E6. MOZAMBIQUE AND RIVONI MINISTRIES
FIRST TRIP FROM PHALABORWA INTO MOZAMBIQUE
Having established our base at Phalaborwa and forwarded a sufficient supply of radio programs to Trans World Radio, we were now eager to set foot in Mozambique.
At the last moment the Lord miraculously provided for a middle-aged bachelor to stay in our home and look after the animals. This afforded Martie the opportunity of joining the team which then consisted of me, Martie and tannie (auntie) Faith Amos, a woman somewhat older than me. She had been a missionary for most of her lifetime and was fluent in Shangaan. Our pickup groaned under its load of pots, pans, gas bottles, food supplies for 5 people for 14 days, electronic equipment, 160 litres of drinking water, a small tent, folding chairs and 14 bags each of maize meal and sugar which we would give to the Rivonis as a small token of appreciation for the work they were doing,
We took the new route through the Phalaborwa gate of the Kruger National Park, up to the Giriyondo border post and from there through Massingir down to Chokwe. There we met with Titus, our Rivoni supervisor and an interpreter ready to accompany us.
The next morning we bought bread and vegetables and set off. After some 30 km we crossed the Limpopo River which was in full flood and quite a sight to see. Soon afterwards, at Chinhacanine, we turned inland in a north-easterly direction. The “road” seemed to be in a fair condition and we were looking forward to an uneventful quiet drive through the African bush, but very soon realized that this was not to be. It had been raining heavily for days, if not weeks on end (February is the rainy season for that area) and the earth was drenched. Over the years, vehicles travelling that way during rainy weather, caused shallow pools of 5 to 20 meters in diameter to develop and above the drone of the engine, all you heard was the continual swish of water as the pickup ploughed through an unending chain of these. But this was not too bad since the soil consisted mostly of sand and there was little risk of getting stuck.
When we reached the road that veered off towards Mafada, one of the outposts we were to visit, the going got tougher. Mozambique is a very flat country and when it rains, the water just settles down where it falls, causing huge swamps to develop. When we encountered the first of these, I took off my shoes, rolled up my trousers and walked through to the other side to determine whether we would make it. We managed to get through and I repeated the routine a couple of times but then we came to lakes of water too deep and unpredictable to risk going through. All we could do was to veer off into the adjoining bush, cut down the underbrush, cast a rope over some obstructing branches, pull them aside for the vehicle to pass through and so we managed to continue on our way.
Physically our team was not really suited to such a journey. Martie had been to the doctor two days before with a sprained ankle, Tannie Faith, aged 70, was not specifically designed for physical adventures and Titus had a club foot and hobbled along with a walking stick: not exactly an A team for bundu bashing.
But the Fifth Member of our team, or should I say the First, was the Lord, and He saw us through.
With Mafada at last in sight, we encountered a final obstacle, a river from which I had to remove a couple of tree stumps that blocked our way, but then we were through and, with the pickup dripping with muddy water, we drove triumphantly into the little settlement of Mafada.
Within half an hour, the whole village had gathered, including the chief, who informed me that they were now ready to hear the Word of God. Like a good housewife with a pantry stocked with all sorts of edibles, I was able to scramble together a meal from the fruit of my Bible studies and feed the hungry hearts.
The next day we wanted to get to another outpost called Gumbane. To get there we had to backtrack most of the way for the direct tracks were inaccessible. Having travelled a considerable distance, the road just disappeared into a lake. Titus consulted with some people living nearby and they said that there was a footpath circumventing the marsh land which we could try. And so we did, driving astride the footpath (to protect the sump) with both wheels ploughing through long grass and underbrush. We carried on for many kilometres until we eventually reached the tracks leading to Gumbane (the Lord keeping His hands over our tyres).
The following morning we faced the worst section: from Gumbane to Bala-Vala. Titus and I felt that we just could not return along the way we had come, more so because our petrol supply was running low and so we decided to take the direct road. The catch however was that there was a river ahead which we would not be able to cross, or so we were told. After consulting with one another, we decided to go up to the river, see what it was like and if it proved to be impossible to cross, then take the roundabout route. And so we went. Now we encountered true marsh lands. The Portuguese Government had built a road through the marshes by lifting it about a metre above the surrounding area, but since they had fled the country, the double track road had collapsed so that the rear wheels of our vehicle every now and then slipped sideways off the road. Where the road had completely washed away, we had to find our way through dongas.
Having travelled some distance, we encountered a couple of women wading through knee deep water and asked them whether they had seen any other vehicle passing that way. “Only a tractor,” they replied. We carried on and on, realizing that we would no longer be able to turn back and still there was no sign of the river. By that time, both Titus and I had become very quiet. Martie and Faith, of course, were in the back of the pickup. Martie was taking video pictures through a small rear window and Faith was singing a chorus: “He’ll see us through, He’ll see us through.” The marshland got worse and worse, but still no river. I prayed “Lord You moved a million Jews through the Red Sea and more of them through the Jordan that was overflowing its banks, You will know how to get us through this sea.” With water sometimes reaching up to the bonnet and the river we had been cautioned about supposedly still ahead, I wondered whether He was going to divide the waters, or just pick us up and drop us on the other side.
Then, when we were on the point of despair, the bottom underneath the sea of water seemed to lift, gradually at first, then more rapidly and the next moment we rolled into the little village of Bala-Vala. And the river? It seems that the people that had cautioned us about it, had seen the masses of water flowing in one direction, and, for a lack of vocabulary, described it to us as a river. But it was not what we would call a river with steep banks on both sides, and we had actually for quite some distance been crossing through the bed of this “river.” Titus’s face beamed, white teeth flashing and I heaved a long sigh of relief. What happened to the tractor? We do not know, but it never arrived at Bala-Vala. There are many more stories to be told about the hazards of this journey, but let me rather say something about the work done by the Rivonis.
As we visited one outpost after another, we had mixed feelings in this regard. At some places the work had partially or even totally collapsed, one of the main reasons being the breakdown of the equipment. The cranking handles of the dynamo operated radios tended to snap very easily and the electronics of the cassette players somehow just failed. For a Rivoni to get a message through to Titus who might be out in the bush on his itinerary, might take anything from three to seven weeks. He would then have to let me know and I would order the equipment and have to find someone going down that way to take it to Chokwe, since the postal service was undependable. Titus would then, on his return to Chokwe, have to find a way of sending the item to the outpost where it was required. It might therefore take two to six months to replace faulty equipment. In the meantime some of the Rivonis borrowed tape recorders and radios from neighbours and bought batteries using their own money, just to be able to continue with the work.
The Rivonis themselves, also sometimes underperformed for various reasons. At Gumbane we found that the Rivoni had taken his wife to Johannesburg (in South Africa) two months earlier for an operation. The operation had been successful but the husband then had to take up temporary employment there to earn some money to pay for their return journey. His assistant was taking care of the work in the meantime but was not coping very well. The prolonged drought (preceding the devastating rains) resulted in famine which caused another Rivoni to leave his home and take up employment in South Africa. In one or two cases, the Rivonis had just lost their motivation and were no longer giving of their best.
But there also was an up side. At places like Bala-Vala, 7de Abril, Tomanini, Chinhacanine, Ndonga and Matitze, we found strong groups of Christians gathering two to three times per week to listen to the tapes and radio messages and to worship and pray together. A certain Rivoni called Carlotti, used her own money to hire somebody to till her field of maize, to allow her more freedom to reach out to her people. She also enquired whether we would be willing to buy her a bicycle so that she could cycle to the more distant villages. Yes, there were those that had a burning zeal to uplift the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and did it at great personal sacrifice.
Our visit meant a great deal, both to the Rivonis and to the residents, for it proved to them that they were not alone but that there were people outside of their secluded world, praying and caring for them. Time and again people told us: “You are the only White people who ever come out here to visit us. The others just go to the cities and towns.” Wherever we went, we sat down with the Rivonis in their mud plastered houses or in the shade of those beautiful trees, listening to their joys and sorrows, encouraging them and giving practical advice.
Our intention actually was to minister only to them, the Rivonis, to uplift them, but we ended up holding at least one general meeting at every place we visited, for the local people just accepted that that was what we were there for. Sometimes they only arrived at 8.30 pm since they had been working in their fields all day, then had to wash, cook, eat and dress before coming to the meeting. Attendances varied from fifteen to a hundred grown-ups. In one or two places we encountered a very hard and irreverent spirit, but then again, like at Gumbane, 7de Abril and Ndonga, there was a mighty working of the Holy Spirit and people just fell down on their knees to seek God’s forgiveness and salvation.
At Chinhacanine, after holding a night-time meeting, I was so discouraged when no-one responded to the invitation to accept the Lord, that I walked away into the surrounding darkness to pray. There I found large groups of people that had been standing all around, unseen, listening to the message. The next morning several people came to me of their own accord, telling me what impact the message had had upon them. God does not always allow us to see the fruit. At Gumbane we prayed for a saved woman who was continually afflicted by demons. The next morning she testified that she had, for the first time in many years, been able to sleep peacefully.
After every meeting we prayed for the sick and for those having other afflictions. Many of the children had problems with their hearing and eyesight. Then, of course, malaria was forever taking its toll.
The malarial parasite had built up a strong resistance against the pills provided by local clinics. More effective medicine was required, as well as measures to counteract the breeding of the mosquitos.
In total we travelled only 1290 km during that tour but, considering the roads and weather conditions, we had accomplished much.
We also had our share of physical afflictions. Martie continually suffered from her painful sprained ankle, then got sores on her lower lip that were so bad that she could hardly eat, and finally she had diarrhoea. Faith also developed a problem right at the outset and was planning to try and get back to South Africa when the Lord touched her and she recovered.
At our last stop, a beautiful village called Hoyo-Hoyo (which means “Welcome – Welcome”) it was my turn to suffer. Having counselled the Rivoni and local people during the day, Martie and I went to an enclosure to wash ourselves and get ready for the evening meeting. While doing this, I suddenly started feeling cold and even shivered though it was a hot day. Since the enclosure had no roof I thought my discomfort was due to the light breeze. Another two hours went by before the people from the distant villages had arrived and we could hold the meeting. By that time I really felt terrible, with a splitting headache, a high fever, yet shivering from time to time. Since I had already committed myself to bringing the Lord’s message to that community, I could not withdraw and let Titus take over. It had probably been the very first time for a White preacher to visit that village and it would have been a terrible disappointment to the people if I had failed to preach. Somehow I managed to do my duty. The Lord honoured my effort and blessed my words, but at the end of the meeting I just crawled into the back of the bakkie and came to the conclusion that this was it, this was malaria. The only medicine we had with us, were some Disprins.
The community had slaughtered a goat to celebrate the great occasion of our visit and close to midnight, there was a knock on the door of the pickup and there stood the chief as well as the local pastor with beaming faces, inviting me to the feast. It broke my heart to turn down their invitation but my head was spinning and I felt as if I would never see daylight again. This was my first encounter with malaria.
We were now hundreds of kilometres from civilisation and I was very concerned as to how we would get back there, for I just could not let Martie drive the vehicle along those terrible roads and there was no one else to do so. I sent her to caution the rest of the team to be up very early the next morning so that I could try to drive back home before I would be totally overcome by the malaria. Martie and I then bedded down in the back of the pickup.
At daybreak the next morning we set off for Chokwe where, by God’s grace, we found a non- practising medical doctor that provided me with anti-malaria pills and then we made a beeline for home. Somehow I managed to drive back the rest of the way and to bring us all safely back home, a distance of some 417km from Hoyo-Hoyo where I had been brought down by malaria the previous night.
While walking around in our flat on tiled floors, switching on electric lights, a microwave oven, “pure” running water, standing under a shower, I asked: “Lord what were your reasons for causing me to be part of this privileged community while others are having such a hard time over there in Mozambique?” I never received an answer to that question but one thing I knew: if I did not use some of my blessings to bless those across the border, I certainly could not claim to have the heart of Christ.
The pickup had also taken a hammering during our trip and had to go in for repairs. Both the starter and alternator had packed up because of the ongoing baptism in the muddy waters of Mozambique. I was also concerned that water might have penetrated the gearbox and differential.
Reflecting on our experiences in Mozambique, we realised that while we had been in Pretoria, we had underestimated the effort required to make disciples of the people out there in the remote corners of the country. God had known this and caused us to move closer to our field of ministry, so as to be able to work more effectively. We also realised that we would not be able to reach out to new areas as soon as we had hoped to, but would first have to place the present work on a firmer footing.
Spare equipment would have to be ordered and kept at Chokwe to speed up the process of replacing faulty items. Better, more robust equipment would have to be built to limit the breakdown of equipment to a minimum. Titus would have to be provided with some sort of a vehicle to enable him to move around faster and get to the places where he was needed. More training seminars would have to be held for the Rivonis and more than one Rivoni would have to be trained for each outpost so that, if one dropped out, the other could take over. Lastly, in future we would try not to go to Mozambique during the rainy season!
However, under all these pressures we could sing along with sister Faith: “He’ll take us through, He’ll take us through, He’ll take us through!
BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD!
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