The rain is pouring down. It’s pitch dark. Mud and water are all around. Clouds of mosquitoes are biting. The air is steamy hot. Heidi and I are tightly packed on a little cement platform under a tin roof along with hundreds of villagers. Our sound system is turned up high and our generator is laboring under the load. We are preaching our hearts out. There are ten thousand people out there listening to us, not moving in their wet, barefoot, ragged misery. They have been streaming in all day from every direction, wading through chest-deep flood water for hours to get to our meeting in Marromeu’s central square. Somehow the word got out about our first meeting here this morning when Jesus began spontaneously healing people across the listening crowd. The cry spread across the fields and floodwaters, on foot and by canoe, “Jesus is in Marromeu!” They came to find Him, and kept coming until more people are gathered in Marromeu than the little town has ever seen, even when the president of Mozambique visited.
They haven’t come for food. We were only able to bring two 45 kg. bags of beans in our Cessna. The shops are bare, as the few supply roads are under water. Thousands have lost everything in the flood, and haven’t eaten in days or weeks. Many can’t find the rest of their families. But everyone here understands one thing: they need Jesus! Everyone responds for prayer. Everyone wants Him. Everyone wants His forgiveness, His life, His salvation. No one thinks they have any answers apart from Him. We pray with them into the night. Jesus completely heals a lady who had gone totally blind and deaf — her husband left her because she was no good anymore. She and her family don’t know what to do, they are so thrilled. That word gets out, and for the next three days people keep coming to Marromeu to find Jesus…
For months the entire Zambezi river plain has been flooded, all the way from the higher west side of central Mozambique to the ocean on the east. Heavy rain in the interior of Africa has filled up two dam reservoirs upstream, and floodgates have been opened to keep the dams from breaking. The waters are not recognizable as a river anymore. As far as the eye can see from our low-flying Cessna, huts and fields are covered. Only rooftops and trees here and there extend above the swirling, muddy currents. This is vast, primitive bush country, far more inaccessible than the southern floods of last year. Towns are linked by a few narrow, rough dirt roads, hard and slow to negotiate even in dry seasons. During rain they become unusable. And for the second rainy season in a row, Mozambique has experienced record-breaking, torrential rain. Yet again, international aid is necessary to keep hundreds of thousands of people alive.
Helicopters are pulling families out of the water. Whole communities have been forced to move into government refugee camps indefinitely. These camps are on hilly higher ground, and we have been flying into those with usable airstrips. Marromeu is the last major town on the Zambezi before the great river reaches the Indian Ocean, and right now it is too isolated by the flood to receive any relief agency food. Its grassy runway is too wet and soft for large transport aircraft, and the few available cargo helicopters, which are incredibly expensive to operate, cannot carry nearly enough for all its people each day. Commodities are piled up in government food depots, brought by the U.N. World Food Program and other agencies, but the infrastructure needed to get food to where it is most needed among the people is lacking.
For three days we meet with our more than twenty pastors from the Marromeu area. Their grass and mud churches are under water. They are huddling in town trying to survive, crying out to God for help. Their people are all desperate for food. They are thrilled by our arrival, and moved to tears by our small supply of beans, brought just for them. “Jesus has not forgotten us!” they weep. Loudly they call on God for mercy and grace. They are ecstatic about the miracles of healing over the last few days. Everyone is encouraged, thrilled and grateful. We promise in the Lord to do everything we can to get more food into the town. We connected with Jesus Alive Ministries, which produces milled maize with health additives at their plant further south, and agreed to have our pastors help distribute their food. We just have to find ways to transport the food from the nearest paved airport runway where J.A.M. can land their cargo plane. They landed once at Marromeu, but their heavy turbine aircraft had to be towed out of soft ground by a tractor from a nearby sugar mill. So we are back to slowly towing a trailer by tractor through deep water and mud for fifty miles from Caia, which has an airfield that J.A.M., the United Nations and other agencies can use.
Heidi and I also land at the Chupanga camp, between Marromeu and Caia. Its dirt runway has been marked unusable on charts for many years, but it has recently been graded and we try it. The surface has not yet been compacted, and after a few hundred feet on the landing roll we starting sinking into the mud, even with our oversize tires. It takes twenty people to pull us out and turn us around for takeoff. Thick mud is splattered all over our wings by the wheels, even with mudflaps. In this and a neighboring camp we find 18,000 refugees, out of food and virtually without medical care. Four hundred women are pregnant and about to give birth, all without nutrition and basic necessities. Supply trucks struggling over available roads are breaking down. One truck tried to get to Beira, the nearest city, by following railroad tracks and blew up on a landmine. Darryl, an Australian on our staff, spent seven hours through the night hauling four tons of food by tractor from Caia, 25 miles away, but Chupanga needs many times that every day.
Three of our churches are now in the Chupanga camp, waiting for emergency aid. Again we meet with our pastors and hear their stories. This year’s flood is so different, because tens of thousands of these flood victims are from our own churches. Their leaders have been through our Bible school. We have taught them to trust Jesus for everything, and now we are with them and can see what they face. They live in the dirt in donated tents and tarps spread over sticks. They try to cook what hard, raw maize they get in pots over wood fires. They have almost nothing but the clothes they are wearing. Ongoing rain keeps everything a wet, muddy mess.
Heidi and I have our own little camping tent. We don’t get to it until very late. We try to show the Jesus film, but our generator’s regulator breaks and runaway voltage blows up our sound system. We feel heavy oppression and demonic opposition all around us. Far into the night groups are beating their drums and dancing to their native rituals. We are exhausted, dirty and hungry. I collapse into our tent onto the hard ground, and soon Heidi follows. It is so hot. Our mosquito bites are painful. We spray ourselves and the bites sting all over. We just lie there perspiring, listening to the sounds of human suffering. We hear hundreds of people coughing. So many people are sick with malaria, cholera, pneumonia and parasites. Then it begins to pour rain again. We had given our tent’s outer shell to Pastor Rego, our provincial leader who came with us, who only had a mosquito net for shelter. We put the shell back on our tent and move Rego in with us. But the rain is so heavy that by morning the three of us, and our bags, papers and passports, are soaked. Water is running everywhere.
I have to make a long, sudden flight to South Africa to get a new generator and more supplies. But can we take off after all that new rain? Probably, if our plane isn’t too heavy. But now the camp wants us to take two new passengers. A 14-year-old boy has fallen off a truck and broken his back. He’s lying in a tent in terrible pain, and with no hope of treatment unless we get him out. We can’t leave him in a city hospital alone, so his father has to come with him. So we strap everyone in, three people in two seats, spreading out a foam mattress behind the boy’s back. He is hurting so much, and has never been near a plane before. Yet again we are at full gross weight, only now we are straining through mud to take off. But it’s not so bad. With a little speed we lighten up and the mud loses its grip on us. We lift off and soar over the watery, wild plains of the Zambezi, glittering under the sun-freshened sky. Local rain squalls are on all sides, though, so we stay at five hundred feet and dart our way between those dark, nasty cells with ceilings right down to the ground. We make Beira in an hour, and I slowly help our limping boy into the terminal and a taxi. He and his father have no way back, so we leave them some money and pray our hearts out for them…
Then Heidi and I are back in the air for the three-hour flight to Nelspruit, South Africa. At ten thousand feet thunderstorms still build up all around us and I scan my stormscope for safe routes. But the skies are majestic beyond compare. Our God the master artist and craftsman paints cloud layers of every color and brightness, different every moment, across our path. Rivers and mountains come and go, and we never get tired of such raw, wild beauty. Our worship CD is on, and we simply talk with our Savior all the way. What are you doing in Africa, Jesus? What do you want to do through this flood? Take us, do anything you want with us. What do you want us to say to your Body back home in America, and all over the world? How do you want your Body to function in response to such indescribable need?
We do our business in Nelspruit in a single day, pick up another, smaller amplifier in Maputo, and fly right back to the Zambezi, this time with a doctor and a nurse. In Chupanga we set up for our meeting all over again as Heidi intercedes intensely in her tent. We spread a big sheet between two trees so thousands of people can see the Jesus film from both sides. This time our generator works perfectly. The sound is loud and clear for everyone, and we even have a soundtrack in the local Sena dialect. We preach, and again everyone who hears wants Jesus. Pastor Surpresa, our national director, is with us, and he stays in the camp for several days teaching and praying with the people as we continue to fly to other locations.
Now we have to get back to Maputo far to the south for our Bible school’s graduation service, and we have to bring Surpresa with us, who is still at Chupanga. But it has been storming at Chupanga for days, and its dirt strip, already marginal, has been soaking in the rain, getting even softer. Other relief planes are sitting on the ground at Beira, waiting for the ceiling at Caia to lift, and no one else is going to Chupanga. I will at least get there, skim the field and see what it looks like. Again we dodge and punch through the rain at low level and find the little city of blue and white tents at the flood’s edge. We float down and buzz the runway just to one side, taking a careful look at the watery streaks and tire marks. I check the wind and make a careful approach from the river, ready to gun the engine and lift off again at the slightest sign of stickiness or uneven tracking. The flare is good and we touch down lightly, finding that the sand and gravel in the soil have drained enough water and that the surface is just hard enough in the center of the runway. We stop far short of the seriously muddy far end of the runway and a huge crowd from the camp runs out to meet us. Surpresa is grinning broadly, full of the joy of the Lord as always, and very glad to see us. He has been ministering constantly, always with a crowd around him. A priest in the camp is angry with him, though, because some sick people have wanted prayer instead of medical treatment, an issue that always comes up in these situations.
We off-load one passenger, reload our sound and camping equipment, and Surpresa, Darryl and I lift off over the Zambezi again for another staggeringly spectacular African sunset stroked from God’s endlessly varied palette of sky, clouds and water. We drop into Caia to confer with pastors, and then right at sundown head into solid rain and clouds at 4,000 feet back to Beira where Heidi is now. Rain beats hard on our windshield in the black night, but the turbulence is mercifully light. Villages, forests, lakes and wild animals slip below us unseen as we travel in one hour what would take a truck nineteen hours in normal conditions. Rain still obscures the lights of Beira as we get close, and we don’t have a clear view of the runway until we are almost finished with our instrument approach.
The next day, and after another flight, we are back in Maputo. Our pastors, most of them from the north beyond the Zambezi, graduate. Over and over the Holy Spirit fills them to overflowing. They are burning with zeal to spread the Gospel throughout the north, one of the most terribly poverty-stricken areas on earth. Our trucks will take them as far toward home as possible, and then they will have to ride whatever transport they can find from river to overflowing river. Many will end their trip on canoes across the Zambezi, carrying the precious plastic bags of food we sent with them. They will need God’s company, protection and help every inch of the way. They will need to find their families and speak faith, comfort and assurance to the people of their devastated villages. And we need to get back to help them with everything God puts into our hands.
In all this hardship our churches keep growing everywhere in the flood. They are taking in hundreds of orphans. They are baptizing new believers, even in dirty water full of leeches. The disaster has not turned the people of northern Mozambique away from God, but has caused them to cry out for Him alone. They know their sin. They know they deserve nothing. But He is revealing His grace as He does to few people anywhere. May His people here shine His light on the Western church, and on hearts all over the world that need His perspective, His sensitivity and His love.
With all our recent travel and bush ministry, Heidi and I are far behind in our email and communication, but with the Lord’s help we will catch up. Sometimes we have not been able to respond with requested faxes, phone appointments, etc., and we need your forgiveness and patience. Most receipts for US$250 and over have been issued to U.S. contributors for last year, but we still have a few to send. The IRS in the U.S. accepts canceled checks for less than $250 as valid receipts. We do not pay for a U.S. office, but want to use as much of our support as possible for needs in Africa. Checks sent to our San Clemente, California, address will be deposited in our Iris Ministries account at Bank of America, Lake Arrowhead, and the money will be wired to our account in Maputo, Mozambique. All postal communication to San Clemente will be forwarded to us by DHL delivery service, as normal postal service here is slow and unreliable.
Our simple web site at irisglobal.org will be updated with our news and photos, and more files with information for prospective visitors will be added soon. Questions about visiting dates and arrangements can be sent to Heidi Yost at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visiting Mozambique is potentially dangerous, and we cannot guarantee safety and health. Everyone needs to come here trusting Jesus, just like we do. But in the last year thousands of visitors have come to help, and all have gone home safely. Many plan to come back. Preparing to come here and the trip itself are not big challenges. The challenge is to receive all that Jesus wants to do for you and your heart after you arrive!
Lots of love in Him,