From Glory to Glory
Written by Heidi & Rolland Baker
Tuesday, 3 June — Silver streaks of smoke lie painted over the marshy plain before us. They stream north against us from dozens of fires, held low by strong winds. We descend through hazy, gray skies in the sunset, straining to see our dirt airstrip ahead. The headwind slows us down, and we will barely make it to our unlit field before Malawi’s official last light.
We sink still lower, and in the dim light we can see canoes floating on the small ponds and streams of the lower Shire River basin, which drains clear, pristine Lake Malawi. Here, though, the water is shallow, muddy — and full of crocodiles. There is greenery even with drought all around, and desperate, hungry villagers search for water lily bulbs and anything else edible, in spite of the danger. Crocodiles use their noses to flip canoes, and then many times have dragged victims away in their jaws.
It’s our third flight of the day. We started this morning from Maputo, Mozambique, our Cessna 206 loaded to full gross weight with sound equipment for our largest bush conference yet. Five hundred miles further north we clear customs and immigration in Beira and head for Blantyre, Malawi, and now we are almost to Bangula, where we will feed and minister to more than ten thousand people who have streamed in from village churches all over southern Malawi.
We are ten thousand miles from southern California, where my wife Heidi and I were married twenty-three years ago. Two weeks after our wedding we were off to foreign countries, searching for the poor and lost, and we have never looked back. Now we are in Africa, immersed in a movement toward God so intense that we can hardly take time to report on it. The numbers increase, the challenges mount, and many tell us to scale back. But this revival is not too big; it is only beginning, and we are just now learning how to minister to the poor…
Beside me I have Surpresa Sithole, our African co-director of Iris Ministries. He was born in a little town in a remote province of Mozambique. Both his parents were powerful, well-known witch doctors. He knew nothing about Jesus when one day the Holy Spirit spoke to him in a loud voice, so powerful that his bed shook. “Get out of your house or you will die!” He got out, and in a week his parents were dead. Surpresa survived in the bush for weeks more, and in time found a Christian pastor who told him about Jesus. God turned him into a flaming evangelist, supernaturally gave him many languages, and steered him to us in 1998. By now Surpresa has received thousands of vivid visions from God that have encouraged and sustained our work together.
Now we are facing the poor again. The runway is in clear view, but covered with people. A team has already cleared it of weeds, stones, goats and cows. We float down and skim over the crowds, letting them know we are here. From the plane we can see their rags and bare feet, and their wildly excited expressions. We circle around for a final approach, and this time everyone is out of the way. We land on the dirt, very rough this time from footpaths and all the weeding that was done, with just enough twilight not to need landing lights. People stream toward us, laughing and dancing. Jesus, after all you have done in our lives, do we have enough from you for this multitude? They are so expectant, so hungry…
There is history behind this gathering. For more than a year Malawi has suffered severe food shortage from both floods and drought. Many of our own people in our remote Iris Africa/Partners in Harvest churches were down to eating bugs, worms, grass, leaves and roots. Surpresa and I kept preaching everywhere we went, in the dark and rain, under trees and dripping thatch roofs, without electricity and lights, to all who would listen. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God! Not floods and famine, disease and death, nor anything in all creation!” And we cried for His help and presence. Our churches kept growing, in spite of tears and hardship.
We invested in more bush conferences, each very expensive because the people are penniless and most are unable to journey to our meetings unless we provide transport. Georgian Banov came to Bangula with offerings for one thousand chickens, which we boiled in open pots over firewood. That was such an unusual display of the love of God to the people that two hundred churches were added to Iris Africa in Malawi as a result. Then Todd Bentley and Fresh Fire Ministries responded fervently to the Holy Spirit. For months they planned large meetings, food distribution and outreaches in the poorest areas of Malawi’s capital city of Lilongwe. Tomorrow I fly back to Beira to pick up Heidi and Guy Chevreau and take them to Lilongwe for the start of that campaign. Our pastors and churches in central Malawi will be deeply involved.
But Fresh Fire went further and contributed huge support for food distribution in Bangula, our working headquarters in southern Malawi. Bangula is a tiny town on a rough road between Malawi and Mozambique, once supported by cotton plantations, now long gone. It’s a destitute place, and fiercely hot most of the year. But it has a runway, unused for years until we cleared it off ourselves, and now we own property right alongside the runway where we can hold large outdoor meetings and build housing. For us it has become a focal point for ministry to isolated rural villagers in this whole region, communities that rarely benefit from humanitarian aid efforts at larger centers.
Our meetings here don’t start for a few days, but the people and food are ready. All has been organized by a leadership commission from thirty denominations, an amazing, encouraging display of unity. We have a welcome committee that registers every person and family. We bought forty large cooking pots and put together a cooking team of eighty men from many churches. Another team of twenty pastors serve the people as they are grouped by zone into five lines. We truck in all the firewood. More teams built shelters of tree branches, bamboo and plastic, and a simple stage. We announce over the radio that all are welcome. Our ten hired trucks come and go, bringing in load after load of singing, clapping people until eight thousand have been trucked “African-style.” Two or three thousand more come by foot and bicycle. It is such a spectacle, to many the greatest thing that ever happened in Bangula.
There is such order in the camp that our hired security guards marvel. We watch as ten thousand hungry Malawians wait patiently for their corn mush, beans, cabbage and lentils. Angels must be guarding too. Town authorities were afraid there would be riots, but the Holy Spirit keeps supernatural control as yet another team maintains an intercessory prayer vigil.
I fly Heidi and Guy to Lilongwe, then bring Guy back to Bangula the next day to start our meetings with Surpresa. Pastor Rego from Mozambique has already been preaching. We all teach what God has given each of us. The people respond with one huge cry. They have spiritual hunger. They have faith. They will receive. It seems all we have to do to see an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is say, “Let’s pray!” As we have seen so many times in the African bush, the Holy Spirit falls on the entire crowd, even in the hot sun and blowing dust. People are intensely hit; they shout, cry and shake with perspiration pouring down their faces. They weep, they hug, they fall to the ground and worship with fiery intensity. They pray in tongues. Sometimes they laugh ecstatically with unrestrained joy. Some are in visions. A number are healed. All want Jesus. All want to be saved. All want to give their lives to Him as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to Him.
One night a spirit of worship rises spontaneously. Hundreds move toward our rough, wooden platform and kneel in the dirt, softly weeping and worshiping into the night, no one wanting to leave. Our worship team is on their faces. We have been speaking of the excellencies of Christ, the One who amazingly is our all-powerful King and Judge, and yet also our Savior and humble friend, if we will have Him. I am in tears again to see our God so loved…
I fly Heidi and Michael Ellis in from Lilongwe, and we continue. At night the emphasis is healing as we remain in His Presence, and at least seven receive their sight. We cannot take time for all the healing testimonies. We lead children off in groups for special teaching. We speak specially to pastors. We do everything we can to deliver the whole counsel of God in the short time we have together.
Malawi’s hunger crisis has subsided. The rains are returning, crops are growing again, and wide-scale disaster has been averted. Help has come from many quarters. God is merciful, and answers the prayers of a nation turning to Him. We still have our part to play in southern Malawi, where extreme poverty and isolation leave great need. On the last day of our conference we distribute food to six thousand families as they return home on our trucks. Each family receives a 10 kg. sack of corn and a 5 kg. sack of beans, practical evidence of God’s love that will stir greater faith in the future.
I fly Heidi, Guy and Michael to Pemba in Mozambique and return for Surpresa and the sound equipment in a few days. Surpresa has a chance to meet with our Malawi leadership commission and consolidate all that has been taught for six days. Our Bible school is starting up in Bangula. Long-term missionaries are on their way. All involved with this conference are encouraged beyond measure. May all who helped and contributed enjoy rich blessing in Jesus as a result!
REVIVAL IN TWO MOSLEM PROVINCES
Sunday, 22 June 2003 — Just over one year ago we began to preach publicly in Pemba, a city on the coast a thousand miles north of Maputo in the almost entirely Moslem province of Cabo Delgado. We started with one mud-and-stick church of fifteen adults, and held night meetings beside it on a hill near a marketplace among the huts of the town. Persecution was strong and few listened. But the Holy Spirit fell on our little band of believers, and our Pastor José, and since then doors have opened wide for ministry to Moslems all over the province.
Demons were cast out by the hundreds in front of onlooking crowds, who suddenly realized they were dealing with the true and living God. Moslems began to bring their desperate cases of sickness to our church for prayer, and Jesus the Healer did what only He can do. One example was a 12-year-old girl who was completely insane and out of control. She couldn’t even look anyone in the eye. Her Moslem parents were desperate. Our little Pemba church fasted and prayed for five days for the girl, and she was totally healed and restored to her right mind. She and her family had been syncretistic Moslems, keeping idols around the house, taking special medicines dedicated to evil spirits, and washing themselves with oils used in Islamic traditions. They destroyed all these things and have come to Jesus, along with many other Moslems who saw what happened.
A desperate man with severe epilepsy came to our church asking for prayer. He couldn’t remember going a single week without a terrible epileptic fit. He has been completely delivered, and now he serves joyfully as a volunteer at church, bringing many others to Jesus.
Through healings like this and our evangelistic meetings, thousands of Moslems have come to Jesus in and around Pemba, an area described by missiologists as “unreachable.” Now we have thirty-six churches in Cabo Delgado, and just today we baptized four hundred ex-Moslems in the ocean in Pemba with the help of visiting teams. Last night in a conference meeting a four-year-old boy with paralyzed legs walked for the first time. Today her mother brought him back to show us how much more strongly he was walking, now without having to hold on to anyone. This morning before breakfast Heidi led two Moslems to Jesus. One was named Ishmael. And after church she married twelve couples, all ex-Moslems who have recently been saved.
Our Bible school in Pemba is at full capacity. We are adding property and building simple classrooms and dorms. Teachers and staff are arriving. Our pastors and students are eagerly going out and preaching everywhere, so excited to serve Him! Pemba is becoming a major base for us, a launching pad for ministry among Moslems even further north.
In Nampula Province, just to the south of Cabo Delgado and also heavily Moslem, our provincial leader, Pastor Tanuekue, is extremely excited and encouraged too. Three have been raised from the dead since the beginning of this year. His wife is especially anointed — God has used her to raise up at least four children that I know of after they died of malaria. Most recently this year she prayed for a dead 2-year-old girl who came back to life after three hours of prayer. Tanuekue and his wife don’t go around announcing that they will raise the dead, but they quietly go into homes and just begin praying. Then the Holy Spirit may confirm to both of them together that they should continue praying for someone who has died until they get up.
Tanuekue’s brother Jorge has been to our Bible school twice, and at school he heard that ministers of the Gospel should go out healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons, so he went home and did just that. Recently God used Jorge to raise a man who had been dead for eight hours after just thirty minutes of prayer. Tanuekue just told us about another man in Nampula who had been mute for ten years. After prayer he not only speaks, but now is preparing to be a pastor in our Pemba Bible school.
When these miracles take place, it usually happens that all the Moslem friends of the people involved come to Jesus immediately. In this way the Gospel has spread until fifty-three churches have sprung up in Nampula since our first Iris gathering in one small mud church there two years ago.
Jealous leaders of certain nominal churches in Nampula have caused trouble for Tanuekue and his pastors, and have even had them thrown in jail for proselytizing. But the charges did not stick. “We don’t take people from other churches. They come to us because of the miracles!” Tanuekue tells the authorities. Moslem persecution remains strong, and Tanuekue has asked us all to pray for him and the believers of Nampula Province.
WE STARTED WITH CHILDREN
We are pouring staff, teams, money and resources into ministry activities all over southern Africa, but we still remember that we started with orphaned and abandoned street children from the streets of Maputo. Jesus started us at the bottom instead of the top, and the only thing we know to do now is go lower still. We cannot lose if we stop and give away what we have to the least of these. The Sermon on the Mount is true. We can trust God if we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. And still we do not say no to any true orphan we find. Our main centers in the south, center and north of Mozambique all take in children, and they are a model for our churches everywhere.
Sunday, 1 June, was Children’s Day in Mozambique, and once again we celebrated in Jesus with all our hearts. The helpless and unwanted are no longer alone and fatherless, but they are set in the family of God and invited to sit down at the Marriage Feast with the King of Kings. At Zimpeto, our largest children’s center, our property was cleaned up and beautifully decorated for the occasion. Many were so excited the night before that they could hardly sleep. We sang and danced our hearts out in church, soaking up more of God’s love. We fed visitors from the street and dump. We distributed gifts lovingly provided in shoe boxes by Samaritan’s Purse. We displayed for visitors the handicrafts that the children had made. And in the evening we feasted on chicken, spaghetti, chips and Coca-Cola, a wonderfully special treat. Finally we put on a program of dances and drama that our children had been practicing for months.
We have marked another year of learning how to love our neighbor as ourselves, even as we are loved by our God and Savior. May He be increasingly thrilled with us as His Spirit purges everything from our hearts except what He wants. And may you be overjoyed as you participate with us in the Gospel in every way possible. To us it is magnificently miraculous how our friends around the world have supported, helped and encouraged us with such fervor, even when we have hardly been able to communicate with you in the intensity of our work. On we go in Jesus, from glory to glory, forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead as together we continue to seek and serve Him!
In His great love,