Revival in Heat and Famine
Written by Heidi & Rolland Baker
We have a thirty-knot headwind, adding an hour to our flight to Beira up on the coast of central Mozambique. The turbulence is rough. It’s a hot day, even at seven thousand feet, and our air vents are fully open. There’s four of us, Steve, Gordon, Anton and me, and we’re trying to get north where we can see the latest famine conditions. Mozambique has had almost no rain all year, and yet again instead of brilliant clouds and distant vistas we see only haze and smoke from hundreds of brush fires.
We are cramped. Every bit of space in our little Cessna 206 is packed with gear: heavy sound equipment, a generator, tools, sleeping bags and a tent, water, cameras and our clothes. We get out of air traffic control range and tune in world news on BBC shortwave. Israel is tense. America focuses on Iraq. African leaders reach toward the oil wealth of Arab nations for help. We quickly put on a worship CD over the plane’s intercom and settle down in the Holy Spirit. The dry bush slowly passes underneath. For hundreds of miles we see no highways or even dirt roads. Only footpaths join isolated huts, each surrounded by tiny plots of scorched maize. There are no power lines, no television antennas, no schools and no stores. No one out in the remote bush is aware of international tensions and political struggles, but all around are bleakness, suffering and death. We have not found any greater poverty and isolation than what we see below us.
It has never taken so long to get to Beira, but after four hours of patient endurance, good company and much prayer and worship, we reach the coastline again and land. We get out in humid, tropical air among palm trees to stretch and prepare for another flight. After refueling we take off into a stiff sea breeze out toward the beach and then bank inland to the northwest and the town of Tete, a few more hundred miles away. The winds have made us late. The Tete airport closes at five and we won’t make it, but we press on as the sun lowers. Through murky air pollution the Zambezi River appears, a busy ribbon of commerce in colonial days. It’s low after the flooding of last year, exposing broad islands that split and divert its muddy, slow-moving waters. We know Tete is close and start our descent. We make contact with the tower controller and he will stay after-hours just for us. Finally we spot the town and its very strategic bridge across the river. The main road traffic between Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe all funnels through Tete, and so it is a major hub.
We land and the controller immediately shuts down and goes home. The airport is empty. We are left standing on the baking tarmac watching the sun sink down through heat waves rising from the “furnace of Mozambique,” as Tete is known. It is only October, two months from summer, but we are in an oven already. We have to wait for Tanneken and Pastor Rego, who started driving from Beira early this morning to accompany our rented 4-ton truck carrying relief food provided by Lesea Global Feed the Hungry.
Almost two hours pass while we wander, talk and pray in the dark. Tanneken’s headlights finally appear and with effort she finds a guard to unlock the gate so we can unload the plane into her truck. Her drive took eleven hours over ruts and potholes. She is thrashed from all that dust, heat and pounding, but cheerful as always in Jesus, she is ready to keep going.
She has found lodging for us, some tiny, bare rooms in a Mozambican guest house near our Tete property not far away. They found a fan for me, but still it is almost impossible to sleep. I wonder how local people do it. The ceiling is hot; the walls are hot; the mattress is hot. I spray for mosquitoes and toss and turn, praying all the time. What will we find in the morning? How can our people survive? What will they tell us? Jesus, do whatever you like with us. We are here, only for you.
We wake up to our surroundings, a brown, dry, barren landscape of dirt, rocks and mud huts. There are no grassy fields and crops, just scrub brush and cactus. The temperature quickly reaches one hundred twelve in the shade. Dust blows in the hot wind. The river is nearby and looks inviting, but it is dirty and filled with dangerous crocodiles. There are business buildings downtown, but most people are scattered around Tete living destitute, wretched lives in their shacks and hovels.
Tanneken and Rego lead our central Mozambican ministries from their base in Dondo, near Beira, and they are eager to meet with our local leaders in Tete. We all join together for breakfast. Our guest house cook finds an egg for us each, with bread and tea. And we talk of the things of God. I am in awe, again. Our churches in Tete Province are taking root and growing more quickly than ever. Our pastors are filled with joy and optimism. They are so extremely grateful for our visit. Yes, everything is going well. Jesus is good. Let’s go minister!
We drive to our property which we use as our provincial headquarters. It’s just off the road down over a ditch and across gravel and dirt below a rocky hill. Our “offices” are in a little mud building with a tin roof held down in the wind by piles of rocks. Next to it our pastors built a church, made out of sticks and reeds and covered with torn sheets of plastic held down by rough poles. One side is left wide open. Our people are tightly clustered inside to stay out of the sun’s fierce heat, patiently waiting for us. Many have come long distances to meet with us and receive the food we are distributing.
All around us huts are scattered on the harsh land. We cannot believe people can live here. We have never seen such a hot and miserable place. Maybe it’s cooler and greener at other times, but right now it is inhospitable to the extreme. The huts are just crude mud and sticks. There is nowhere to go for relief from the heat and deprivation. I find out more about their farms. They haven’t had a crop in two years. Across the two huge provinces of Tete and Zambezia the people are starving and down to eating grass and roots. Our provincial leaders sit down in their huts to visit and eat grass and roots right along with them.
We are invited to visit the homes of some of our local Tete believers, and some more of our churches. Our hosts are thrilled and honored. They crudely draw our dove-and-rainbow logo on their walls and mud pulpits. They gather their big families around their houses and laugh and wave. Their children run barefoot in rags over blistering rocks and thorns, posing for us with big grins. They have hope. They have faith in our Lord Jesus.
We teach them through the afternoon, and as the sun goes down we start an evening service. In all their weakness and hunger they sing and dance before the King with joyful energy. We preach and begin to pray for all who hunger more for Jesus than anything in this world, all who know He is the only Savior in the universe. The people weep on their hands and knees and on their faces, their tears dripping into the dirt. They are in a desperate situation, and they know it, but they will come to Him. He will be with them. He is enough for them.
Our churches are growing all the more rapidly in all this suffering. People who have known only the demonic power of witch doctors stream to Jesus when they see the Holy Spirit cast out evil spirits. They want the living God, the only God, the God who loves them. They walk for days without food in the heat to our conferences, determined at all costs to cling to the salvation that comfortable Westerners throw away every day. Our pastors pray for them. The Holy Spirit comes with fire to capture their hearts and heal them. The people do not resist. Even little children shyly ease up to me in the darkness of our church in the dirt, sweetly asking for prayer. Their filth and torn clothes cannot mask the sheer beauty of their hearts.
On into the night Pastor Rego and our other leaders distribute the food we brought by truck. We pray for wisdom and calm, that no one will get anxious and disruptive. But what is one truck among so many? Nevertheless we divide the maize, bit by bit. And we pray simply with all our hearts to our God for survival, for rain, for crops, for food multiplication, for His supernatural help. There is no more appetite for cults, syncretism, formalism and substitutes for the Presence of God. There is no more room for adultery, lying, stealing and fighting. There can be no idolatry at all, nothing that will make Jesus jealous. He is ours, and we are His, and we are at home only in Him.
After another fitful night in our bedrooms, we fly to Bangula, Malawi, to visit our leadership commission and encourage our churches. We find that our last conference here a few months ago bore more fruit than we realized. Word went out all over Malawi about these foreign speakers and teams who went to the trouble of visiting this dusty, remote, insignificant town. Even government officials thought, “What is going on? This must be important!” We had gathered four thousand people together, fed them and ministered to them for a few days, but I was stressed because it was so little in the face of this famine I have been writing about for more than a year. But people heard that we cared, that we brought food, that we did not charge for our prayers. They heard that the Holy Spirit of God brought supernatural love, that we can know Him and His Presence. This was different, and though our food lasted just four days, new churches by the hundred sprang up and joined our fellowship.
It would be hard to overstate the hunger of these people for the things of God. They all want Him. Everybody wants to know all about Him. They beg to go to Bible school. Can we visit them in their huts? Can we send teachers every week? Can we build more dorms at our new Bangula school? Can we have conferences in Lilongwe and the north? How soon can we come back? Can we send more missionaries and visitors immediately? Everything we do is appreciated. They are thrilled and so encouraged by our company. They respond to the Lord on their knees and faces with loud cries and tears, and with laughter, singing and dancing. Again all that matters is Jesus. He is our life, and all our heart’s desires are in Him.
We visit a little orphanage miles out of town on a rough dirt road, far from everything. One hundred ten children are here, living in a simple brick building under a tin roof. Their parents have all died from AIDS, malaria and cholera. They are trying to make maize grow by irrigating a field from their hand pump, but they can’t even afford a pipe to carry the water. So they lay plastic in troughs they form in the dirt with their hands and guide the water into one furrow at a time.
It’s sizzling hot here too, but the children are in high spirits. We gather to hear them sing and testify, and their pure joy and delight in Jesus are a gift to our hearts. We know that they are supernaturally sustained in this destitute, barren refuge. No one is begging or complaining. No, they just worship. We will help them.
Now Malawi has at least one million orphans. There are only a few tiny orphanages that are trying to help. AIDS and malnutrition are combining to produce a greatly accelerated death rate. Foreign aid is arriving, but there is not nearly enough to make up for the food shortage. Transporting food into the poorest and most remote villages is a problem not even the biggest aid agencies have solved. And the forecast for next year’s harvest is bleak.
But God has His saints. We drive down to Pastor Nsapi’s house way out in the bush near Nsanji, a grueling hour over washboard dirt and gravel roads. He’s the one who lost five of seven children to starvation and disease in one month, and in response took in a dozen orphans and started building a stick and mud house for them. Now the house is finished — just a couple of rooms with dirt floors under thatch. We have some support for him now, and so I asked him what he needed. A pump for his well? School clothes and materials for his children? Well, he doesn’t really know how to relate to money, but all he wants is to be able to take in three more children from down the road whose parents just died of AIDS. We will get him what he needs and more. He and his weathered wife gather their household together before their lonely huts under the billowing clouds of an approaching storm to dance and sing. They are happy and grateful, simple and childlike. They can celebrate like this for hours. We pray for them one by one. Here in the wilderness of Africa, we have found beauty.
After a few days we have to leave. We have spent many hours with our leaders, praying, listening, teaching and encouraging. We leave last-minute instructions, and money for food and administration. And we take off yet again from an airstrip unused by anyone but us in many years. Looking down as we make one last pass over the field, we see our many friends waving energetically. Their faith, hard work and endurance amaze me. Their continuing joy in service to the King, even under heavy trial, radiates the glory of God. It seems we have done so little for them, but I begin to understand the magnitude of what God is doing.
We will be back, because passion brings us back. Sickness, starvation and death will not stop this revival. We will guard our hearts and not let our faith drain away. Instead, we will press forward with all the more fire to what lies ahead. Even here, in destitute, desperate Africa, the world will see the overwhelming goodness of God.
Who will be carriers of His glory to the ends of the earth? Who will settle for nothing less than to share the passions of God Himself? How many will pay any price if only He can do whatever He likes with them? Who wants to be useful to the Master, prepared for every good work, even in the most extreme and hopeless situations? Jesus is the Savior, the Good Shepherd, and He delights in His work. With huge joy He redeems the lost and reveals His love to the anguished. He is not frustrated and at a loss for solutions. He is conquering our hearts, and we will be a people in love, ready to love. May He be utterly delighted with us as we participate in His nature.
Back at our Zimpeto center in Maputo, it’s late at night. I hear the diesel engine of Heidi’s truck as she pulls in through our gate, and soon our hallway is filled with the chatter of little boys. Our shower goes on. I step out of my office and see a pile of filthy rags on the floor. Heidi has been out on the streets preaching, and tonight she has brought back four more hungry, desperate children. We put clean clothes on the boys, now all fresh and clean, pray with them some more, and lead them to their rooms…
And so the work goes on, one little lost sheep at a time. Everything about our center is a miracle. Your love and support are amazing, ongoing monuments to God’s grace. The clothes, shoes, toys and gifts you send are received as from Jesus Himself. Our staff and visitors keep pouring themselves out, overflowing with the life of God. Where are we heading? Straight into the heart of Jesus, as we are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory…
In His great love,