“We have to go to the east bank,” Surpresa tells me. “Nobody ever goes there. The people need to see you. We must encourage them.” And so we plan a bush conference in a tiny village across the river to the east from the main road leading down through southern Malawi. Actually, our believers all over this part of Malawi are desperate for visits, and are asking for conferences in every possible place. Hundreds of churches have been added to our movement here this past year, and all are intensely eager for help, teaching and as much of the Holy Spirit as they can get. And the whole area is in serious famine…
We will visit two or three spots on this trip, making the most of our time. First, we have to get there. Surpresa, Tanneken and Andre take 4WD trucks up from Mozambique many days early, enduring countless hours over punishing roads. “It’s one hundred eighteen degrees here!” Surpresa emails me from Blantyre. “The people are hungry and suffering! But they are ready for the meetings!” Our team and pastors have made all the preparations they can, and I start packing our little Cessna 206. Heidi and I are flying with our old missionary friends, Brian and Ruth Young, whom we met on our first mission trip in 1980 in Jakarta, Indonesia. I load carefully, weighing and balancing everything. We have to fit a generator, amplifier, mixer, mikes and cables, food, water, sleeping bags, flashlights and lanterns, small suitcases, medical kit, tools, Bibles, charts, Iris hats for our pastors… At full gross weight yet again, we labor into the sky, cut through low clouds and settle down for a long cruise north over the primitive Mozambican bush.
Once more we are alone with Jesus in the air, high over the cries of hunger and need below, away from outstretched hands and pleading eyes. And in Him we rest again, counting on Him to be with us, to lead us, to provide everything we need… We talk, worship and pray, asking Jesus as always to enjoy the flight with us. We have no reason to do this without Him. We have no life or hope to offer anyone unless He comes and shows Himself. But if He can help us at all, He can take care of everything. We will trust Him. We will preach Him. We will stand before any kind of misery and point to Him alone, that the world will see His glory.
We started late in the day, so we stop in Beira along the coast for the night. It’s more tropical here. Palm trees appear. The air is warm and humid, even at night. The streets are more quiet and peaceful than Maputo. But the farther north we go, the greater the poverty. A large town may only have a single doctor. So many die of malaria. We sleep to the soft sound of surf and a hard-working electric fan…
At the airport in the morning we fuel up and take off into uncertain weather. The briefing office has little enroute information. Thunderstorms come and go through the day, and I watch their movements on my stormscope. It has been a struggle to get a clearance into Malawi, but it arrived at the last minute by cell phone. At Malawi’s border we begin to recognize hills, rivers and roads, and we descend through turbulent cumulus clouds toward Blantyre. On the ground we wade through immigration formalities, pay our fees, and take off one last time to get to our destination, the landing strip at Sucoma, twenty minutes away and over two thousand feet lower in the heat of the southern plain.
Andre is waiting at Sucoma in his Land Rover. He has found lodging for us, and we won’t need all our camping gear. The place is thirty minutes away, and isn’t much more than some bare cement rooms with beds and fans. But that is terrific, more than expected. We unload, get settled, and head out for our first meeting where so many are waiting for us. Pastor Rod from California has been here helping and speaking already for a couple days. It’s been raining, and they’ve had to hold meetings in the dark without a sound system. But people have walked for days to hear us, often hungry and sick, and we will minister no matter what. This time we have sound, and we string up a Coleman camping light over our wooden platform. The mosquitoes are intense. We perspire just standing still. We preach our hearts out and pray for the sick. In the dim light, blowing dust, heat and confusion everyone is reaching out to Jesus. Everyone is crying out for His touch in the only ways they know how. Many are moved and at the altar or on the ground praying. We wish we could stay. We wish we could hear testimonies. We wish we were not stretched so thin. Jesus does not forget these people. May we endure for their sake, and for His sake, and may many more join us…
The next day we set up on the east bank, where missionaries and city pastors hardly go. This is an hour from our simple hotel over a very rough dirt road that takes us over narrow bridges, across streams and through mud hut villages. We are crammed tightly into our truck with our equipment all over us, steaming hot. We arrive and pastors from many miles around are waiting, so patient and expectant — and thrilled to see us. They have put up a wooden platform too, covered with plastic tarp. We set up our speakers, find a far-off spot for our generator, run our wires, and we are ready to preach. We are also dripping with perspiration, thirsty, tired and aching already. The village ladies and their children have joined us, huddling under more tarps from the fierce sun. We all take turns preaching and teaching. The pastors listen intently by the hour, sitting wherever they can find shade. There are no Coke machines here, and no fast food outlets. The children are in rags without shoes. Flies buzz around and tree leaves hang limp without wind in shimmering heat.
Still the Holy Spirit visits us. The pastors cry their hearts out for their King, Savior and Lover, and on their knees in the dirt they meet Him and feel His love. Will they serve Jesus through all their hardships? Yes! Will they become servants and choose the low road? Yes! Will they trust Jesus and pray for miracles of food, provision and even multiplication? Yes! Will they keep preaching until His Kingdom is spread all across Malawi among the poor? Yes! We ordain a leadership council for our over one thousand churches in Malawi and commend them to the Lord in the sight of all present. We set aside precious food money for the building of a simple Bible school in Bangula. Our pastors must know the Word of God, and they fervently agree with our priorities.
“What are we going to do about the famine?” Surpresa keeps asking me. We divide the rest of our money between our pastors, who will buy what food they can for their church people. There isn’t much maize left in local storehouses, but we will take it all. The government promises to import more at high prices sometime in the future, but we don’t know when. Officials in the capital aren’t really aware of conditions in remote villages like we are. The major relief agencies aren’t here, and don’t have resources anyway. Since 9/11 relief donations for Africa have dropped nearly in half. But Jesus the Good Shepherd has come here, and He is everything the people need. He will stir His Body. He will show His heart. His love is real and practical. He is creative. He knows what to do. He is not helpless.
And may we not just watch passively. May we long to participate in His nature. May we spend our lives, our blood, sweat and tears on His work. May we run the race to win with endurance and patience. May we learn to love our neighbor as ourselves. May our good works bring Him glory and honor on that Great Day. May we minister the love of God, all the way from the next cup of cold water to eternal life. May our lives prove that we are sons and daughters of God, if indeed His Spirit lives in us!
We must return to Malawi soon. We must send more resources, which Jesus will multiply. The Word of God will spread. The people will learn godly living, hard work and generosity. Pastors will learn to lead and serve with humility. During our visit this time many were delivered of demons, who were holding them low in bondage and misery, even forcing them to eat dirt. In all their desperate poverty these people want salvation. They don’t scorn the grace of God and reject His company. And so the church in Malawi grows, faster than we dared imagine.
Our churches continue to grow all over Mozambique. In the Moslem province of Nampula, many Moslems came to Jesus after two girls were recently raised from the dead. One was six months old, and the other six years. Both died of malaria and their bodies were sent home to be buried. On each occasion our provincial leader’s wife, who has just been through a three-month session at our Bible school, prayed over the body for hours until the girl came back to life. We receive calls for ministry help from countries all around: Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Uganda and Ethiopia. The hungry hear of the work of the Holy Spirit, and they do not want to be left out. Jesus, fill them richly according to their desire…
Your continued love, concern, communication and fervent support are amazing to us. We are always moved by how Jesus works through His Body to take care of His people. We wish we could respond to you more in return, providing you with plenty of information and faster acknowledgments. Please be patient with us. We are intensely busy in this huge harvest. We also travel to speak at home back in the West, but know in the Lord that we must spend no more than one-third of our time away from Africa. May Jesus send all that we need to accomplish His work, including much administrative help.
You are loved and appreciated. May you always be encouraged by what Jesus is doing among the poor and suffering of the world, and not lose heart. And let’s all do our part in Him. It is always excellent to serve the King!
In His great love,