‘Your God is too safe’. That’s what I read in Mark Buchanan’s book of the same name recommended to me by Irene Robinson. And I felt challenged by what I read. Was I fulfilled in my comfortable Christianity? Was I willing to take risks for the God of wonder? With a sense of unease, I knew the answers to these questions. And I knew I needed to do something about it.
I’ve found that over the last year or so, every book I have read has been perfect for me at that moment in my life. God has certainly been speaking to me through pages of someone else’s thoughts that match my feelings and spiritual space at that time in my life. I love it. And ‘Your God is too safe’ was one of those books that challenged me and made me want to experience the God who isn’t safe but who is good, as CS Lewis puts it. So I decided to take this step of faith and head off on a journey on my own to Iris Ministries in Pemba, Mozambique to help out at their children’s home.
Why Pemba and why on my own? To answer the first question: my husband had mentioned the name Heidi Baker to me a few years ago. When I had the time to go on a short-term mission her name popped back into my head and so I went online to apply to go to visit her ministry. Which leads me onto, why on my own? I certainly felt that God was leading me to go to Pemba with a few confirmations from unexpected places, but I also felt that this was something that I needed to do on my own. Step out in faith; rely on God as my travel companion and provider. Do something that would stretch me and challenge me.
So I boarded a plane Pemba bound – not really knowing what I was going to, but knowing God would be there. After settling into my plane seat, I introduced myself to the person sitting next to me – who happened to be 1 of 10 East Londoners on their way to Iris too! And so God travelled with me – I had friends from the moment I stepped off the plane at my destination. Two other South Africans, all the way from Beaufort West nog-al, were on the same flight. And being South Africans, we hit it off from the get go.
Now to the time spent at the Iris base in Pemba: let me just say that it wasn’t easy, especially the first week. I actually had some moments when I thought that I should come home sooner. Two weeks felt like an eon. I was thrust into a world so different from my own, and it was overwhelming. No running water for a few days, long drops, bucket showers, 40 degree heat and serious humidity, beans and rice for most meals, spiritual warfare and different spiritual manifestations, and hundreds of children who had no biological parents or who had been abused. It was rough, but at the same time so refreshing.
Time felt so much slower while I was there. If something started an hour late – oh well. And if something didn’t start at all – it will happen at some other time. Most of us know this as African time. And it is alive and well in Pemba! But this meant that you never felt stressed, you never rushed from one thing to the next, you got up with the sun and had a fulfilling day as you helped out. And that’s what we did while we were there as visitors. We wrapped Christmas gifts, helped teach English, played with the babies in the baby centre, painted walls and murals, painted nails of prostitutes while getting to know them, sorted linen, swept floors, washed dishes, prayed for people, helped feed village children. All simply compelled by love for Christ.
‘Compelled by love’. That’s actually Heidi Bakers line (I can’t steal it!) and I would recommend anyone wanting to know more about Heidi to read the book called ‘Compelled by Love’. Heidi and her husband have an amazing testimony of God’s love and power. They have seen many miracles – most of which we would think unbelievable. But when you are there, you see why Jesus shows up and heals so many people. He is there among the poor, the abandoned, the lost and the hungry. The people in Pemba have a real faith that you don’t always see in Western cultures. They rely on God for everything and through pain and suffering they grow closer to Him. While you’re there, you can feel the Holy Spirit moving through everything that goes on. What an amazing thing to experience.
To finish I’d like to mention a few of the lessons I learnt. The first lesson was to live simply. To remove the clutter from my life that distracts me from God and his purposes for my life. Secondly, to appreciate the small things. I had become soft and ungrateful for my comfortable, western lifestyle in Jozi. But in Pemba, just having running water (even though it wasn’t drinkable) brought such excitement and joy. Thirdly, that life and Christianity is about relationships. People in Pemba wanted you to spend time with them, instead of ticking things off a to-do list.
There are many things that God is still teaching me through my experience in Pemba. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime. I experienced encouragement in my journey from people I hardly knew – something we as a church should do constantly. As if I haven’t recommended enough books already, I’ve got one more that I read while in Pemba and it’s a book called ‘The hole in the Gospel’ by Richard Stearns. The basis of the book is that if we take out all the verses in the Bible where God tells us to care for the poor, hungry and naked, we would have a gaping hole in the Bible – because without this, the good news of the Gospel isn’t complete. And that’s my final thought – how can I be Jesus to those I meet everyday in Joburg? I don’t need to go anywhere else to be on a risky, passion-filled mission for God. I can do it right here.