We all like to do things for people in Jesus’ name and hope they will notice that. But how does that work where we can’t communicate that to them, and they have no knowledge of Jesus?
Kaylene and I finished up our six years flying with Mercy Air in Southern Africa and came home to NZ for our son's wedding. We had only been back a couple of weeks when I noticed in my weather apps (which I'm still addicted to following) a major weather system starting to develop in the straights between Mozambique and Madagascar. Within a few days this had blown into a cyclone named Idai and was heading for the East Coast of Mozambique.
The storm path swept right into the coastal city of Beira, the second-largest city in Mozambique, and tore the coastal region to shreds with hurricane-force winds. The hangar in Beira where we often park the helicopter in between outreaches, was blown to pieces and every aircraft inside, including a number of helicopters sheltering there were damaged, some seriously. Fortunately, our helicopter was further Northwest at Tete, avoiding the worst of the storm, while Joel & Philip, the Mercy Air pilot and engineer who had taken over from me waiting for a flight permit to enter Malawi. When this permit failed to come through, Joel & Philip returned to Beira.
As they flew back, they saw the full extent of the damage. The area inland from Beira was just one enormous sea of water. They immediately set about survey flights of the area and gave the government an update then commenced rescue flights, literally plucking people from trees and rooftops by longline and lifting them to the nearest high ground. INGC the government disaster relief agency, then made emergency food aid available to them to drop to people in these isolated spots, many of them on no more than a tiny island surrounded by miles of water.
I contacted Mercy Air and offered to come back and help, an offer which was gladly accepted. Kaylene and I had started our deputation meetings road trip in the North Island and were in the far north. We dropped everything, canceled our later meetings as we drove, and started a 19-hour journey back to Christchurch.
A day later I arrived in South Africa, picked up the other Mercy Air helicopter and flew into central Mozambique to start disaster relief ops. Things got very busy very quickly as the international community responded and Beira airport soon choked with large transport aircraft and helicopters as the extent of this disaster unfolded. I was fortunate to get posted inland to one of the badly flooded areas, where a group of South African farmers had started their own population. This ballooned into something much bigger as we discovered more and more communities up the flooded Lucite River were also affected. By now it was nine days since the storm had hit. Many of these people had spent three days and two nights on the roofs of buildings or up trees, which, they found to their horror, they were also sharing with snakes and terrified monkeys, all desperate for a place of refuge above the rising water. Many people had had no shelter and nothing to eat for these nine days.
We were also blessed to have GC3 and SIM fundraise towards this relief project and we were able to contribute towards the purchase of 50 drums of fuel for our helicopter. As the relief effort gained momentum, UN World Food Program started supplying food aid and household shelter kits to us. They were a well organised team and in a week we had delivered 175 tonnes of food, along with other aid. On our best day, I delivered 40 tonnes by underslung loads to the five communities we were servicing in the Matarara area. Mozambicans are resilient people, somewhat accustomed to the vagaries of African weather and losing what they had.
Each morning I would drop off a medical team and one of the local guys to survey a village and find out what the needs were, what food they still had, what damage they had sustained and what loss of life their community had experienced. Being local and speaking their mother tongue, Ibrahim was not easily swayed by exaggerations as were some foreigners deployed by certain aid groups. Sarah, an American nurse who has been a missionary in the area for ten years, coordinated the medical clinics on the ground while I delivered food and supplies by air. I flew several hours most days only landing in these villages briefly after each six trips to retrieve my cargo nets and take them back to be refilled, so I never got to meet these people or interact with them. Some days I felt sorry for myself, that in spite of my best efforts and good intentions to bring them help in Jesus’ name, these people had no idea who I was, what motivated me, or that hundreds of Christians had donated to buy this food and sponsor this helicopter. It could have been Mohammed flying the helicopter for all they knew! After one of these medical clinics in the village of Pambanissa.
Sarah wrote this account.
The emotional trauma of the experience is the one thing that we knew we were not able to help heal in these communities. Partly because of our abilities and also part of it the cultural stoicism. A lot of people do not know how to express feelings. They just move on. The seed packs required them to start thinking of the future even though their hearts were still hurting, and their mind was remembering the fear. The third community, however, was different. There were not just tears but some of the older women gave out sobs of pain and fear. The men were wiping tears away. After I said ‘Amen’ a silence remained until the helicopter landed with more seed packs. Afterward, the community leader (government-appointed), the chief (community appointed) and the teacher of the local school all came to me and pleaded that I send someone back to them to teach them about God. The community leader promised to help facilitate in whatever way possible. He is a believer and just kept saying that his people need a change of heart and the only one who can do it is Jesus. The other two were personally expressing a desire to know more about God and what the Bible says. This went on for 20 minutes. From what I understand, these pleas are coming from a community whose hearts have been very closed to the gospel for years. It is called Pambanissa. Our team is planning an outreach there hopefully next month. There is a South African man, Jaco, going there with his family next week. Mozambique has a lot of pockets of communities where the harvest truly is ripe.
Sarah and the medical team had been able to connect these people with God. When back in NZ I was lamenting to a close friend my feelings of inadequacy at being unable to communicate to all these people that I had delivered all this aid in Jesus name. He thought a moment, then reminded me of Jesus words in Matt 25:40 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Though thousands of Mozambicans may not have known who provided their life saving aid, what greater privilege could I have had than to deliver it to Jesus Himself.
Dean & Kaylene
Day 10 GC3 Daily Prayer Guide