WEEK OF PRAYER: Gospel confronts witch doctor in Mozambique

EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 4-11 with the theme of "The Gospel Resounds." The theme undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at IMB.org, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year's goal is $155 million.

NACALA, Mozambique (BP) -- 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 is International Mission Board missionary Brian Harrell steering his small wooden vessel through coastal waters.

He and his family live on the water's edge 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 a local witch doctor or women as they sit in a circle and make rag rugs.

A national partner often joins him on his journeys. Sometimes his wife Becky and their four children, Andrew, Dillon, Janna Kate and Micah, are his crewmates. The boat's name is Oromela, "hope" in the local dialect.

The Harrells have served in Mozambique since 2004, when they arrived with a 1-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 recalled. "We read job requests from all over the world. But the one that stood out to us was this stretch of coastline." Arab traders 1,000 years ago brought Islam, and the vast majority of people in Mozambique are Muslim with no more than 200 believers in "Isa," Jesus Christ.

Spiritual oppression

Deep lostness and spiritual oppression met the Harrells when they landed here 12 years ago.

"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 witchcraft has been commonplace for centuries.

"The women here fear [for] their children," Becky said. "Babies die here all the time." Malaria is common and the infant mortality rate is high. Women seek witchcraft during pregnancy and birth.

"There is ceremonial witchcraft ... to protect that life and to protect themselves from evil spirits during that time," Becky said.

Local witch doctor Adelina, for instance, assisted villagers with divinations and spells in a grass-roofed hut beside her home. But still, Adelina allowed the Harrells to use her home to share Bible stories with a weekly group. After a year of seemingly fruitless prayer for Adelina, Brian and Becky were about to give up. Adelina would listen carefully to the stories, yet continued practicing witchcraft.

"We just couldn't [continue sharing the Gospel] right there next to this witch doctor hut," Brian said. "What was the message that we were sending to the local community?"

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, dismantle the hut and pray. They burned the gourds and all the paraphernalia Adelina 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."

Since then, Adelina has given birth to her seventh child.

"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."

Pray for:

The many new believers who have come to faith in Christ 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 the Harrells and other believers would be faithful to find those God-prepared people, and give a clear Gospel witness.

Watch more about the Harrells' ministry:

Writer Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in restricted-access countries. She is now based in the U.S.
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