Cyclone Idai in Mozambique
Written by Heidi & Rolland Baker
04/7/2019 | Pemba, Mozambique
I’m hot and miserable. It’s dark and my feet are aching. I can hardly see where I’m going, slogging through sticky mud and slipping off narrow trails. I can’t recognize anything around me. I’m soaking with perspiration. My eyes are getting blurry from fatigue and jetlag. My head aches. I’m so hungry and thirsty. I’m sore and itchy all over. The are no words to describe how much I want to get home, clean up, sit down, and eat and drink. But I don’t know when that will be. I’m trying to follow a couple of Mozambicans who seem to know their way back to our base, but I can’t believe how long it’s taking.
All afternoon our little Iris band has been on foot in countryside villages meeting with survivors of Cyclone Idai, a powerful storm that has left three million people in need of life-saving help. The wind and rain were merciless. The already poverty-stricken villagers clung to each other as roofs were ripped off and their household belongings were blown away by 120 mph gusts. Not a pot or a blanket or a change of clothes were left for many. All got scattered over the fields and soaked in driving rain. Walls collapsed as foundations weakened in soft, wet ground. Hut after hut became a wrecked pile of broken sticks and twisted tin.
We heard stories. One old blind man lived in a shabby hut with his wife who fed and took care of him. But the storm destroyed their house, and his wife was killed by flying debris. Afterward neighbors came by and built him a simple lean-to shelter with scattered pieces of wood so he could sit out of the rain. But now his wife is no more and he is truly alone. What is his future? Untold others died in the storm, probably thousands. Bodies are floating in the floodwaters. Crops are washed away. An entire harvest is gone. Roads are impassable. Clean water cannot be found.
Large areas are twenty and even thirty feet under water. The devastation stretches for hundreds of kilometers across three provinces and also Zimbabwe and Malawi. This is the worst weather-related disaster ever to hit the southern hemisphere. The United Nations has never had to coordinate such a massive relief effort before. 1.8 million people were already facing critical food shortage before the cyclone. Now their meager supplies and possessions are wiped out.
Right now I am just trying to get back to our Dondo base somehow through the wet, soggy bush so I can take care of myself. That is not a possibility for hundreds of thousands of people. They will spend the night in the dark, sitting in the dirt and mud without food or water, with no shelter, and with no idea of what comes next. Tonight it has been over a week since the cyclone, and most around us have not eaten anything in that time. Our own Iris base at Dondo, a half-hour drive from Beira, was badly damaged. Huge trees were blown over. Our church roof was torn up. So much repair is needed. The infrastructure of Beira, a city of 500,000 in central Mozambique, is 90% destroyed. Dondo’s hospital is inundated with patients who stand in line for hours and hours to get some kind of treatment in facilities without water and electricity. Mothers are giving birth in the dark by flashlight. Many babies die. Medicines are scarce. Buildings are torn up.
Actually, our area around Dondo was spared the worst. There is far more flooding to the west and north where rivers overflowed. Every available boat is being used to save lives. A flotilla of helicopters are flying from Beira every day rescuing the most desperate in immediate danger of losing their lives. But they are not nearly enough. The effects of the flood are so extensive that no one really knows how to provide food, water, and shelter to so many remote, isolated communities.
But Iris and other ministries have pastors, churches, and thousands of believers on the ground throughout the flood area who can be mobilized to help with the challenge of distribution. Iris Relief teams are here, based in Dondo. More volunteers are on their way. Especially welcome are those with skills needed in this disaster: medical, engineering, construction, farming, IT and communication, everything… We are deeply grateful for the finances that have been flowing in miraculously, and for the hearts that are being turned toward many of the poorest and neediest people on the planet.
I am thinking about all of this as I sweat and press on in the night toward a private room and a bottle of water. This has been a very hard day, and I am really uncomfortable. But of course, I have only been trudging through this disaster zone for one afternoon and evening. Those all around me have endured this for a week, mostly without sleep, food, or water, or any place to lay their heads. Furthermore, most of those affected have no expectation of any kind of help soon. The future is bleak and unknown. Many are simply waiting to die. Malnutrition, starvation, and disease are looming.
Heidi and the rest of our small team are making their way behind me. They had stayed awhile with the last group of villagers and their children we visited who had gathered around a destroyed house in which a family had died during the storm. Right there standing on a heap of broken boards and scattered household stuff we ministered to neighbors and a whole crowd of children who pressed in closely. They heard the gospel. They heard about Jesus. They heard about a Perfect Savior who could shelter them safely forever in his heart. They heard about another Age, another life, where there will be no tears. They heard about real hope, a real future, a real inheritance no storm and no evil will be able to remove. And they raised their hands, closed their eyes, and prayed their hearts out. There is no resistance to the gospel here.
Most people around us are too young to remember another disaster that Heidi and I will never forget. In early 2000 three cyclones came together in the south of Mozambique, and it rained torrentially for forty days and forty nights, the secular newspaper said. It was described as the worst flooding in recorded history since Noah. It caused more damage than thirty years of war. And it precipitated a revival like we had never seen.
In March of 2000 I wrote: What has happened to Mozambique, this country where we live and work and have come to know so well, is almost unbelievable to us. What started off as a three-day rainstorm early this month has turned into a natural disaster that has required the largest humanitarian aid mobilization that Africa has ever seen. It is likely that tens of thousands of human corpses will be uncovered when the flood waters subside. Southern Mozambique is one huge flood plain draining the highlands of South Africa and Zimbabwe, and there was no escape for whole towns and villages, many still beyond the range of rescue helicopters. Mothers struggling in neck-deep currents drowned their own babies in their back slings. Stranded communities are reduced to eating the decayed flesh of dead cows, and children are even roasting rats. Upper-story roofs in Xai-Xai have collapsed under the weight of so many desperate survivors. The stench in the streets from sewage and animal carcasses is terrible. Severe malnutrition is setting in among young children. Clean water is nearly impossible to find, even for rescue crews. Refugees have been seen urinating in and drinking out of the same pools of water. Malaria victims lie motionless in the dirt with high fevers. Twenty-six camps with almost no facilities or provisions are trying to care for 250,000 people. Aid is pouring into Maputo’s tiny airport finally, creating a logistical nightmare. Air traffic controllers have been flown in from England to handle the load. After weeks of delay, the government has expedited customs, but still the fine details of every shipment take hours and days for officials to write out without computers. Organizing and delivering goods to the camps, and then by air to still-stranded populations is overtaxing the capabilities of the world’s largest disaster relief organizations. And still the cry is, “Too little, too late.” There aren’t enough helicopters in all of Africa to handle the need. The worst is yet to come, as thirst, ravenous hunger and epidemics take their toll, even with the best efforts of dedicated aid professionals. We have assumed responsibility for a second camp of 3,000 flood victims, this one north of Maputo near the severe flood waters. Today our staff went up there by arrangement with the government to pick up and bring to our center as many flood orphans as possible. To get there we have to wade through water waist-deep or more for an hour, take surface transport at exorbitant cost (fuel must be carried in on heads), wade for another hour, take another “capa” ride, and then wade again. Heidi kept falling into holes and mud, arriving totally drenched. Helicopters are bringing in survivors all through the day and landing them in three main areas south of Xai-Xai. In the camps we find huge joy as thousands listen to the gospel and devour tracts even before they eat the bread we bring. We need truckloads of tracts and Bibles to satisfy such hunger. These flood victims, many weak and sick, and all without possessions, are thrilled to sit and learn about our Lord Jesus. They respond, they worship, they pray and weep in repentance for themselves and the sins of their nation. They sing and dance. They are thrilled when we send ministry teams. They need more than pallets of beans and rice. As the President’s secretary-general Senhor Matos told us, his people need love. They need comfort and warmth. They need to be hugged. They need assurance and faith. They need the Lord, and all that is in His heart.
By the following Christmas we began to see the extraordinary fruit of God’s dealings with Mozambique.
I wrote on 26 December 2000: We gave a Christmas banquet at our Zimpeto center, and to us it was a foretaste of the King’s great banquet given for us all on that Great Day. We called in beggars from the streets, the destitute from the dump, prostitutes from the brothels, drug addicts and gangsters, and they all sat down together with our children, missionaries and Mozambican staff. Cooks worked all day on our chicken dinner, something we have only two or three times a year. Heidi shopped for days in South Africa, getting dolls, marbles, balls, toy cars and stuffed animals to add to all that was sent to us from around the world. Volunteers wrapped presents for weeks. We gave donated pants and shirts to the dump children, and a week earlier we brought wraparound skirts to the prostitutes so they would have something to wear for Christmas with us. All of us, almost two thousand, sang and danced before the Lord. More came to Jesus, kneeling before the King who came, simple and poor, to identify with us. We began with a beautiful wedding for a couple who hadn’t been able to get married before because the groom’s house was washed away in the flood. He is one of our pastors, and has been living in the corner of a friend’s grass hut, but now we’ve built him and his new bride a new reed house. We are abounding in good fruit, such as prostitutes coming to Jesus who want their children back from our house for abandoned and HIV babies. One ex-prostitute married Zacharias, a young man Heidi found on the streets three years ago. Jesus changed Zacharias from a mean, violent street fighter into a radiant man of God who now pastors one of our downtown Maputo churches. This church meets in a broken-down old building which gets filled up with street girls, abandoned children, drunks—all finding hope and powerful help in our good God! It has grown so much that we have built an extension and are looking for more old buildings in Maputo to convert into ministry centers. Now we are caring for a thousand children, and have a thousand pastors serving in churches all across Mozambique and into South Africa and Malawi. These churches are themselves learning to take in orphans and abandoned children, like a little girl in Chimoio whose father was killed by a land mine and mother was eaten by a lion. Masses of utterly destitute people across the country of Mozambique are finding the ultimate gift this Christmas—Jesus Himself. He continues to heal the sick, raise the dead and reveal Himself to the poorest of the poor, and all who want Him desperately. Here are a few examples. Jitu, an HIV-positive street boy who came to us last year, is now HIV-negative—our first HIV miracle! Jesus used Surpresa Sithole, one of our leading evangelists, to raise up Shansha, a six-year-old girl who was dead of malaria for over a day. And Joel came into our office to tell us what Jesus did for him. His father was killed in the war, and his mother died of cerebral malaria. We found him hungry and beat up on the streets, and took him in. Recently he also got malaria, but in the night a tall, shining angel touched him and placed a Bible in his hands. He was healed immediately and now is full of love and gratitude to Jesus, always ready to testify.
Revival continued to grow across Mozambique in the years to follow. Now, almost twenty years later, our country is being rocked again by major disaster and upheaval on multiple fronts. We are turning to a new chapter in our history with God. But we never want to forget what we learned in the past. God is not a helpless onlooker. He is able to shield us from all misfortune. But through the events of our lives and our experiences with God we learn to distinguish good from evil. We learn to trust God though he slay us. We learn our weakness and his greatness. We understand that we cannot hold onto and depend on anything in this world. We learn that in extreme crisis all we really have is our live, immediate, intimate connection with Jesus. Our eternity with him is all that makes sense of what we go through. He is our exceeding great reward. May utter repentance and humility go before us under his mighty hand.
Eagerly we look forward to how Jesus will deal with the ravaged people of Mozambique. May an even greater revival rise out of the flood waters. May his ways be proven unspeakably greater than ours. May hundreds of thousands of people, many already believers, come to know Jesus more intimately than they ever imagined. May signs and wonders confirm the gospel everywhere, but never replace our hearts’ desire, Jesus himself.
Heidi and I thank and bless every one of you who are putting yourselves into God’s hands to fulfill his purposes for this nation. We revel in the outpouring of love we are tasting from our brothers and sisters around the world. May Jesus guide us all unerringly by his Spirit toward a fresh and glorious outpouring of the knowledge of the Lord in this land.
Much love in Jesus, always,
Drs. Rolland and Heidi Baker, Co-Founders of Iris Global