SURROUNDED BY WITCHDOCTORS

The swishing sound of witchdoctor machetes hacking through the bush, headed straight for our “bug tent”. I now knew that I had brought my wife to Africa to die.

How did we get into this predicament?

Dave Morrison (“Mo”), the director of Iris ministries in Malawi, had invited Debbie and I to assist with an outreach in a remote village far north of the base in Bangula.

A church had actually been planted in this village after the grandson of the chief had been run over and killed. When God raised the boy back to life, the chief was so impressed that he opened his village wide to the gospel. Many were born again and a pastor was trained to oversee the new church.

Outreach began in typical African fashion with two hours of dust-raising jubilant worship led by the Iris worship team.

During worship, Mo asked Debbie and I to preach to the crowd.

“What should we preach on?” we asked.

Answering us, Mo shared how some of the villagers who had accepted Jesus had not yet fully cut ties with occultic tribal practices. Some were still seeing the local witchdoctors instead of bringing their sick to Jesus. We could preach on being fully committed to the Lord.

So that’s what we did.

Preaching on Elijah and the prophets of Baal, I applied Elijah’s question “How long will you hesitate between two opinions?” to the issue of the witchdoctors. “We can’t keep one foot in Jesus and the other in the occult”, I challenged. Then for dramatic effect I lit the torch that I had hastily made out of one of my tube socks. As the flame shot up into the dark, I presented our God as the only One Who could answer by fire.

Debbie preached on how every time a witchdoctor was consulted, it was like pouring dirt into the clean water of one’s relationship with Jesus.

Outreach continued hours into the night with more preaching, the Jesus Movie, altar calls, and ministry times. It was all so exhilarating to us.

Exhausted, we finally arrived back at our camp site. Four of us were to sleep isolated by ourselves in the backyard of a mud house that bordered on the bush. The rest of the team was located on the other side of the village.

Mo, Debbie, a teen from Canada, and I readied our “bug tents” for the night. What is a “bug tent”? It is a little one man tent. Essentially, it is not much more than a mosquito screen stretched out over tent poles with a zipper.

As we lay in our bug tents looking up through the screen mesh at the amazing stars of the bush, we happily fell fast asleep.

About 1 am, Debbie and I were startled awake as hellishness seemed to break loose.
In every direction, intense witchdoctor drumming suddenly erupted into the silence of the night. We were surrounded by angry, pounding drums on all sides. The ground shook with them. Babies cried, women screamed, all was a discordant chaos of eerie, threatening sound.

We were terrified.

“Mo”, we whispered. “Mo, wake up! What is happening?”

No answer came from his bug tent. Now, we felt even more alone.

Debbie asked me to come into her bug tent. We shuddered in fear as we held each other, trying to pray. Our prayers had little effect on the terror that had gripped us.

I knew we were going to die. The witchdoctors were going to come and hack us to pieces just like our friend had warned us back in America.

Here we were, the “brave preachers who had challenged the witchdoctors” now shaking in our boots. I regretted that I had ever brought my dear wife on this missionary trip. I felt stupid. Now we were going to die a grisly death in the bush of Africa.

As Debbie shook with fear, a verse came blazing into her mind.

“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”

Suddenly, an assurance flooded over her that we had done the right thing to come to Africa and even to preach what we did about the witchdoctors. Yes, we were going to die for it, but we were privileged to be allowed to lay our lives down for the gospel.

When we had first heard witchdoctor drums in the distance days ago, Mo had counseled us to “listen for the higher sound”. That saying of Mo’s now came into Debbie’s mind.

She listened for the higher sound.

Suddenly, she heard them. Choruses of angels were singing above our bug tent. As their ethereal voices rang, Debbie looked up and in a vision saw the heavens parted. With that, we both passed out into a deep sleep.

Again, we were awakened in the night. This time it was a frightening, swishing sound of machetes hacking their way through the bush. “They were coming for us! These are our last moments on earth” we thought in dread.

The swishing sound continued, however the anticipated assailants never seemed to arrive to butcher us. Many minutes passed with the sound of swishing, but nothing more.

As night sky turned to grey pre-dawn, we saw them. Instead of witchdoctors, the village mamas were out sweeping the dirt outside their mud homes. The swishing was not machetes but harmless brooms. Now we really felt like “the Starbucks Missionaries”!

Suddenly, from the other side of the village came the sound of the worship team. Someone had turned on the keyboard and was playing a hokey-sounding song. We laughed. That keyboard never sounded so good! We were alive. We weren’t going to die. We had made it through the night to another day!

It was a surreal moment watching Debbie and Mo share a French press coffee out here in the bush after a night like that! We asked Mo, “Why didn’t you answer us in the night?”

He answered, “I was as scared as you were!”

The teen from Canada slept through the whole thing!

Joyfully, we helped lead the Sunday morning service in the village. As we played, sang, and danced with the children, our hearts were light and thankful.

We had been ready to give up our lives for Jesus and His harvest but hadn’t been actually called on to do it yet. Little did we know that the dreadful night we had just experienced was only a precursor of the “death” we were to die in purchasing the field containing the treasure of Jesus’ harvest of souls.

That is a story for another day.

Next – “GRACE – stopping for the one”

 

 

A VILLAGE COMES TO JESUS

So many villages, so little time.

In over a decade of bringing Jesus’ salvation and His presence to the inner cities of America, we had seen spiritual hunger but not on the level that we witnessed in Malawi, Africa.

Everyone in the villages wanted Jesus, young and old. There were no pretenses, no barriers. All were wide open to laying their lives down and receiving Him. In simple faith, having responded to the gospel invitation, they were just as receptive to the filling of the Spirit with His accompanying manifestations.

Access to scores of spiritually hungry people was easy and immediate. After a brief meeting with the chief to get his permission, we would play some games with the kids and teens. In Africa, it doesn’t take much to impress the youth because they don’t have very much. Following that, we would gather them for an outreach meeting. Some of the adults, especially the mammas, would then join us.

A number of the children from the Iris base who had recently been in Revival had formed a singing group. They were hungry to share Jesus and would sing for the villagers. After an illustrated gospel message, we would invite the presence of the Lord for the invitation and ministry time.

Just like He did in the concrete jungles of the US, the Holy Spirit fell upon the kids and teens in the red dirt of Africa. Everyone would respond to accept Jesus and everyone would permit us to lay our hands on them for the impartation of the Holy Spirit.

Villagers would swoon under the heavy, intoxicating presence of Jesus for the first time in their lives. Some would go completely out in the Spirit. Notable was one little boy who was slain in the Spirit for twenty minutes while standing on his feet! (see short video “A Village Comes To Jesus”)

Virtually all would be given a vision or a word that they would share with the group. As with the Iris children, the theme of mansions in heaven would sometimes be the subject of their visions. This was profound to us because probably none of these kids living in mud houses had ever seen a mansion.

The curse of the Western world is its blessings. Our relative wealth has given us the ability to hide within our dwellings, drunk on a massive overdose of electronic entertainment. It is very difficult to penetrate and reach the “Western village” for the gospel.

Jesus said that the poor are blessed with the kingdom of God. In African and other third world countries, there is village after village of wide open people just waiting for us to bring heaven to them. One can almost sense Jesus standing at one’s side making a sweeping gesture with His hand, saying “This is the true treasure. Seek this!”

We responded to that call. Little did we know, at that time, how expensive was the cost of the field possessing that treasure.

Next – “They Loved Not Their Lives Unto Death”

 

 

THE MULTIPLICATION MIRACLE OF THE KISSES

We loved Hershey Kisses, and we knew the kids of Malawi would love them too. After purchasing a huge bag from a warehouse store, we packed it in our suitcase before we left for Malawi on our missions trip.

These chocolate kisses were special to us because they were representative of the region in which we lived, minutes from Hershey, PA. We felt they were also symbolic of the hugs and kisses of the Father for the kids of Malawi.

Once in Africa, we used these kisses as rewards for games or simply as a special treat for the formerly-orphaned children on the Iris missions base.

One day, our missionary friends wanted to visit a village that was deep in the bush. They rounded up Debbie and I and some of the children from the base who had recently been touched by the Holy Spirit. We then began our journey to the distant village.

All along the two hour hike, we passed out Hershey Kisses to our own kids as well as to those in the small villages that happened to be on the way.

Arriving at the destination, we met with the local chief. He gave us permission to hold an outreach in the village on the spot.

Children, teens, and mothers rolled out straw mats under a big tree in the middle of the village and sat down. About thirty villagers joined in the games, heard the special music by the Iris kids, and then attentively listened to the gospel talk. As is our custom, we followed up the presentation of the gospel with an invitation and ministry time.

A good number of the group responded to accept Jesus and receive prayer for the filling of the Spirit.

Following all of this, I announced to the group that we had brought a special treat with us to give to them. It was as if the word “treat” was amplified through a massive megaphone! Scores of kids who had not been present for our outreach suddenly ran to us from all corners of the village.

We were swamped!

Almost instantaneously, our group swelled to 100 kids!

“Not to worry”, I told myself. We have plenty enough Hershey Kisses to go around even to this large of a crowd! In my minds’ eye, I saw the vast majority of that bag still remaining in our knapsack.

My face fell as I reached into the knapsack. I pulled out a bag of kisses that was almost empty! Obviously, we had handed out far more of them than I had thought. We and the missionaries were deflated!

What were we to do? This was a once in a lifetime chance for these poverty-stricken kids to taste a treat like this. They were all excitedly anticipating receiving one each, but the bag only seemed to have about thirty or so in it.

An idea sprang into my mind. Iris ministries was known for its many stories of God showing up to multiply food. Even in our own lives, on two occasions, we have been visiting with friends and have seen the scant amount of dinner on the table miraculously multiplied with plenty to go around.

Why couldn’t Jesus just do it again…this time with Hershey Kisses?

We divided the children into two lines. The girls’ and boys’ lines were roughly fifty kids long each. For whatever reason, we also arranged the lines from the shortest to tallest kids.

I stuffed the almost empty bag under my arm and headed for the girls’ line. I honestly thought that I wouldn’t make it much more than halfway through the eagerly waiting girls.

Inside was a strange combination of feelings. “What on earth are we doing?” was joined by “We feel like such louses to have even mentioned kisses to these poor kids”. At the same time there was an amazing, unexplainable exhilaration. It was up to God now. There was no way we could pull this off!

Back in the States, we could have just told everyone that we would be back next week with a fresh bag of kisses. However, we couldn’t do that here. We couldn’t disappoint these children.

As I headed down the girls’ line, we and the missionaries were passionately shouting out prayers and praises, calling on Jesus to do the impossible. Looking back, it was probably more desperation than devotion.

It was a miracle. I made it all the way through the girls’ line. Each had gotten their kiss.

Now turning our gaze to the line of boys, their eyes lit up with anticipation, the momentary victory was short lived. The bag under my arm felt like it only had about ten kisses in it.

“No time to worry or fret”, we thought, “God, you have got to come through for these kids!”

One by one, beginning with the youngest, I began to hand each boy a Hershey Kiss. The strange thing was that the bag, while never seeming to fill up, for the most part, did not seem to decrease below what felt like about ten kisses.

As the missionary team continued in their whooping, hollering, and interceding, I actually made it to the midway point of the boys’ line.

Suddenly a scary thought tried to enter my head. The remainder of the boys line was comprised of some pretty good sized boys. If they got really disappointed, they could gang up on me and beat me up!

Quickly dismissing that crazy thought, I continued on down the line. We were down to the last dozen boys or so and it felt like there was probably only chocolate crumbs in the bag. “Jesus, help us!” we all cried!

The Lord displayed His awesome power. Not only did we make it through all the boys, but there were six kisses left in that amazing bag with which we were able to share with the six mammas who were standing around with their babies on their backs watching the spectacle.

When the awesomeness of what we had witnessed actually hit us, we couldn’t keep our feet on the ground! We all started dancing and leaping into the air, praising God.

Does God really care that much about Hershey Kisses? No. However, He does care about those precious African children in rags. He also cares about Westerners and our faith level.

For us, in that remote village, our faith level got a serious booster shot in the arm!

Next – “A Village Comes To Jesus”

 

 

CHILDREN OF HOPE

Nothing had really changed except the color of the dirt. Here we were in Africa witnessing Jesus doing the same things that He was doing in the neighborhoods of America. Different location – same Holy Spirit.

The Iris missionary base in Bangula, Malawi had adopted sixty children who had been orphaned as a result of the harsh perils of Africa. Upon our arrival, Debbie and I were asked to conduct VBS-style meetings with the children that ended up morphing into a School of the Holy Spirit.

Each morning, God would wake us up and show us what He wanted us to teach the children about His presence. Away from the distractions of our manic world in the U.S., it was easy to hear Him in Africa. His voice was clear as a bell. Vision was razor-sharp. For us, it was a fulfillment of John 5:19 where Jesus says that the Son only does what He sees the Father doing. Jesus is THE Son, the only begotten Son of the Father. Through His death and resurrection, we are God the Father’s sons too. The Father wants to bring us to the place where we, similarly to Jesus, only do and say what He shows us. Specific down to the point of even showing us the pictures that He wanted us to draw to illustrate biblical truth, the Spirit of God laid out His agenda for the day.

After fun and games, some singing, and the illustrated Bible talk, we would invite the Holy Spirit to come. Everything would change. The very air was charged with His presence.

What He had been doing through us on the streets of America, now again materialized in this foreign land.

In the first meeting, the Holy Spirit was intent on making sure that all of the children had been born again. In our gospel invitations, the children don’t just say a “sinner’s prayer”. After repenting and inviting Jesus into their lives, they receive the laying on of hands for the filling of the Spirit. It is at this point that they receive the senses of sight, hearing, etc that accompany the new birth.

As we prayed over the children, they would “go out in the Spirit”. Their body would lie on the straw mat, under a desk, on a window ledge or wherever in the room that they had chosen to seek God. However, in the Spirit, they would be whisked away to places in the heavenlies where they would see Jesus, the angels, or paradise.

Striking to us, was a not uncommon vision of seeing their mansion in heaven. Here were children who grew up in mud houses in extreme poverty having visions of mansions, never having seen a mansion in real life. First the children in the base, and later on out in the villages, would report seeing spectacular dwelling places awaiting them.

In all of their abject poverty, here was the Spirit of their new-found Father giving them tangible hope. They might be destitute now, but wait for the afterlife in heaven!

This heavenly, visionary encouragement was one of the impetuses for us to name our future missionary organization “Children of Hope”. Jesus offers wonderful hope of forgiveness of sins and a new life down here. However, He also offers heaven and eternity with Him as our great hope as well.

Chicken pox was infecting the children on the base during this time. One by one all of the children had succumbed to it. Because of this, we would have children show up each day who had been released from treatment but had not yet been in our meetings. It was a joy to daily witness fresh children being birthed into the kingdom and having encounters with Jesus.

Every day the children spiritually grew by leaps and bounds. So much of God got packed into them that He just had to come busting out. They began to lay hands on each other, praying for the Spirit’s fullness. It was awesome to see the earnest passion with which they prayed. God also began giving them prophetic, encouraging messages for one another.

Then the day came when they were all given the gift of speaking in tongues. They didn’t just speak, they shouted in tongues! Leaving the meeting, they joyously spilled out into the courtyard dancing, shouting and singing in tongues! The cooks and helpers wondered what had gotten into the children – the Holy Spirit had!

As we began to conduct evangelistic outreaches in the local villages, the children accompanied us. They spontaneously formed a singing group and would share in song during the outreach. Then they began to ask us for the microphone so that they could give witness of what Jesus had done for them. Some would also share in front of the villagers encouraging words that the Spirit had just downloaded to them. We were excited to see the Holy Spirit not only blessing the children but now making them a blessing.

It was wonderful to witness the transformation of our translator as well during these meetings. He was a sweet, lovable man. A school teacher by profession, he was quite reserved and conservative spiritually. After receiving the laying on of hands, he became very sensitive to the Holy Spirit. During ministry time, he would drift off into another realm. Hands raised and eyes closed, he would become lost in God, his beautiful voice singing new spontaneous melodies in the Spirit.

We were a team – Debbie and I, the missionaries from the base, and these wonderful children now marvelously filled with the Spirit of God. One day, we were trecking through the bush on our way to do an outreach for a distant village.  As they walked, the children were singing “Mercy is Falling”, a lively song written by David Ruis.  The chorus of “Hey-Oh” resounded through the countryside. As we journeyed, we were unaware of a wonderful heart-warming miracle that Jesus would shortly perform before our very eyes. What was the miracle? We will share that in next Friday’s blog.

Next – “The Miracle of the Kisses”

 

 

 

NO LONGER ORPHANS

The perils in Malawi abound. Malaria stalks at dusk. AIDS runs rampant. The flu is not an annoyance, it is a killer. Average life expectancy is 57. We heard stories of the starving, diving to the bottom of rivers for edible bulbs only to be eaten by crocodiles.

Everyone lives in mud houses. Mud bricks are baked in the hot sun. They are formed into walls with mud mortar. Grass thatch roofs top them off. When it rains, really rains like it does in the monsoon season, the houses literally disintegrate.

In recent flooding, whole villages were wiped out, displacing sixty thousand people in the Bangula area alone. There seems to be no happy medium. Either the region is so desert-dry that the crops wither or the floods wipe everything out.

The children receive the brunt of the hardships. Almost a million have lost either both or one parent, the majority of the time to AIDS. Almost a fourth of the nation’s children are malnourished and approximately that same number end up in child labor. About a third don’t even make it into primary school. Ten percent of children die before the age of five.

When we were in the villages of Malawi, what we saw amazed us. Despite the deplorable conditions, we saw utter contentment. These happy children all wore warm, sunny smiles on their faces. The nicest of their toys were crudely made of wire and plastic egg cartons. Yet there was no complaining.

The children on the missionary base in Bangula were no exception. They had lost everything, including their parents. Adverse circumstances can make one bitter. We saw no such thing in these precious children, only amazing contentment, happiness, and smiles that would melt the heart.

No longer orphans, they had become sons and daughters treasured by the Morrisons (the base directors) and their loving house parents.

We were privileged to be allowed to spend three weeks with these children on the base. We played games in the dirt together, hung out and ate together. They called us Auntie and Uncle. They stole our hearts.

They also captivated the heart of their Creator. Hours after our arrival, we were graced to be able to witness an outpouring of the Spirit of God on them that rivaled anything that we had seen back in America.

The King of the Universe reached down, scooped them up in His arms, and made them His adopted children. He translated them from poverty to royalty. They tasted of the powers of the age to come and experienced the manifestations of their Father’s kingdom.

Our hearts and minds are full of memories made by these children as they encountered our Best Friend Who became their Best Friend as well…the Holy Spirit. We’ll share some of these stories in our next blog.

Next – “Children of Hope”