Our churches in Niassa Province wanted another conference, this time somewhere we had never been before, like Mocuba, in the center of the province. There was serious food shortage in Niassa, and many of our people in the bush had not seen a good crop in a year or two. They were surviving on leaves, roots and worms, or just eating handfuls of ground maize once in awhile. We always fed everyone at our bush conferences, but this time we wanted to do something really special: cook chicken for all! Georgian Banov, our guest speaker, was bringing $5,000 for chickens, and we wanted to put on a feast.
Conference time came. I flew Heidi and our friend Lesley in from Pemba on the coast over mountains, valleys and rivers — some of the most wild and rugged country in all of Mozambique — and finally found little Mocuba tucked behind some rocky hills. Its dirt runway was half overgrown with weeds, but we landed easily and taxied up to a throng of wondering, excited children. Some of our staff had driven here days before to make preparations, and their Land Rover quickly showed up. Off we went to our venue, loaded down with sound equipment and baggage. We still didn’t have Georgian, or our chickens.
We met in an old, dark, dilapidated gymnasium, the best building in town. It was crowded, hot and smelly inside. The air was steamy with humidity from all the rain. People had journeyed into town for the meetings from every direction, and they were tired, hungry and dirty. Most had nothing but the clothes on their backs and grass mats to keep them off the muddy floor. We couldn’t get lights working at first, but we set up the sound and started worshiping anyway in the dimness and chaos, dripping with perspiration.
I got away and flew off to pick up Georgian and his wife Winnie a half-hour away in Quelimane. They arrived and could hardly believe the conditions. Georgian was a skilled musician and violinist, used to big bands, elaborate equipment and clean churches. But he was excited. This was what he came for, and with great joy he began playing, singing and dancing with all his might. The crowd was thrilled, responding with unique African intensity. And we carried on with preaching and extended altar calls where the Holy Spirit fell in power. Our bush pastors were at front and center, determined to receive all they could from our spectacular Jesus.
We were concerned, though. There weren’t many chickens in town, and we had no idea how we were going to put on the feast we had planned. A day went by, and still we had no clue. The week before, my friend Peter Wheeler from Pretoria had met with me in Maputo and asked how he could help with aviation. He had pilot friends and was very interested in God’s work here. I said, “Well, if you can get 500 chickens to Mocuba by Thursday, that would be a miraculous help!” In a few days Peter found a pilot willing to bring 500 frozen chickens in his own Cessna 210, and I was told to expect them sometime before noon on Thursday.
But I didn’t know what would really happen. This would be the pilot’s first trip into Mozambique, and a lot could go wrong. Noon passed, and no Cessna full of chickens showed up. After a few more hours I called Peter on my satellite phone. “Rolland!” he cried. “I’m so glad you called! The pilot got as far as Beira and had to leave the chickens there! You’ll have to go get them with your plane!”
I gradually got the details. The pilot had done his best to prepare the necessary documents, explaining the humanitarian nature of the mission. But no, the customs officials at Beira, the port of entry, still required import duty. Never mind that our people from the bush in Mocuba had not eaten meat in ages. The poor exasperated pilot was short US$80 of the amount demanded. After a few hours of discussion, the Mozambican police announced they would have to put him in jail. In response he simply abandoned the chickens, quickly took off and flew back to South Africa.
The airport authorities trucked the chickens away and stored them somewhere, without refrigeration. And so the next day Surpresa Sithole, our Mozambican director, and I flew to Beira, a few hours to the south, to try to rescue the situation. I paid the duty and other cargo fees, the chickens were hauled back to the airport, and I started to pack all 1200 lbs. of them into our Cessna 206.
But yet another official came running up, waving and shouting, “No, no!” He held a sheaf of papers, our importation documents. “You cannot take these chickens! You don’t have a South Africa veterinary certificate guaranteeing their health!” We had provided most of the required documents, but were missing this one that we knew nothing about. Again, desperate hunger out in the bush was not a consideration. It turned out that this man was a Moslem, and not interested in helping a Christian church feed its people. It looked like our chickens were going to rot in the sun on the airport ramp, but in the end he relented, for $5.
We staggered into the air with the chickens and half-tanks of fuel, our center of gravity as far back as it could go. Miraculously, the chickens were still frozen, and turned our airplane into a refrigerator. We were cold, but our hearts were warm. We could not believe what it took to carry out relief work in Mozambique, but we were grateful to Jesus for getting us that far through all opposition, and worshiped all the way back to Mocuba.
We got the chickens to the gymnasium, and were stuck again. It was pouring rain. We stacked the chickens high in a bare cement room, with water dripping and running everywhere. The people were expecting food, but all we had was a muddy mess. Our service went on into the night, and the chickens were thawing. Then at nine o’clock the rain stopped. We drove some stakes into the ground, stretched wire between them, making a crude grill, and got a bed of charcoal burning. And so we barbecued chickens until midnight, and everyone got juicy, delicious, unspoiled chicken, perfectly cooked…
The next day word got out all over town about “the chicken church!” Even the Moslems decided we Christians had the right approach. We might think the effort was minor, producing only a single feeding, and wonder if it was worth the time and money. But these people have not seen the love of God like this before, and they are moved. Our churches will grow and multiply as thousands are attracted to the God who cares. They are sensitive, unhardened to the Gospel, and they run to the feet of the King when they know He is near.
More critically, what did God think of the effort? We got an idea when we heard back from the pilot after his horrendous experience with Mozambican bureaucracy. It turned out that he did his best to help us in spite of critical illness. He was in the advanced stages of AIDS when he made his flight, and he was feeling terrible. On top of that, he had just been divorced, and was emotionally wrecked as well. Still he offered to serve the Gospel, and carried on the best he could. God’s response? His ex-wife called the day after he got back, for the first time in three years. There was a sudden change in their relationship, and now they are getting together again. Also, that next day he felt so good physically that he got an AIDS test, and his AIDS is gone! He was healed during his trip. It is impossible to serve our Lord and not be blessed!
Who is this God who cares so much about a single chicken dinner for the poor in a remote town in Africa? What kind of power is this that can banish AIDS and restore relationships in a single day? What kind of holiness is this that can repel centuries of witchcraft and evil, washing them away forever with a thundering, irresistible waterfall of grace and mercy, white, refreshing and clean? He has our hearts. He has conquered us. He has won us over. We revel in His power, and we can live on nothing less than His Spirit.
Our churches have spread all across this poor land of Mozambique and into countries around us. We have seen growth we could not have planned or imagined. We have seen wholesale hunger for God we never knew existed. There is a harvest still before us greater than we can describe. What is still before us? What have we not seen yet? What can God do that we have not even been able to ask? Shall we become tired, overwhelmed and discouraged? Shall we slow down or go backwards? Shall we set a limit on the glory we can see, touch and feel in Him? Is this as far as revival can go?
We see the devil raging. We see our newborn believers and fresh young leaders being attacked by every temptation common to man. They need the Word of God. They need patient instruction. They need to understand more. They need to learn by experience to distinguish between good and evil. We are not finished until Jesus is formed fully in them, and we can present them perfect before the Throne.
And so our ministry task is spread before us. We move forward by faith alone, and when backed against a wall by the onslaught of desperate need, we know nothing except Jesus and Him crucified. We don’t preach health and wealth, though Africa needs more of these than any place on earth. We don’t preach miracles and manifestations, though these acts of power encourage and thrill us beyond measure. We don’t preach discipline and good works, though we delight in these fruits of the Spirit. But we proclaim Him, we tell of what God has done for us in Christ, setting us free from sin and death. We have faith in nothing but the power of the Cross.
We want you to understand that we and our small band of missionaries in Mozambique are overwhelmed. We are exhausted, and cannot comprehend in ourselves how we are going to meet the demands of all our people and churches, or maintain a speaking schedule around the world in addition to parenting this movement. Hundreds and even thousands of people come to visit us, and we try to accommodate their needs and expectations too.
Yet we came to Africa to see the Gospel tested to the extreme. We came to find such hunger and response. We have longed to see such growth. We have waited our whole lives for such opportunity to minister. We are only seeing God’s gracious response to the desires of our hearts. He did not take us this far only to crush us with the aftermath of revival. Instead, He will take us further. We will see His glory. Over and over we have felt the sentence of death on our weak, human frames and assaulted spirits, and each time we learn again to trust the God who raises the dead.
May what He accomplishes here through jars of clay like us encourage believers around the world, and bring light and hope to spiritually starving people everywhere. The fruit is worth it. The joy is worth it. The outcome is worth it. We not only serve the King, but we have made ourselves His love slaves, and He is worth it.
We are continuing our intense schedule of conferences out in the bush where so many first encounter the power of the Holy Spirit, but increasingly we are concentrating on our Bible schools. We have three of them now in Mozambique, and are starting a fourth in Malawi. At these schools we train our pastors for three months at a time, and then bring them back in following years. We don’t have big, beautiful buildings in the city; our dorms and classrooms are just mud, sticks, rocks, dirt and cement. Our pastors come with little but the clothes they are wearing. Leaders in their villages, they still average only a third-grade education. But they come with massive desire for God, and we cannot let any amount of education become a substitute for His Presence. Nor can we let the devil steal the Truth from their hearts and turn our churches toward syncretistic cults which are so common in Africa.
Recently in Pemba, in the heavily Moslem north of Mozambique, we just graduated our first class of students, nearly all converts from Islam. How do they come to Jesus? As an example, one man came forward in an outdoor meeting in the village marketplace desperately asking for prayer for his sick daughter. That night she was healed, and the next day he returned in tears, dedicating his life to Jesus and His service. One touch of the Master, and another soul is won forever.
Jesus will help us, and help the suffering of Africa. He will provide massive help, and do it beautifully through His incomparable Body, without which we could do nothing. He will not do it alone, but will graciously share His nature with His people. We are spoiled by His love, a love with limitless power. We are determined to stay in His heart, clean, washed and useful to Him, ready to labor with all His energy and do the works that He has sent us to do. We so far have had just a taste of His power, and we are ruined for anything else. May our faith in Him, working through love, overwhelm the obstacles of Africa and reveal the full extent of His glory…
In His great love,
[Photos and additional news at Georgian and Winnie Banov’s website: www.riverlution.net/AFRICA.htm. The Banovs were also with us in Bangula, Malawi, where again we were “the chicken church,” cooking 1,000 chickens in pots for the hungry.]