E8. MOZAMBIQUE AND RIVONI MINISTRIES
THE DONKEY CART EXPRESS, CHINHACANINE, CERTIFICATES AND ILLNESS
When my fellow workers and I travelled by bicycle from village to village to take the Gospel to the residents, I gained practical experience of the difficulties encountered when using such transport. Your first problem was that you could take along very, very few articles and our travelling evangelist, Titus, had to take spare radios, CD-players and power supplies to replace faulty ones at the outposts he visited. Secondly, he could do with a bit of privacy while ministering at a village. To the locals, huts are just for sleeping and to store your most valuable belongings in, but during the day you live out in the open, either working or sitting in the shade of a tree. The evangelist, however, needs a private quiet place where he can study the Word, pray and prepare his messages for the meetings.
During the preceding months we had also learned a very costly lesson in trying to provide Titus with a motor vehicle but there were several obstacles to overcome. He had tried in vain for months on end to get a drivers licence. Secondly we would have had to pay a rather prohibitive amount on customs duty to import it into Mozambique. There were also other reasons to consider, one of them being that few people in Mozambique had grown up with motor vehicles and if even a small thing was to go wrong out there in the bush, no one would be able to fix it for Titus temporarily, so as to enable him to make it back to Chokwe. That meant that he would be stuck there for some weeks till I could possibly tow him in.
Gradually I came to the conclusion that a donkey cart would actually suit his need much better, and set about converting my flatbed trailer for this purpose. I also built a frame onto it that would allow him to stand upright inside.
This I covered with a factory-made PVC canopy, covered the floor from side to side with expensive carpet off cuts, equipped it with harnesses for two donkeys, a solar panel, caravan battery, electric light with extension cord, water containers, plastic table, etc., and towed it to Mafada.
There we negotiated to buy two donkeys at an exorbitant price. It took at least three days to try out the different animals offered to us. At one stage the owner was convinced that his two youngest animals would suit us best, but one of them had not been trained. So they roped it in, tied its hind legs together, flipped it over onto its side and tied its right front hoof behind its ear. A wooden peg was cut, disinfected by rubbing it in the donkey’s droppings and then used to pierce the membrane within the animal’s nose, between the two nostrils. A strong rope was threaded through the hole and tied behind its neck, leaving a long piece free with which to control it. When released, the donkey staggered to its feet somewhat dazed but was none the worse for the rough handling and very soon started grazing.
At last we settled on two older, partially trained animals and set out to harness them in front of the cart. The fancy harnesses we had bought, were a mystery to use. They even had a tailpiece, but every time I tried to pull the animal’s tail through it, it would lift up a hind leg and lash out at me for being so insensitive to its sense of decency while its brothers, sisters, father and mother standing nearby, lifted their upper lips exposing huge intimidating teeth, suck in the burning hot air, and then in unison, let rip with long drawn out, mournful, heart-rending brays in support of their afflicted comrade.
However, we were determined to accomplish our purpose, and finally got the animals into position and set off on a trial run along the narrow track winding through the bush.
It did not go too badly at all and so we paid the owner and set off for Bala Vala, some 20 kilometers distant, for we wanted Titus to be off on his own in order that we might be able to devote our time to other matters before returning home. For the first few kilos the donkey express proceeded at a good pace, but then the so-called dumb animals somehow became aware that they were leaving familiar territory and every fifty yards or so, would just suddenly veer off the road into the veldt and thrust their heads right into a nearby bush. After a lot of coaxing they would then be persuaded to continue on their journey, but after fifty yards or so, having quietly conferred with one another, would change tactics and slow down to a death march pace, with heads hanging and ears drooping.
At this stage Martie decided that our dilemma presented an opportunity for her daily rapid walk, so she put on her running shoes and got going. Very soon she disappeared around the first bend and then the next, while we fought our own battle with the two stubborn animals. After some 10 km, my patience ran out, so I pulled up with the pickup right in front of the procession, hitched a rope to the cart’s draft shaft, got back into the vehicle and set off at about 12 kilometres an hour. This worked excellently. Our reluctant, long-eared co-workers were now trapped between a pulling and a pushing vehicle and moved ever so smoothly. Very soon we entered into Bala Vala causing much mirth amongst the locals.
Titus, however, could not be abandoned to cope on his own and so our other evangelist, Boavida Baloi, graciously agreed to accompany him for a week, travelling from one outpost to the next so as to get the donkeys properly trained and settled into their new routine. On returning to me, he reported that everything was now going “donkey-dory”.
One of the brothers in our congregation, on hearing about the donkey cart, was so impressed by our practical solution that he reimbursed us for the expenses we had in building it. Praise the Lord for these and other similar gifts prompted by God’s love.
(By the way, there are so many small hidden miracles recorded in the Bible. While sweating it out with these creatures, I just got to wonder how the Lord Jesus managed to get onto the back of an untrained donkey and ride uneventfully into Jerusalem with thousands of cheering people all around, running up in front of the animal and laying down their robes for it to walk on. (Matt. 21:2-5) Our two animals would have freaked out in such a situation.)
Just after this episode, the Lord also provided us with another type of vehicle. This happened when, on returning to Phalaborwa, we were unexpectedly requested to attend our Congregation’s Missions weekend in Pretoria. Preparations had to be made in a rush, but we managed to do so and what a blessed time it was. While chatting to our Senior Pastor, he suddenly sensed that the Lord was telling him to donate the Church’s off-road trailer to us and, after consultation with his steering committee, he did so. The next morning we had a tow bar fitted to our little VW Fox and by 3 pm that afternoon, we were back in Phalaborwa.
Our assets were growing and so also our staff numbers. Another African brother joined us. He was computer literate and could speak English, Portuguese and Shangaan. We now had four full-time evangelists which meant that their numbers had quadrupled in nine months. The Rivonis and their assistants were by then serving sixteen outposts. It brought us joy but also caused apprehension because of the increased responsibilities.
On Sunday the 7 January 2007, we were back in Mozambique and spent the next day pitching camp. As from Tuesday, we and our four co-workers met as a group, three times a day. Our theme was: “The Rising Kingdom of God.” Apart from reporting on, and praying for the different fields of service, we ran workshops, simulating the cell meetings at the outposts, gaining valuable ideas on how the Rivonis (many of whom were unable to read or write) could make the meetings more interesting and expand their flocks. After that I sat down with every worker, reading their reports, giving advice and praying for them.
Also on the agenda, was to obtain a site where we could set up some structures to gather for staff meetings. The site where we were camping, was offered to us by a local church. It was in the district of Chinhacanine on the banks of the Limpopo River and offered a breathtaking view of the valley below, but proved to be most painful to the flesh. The sun had not even set on that first evening, when we suffered a massive mosquito attack, similar to the air raids on London during the Second World War. This midget air force thirsted for blood and scored hits accurately and unceasingly. Within minutes our arms, legs, backs and faces were aflame. We could hardly eat our food since both our hands were moving in a flurry to ward off this vicious attack. Conversation froze and all you heard was “whap, whap, whap, whap, whap!” Six pairs of human eyes were focused accusingly on me with two unspoken, burning questions: “Where have you brought us?” and “Are we to endure this for several days?”
Of one thing I had become thoroughly convinced during the years of my pilgrimage, and that was that God always had a way out. So the next day Martie and I pitched our spacious tent, protected by mosquito netting, near to the gazebo and after an early evening meal, we all lined up in front of the tent. At a given moment we opened the zip, piled in hurriedly, closed it tightly, used a can of “Doom” to kill all the infiltrators and then proceeded with a most blessed evening meeting. God always has an answer to every problem. After the meeting Martie and I retired to the back of the pickup where we normally slept, and our co-workers to the one-man mosquito screened tents we had provided for them.
However, the question still remained: “What are you going to do about the site?” Well I passed this question on to the Lord. Two days later, as I visited the pastor who had offered us the “mosquito” site, I saw that there was quite a large piece of ground adjoining his home and on enquiring about it, he said that we could have it. It measured 70 by 40 metres, suited our needs, was well above the Limpopo River flood level and relatively free of mosquitoes. When I took the team to see it, I immediately got a unanimous: “Yes, Yes, Yes, Hallelujah, Praise the Lord! So let it be written, so let it be done.” What remained was completing the paper work with the Government and provide some sort of structure for our use.
The highlight of that tour, probably was the visit to Matitze. Brother Baloi had been a Rovoni there for at least a year before he was appointed as a full-time supervisor of the Mabalane area. During that period he had provided a discipleship course, leading many people through a series of teachings covering the Old Testament. During our previous visit, we had supplied him with a list of 100 questions on those teachings, so formulated that they not only tested the student’s Bible knowledge, but also whether he had indeed accepted our Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. Brother Baloi and another examiner examined his little flock (an oral exam since almost none of them was able to read and write) and what do you know, fourteen of them passed the test with results ranging from 67% to 91%.
During a little “graduation ceremony” we presented each student with a beautiful certificate. Glory! This is what it was all about: not just the lifting of a hand to indicate a decision for Christ, but the testing of a person’s life over a period of time to determine whether he or she had really entered into the New Life in Christ. Hallelujah! This was the tangible fruit of our supporters’ financial and spiritual investment. Of course there were many more over the hundreds of square kilometres where we were operating that had found the Lord, but these were the first ones to be properly tested and actually to receive certificates.
The success of this Ministry brought joy in heaven but also aroused the chagrin of the devil for he saw that his kingdom was being threatened and decided to attack. The night we got back from Mozambique, I suddenly fell ill with a stomach ailment. Within a short spell of time I was in a kind of coma and afterwards remembered almost nothing about that night except that I had so much pain that I pleaded with the Lord to take me home. Martie sponged me down to keep my temperature down for it was persistently rising to 40˚C. The next morning she enlisted the help of a friend and a local pastor who carried me to a car and got me to hospital. There our wonderful Christian medical doctor managed to overcome the affliction gradually and got me onto the road to recovery. I had lost track of time and of the day of the week. All I remembered was the pain that caused me to crawl all over my bed. Recovery took time during which I could just slowly put one foot ahead of the other and even drove around town at 15 km per hour. Poor Martie also fell ill but by that time the laboratory test had identified the germ responsible for my sickness and so she could receive the correct treatment right from the start and recovered quickly. I thanked Martie for saving my life and we both thanked the Lord for healing yet another of our ailments (Ps 103:3 “Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases.”)
I must admit that my spirit was a bit low after that, the fourth severe blow to my health, and I was sort of waiting for the Lord to send a shining angel down from heaven to uplift me, but then, one morning, the blessed Holy Spirit spoke to me, saying: “The pit of despair has only one escape route and that is the ladder of faith. You either use it, or remain down there in darkness, wading around in the murky water of your own self pity.” I then laid hold of the rungs of praise and worship, looked up to the heavenly light above and started climbing by faith, and very soon I was at least peering over the brim, ready to continue with our ministry.
THANK YOU BLESSED HOLY SPIRIT FOR INFUSING THE FAITH OF OUR LORD JESUS INTO OUR HEARTS!
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