Nampula’s lights finally appear dead ahead in the fading sunset as we descend out of the clouds. We followed the coast up from the Zambezi, then turned inland, and now we see the rocky hills of Mozambique’s northern interior, a thousand miles from our base in Maputo. The runway lights blaze brightly, standing out from the town’s dim streets. I circle our Cessna 206 to land into the wind and we settle into yet another airport, saving days and days of struggling through deep mud and torn-up roads with a four-wheel-drive truck. My wife Heidi, our speaker Guy Chevreau from Canada, and I climb out, so glad to move and stretch after being squeezed in by baggage and sound equipment. We are here to meet with our newest pastors, who have planted twelve churches in the last three months to extend for the first time our presence in this huge province.
The airport is nearly deserted, but finally some of our pastors emerge from the terminal where they have been waiting for hours. We telephone for taxis, and eventually a couple of battered, smoking, misfiring cars show up and we head for our conference center. This is not a hotel ballroom. It’s not a board room, carpeted sanctuary or even a warehouse. It’s one of our churches that we just sent up money to build. We pull up, begin to unload our stuff in the dark and try to find a place for it all inside. Our people are eagerly crowding all around, trying to help. Our “church” turns out to be a big mud-and-stick hut, dusty and stuffy inside with just a couple of dim candles to cast a glow over the faces of our brand-new African family in Jesus.
In the shadowy, flickering light we see old men quietly staying back, ladies resting on straw mats laid over the dirt floor, children shyly inching closer, and our pastors huddling on rough wooden benches, waiting patiently together to hear us speak. They can hardly believe we foreigners have come so far to be with them. But we are here finally, and we begin to talk, asking how they are.
Well, they are hungry and tired, and penniless. This is our first conference in Nampula Province, a major event. Some of our pastors have walked for two days without food from their villages to get here, just sleeping on the dirt by the side of the road at night. Others walked four days, and one six days — to learn from us. All came with only the poor, threadbare clothes on their backs. Now they are all waiting to see what we will do. Guy asks them, “What are you most afraid of?” “That our children will starve to death,” they answer simply. They don’t even know how they will survive going home. What do we have to say?
Heidi and I came to Mozambique deliberately to face situations like this. We came to test the Gospel, and strip from our preaching everything that didn’t work and wasn’t the Truth. We came to give people the Living Jesus, not to try out our mission strategy on them. We came to love the poorest of the poor into the Kingdom, not to promise them a cheap road to health and wealth. We came asking Jesus to kill us, destroy us, and remake us however He wanted so that we would be useful to Him here. And now we face the test.
These people are suffering. They’re sick and weak. Their children die in their arms. They’re persecuted by Moslems. They don’t see any hope outside the Good News we bring. So we preach the purest, simplest messages we can, straight from Scripture. We have no confidence in any other ideas we might have. They need words that the Holy Spirit will back up. They need to know what Jesus will bless and support, what will attract His company and presence. They need content they can depend on to the death.
Their simple backgrounds are littered with witchcraft, syncretism, folk stories and petty religious legalism passed down from centuries of colonialism. Their cultural traditions leave them exposed to inefficiency and immorality. Lack of viable government leadership and medical services in the bush deprive them of benefits we take for granted every day. Our pastors can read, haltingly, but most of their people cannot. They can hardly picture the outside world, much less the Israel of Bible times. But one thing they do know: they want this Jesus we preach!
For the next few days Heidi, Guy and I alternate, pouring ourselves out the best we can through struggling interpreters. Makua is spoken here, one of Mozambique’s several dozen major languages. The pastors are eager, soft and responsive, even as they are weighed down by hardship. We lay hands on them and pray for them, and the Holy Spirit richly moves on many. They don’t want us to go. They want to know so much more. They want us to be with them and show them the way. We know only Jesus can do that, but we are His voice, hands and feet…
We supply money for fish and rice, and each day big pots are cooking over wood fires in the dirt courtyard by the church. The pastors are desperate for their own Bibles, so we go through town and locate enough sources to get one for each, either in Portuguese or Makua. We buy some bicycles, and enough plastic tarp to cover every church. We are just making a start…
One night we have a crusade meeting in a big, central dirt square surrounded by poor huts and crowds of people. We tack a sheet up on a brick wall, hook up our video projector, start our generator and show the Jesus film in Makua. Everyone gathers. Children stop their running and playing. Teenage boys forget their soccer game. Adults press in. This is Moslem territory. It takes years to convert a few dozen people, we are told. But no one wants to miss the film. We can hardly maintain control. And at the end we preach again, wanting to know who wants this Jesus, the Savior of the world. Everyone, absolutely everyone, and another thousand people bow their hearts before the King.
We have many more churches to build, and we already have at least one thousand two hundred. We must buy more Bibles, bring more teachers, supply more food, seed and farm tools — the list is long. It is wonderfully miraculous how our friends and supporters around the world have been helping and praying, all without any pressure from us. Your checks and packages amaze and move us. Your email assuring us of your intercession is so comforting. We long to reply at length to each contributor, and wish we could send enough acknowledgment to everyone who sends us something. But we are trusting Jesus for everything, even that He will satisfy and reward you for your love to us and the poor we face here every day. Our staff is stretched beyond comprehension, and we pray constantly for more of His wisdom to know how to continue ministering here and also give enough attention to all our friends back in the West.
Our work in Maputo continues. Heidi was out on the streets last night with our prostitute friends, and twenty-eight more of them are giving up that life to live with us. Prostitution here is a matter of desperate struggle for survival, but Jesus is bringing new hope. Almost every day Heidi brings in more children, all without anyone else in their lives to love or care for them. Our churches around the country are catching this same vision, bringing in the orphaned and abandoned, building simple mud-and-stick houses for them, and learning to provide for them by faith in spite of their own great poverty.
Many visitors are flying in to spend time with us. Each day I am asked, “How can we help?” Very simply, you can always love and hug children. And you can spend a few weeks of your life to get a glimpse of how much of the world lives — and let your heart break. But more deeply, in order for you to be useful to the Master here — or anywhere — you must be close to Him and in love with Him. To the degree that you are intimate with Him, you will know what to do, what you must do. Jesus says drastic things in Scripture, such as, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). We need to know what He is telling each of us specifically. Do you want to love Him, and to be blessed by His presence? Here in Africa, He is all around us. He is poor, sick, naked and hungry. And as we get intimate with Him, we find ourselves taking care of Him, and He will say on that Great Day, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt. 25:34-36).
Our faith and religion are worthless if we do nothing about the physical needs of those who suffer from poverty (James 2:16). We preach the Word, we bring the gifts of the Spirit, we celebrate and worship, we press on toward eternal life fishing for the souls of people everywhere, but Jesus can tell if we love Him. Will we even bring Him just a cup of cold water when He is thirsty?
In His great love,