Twenty years ago Heidi and I landed in Mozambique with a vision: to see what only God could do in the worst circumstances we could find in the world. We wanted to prove that the Sermon on the Mount was as valid there as anywhere. The blessings of the Beatitudes apply not just to the wealthy and sheltered, and those who are at ease, but to the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted. “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him” (James 2:5)?
Is it possible in a ruined, broken-down, war-weary environment to live Jesus’ words: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” Is it possible to rejoice in the Lord always? Can the salvation of our souls be the thrill of our lives in any situation? Is the Gospel truly Good News? Is Jesus really the point of everything?
Today, innumerable souls and churches and children later, we are more convinced than ever that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only ultimately good news there is. It is invincible. God is able to glorify Himself and look after His own reputation. He knows how to bring His Son back. He knows how to fulfill His promises. He is able to finish what He began in us, and to present us before His presence faultless and with great joy.
It has been our unspeakable privilege to serve the Living God and see Him do the impossible for these twenty years in Africa. We would rather die than start to trust Him less. We walk by faith and not by sight, the only way to please Him. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
And so we continue to seek Him like never before as we face ever-increasing challenges. Mozambique is far more Christian than it was, and more prosperous for many of its people. More resources have been discovered. Investment is coming in. Businesses are rising. Education is slowly being made more available.
We are encouraged by the difference the gospel has made in the many, many bush villages that have turned to Jesus. Water wells have been drilled, churches and schools have been built, pastors have been trained, children have been looked after, family values have been established, farming is being developed, a university is in the making, more Iris bases are established, thousands are still coming to Jesus. Love, peace and joy are spreading!
But so is evil opposition, as expected. Our faith must grow as our ministry grows, and that only happens when we exercise all the faith we have, and then get spiritual nutrition and rest before we exercise even more faith!
Mozambique has always had to contend with disastrous floods and droughts, political unrest, corruption, racial tension, and now fears of economic colonization, excessive foreign influence and control, conflict over new-found wealth, etc. Iris finds itself in the middle of all this. Human nature and the fundamental problem of sin militates always against full transformation, here and everywhere.
We don’t want you to be unaware of what we face. Multiple cyclones have recently brought torrential rains to northern Mozambique and neighboring Malawi, displacing several hundred thousand people who have lost everything. Many have died. Electric power has been completely cut off in the major cities of the region for weeks. Major relief efforts are being mounted, and Iris is doing our part in every way possible. Demands on our resources far exceeds what we have now. Our missionary staff has been drastically reduced as many visas are not being renewed. Most of the population still lives in the bush, where life is still harsh and primitive beyond description. The country is still far down the list of the United Nation’s “Human Development Index.”
Heidi and I still live by faith, as always, but now our faith must embrace the needs of vastly more people and even more crises. We are united in faith, of course, with the many thousands of believers all over the world who labor with us in this work of the Lord. We can only be an example of one couple, and Iris can only serve as one example of a mission organization. But we are not defeated, discouraged or desperate! Ha! Our lives and ministry are motivated by the extreme joy of giving; pouring out our lives; imparting to others; seeking not support itself, but that which increases to the accounts of those who give. We cannot lose! We have an indestructible inheritance waiting for us! We welcome the joy given by the Holy Spirit! We have found our God and Perfect Savior!
To encourage us all, I include here an excerpt from our newsletter written March 7, 2000, when some of the worst flooding in recorded human history hit Mozambique. We have been here before, and we have seen over the years since what God brought out of that fiercely trying time:
What has happened to Mozambique, this country where we live and work and have come to know so well, is almost unbelievable to us. What started off as a three-day rainstorm early this month has turned into a natural disaster that has required the largest humanitarian aid mobilization that Africa has ever seen. It is likely that tens of thousands of human corpses will be uncovered when the flood waters subside. Southern Mozambique is one huge flood plain draining the highlands of South Africa and Zimbabwe, and there was no escape for whole towns and villages, many still beyond the range of rescue helicopters.
Mothers struggling in neck-deep currents drowned their own babies in their back slings. Stranded communities are reduced to eating the decayed flesh of dead cows, and children are even roasting rats. Upper-story roofs in Xai-Xai have collapsed under the weight of so many desperate survivors. The stench in the streets from sewage and animal carcasses is terrible. Severe malnutrition is setting in among young children. Clean water is nearly impossible to find, even for rescue crews. Refugees have been seen urinating in and drinking out of the same pools of water. Malaria victims lie motionless in the dirt with high fevers. Twenty-six camps with almost no facilities or provisions are trying to care for 250,000 people.
Aid is pouring into Maputo’s tiny airport finally, creating a logistical nightmare. Air traffic controllers have been flown in from England to handle the load. After weeks of delay, the government has expedited customs, but still the fine details of every shipment take hours and days for officials to write out without computers. Organizing and delivering goods to the camps, and then by air to still-stranded populations is overtaxing the capabilities of the world’s largest disaster relief organizations. And still the cry is, “Too little, too late.” There aren’t enough helicopters in all of Africa to handle the need. The worst is yet to come, as thirst, ravenous hunger and epidemics take their toll, even with the best efforts of dedicated aid professionals.
We have assumed responsibility for a second camp of 3,000 flood victims, this one north of Maputo near the severe flood waters. Today our staff went up there by arrangement with the government to pick up and bring to our center as many flood orphans as possible. To get there we have to wade through water waist-deep or more for an hour, take surface transport at exorbitant cost (fuel must be carried in on heads), wade for another hour, take another “capa” ride, and then wade again. Heidi kept falling into holes and mud, arriving totally drenched. Helicopters are bringing in survivors all through the day and landing them in three main areas south of Xai-Xai.
In the camps we find huge joy as thousands listen to the gospel and devour tracts even before they eat the bread we bring. We need truckloads of tracts and Bibles to satisfy such hunger. These flood victims, many weak and sick, and all without possessions, are thrilled to sit and learn about our Lord Jesus. They respond, they worship, they pray and weep in repentance for themselves and the sins of their nation. They sing and dance. They are thrilled when we send ministry teams. They need more than pallets of beans and rice. As the President’s secretary-general Senhor Matos told us, his people need love. They need comfort and warmth. They need to be hugged. They need assurance and faith. They need the Lord, and all that is in His heart.
Mozambique is still a land of paganism, witchcraft and ancestor worship among many. The head of the Renamo, the political party that narrowly lost a recent national election, declared that this disaster was the work of angry “spirits” taking revenge over a miscount of the votes. Syncretism, illiteracy and rural isolation are other obstacles to hearing the clear gospel. But in these camps people are gathered together from their far-flung villages and are eager and willing to listen to preaching, and to receive ministry in the Holy Spirit. May Jesus reign over this national calamity as only He can.
While our Iris ministry to northern Mozambique is being challenged to the uttermost, we are extremely encouraged by way God is anointing the efforts of Iris missionaries around the world — in over 30 countries. They are all heroes of the faith: fearless, determined, sacrificial, loving beyond measure. We now have a presence in Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, China, Congo, Costa Rica, France, India, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Korea, Madagascar, Malawi, Micronesia, Mozambique, Nepal, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Tibet, Uganda, UK, USA and Zimbabwe. Heidi and I have only one small part to play, and are only one example of a missionary couple among so many. That our core values are spreading among so many is hugely encouraging. We are surprised and humbled to see our Iris family grow so richly and quickly. We love all of you so much, and value all the communication and interaction we can experience in the Lord! More fruit, Jesus, always!
To our friends and supporters, we know you need ministry, impartation and encouragement of all kinds, just like the poor in third world countries! We are all in the same situation: we are destitute and nothing without Jesus! And so our ministry, like the Apostle Paul’s, is to betroth all we can, whoever we can, to our master and perfect companion, the King of Kings!
We have been sending video news often this past year, but there is so much more to cover! We pray we can expand our media ministry so you can see even more of what Jesus has done with your love, prayers and support. And I will be devoting more time to writing and photography as well, and expressing more of what I call “relational theology!”
More to come soon…
With huge love in Jesus, as always,