“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream about what you imagine and depending where you come from your imagination can be quite limited” Trevor Noah.
The Indian Ocean begins to glisten from gazebo in the Orchard Prayer Garden. June is the middle of the tropical “winter” the sun still rises over the ocean a little after 5am. Noise on the Iris Mission base begins to increase as builders start work, people come out to pray, children head to school and people queue for breakfast of just two tiny crusty pieces of bread and a small cup of sweet tea. I am a living my dream for more travel here in Mozambique. My imagination is being stretched by new experiences.
Today is different, it will be another new experience to stretch my imagination as I explore life as an itinerant artist and missionary. Three teams are setting out to spend a couple of nights in the bush. In all, Iris has nine such teams out each week across the whole of Mozambique, something which happens most weeks. We are going to spend time with people living in rural villages. We are going to show them what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ too. For some liberal westerners this is a controversial matter. However, we simply present what we have come to believe is true. You can personally know and have a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ a person who was both creator God and human. We leave it to others to choose whether to accept these claims, some do, some don’t. Politicians present claims about their party, marketing people present claims about their brand. In that way we are little different. Ours is a journey to a beautiful rural village surrounded by distant mountains.
I am reading the “Born a Crime” biography of the South African comedian Trevor Noah at the moment. Trevor grew up in Johannesburg and I am familiar with many of the places he mentions in the book. Trevor describes his childhood born into apartheid the son of a Swiss father and African mother at a time when liaison between races was punishable by three years in prison. His story is a reminder of how division based on birth and race massively shapes the lives of people in Africa. I purchased the book for His take on current African culture but there is an entire chapter covering his hilarious upbringing dragged from church to church by his Pentecostal mother.
Our team have two ancient flat bed camions to take us into the interior or “bush bush” as it is known locally. Here a group of us are holding an impromptu worship session on a journey across Pemba. Conditions are cramped and hot for journeys into the bush which can last for up to ten hours in the tropical heat and humidity but they are fun. Better than a bubble of a tourist coach.
Picture Jaret Brantley
In Mozambique less than half the population have an active sim card and most cannot afford to use the internet from their phones. This is a country where most people still get their information from radios. A place that is both pre television and pre internet is hard to imagine these days. We are off to meet people who still know very little about the outside world beyond the far away places in news stories and a few geography lessons and colonial history lessons at school. There imaginations are limited to what little they can know in a pre television age. So when a mixed group of about 20 Mozambicans and Internationals arrive in your village with a giant portable outdoor cinema it is an unusual event.
Like much rest of Africa, Mozambique has a system of Village Chiefs who are the first level of decision making which predate colonial times and are the local link with the state. Chiefs carry great power and the first thing any visitor to an African village must do is formally visit the hut of the local chief and greet him. The village chief approves whether you can spend time in the village and what you can do there. He also mediates within he village on neighbour disputes, petty crime and who can build huts or other buildings. You upset a village Chief at your peril. On this occasion the village chief gave us all chairs and found he had none to sit on himself ended up sitting on the ground. He did not seem to upset and was happy to receive gifts of pens and notebooks for the village school.
We arrive after dark a three hour journey taking six hours. One of the camions down on the way. Half the team stayed with it whilst we went ahead. So this is my first taste of village life in Mozambique arriving after dark with children running around excited to see you and sixteen strange tents to erect before we eat a hastily cooked meal of rice and beans and head off to the make shift outdoor cinema. By now 200 villagers are sat waiting for the film to start.
I was asked to give an introduction as to why I had come to see them and then a dance and music film is played followed film dramatizing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is dubbed in Macau the local tribal language. Most people here have little understanding of colonial Portuguese.
Waking up the next day is like suddenly discovering you are the main event on a reality TV set.
There were dozens of children waiting for us to emerge from our tents. They grab hold of me wanting to hold my hand, touch my skin, feel my hair. They do this for hours on end. Mostly they wanted to be loved. We begin to swap simple words for plants, sun, buildings between Macau in English. Even though we would only be there for a few hours they were keen to learn our English words and I did my best with Macau.
I had not brought my paints with me but found we could do simple drawings using stones in the dirt. The children were quick to grasp and soon began to sketch, houses and trees with the stones.
I saw no toys in the village as we would recognise them. A football made from plastic bags bound together tightly and other toys from the most useless of rubbish. But mostly they played with each other and for a short time we visitors. Unlike in the city, we always felt secure, always respected and enjoyed every moment.
In the village we were very close to nature. Along with sugar cain which the locals cut up to share with us we were also given fresh peanuts from this amazing storage jar.
Food is stored on racks above aground to protect from rats and damp.
Cooking takes place on an open fire. As a special treat we have instant coffee mixed with huge spoons of sugar and condensed milk. Sweet, sickly but very filling with our breakfast of two small pieces of bread and a little peanut butter.
Papaya grows abundantly along with coconuts and will soon be in season.
Here were the plants which had provided us with beans for the last few weeks.
During the day we moved from house to house to just sit with families. They told us it took an hours round trip to fetch water from a hole in the ground. Water for cooking, drinking, farming and washing was precious and costly. Many had had multiple attacks of Malaria. Some had Mosquito nets many did not.
Most of the families wanted us to pray for their various illnesses and disabilities we were happy to take the time to do this.
At the end of the presentation 48 of the villagers said they wanted to convert from another faith and follow Jesus. The village chief also from another faith offered land and planning permission for a new church in the village. Iris have started thousands of such churches in Mozambique in the last two decades. People are hungry not just for food but for spiritual things too. I pray they find what they are seeking. My imagination has been stretched by meeting some wonderful people in the most simple of places.