Believers traveling by boat, sharing the gospel. In the book of Acts it was the Apostle Paul on the Mediterranean. In Northern Mozambique today, it’s IMB missionary Brian Harrell steering his dhow through coastal waters. A national partner often joins him, and sometimes his wife Becky and their four children, Andrew, Dillon, Janna Kate, and Micah are his crewmates. The boat’s name is Oromela.
“Oromela . . . in the local dialect means ‘hope,’” Brian explained. He and his family live on the water’s edge here solely to reach the approximately 300,000 Makhuwa Nahara people with the gospel, whether that means venturing to unreached villages accessed best by water, or sharing gospel stories with women in their own village as they sit in a circle and make rag rugs.
The Harrells have served in Mozambique since 2004 when they arrived with a one-year-old child and the desire to serve where no one else was working.
“Like Paul, we didn’t want to build on somebody else’s work,” Brian said. “We read job requests from all over the world, but the one that stood out to us was this stretch of coastline.” Arab traders a thousand years ago brought Islam, and the vast majority here are Muslim with no more than two hundred believers in Isa, Jesus Christ.
What met them when they landed twelve years ago was deep lostness and spiritual oppression. “As we came into the area, we went down to the Ilha de Moçambique, which is one of the ethnographic centers of our people group. You could feel a spiritual heaviness there that I had never felt before in my life,” Brian said. People fear evil spirits, and the practice of witchcraft has been commonplace for centuries.
Women seek witchcraft during pregnancy and birth. “The women here fear [for] their children,” Becky explained. “Babies die here all the time. Sickness, malaria, infant mortality rate is high. There is ceremonial witchcraft . . . to protect that life and to protect themselves from evil spirits during that time.” For instance, Adelina, a local witch doctor, assisted villagers with divinations and spells in a grass-roofed hut beside her house.
Nevertheless, Adelina also allowed the Harrells to use her home to share Bible stories with a weekly group. But after a year of seemingly fruitless praying for Adelina, Brian and Becky were about to give up. Though Adelina listened carefully to the stories, she continued practicing witchcraft.
“We just couldn’t [continue sharing the gospel] right there next to this witch doctor hut. . . What was the message that we were sending to the local community?” Brian said. Then one day when the group was preparing to pray, Adelina suddenly rose and said: “I need you to help me to do something. I know that what I have been doing is wrong, and I want to get rid of my witchcraft.” The following Sunday a group of believers gathered to sing songs, pray, and dismantle the hut. They burned the gourds and all the paraphernalia she used in practicing witchcraft.
“It was incredible,” Brian said. “It was an extremely intense day for her. This was something we had been hoping for and praying for.”
“She just recently gave birth to . . . her seventh child, and she says that all of her neighbors told her that this child would not live because she is no longer doing witchcraft,” Becky said. “This baby . . . is still very healthy. Adelina is eagerly now sharing her testimony, boldly explaining to people what God has done in her life.”
- The many new believers who have come to faith in recent months. Pray they would be strong in their faith despite family and community persecution, and the spiritual warfare they inevitably face.
- The Holy Spirit to continue to draw Makhuwa Nahara souls to himself and that we (the Harrells) and other believers would be faithful to find those God-prepared people, and give a clear gospel witness.
Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in East Asia, Central Asia, Cyprus, and the United Kingdom, working among people groups in restricted-access countries.
This story originally ran in the December 2016 edition of Missions Mosaic from Woman’s Missionary Union.