In February, I spent three jam-packed weeks on a mission trip to southern Africa, visiting Cape Town, South Africa; Harare, Zimbabwe; Lome, Togo and Windhoek, Namibia.
In Zimbabwe, I assisted in the development of a master plan for the expansion of Evangel Bible School, located in the capital city of Harare.
Zimbabwe is a beautiful country about the size of California with a population of about 12 million. It has an abundance of wildlife, outstanding game reserves and offers some of the best and most varied safari opportunities in all of Africa.
If water sports are more to your liking, the Zambezi River, known for its incomparably beautiful Victoria Falls, has become one of the world's favorite locations for white-water rafting.
But socially and economically, the country is very unstable. Racial tensions are severe. Corruption in high places abounds, with government officials amassing great fortunes. The average Zimbabwean suffers poor living conditions in a country with 60 percent unemployment and an inflation rate of 170 percent
Once a strong, stable and safe country, it now teeters on the edge of economic collapse. While there, I was able to see the effects of this first hand.
Zimbabweans often wait up to 18 hours in line for fuel. Staples, such as sudsa, flour and sugar are in dangerously short supply, and people in the villages are starving. Life expectancy for men and women is between 35 and 38 years.
Among the Shona and Ndbele tribes of Zimbabwe, animism, voodoo and witchcraft abound. Their native religions are not only keeping them in spiritual darkness and bondage, they are killing Um.
Taught by witch doctors that AIDS can be eradicated by having sex with virgins - the younger the better - Zimbabwe has the highest rate of AIDS in the world, with up to 7,000 new cases per day.
Evangel Bible School was founded in 1955 and restructured by the Assemblies of God in 1990. Its primary minion is to train pastors and Christian workers to reach the people of Zimbabwe with the gospel in an African cultural context without compromising the truth of the gospel.
Lawrence Chipad, a missionary from Malawi, is president of the college. He earns the equivalent of $4 per month. He, his wife, and their young son live in a 300-square-foot concrete bunker adjacent to the school.
As part of their ministry, they are very involved with AIDS education in an effort to reduce the rate of infection. They use the "Edward the Elephant" sex educational materials, which are popular throughout Africa. They are written in comic book form to teach school-age children how the AIDS virus is really contracted and to dispel the myths surrounding its eradication.
The premise of the "Edward" materials is that once you let the elephant in the tent, you can't get him out again.
|Rick Souza, right, is given a glass elephant for
helping develop a master plan for a Bible school in Cape Town,
South Africa. (Courtesy
While in Harare, I worked extensively with the Rev. Chipad and Pastor Tsungayi Chinyama, assistant superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Zimbabwe. Chinyama has established eight Assembly of God churches in the Harare area.
Like Lawrence Chipad, Chinyama earns the equivalent of $4 a month. He has been severely beaten by his own father, a cult priest, in an effort to "beat Jesus out of (him)." He obviously did not succeed. Pastor Chinyama is a powerful, dynamic man of God who has earned my respect and deep admiration.
Aside from helping develop a master plan at Evangel Bible School, I worked on a master plan with Dr. Greg Johns, president of Cape Theological Seminary in Cape Town, South Africa, for the development of future facilities, curriculum, AIDS education and a counseling center.
In Lome, Togo, I was at the West Africa Advanced School of Theology, which trains seasoned pastors for their advanced theological degrees.
We developed plans for the expansion of their library, which will include a computer resource center that will service students from 20 western and central African nations. This resource center will help students access theological libraries around the world as they work toward their master's and doctorate degrees.
In Windhoek, Namibia, I met with Assembly of God General Superintendent Seth Hessletein and missionary Frank Mayes to look at land acquisition for Namibia School of Ministry, located in Otijiwarango.
Graduates of the school will be sent to work in churches throughout Namibia and establish Christian works among tribes such as the nomadic Owampo people, who have virtually been unreached with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
There were several highlights on this trip, one of which was being invited to speak during chapel at the Bible school in Zimbabwe with the help of an interpreter, of course.
During worship, musicians used African drums and tambourines, and there was the most exuberant singing and dancing. The sounds and smells of cows and goats drifted in through the open windows. It was a pure African experience, one I won't soon forget.
During the Sunday morning service at the church I attended in Togo, an offering was taken to help plant a church in Burkina Faso. There were 1,200 people in attendance, and everyone participated, even if they had only a small amount to give.
They started in the back row, singing and dancing their way up the aisles in their colorful western African attire as they brought their tithes and offerings to deposit into two wood-carved baskets.
If the Lord loves a cheerful giver, Togo must be one of His favorite places on Earth! I'd love to see an offering taken like that in American church!
While in Namibia, I spent a day in the back of an open Land Rover at the Otijiwa Game Park. Unlike other game parks I've been to in Africa, hunting is allowed at Otijiwa, so the kudu, wildebeest waterbucks and antelope would scatter at the sound of our vehicle. Only the giraffes, baboons and warthogs seemed unaffected by our presence.
It's now the rainy season, and the sky was heavy with black clouds. There was thunder and lightning, and before the day was over, we got a good soaking, but no one seemed to mind.
I've been to Montana, which is called Big Sky country, but believe me, it doesn't compare to Namibia's huge open landscape where one can look for miles and miles and see only that which God created.
Lodi resident Rick Souza is an ordained missionary associate with the Assemblies of God who spent three weeks recently in Africa helping plan churches and expanding ministries. He will lead a team of workers to build a church in Harare, Zimbabwe, sometime next year.
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