kantel, Stephen Lai and Randy Clark. They have all poured spiritual wealth into the Body of Christ in Mozambique, adding powerful fuel to our revival in the service of the King. Each contributes another rich dimension of the Kingdom of God, and we are thrilled that our believers can enjoy such a kaleidoscope of blessing. They have communicated the heart of the Father, the character of Jesus, an understanding of the Kingdom of God and of the work of the Holy Spirit. They have whetted appetites, softened hearts, inspired faith, brought joy and encouragement, and built fiery passion for the Lord’s work. They all spent time here in Maputo, and then we sent them up to Beira and Chimoio in central Mozambique for the benefit of our churches there. These conferences become the highlight of the year for the participants, and every time they result in immediate and amazing church growth.
Always in these meetings more are called to sacrifice their lives as pastors and evangelists, that an entire country might be won to Jesus. They throw themselves on platforms and altars by the hundred, weeping and crying out to God for mercy, power and the glory of His Presence. They return to their villages and immediately plant yet more churches, fired up by what God does among us. Five have been raised from the dead in the last year. Other healings have kept us thrilled and encouraged. We have so many testimonies to write about. We don’t know how to get all the news out, but we are eager for the world to know that God has answers, even for Mozambique!
CHURCH-BASED ORPHAN CARE
If you are following world news, you know about the AIDS epidemic that is hitting Africa like an apocalyptic tidal wave. It is forecast that Mozambique will have millions of AIDS orphans within the next decade. It is hard to believe what we are facing. AIDS testing was done recently among a random sample of two hundred people along a heavily-traveled corridor in central Mozambique, and only four were found to be HIV-negative! And yet God has given us a vision for such a revival that the Church of Jesus Christ will be able to care for every orphan in the country. Toward this end we are teaching, preaching and setting in place church-based orphan care. The Gospel is nothing if it has no answer for these children. But rather than try to build massive centers across the land, we want every little village church to do its part and take in AIDS orphans in its area. Our pastors are beginning to catch the fire of this vision, and so church after church is planning its own small structure, maybe just of sticks and mud, which can be a home of love and hope to children who have lost everything. May Jesus Himself make it up to a whole generation of these children as only He can. And may He use our centers in Maputo as examples and sources of encouragement to a nation of pastors whose hearts are conquered by the King!
OUR VISITORS, FRIENDS AND SUPPORTERS
So far this year more than two thousand visitors have come to our center in Maputo, each bringing their own special ministry contribution. Many came during the floods to help with emergency medical and relief work in the refugee camps, but there has been a stream ever since as well, continually refreshing us with love and energy. God in His mercy showers our children with love from around the world. May Jesus richly bless all of you whose smiles, hugs and daily attention have brought a bit of heaven down to our huge family of kids. They are a truly happy bunch, as anyone can see, and you are part of the reason!
We are grateful for everything — for your time, helpfulness with everything large and small, your skills and generosity, and your continuing friendship. May Jesus take over your lives completely until you are hopelessly caught up in His purposes alone. And may His blessings overflow on all of you who contribute to the work here. May you be thrilled to serve Him, freely and without compulsion, abounding in His incredible love, knowing that He will satisfy you forever…
With much, much love and appreciation,
Rolland and Heidi