Faith, Love and Joy in the Bush
Written by Heidi & Rolland Baker
Francisco is smiling, seated comfortably on the platform in a coat and tie, obviously very special for him. And this is a very special day — Resurrection Sunday! It’s Easter in this poor township in South Africa, and today Francisco is getting married. His bride is beside him in white. All his church friends are singing and dancing before him in their Sunday best. The weather is beautiful. The music is spine-tingling. These people know how to celebrate, even in poverty.
But this is no ordinary wedding. We leave room for the Holy Spirit, and we take time to preach the Gospel with all our hearts. Guests come streaming to the altar in tears and with joy, throwing themselves at the feet of the King. We have been telling of His mercy and grace, and His unlimited resurrection power. And our prime illustration is sitting on the platform. Franzie, as we call him, was resurrected from the dead last September after being beaten to death by a gang that arrived to disrupt one of our township conferences (see our 21 October 2003 newsletter). One of the thugs was caught by the police, but the church forgave him and refused to press charges. Not only was Franzie resurrected and completely healed of his wounds in one day, but the teenage killer was saved and reconciled to Franzie and the church.
Finally we move on to the wedding ceremony. Franzie and his bride exchange vows and rings. I’m the wedding photographer too, and I capture on film the cutting of the cake, the chicken dinner, and all Franzie’s family and friends. His life has been poor and hard, his faith strong and his endurance unwavering. Now Jesus is loving him richly and deeply with the desires of his heart even after suffering the worst Satan could do. This is Franzie’s day, and we are so happy for him and his brand-new wife…
Franzie is a leading pastor among our hundreds of Iris Africa churches in South Africa, all connected with us in Mozambique, Malawi and other countries. He is one of a cloud of witnesses that are fueling revival in our corner of Africa, another testament to the presence and glory of God among us here on earth. Most who hear this story will hardly be affected, but God has His people who will love Him to the death, and know that His Kingdom is a pearl beyond price.
4 JUNE 2004
The dramatic granite peaks of Nampula Province loom out of the distant haze one after another and glide by in our Cessna’s picture window view of the African wilderness. We clear ridges by hundreds of feet and bounce lightly through turbulence caused by breezes deflected upward by hillsides. We examine the details of the wild — the evergreen trees at higher elevations, the erosion trails, and the streaks and patterns of minerals painted by the creator across bare rock faces. There are no highways and subdivisions in sight. We are far from power lines and gas stations. This is Africa, where life has hardly changed in centuries for those living in the scattered huts passing underneath, barely strung together by narrow dirt footpaths through the lonely countryside.
We are headed for yet another of our “bush conferences,” central gatherings of many hundreds of our pastors from the far corners of a province, this time Nampula, Mozambique’s second largest by population. We were going to meet in the city of Nampula, the provincial capital, but the government is staging a political campaign there, and its people have taken every hotel room and rental vehicle available.
But most of our churches are out in the bush anyway, so we decided to move our conference to the little town of Iapala, 75 miles to the west on the dirt road to Malawi. That meant driving our own trucks down from and Pemba and up from Maputo far to the south so our staff could go ahead of us and begin preparations. We even bought a new 4WD pickup truck for the occasion.
Today Heidi, Jill Austin and our preacher friend Lesley Leighton are with me in our plane making the 35-minute hop from Nampula to Iapala, a trip that is taking our mission team four or five hours on the ground. We see the rough, narrow road they are on below, roughly paralleling train tracks that also lead to Malawi. Small plots of maize lie near huts, providing barely enough food for survival when there is rain. Water is usually a long walk away. A few goats are the only livestock. This is a quiet, remote, isolated corner of the world hardly ever seen by Westerners. But Iapala is special to God, for in this area He has chosen to raise the dead and fire a hunger for the living Savior among a people who have been almost completely Moslem until recently. We have come to encourage their faith in Jesus and pour even more fuel on the fire of revival.
The road to Iapala wanders away from our direct path, so I follow my GPS. Soon the tiny community materializes in front of a massive rocky outcrop. A twenty-year-old U.S. Defense Dept. map says there was a dirt runway here once, but our advance team found nothing but tall grass over the head. Back in Nampula I got word by radiotelephone that they hired twenty local men to machete a few hundreds yards of runway for us, and soon we find the clearing they made. It doesn’t look like much. I sink down for a low pass to check out the surface. Thick clumps of high stubble are left all over the “airstrip,” and the ground looks very lumpy and uneven, strewn with rocks and cut grass. But with our big tundra tires it’s good enough. We come in to land. Speed just right. Full flaps with enough power for a 500-ft/minute descent, flaring well before the strip begins. We set down firmly, shaking to a stop just facing the tall grass at the other end. We are safe, having arrived at the roughest airfield I have encountered yet in the bush.
And we have a welcoming committee! Hundreds of villagers, young and old, mob our plane. They are jumping and shouting, laughing and singing. Most have never seen an airplane before. The Christians have come! The preachers have come! Let’s have a conference! We load our gear into our team’s waiting truck, and with excited children racing behind us, we head for our “conference grounds.”
That’s a story too. Moslems in town objected to our meetings, so to avoid offense our church leaders found some land further away from the central market and workers chopped tall grass again so we could put up a crude platform, pitch our tents and make room to lay straw mats for the people to sit on during meetings. Heidi, Jill and Lesley start making camp until the main team convoy arrives, and I set up our generator and sound/video system. By sunset the team has arrived and put up their tents, and we are ready for more revival!
Our pastors have come from hundreds of miles around. Our own trucks have pounded over rough roads for days gathering as many as possible. Others arrive on foot, or by local transport — dilapidated, overloaded, sagging trucks and vans, a familiar sight in Africa. Wives and children come too, spreading their grass mats on the weeds and dirt before the platform and setting down their meager bags of belongings. Local Christians are eagerly waiting. Moslems filter in from town. Curious onlookers circle around us. Soon it’s dark, we have quite a crowd, and our first meeting in Iapala begins.
That night we arrange for workers to hack more grass at the runway starting at dawn. I need another couple hundred yards to take off safely from the rough, soft ground, even with a light load and fuel tanks only half-full. I head back to Nampula to fly in Randy Clark and my daughter and niece, who have just flown up by commercial jet from Maputo. On the return flight I circle the conference field to get attention, showing Randy and the girls the crowd on the ground and our tents. Again we land before a surging throng, even more excited after last night’s meeting. Crystalyn and Marissa plunge in among the children, laughing and singing with them. Randy knows he has reached the ends of the earth…
And so we continue another of our many conferences among the rural poor of Africa that we have been holding since 1998. We have had hundreds of them, and they have been primary instruments of encouragement and growth, along with our Bible schools. Each conference has its uniqueness. Local languages change — Mozambique alone has twenty-six. Some are large, involving the feeding of ten or twelve thousand people. Others are smaller, including mainly key leaders. Some are at main bases with basic facilities and electricity; others are in open fields where we need to dig toilets, clear grass, and put up tents and plastic for protection from sun and rain.
We nearly always begin by showing a video of the Jesus Film, and more recently Mel Gibson’s The Passion. We sing and dance Africa-style until we’re ready to drop. We preach ourselves hoarse. We pray for the sick. Our meetings vary according to the gifts of our speakers and visiting short-term missionaries. Some are amazing musicians. Others are great teachers. Some come with powerful gifts of healing and prophecy. Most are humble, ordinary Christians with great hearts of love and sensitivity who will do anything to help.
In our climate of revival in southeast Africa, nearly all who hear the Gospel respond to Jesus and want more of Him. There is no point to an “altar call” when the entire listening crowd wants salvation and the Holy Spirit! Often the people are noisy and jammed tightly together. Children press in around the platform, missing nothing. Usually the nights are hot, mosquitoes are buzzing, and all of us are dirty and dripping with perspiration. It is such a challenge to keep the electricity on and the sound system working. And in all the stress and chaos, God shows up, again and again.
Recently at an outreach among Moslems near Pemba, an invitation to salvation was given and hundreds responded. Georgian Banov was playing his intensely exciting violin music, and the crowd was electric. Then, as she often does, Heidi called deaf people forward for prayer. She took one little boy in her arms, a twelve-year-old deaf-mute since birth, and just kept hugging and praying for him. After awhile his ears were opened, and he began to respond to Heidi, saying simple words like “Mama” and “Jesus.” Someone ran to get his parents, who had already gone to bed. They came out, and tears ran down their faces when they saw what Jesus had done. “My boy! My boy! He hasn’t spoken since he was born!” the father cried in Makua. Both parents were saved then and there. The people all knew the boy, and they were jumping and shouting with wonder and approval. Then a young man brought out his ninety-year-old blind grandmother for prayer. The Holy Spirit began to work, and she could see light — and then forms, and then she said she could see everything clearly. “You’re a white lady!” she cried when Heidi came into focus! The people erupted with life-giving joy again.
We held this outreach right in front of one of our simple thatch churches, a new church plant, and so we could introduce everyone immediately to a pastor and church family. And so the revival spreads, one person, one miracle, one act of love at a time. The Moslems cannot resist the true and living God when they see His power shown through such love.
Back in Iapala, we finish our three days with our provincial and district pastors and leaders, church people and local villagers. Once again the Holy Spirit comes and touches the lonely, lost, sick and discouraged. How incredible that God Himself would pay attention to this remote, dusty little town. How amazing that all these foreigners would come so far and live in tents in the dirt to bring the love of God to people they have never met. On the last day our Mozambican pastors lay hands on Randy and pour out their appreciation to God for him and all the missionaries who came to Africa with the Good News. Crying with love and gratitude, Pastor Tanuekue and his wife and brother, a family that has raised many from the dead in the name of Jesus, tell us, “Thank you! Thank you! We didn’t know! We didn’t know the love of God, and you came! You obeyed and came to us! Thank you!”
In the afternoon we fly out of our homemade airport with rich memories, heading back over mountains, rivers and plains to relative “civilization.” And then we continue on to more locations, week after week, month after month, energized supernaturally to spearhead the Spirit’s work more than a thousand miles up and down Africa’s southeastern coast. All our lives we have prayed to see and experience an “open heaven,” and now it is coming upon us. A refreshing, pure and powerful Niagara Falls of God’s grace is being poured out on the extremely poor in all their hardship and suffering. The hungry will be filled, and the hungry of Africa are running to Jesus for life and love. In their humble faith they are tasting His mercy and joy, and becoming more than conquerors in spite of all opposition.
May Jesus pour out His Spirit among us all the more as we take increasing pleasure in Him and press forward to what lies ahead. He is not tired; He is not depressed; He is not overwhelmed by our desperate circumstances. He loves to respond to those who are happy with Him, who delight in Him, and who come to Him for everything. Let’s draw closer to Him and love Him even more. He always proves Himself to be better than we think!
We feel very loved by Jesus through all of you who know us, support us and pray for us so fervently. It is always beautiful to watch how He works through His Body to take care of so many. More power and glory on all of you whose hearts are conquered by the King!
On we go in Jesus! —Rolland
A RECENT EMAIL MESSAGE FROM HEIDI:
The Lord has spoken to me about the Makua people. I will be spending much more time in Pemba, teaching in Bible College, doing outreaches and learning Makua. I have just canceled six weeks of speaking trips this year so I can pray and concentrate on slowly reaching the Makua people. It is very difficult to leave our children’s center at Zimpeto in the south near Maputo. However, Rolland and I have been slowly transitioning for a year. My heart is so broken for the people of the north. Please pray for a true transformation to take place. I am believing for this tribe to be reached by the love of Jesus.
I want to share my thoughts on the last few days. I love what God is doing here. Yes, there are trials and hardships, and warfare. We have not had water for the last five days in our house. Electricity is always off and on. Some pastors are angry and want to be offered jobs. Witch doctors try to put spells on us. The new floods wiped out the septic tank at the center. We still battle with character development in the pastors and children. And there are so many needs it makes our heads spin. And yet, God is so mighty!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! He fills us with His glorious Holy Spirit and brings the lost into His precious saving grace. Today was an awesome day. It was graduation day in Pemba. You could feel the excitement in the air. We worshiped and heard the pastors prophesy and share the dreams and visions God gave them. I preached with all that Jesus has put within me from the book of Timothy. Then it was time for the ceremony to begin. No cap and gowns. Instead there were ragged shirts and worn out flip-flops. We met in our unfinished building on the dirt floor. The breeze blew refreshingly through our open sanctuary. Pastor Jose had a vision of doves flying in with flowers in their beaks. They were bringing the joy of the Lord. Another pastor had a vision of a very deep well, with fresh water full of many fish. Another saw a brilliant white cloud filling our building. Another saw a great multitude bowing before the Lord crying out in worship.
The Holy Spirit fell in a tremendous way upon our humble pastors. You could see the presence of God touch each one. This is the real thing! Twenty-two months ago we had fifteen converts in this province. Today another eighty pastors graduate. At the end of the graduation we had a call for salvation and twelve more were saved!!
It was now time for baptism. The church sang and danced down to the crystal clear, perfectly warm Indian ocean. I had a blast swimming with all our children. There is something so miraculous about previously sad and abused orphans splashing around laughing and showing me all their tricks in the ocean. They are free to be children again. I believe Father God enjoyed this time as well. We then baptized fifty new Christians, including twelve of our new children.
The day was not even over. I had several hours to spend in the Holy Place with my best friend Jesus before going on outreach. Over two thousand people showed up. We showed the Jesus Film and again I preached my heart out. Hundreds were saved. We have just started working with this community and will start a church there this month. It was the girls’ night at our house. We all piled into the Land Rover and drove home with all our beautiful girls singing at the top of their voices praise songs to the one we love with all of our lives. They are still laughing with His awesome joy. See why I love this place?
A little time has gone by since I wrote this. We have been ministering in Malawi, and God has poured out His glorious Holy Spirit in the middle of Bangula. The blind saw, the deaf heard and many more were miraculously healed. Around a thousand people responded to the calls for salvation. We found out that beans were multiplied as well!!!!!! Please pray for the church leaders and missionaries.
Thank you for caring about us and being so kind to remember the poor. They are indeed rich in faith. I pray you live inside the gloriously loving heart of Jesus and run out to give his love away.
Be blessed! —Heidi