Night is falling. Towering rain clouds threaten across the horizon ahead. Lilongwe has been reporting an intense downpour all afternoon. Our pastors have been waiting for us there, patiently and eagerly, for days. We’ve been promising them a conference all year, and we keep getting delayed, but we are finally on our way.
I keep heading north in our Cessna 206 at nine thousand feet, two hours out of Beira on the Mozambican coast. Dark bands overhead streaked by the storm shroud a full moon breaking through a few seconds at a time. The night deepens. All is black below but rings of bush fires out of control in the wild. We are out of radio range. We share the sky with no other aircraft for hundreds of miles.
Beside me is Surprise Sithole, our Mozambican national director. Son of a witch doctor, the Holy Spirit called him with an audible voice out of his father’s house and turned him into a flaming evangelist for Jesus, the all-powerful King. Worship CDs play in our headsets as we let our hearts fly to heaven to be with Him. Because He died and rose again, we keep going, we keep preaching, we do not tire. We cannot disappoint these pastors in Malawi. The revival will go on. Surprise and I listen, worship, pray and speak together of the great harvest all around us. Lead us on, Jesus, and through us spread everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of you…
The dim glow of Tete grows ahead. Slowly the small town drifts by beneath us, its pocket of lights divided invisibly by the Zambezi River, and the vast African bush awaits us again in the void ahead. Rocky peaks jut upward at us only a few thousand feet below. We reach the Malawi border and finally raise a human voice, approach control at Malawi’s international airport. It is closed already, but they will keep the runway lights on for us. Blackness sweeps past us again and again as we sink down through what is left of the day’s thunderstorms.
By now the heavy rain has passed, and Lilongwe’s lights spread below us in the haze and mist. I just make out the runway lights and choose an easy visual approach. We taxi to the terminal, the only plane at the airport. Malawi’s economy is down, air travel is down, and we begin to feel the oppressive weight of poverty.
Our pastors have no telephones and no transportation. They’ve been sitting at the airport since seven this morning, but we were delayed so they had to walk hours back into town. We find our own ride and hotel, and the next morning Surprise and I head back to the airport twenty miles north. Along the road we spot a group of men trudging along wearing blue hats — our Iris Ministries caps! We found our lead pastors, exhausted. They are overjoyed to see us. And they are starved. We find a minibus to rent at the airport and go shopping for beans, maize and sugar, enough to feed for days all our pastors and their wives and children who have come to hear us.
We meet first at the district pastor’s house, a hut blackened with soot in a muddy slum. The women start their wood fires under pots in the courtyard as rain begins to fall. But everyone is thrilled. Jesus has not forgotten them! Today they will hear from the missionaries. Today we are together. Today the Holy Spirit will touch them again. Everyone is laughing and hugging, and we pray together, loudly and earnestly.
Tonight we will have a conference for our pastors and local people. But where? On a soccer field? In a town square? In a big church or rented building? No. Toward evening we pack everyone we can into our minibus, wives, kids, nursing babies, and then our generator and sound equipment. The pastors point the way. We leave the city lights. The road becomes dirt and gets rough. We struggle and slide through deep mud. We cross narrow, shaky wooden bridges. A half hour goes by. We are nowhere close. The night is very dark. We bounce and lurch over ditches and ruts. We keep making turns, trying to follow bush tracks, and I am completely lost. Where are we going? “To our church!” I am told. “It is just here!”
Eventually we arrive. It’s a village, without a single light. We step off into the mud. All is quiet. My flashlight quits almost immediately, and I use my tiny spare. The pastors are excited. “Come see our church!” We stumble through brush and muck a hundred yards and there it is, a shadowy outline lit just faintly by what’s left of a full moon’s light through the patchy overcast. We are led inside. The walls are mud brick. We hear water dripping everywhere from holes in the thatched roof. The misshapen windows are eroded by all the rain. There are no chairs, benches, platform or pulpit — just dirt. A few hundred people could stand in here. “And here’s the office!” they proudly announce. There’s a wall, and one other room, about four by fifteen feet. Standing in it, I see nothing but more puddles and mud.
We have come to a center of revival. But this is not what we expect back home. We look for banners, choirs, radio announcements, stadiums, huge crowds, badges, CDs and books. But instead we are among the poorest of the poor at the ends of the earth. Yet in this dark, pitiful little village the people feel like they are almost in heaven. We are about to have a conference!
The rain stops. We find a few chairs in nearby huts and set them outside in a field by the church. And there we start to worship, hardly able to see each other’s faces. Our pastors sing their hearts out, and as villagers hear, they begin to appear out of the night and sit around us on the ground. We pay no attention to where we are. We just celebrate Him. Local believers enthusiastically gather in groups to give us songs, weaving together their unique African rhythms and harmonies. We all pray. Our revival leaders are shaking and crying with intensity. The sound of intercession, love and desperate hunger for more of Jesus rises to heaven from this most unlikely spot in the African countryside.
I start preaching, with fear and trembling. These people are hungry and barefoot. They’ve worn the same rags for a year. Even if they find seed to plant, there will be no harvest until next May. Prices for what little remaining food there is in the street stalls have doubled and tripled, and no one can pay. It’s late, dark and cold. I have to speak for Jesus. “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:16). But I start with, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35). I have preached that before, but not where it had to be proven like this.
The pastors and their people do not complain. They have not come to beg from me. They are thrilled with the Lord and His promises. They have come for His Presence. We keep praying, and He keeps coming. I am seeing the face of revival. This is what it really looks like. Standing in the refuse of the worst Satan can do, we watch the Savior and Redeemer conquer hearts and pour out righteousness, peace and joy. The ladies of the village, lined and wrinkled by a lifetime of hard labor, jump and shout with emotion. The elders weep in repentance. Some are on their knees and faces, even in the mud. Corruption and spiritual perversion have held the African church low, but we cry for purity and passion. Then we can ask our Father in heaven for anything, including multiplication of food.
When can we come back? Everyone wants to be taught. Can we go to the east bank across the river? They have nothing there, and no one ever visits them. And Bangula? The dirt airstrip there is getting worse, overgrown with tall weeds and crisscrossed with paths and ditches, but can we try? We have hundreds of new churches in that area, all needing trained pastors. And also to the northwest, and over here and way over there… How many conferences can we do in December?
Southern Malawi is in famine from this year’s crop failure. Farmers are dropping along the roadside, searching for edible food. Their families have been eating unripe berries, tree leaves and grass. Weeks ago we bought up all the food we could find in warehouses with thousands of dollars of cash, and distributed it as far as we could. The government promises to buy food from South Africa, but when, and at what prices? No relief agencies are on the scene. Even during last year’s disastrous flooding, the World Food Program was unable to deliver food to remote villages. No, Jesus is bringing the cry of this need specifically to our attention. These people are nearly all in our churches, which have mostly sprung up in the past year. The Gospel has spread like wildfire, and now the test has come. Is Jesus still good news? We make plans to return soon for a major gathering of pastors, and we are expected to lead them on spiritually through yet another humanitarian disaster.
Why does our faith keep getting so tested? How much suffering and overwhelming need can there be in the world? How can the church, even the Western church, take care of it all? But we will not shrink back. We have an infinite Savior, and because He died for us, there will always be enough for those who receive His blood and flesh. He will glorify Himself in the world. He will do it in the darkest and most impossible of situations, and we will be carriers of His glory.
Now our churches number over 3,000 in Mozambique and neighboring countries. We are getting urgent calls from leaders in Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi and Uganda who want to join this revival. They are crying for help. Our Bible school at our children’s center in Maputo continues with four sessions a year, but now we need more Bible schools all over southeastern Africa. Pastors are desperate to learn the Word of God and grow in the Holy Spirit. Our last class just graduated a few weeks ago, and again as we clothed our students with prayer and ordained them for service, they were overwhelmed by the Spirit. Again they testified of all that God had done for them. One was raised from the dead after dying in the night right in our dormitory of a serious illness. While out of the body, Jesus met him and sent him back to finish his work on earth.
We can’t build more huge centers for all the hundreds of thousands of AIDS orphans in Mozambique, but our bush churches all over the country are starting to take in orphans themselves and building simple mud and stick housing for them. That way the pastors and churches learn even more passion and compassion, and together they are God’s miraculous response to a hopeless situation.
Visitors keep pouring into our Maputo center, and all who are called by the Lord to taste and participate in His work here are welcome. Our accommodation is extremely basic, and we are always hard pressed by the challenge of logistics and transportation among so much local need. But we value your presence and know that the blessings of the Lord will flow in both directions between you and the poor of Africa. Please write me and also our hospitality staff if you feel Jesus moving you to come our way.
Heidi and I remain deeply moved and thrilled by the way Jesus takes care of us and our children through your supernatural sensitivity and generosity, even during the long stretches when we are unable to communicate. We are intensely busy with bush ministry, teaching and travel, and the practical details of administration and relief work. Always we pray for more workers for the harvest. The nets are breaking with fish. We are human. We do get exhausted and discouraged, but He keeps reviving us and refreshing us with sweet spring rain. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Cor. 4:7-11).
May you be encouraged in heart and united in love as you continue to seek and serve the King! May He ravish you with His affection and practical goodness, and win your heart utterly until He can do anything He likes with you. May the power of His Spirit touch you and leave you shattered and undone, dead to yourself and alive to Him. May you see His glory with your own eyes as you follow Him alone, unwavering in your faith.
We value your communication, friendship and company. We will continue to write, and we always pray that Jesus will bring us together at the right time, full of joy, gratitude and anticipation for the future!
In His great love,