In March 2020, Scott and I were in Maputo, seven hours from our home in Inhambane, Mozambique, working on our residency paperwork when then President Trump announced that they would be shutting down flights from Europe because of a spreading virus. At the same time, South Africa announced they would be banning all international flights as well. With borders shutting down worldwide, we were suddenly faced with a pressing decision. Twenty-four hours later, with only a small overnight bag, I boarded on of the last flights out of South Africa hours before the boarders closed.
The decision turned out to be the right one. Two of our kids working in the restaurant business lost their jobs, and the universities they were attending closed all in person classes. Blessed with access to my mother’s house in Tulsa, we quickly settled into the new norm. Closed businesses, online classes, and a shortage of goods on the shelves. Me in the States with the kids, and Scott across the world locked down in Mozambique.
Four months later, Scott, who was unable to meet with the churches or travel out to the villages due to government mandates, was finally able to secure an evacuation flight back to the US. All evacuees received a police escort to the empty airport in Johannesburg, allowing them to leave the country. At the same time, health mandates in the US had isolated residence in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. We were only able to visit with my mother through the closed, outside window of her room. Very quickly, the mental and physical effects on residents living in them started spiraling, so in August 2020, we pulled my mother out of assisted living.
We were now faced with something we never would have imagined only six months earlier. We were missionaries, unable to work in the place God had called us. We had far more questions than answers. When would we be able to return? What about the churches and Christians we’d left behind? What would our supporters think about us being back in the US for the foreseeable future? We knew we weren’t the only missionaries facing this confusing situation. But still at times, we felt alone and lost.
The Shift Begins
Almost every morning, Scott intentionally got up early to talk to Ivanildo, one of our full-time leaders in Mozambique via WhatsApp. They read books on leadership and discipleship together, prayed together, and strategized. Government mandates in Mozambique made going out to the villages difficult. Our churches tried to follow them, even to the point of building the required toilets, but officials continued to deny them permission to meet. Instead, they met in small groups, but in one village, neighbors turned them into the police and forced them to stop.
In the city of Inhambane it was a little bit easier. Meeting in small groups in homes around the city brought leaders to the surface that might not have stood up before. Groups that got too big had to split in order to comply with the government, but neighbors were asking questions and started coming to these small house churches. The impact on the church was so positive, that at one point Ivanildo told Scott he hoped that the mandates stayed in place longer, because the situation was so good for the spiritual growth of the church members. To better facilitate the situation, Ivanildo sent out teaching PowerPoints via text message each week for the group leaders. A couple groups struggled, but several multiplied and there have been several who have come to Christ even during lockdown.
Some of the disciples have been searching for more ways to reach out and use their gifts despite all the restrictions. A website was built, becoming a place to interact with those around the country who are still in isolation due to government lockdowns. It is intended to be a site for those seeking spiritual encouragement and a way to ask questions or share prayer requests. Two local churches in Maputo were so impressed that they offered to fund the hosting of the website. The website also offers a list of Christian resources and is in the process of adding pod cast teachings for people to download. Ivanildo said they needed to figure out a way to reach people even while under lockdown in their homes.
Recently, an application was submitted the US Embassy to fund an educational project to reach out to the blind community in Inhambane, a very marginalized group. Already, Vanilla one of the disciples is translating parts of the Bible into Braille and working with one of our blind Christians. This project, if funded, can have a huge impact upon families in our community. What is most encouraging about this project is that the idea was the result of the local disciples looking at their God given gifts and seeking to determine how to meet the needs of people around them.
Where does this leave us? We’re still not sure to be honest. I’m still committed to taking care of my mother for this season in the US and taking short trips back as required by the government to keep up my residency. Scott stays longer in Africa than I do, but for now will also be going back and forth. Our goal has always been the independence of our churches. We want them to own the work, not just be told what to do by foreigners. And praise God, this is what is happening!
We will be sharing some videos soon that will show more how God is working during this shift of seasons. Please continue praying that we will have wisdom and insight during this time. There have been many positive things that have happened during this COVID pandemic. God has been at work and His kingdom advancing, even if we have felt a bit lost and confused at times. We are all encouraged to remember the words of Peter when he wrote, ”Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” I Peter 5:9. We serve a mighty and powerful God, and may all the glory be given to Him.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support of our ministry!
Scott and Lisa Harris