Gathering the Harvest
Written by Heidi & Rolland Baker
It’s Christmas Eve tonight. Maputo is hot. Thunderstorms gather and darken overhead. My fan is blowing on me full strength. We are far from a white Christmas Western-style. But through my office windows I can hear the shouts of our children playing. They are excited. Tonight at seven we will pass out five hundred candles for them all, and they will join in caroling and worshiping our Savior and King, their faces glowing with smiles and joy in flickering candlelight. Even in this dusty, poor corner of Africa, Living Water is flowing. God is with us, and we are tasting the powers of the age to come.
This is the eighth Christmas we have shared with orphaned and abandoned children from the streets of Maputo. I remember our first at Chihango, an old center in ruins that we took over for the government. We were new in Mozambique and had very little support. Our children were still sleeping in the rags on their backs on bare cement floors. We didn’t even have grass mats for them. Roving gangs shot up our buildings and we woke to machine gun fire in the mornings. The first time our children saw a bag of potato chips, they pounced on it and reduced it to dust in seconds. We gave out some simple bags of marbles and other small gifts, and visitors from the community nearly rioted wanting presents too.
We met to worship in a room with blackened walls and holes in the roof. But the Holy Spirit came and changed hearts. As our children knelt on the hard, dirty floor, tears ran down their cheeks. With no possessions in this world, they sobbed and sang by the hour, “Thank you, Jesus!” We found a thin, scrubby little tree and put a few decorations and lights on it, and the children were ecstatic. “Mama Aida, Papa Rolland!” they cried. “That’s the most beautiful thing we’ve ever seen!”
Many of those children are grown leaders in our church family now, experienced in the Holy Spirit, leaders of worship, able to preach and pray for miracles, and most of all thrilled by Jesus. They still have very little, but they eat as much as they want, they have clothes, they have a huge family rich in love, and fruitful ministry that grows daily past all our expectations. The flame of the love of God has been lit in Mozambique, and wildfire has been spreading all over this country and beyond its borders.
I have flown our Cessna 206 many thousands of miles over the last month visiting our most remote churches and extending our network even further. Heidi and I have been establishing a new base in Pemba far up on the coast of Mozambique’s Cabo del Gado Province, where the population has been nearly totally Moslem. We now have ten churches in the Pemba area, and property where we are building our fourth Bible school. We use Pemba’s unique construction style, filling frameworks of reed with small pebbles and then with mud and cement, and laying thatch on the roofs. We spread grass mats for altars, and they are regularly covered with hungry seekers on their faces filled with the intense power of the Holy Spirit. Just this last week hundreds of Moslems came to Jesus in the streets and market places of Pemba as we preached and showed the Jesus film. Heat, rain, mud, power failures, broken equipment, drunks and darkness did not stop what God was doing.
A few weeks ago we baptized two hundred new believers in Pemba’s clear, warm ocean water. Each would come up jumping, laughing and worshiping, hands thrown in the air. It was a scene of new excitement and joy, a taste of rich things to come for Pemba. Now pastors are coming to Pemba for training from all over Mozambique’s four most northern provinces, and we look forward to great revival among Moslems.
Early this month we pushed up past Pemba and clear across Tanzania to Mwanza on the southern shore of Lake Victoria. For the lasts few years cries for help have been coming to us from hungry believers there, and now we have the chance to share what Jesus has given us.
Our flights were a gift from Him, like always, filled with beauty, friendship and worship. We took off in the sunset from Pemba heading north to Dar es Salaam along the coastline. Surpresa Sithole, our national director in Mozambique, and Dr. Guy Chevreau, our speaker from Canada, were with me. Our route is very rarely traveled, by air or road. There are no lights below; the land is wild and empty. We are alone with Jesus. Under the stars, and in the soft red glow of instrument lights, we talk about the things of God, revival, leadership, working together with many churches and groups. May we understand. May we please Him. May He be with us in everything. May we see His glory in the darkness of this continent.
A late dinner in Dar at a loud, colorful Indian-Chinese restaurant and a night’s sleep, and we are off to Lake Victoria. We cross East Africa at its most spectacular. This is truly God’s country. From the coast the land rises to form peaks lost in clouds. Hills and valleys pass below us, covered richly with forest and wildlife. Towns occasionally appear over hundreds of miles. Rays of sunlight pierce grand, towering cloud formations, radiating through clean, clear air across the landscape. We penetrate rain showers that bring intense single and double rainbows into view. To us it is the fresh spring rain of the Spirit, washing away everything but the beauty of His throne. The snows of Kilamanjaro are just to the north. We come to the southern reaches of the Serengeti plain. Dark thunderstorms are pouring down their fury across the horizon over this home of the world’s largest concentration of wild animals. All is raw power and glory. We are privileged to be here, to see the unspoiled earth as God created it.
Far in the distance we realize we are seeing the waters of Lake Victoria. Our pastors have been waiting for us all day, and asking the tower when we are arriving. Over the radio we hear, “Are you the missionaries coming to preach the Gospel in Mwanza today? Welcome, welcome!” It’s true. Africa is open to the King! We descend and land. The runway is right on the lake shore. It’s a beautiful day. We have waited so long to be here, and we are eager for what’s next.
We load our sound equipment, generator and all of us into a rented van and make our way to town. Mwanza is typically African — run-down, pot-holed, chaotic. But our ministry does not begin here. No, we continue on to the outlying slum districts. The shops are just shacks. The poor wander in the streets or sit listlessly in the shade. And we are brought to our “church,” another shack down a dirt alley with tin roof full of holes. Iris Africa is starting right at the bottom again, with the least of these in a most forgotten corner. We might have imagined an organized crusade for the whole neighborhood, but only a handful are on hand to hear us.
I remember our start in Malawi. In 1998 Surpresa and I began with a similar little group sitting around in a dirt courtyard. I wondered then what would become of our effort. But the Holy Spirit began to work and today we have hundreds of churches that sprang from that first meeting. Jesus likes to start from the bottom instead of the top, making something out of what is not for the sake of His name. We participate with Him in wonder, along with fear and trembling. We don’t want to miss out. We don’t want to be counted unworthy of His use.
So for days we pour our hearts out in a hot, dirty little shack to extremely hungry, receptive hearts. We teach on knowing Him, hearing His voice, trusting Him. We have come all this way because there is hope for everyone who believes. There is always enough, because Jesus died for us. Our churches grow because our Savior does not hide, but He manifests Himself among us. The finest church buildings in town will be nearly empty if God does not show up, but the people will throng to the poorest mud hut churches to meet Jesus. I teach on the Song of Songs, and about love that burns like fire. We pray for the people, and their hearts break with passion and desire. They are sobbing and shaking on the floor in pools of tears. Benches are knocked over and water is spilled, but nobody cares. They drink deeply of living water that has no cost. Now the little church is overflowing. Neighbors join in. Another fire is lit. Surpresa has another vision, this time of heaven opening up over the church and angels ascending and descending, and so we hungrily keep praying and feasting on His love.
We also meet in the local pastor’s courtyard by his poor, barren little house up on a rocky hillside, and eat with him and his family late at night. He has no electricity, telephone, office or transportation. We provide some money for food, and our hosts do their best to treat us. In the heat and flickering candlelight we fellowship with the poor, for whom Jesus died to make rich in Him.
We have to leave, knowing we have to come back and bring much help. We have to go to Arusha and other towns, then up to Kenya and over to Uganda. May every little fire grow and spread as happened in Mozambique. What an amazing harvest is here. Who will reap with us?
Our next stop is Cuamba, Niassa Province, far to the south again in Mozambique. Niassa is very remote, on the eastern shore of Lake Malawi, a long, rough drive off the main north-south highway and a thousand miles from home in Maputo. We land at an old, abandoned airport, its runway covered with weeds and rubble. Down a path from town come our pastors, and they eagerly haul our sound system. We are finally here, after hearing for a year their pleas for a visit. Out of Mozambique’s ten provinces, Niassa was the last to have an Iris Africa/Partners in Harvest church. Now, in spite of hardship and a strong Moslem presence, we have thirty-five growing churches in the province.
Yet again our planned pastors’ conference is not at a stadium or auditorium. Our presence in this part of the country is new, and we are just in another dirt courtyard surrounded by mud huts. Barefoot, ragged children scamper, laugh and play as we set up. We show the Jesus film, an amazing event that has everyone’s total attention. We preach and pray intensely. Everyone wants to be saved. Everyone is hungry for more. Again I am overwhelmed by the size of the harvest field. I hear of so many pastors and missionaries giving up because nothing is happening, but they aren’t looking in the right places. They aren’t set on the immediate presence of Jesus and the power of His Spirit. And they aren’t looking in the low places, the dark places, the hard places, where the glory of God shines the brightest.
The mud huts are full, so we sleep out under the stars on grass mats like most of the visiting pastors. We study the unfamiliar stars of the southern hemisphere, standing out in the clear night sky. We try to picture growing up in such poverty and isolation. We drift off to sleep finally on the hard ground but wake up later shivering. At Niassa’s higher elevation the air grows cold toward morning. Surpresa and I find sheets in our bags, and Guy wraps himself up in his mat. Morning comes and we are tired and aching. There are no showers, but a bucket of water has been drawn for us all. My clothes are filthy, beyond cleaning. But we are here as ministers of the King, and we spend the morning pouring everything we can into our pastors in the limited time we have with them. We don’t know when we can come back, and we must make the most of our opportunity.
We pack our plane to fly away, and our pastors gather around to pray with us. Our separations are always hard. We long to help them more, and will bring as many as possible to our new Bible school in Pemba. We must bring conferences to other towns in Niassa too. Our visits are so encouraging to the people. We are astounded by how the pastors hear and receive, and become so fervent even after such brief times with us. They go, and walk, and labor, bearing fruit supernaturally all the way. —
Since this trip we have heard from Cuamba, and the report is excellent. Our pastors are doing beautifully and our Niassa churches are growing, in spite of all problems. The news from Mwanza is also very good. The harvest is being gathered!
This outlook is a matter of faith and perspective. We have pressures, of course. We are locked in raging warfare. Two kingdoms are colliding, and we are in the trenches between them. The stakes and cost of victory are high. We could say that the revival we see here is far too big for our staff, resources and abilities. We get crushed daily by the demands made of us. Thousands of churches and their people are looking to us for pastoral and administrative leadership. Conditions here are difficult. The level of poverty is incomprehensible. In the north our churches haven’t harvested a crop in two years. Now floods are coming back, washing away seed beds. Many thousands of AIDS orphans are wandering on their own. Education and skills are nearly nonexistent among the poor. There is hardly any economic base in most of the country. Many get no medical attention of any kind. Everywhere we go people beg us for money, jobs and food, telling their horror stories of abuse and misfortune.
Who will die with us to see unrestrained revival, poured out without measure? Who will lend their time, blood, sweat and tears to the work of the Lord? Who will submit themselves to the heat of spiritual battle in order to see His glory? Those of you who could make millions and succeed brilliantly in any other field, will you instead labor to advance His Kingdom? You with professional skills in positions of immense responsibility, will you take on His concerns and be responsible to Him? What does God enjoy doing? Will we share His work and joy?
We have begun to relate to Paul: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:8-9).”
No, this revival is not too big. Our course is set, and we can never turn back. We love to see the Gospel tested, and know that our faith is not in vain. We glory in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in ourselves. We walk into the fire of impossibilities and are not burned. We submit ourselves to exhaustion and rise with energy. We are most alive when we lift up the dying. We are most filled with His power when we exercise His goodness. We will live, because we love Him, and cannot get enough of His company and touch… Let His grace thunder down on the sorrow of this world like a mighty waterfall, white, cool and refreshing, washing away everything that is not perfect until we are clean…
Our pastors have seen the dead raised here in Africa, over and over. This revival will not be stopped. Every day we learn more about our Savior, who can bring life out of death, in every corner of the world. We will plant ourselves in the middle of suffering in all our weakness and proclaim Him under every pressure until we learn to trust Him the way He wants to be trusted…
We welcome everyone who wants to seek and serve Jesus in some way with us. The nets are breaking in Africa, so many fish want in the boat. They need servants who will be an example and show them the way. It is far harder to stay and work here than you can imagine, but it is worth it. Jesus is with us, and he remembers every tear. In Him we endure for the joy set before us, unspeakable and full of glory!
Your support supernaturally increases along with the revival, and we feel very loved by Jesus through you. May you be as intensely blessed as we are. Jesus knows what we need, and your sensitivity to Him is amazing to us. All the more visitors are coming, and that is great, because you are needed in every way. Our four Bible schools, central churches, children’s centers and this year’s major bush conferences and relief/feeding projects will all require increasing staff with a wide range of ministry and administration gifts. The more self-sufficient you are, and the longer you stay, the more helpful you will be. A short-term visit is a great way to prepare for long-term commitment.
We do have an application procedure that we pray will help confirm your gifts and calling, and be of practical use in your planning. You can write me personally at Rolland@irisglobal.org and regarding living and working with us you can begin by writing our staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. My wife Heidi has a new address, Heidi@irisglobal.org. We will redirect your email to those who can best answer you. Your communication is greatly encouraging. It is so beautiful to watch how Jesus moves through His Body!
In His great love,