When we moved out to Salawe, there were about four little churches established by evangelists in the area. Because the whole area was surrounded by seasonal swamps, it had been difficult for either missionaries or African pastors to regularly visit those churches. After the Mission decided to establish a mission station in that area, there was much rejoicing that not only was a missionary coming but that there would be general overall guidance for those fledgling churches and church evangelists. My wife and I were the designated missionaries to move to the area.
We had a great time out there in Salawe. Our children spent most of their early life out there and remember those days fondly. In spite of poor or unfinished housing, lack of amenities, distance from town, isolation during the rains when the swamps precluded travel – we all survived, flourished and still think of that as home.
Getting established logistically was a bit difficult at first. Every item – gasoline, kerosene, lumber, cement, nails, food staples – everything! – had to come from town about 75 miles away. And, for about 8 months of the year those swamps were almost impassable.
Besides the busy-ness of the construction of station buildings, the opportunity to visit those small churches was a real joy. Working with some of the evangelists, we scouted out areas where there were no churches and worked with African village leadership to permit a church to be established. Every request we made met with approval. Surely the Lord had gone before us.
Sometimes the planting of those new churches necessitated a move by a Christian family from an established church so that the new church would have good leadership and counsel from the beginning. The Lord our God certainly blessed during the 8 years we were there. From that beginning of only those four little churches and no resident African pastor, when we left there about 8 years later there was a resident African pastor for the area and, if I recall correctly, about a further eight churches started. Sure, some of them still were meeting “under the spreading mango tree”, but these fellowships of believers provided not only Biblical teaching/preaching but also mutual encouragement as Christians lived among others who clung to non-Biblical cultural practices.
I was able to get back to visit the area about 25 years later. The ministry of the Word of God, through His African servants, had greatly increased – there were now at least 36 churches and 6 trained and ordained pastors! Praise God! In spite of difficulties – isolation and famine for two years – the church had grown and many had accepted the Lord as Savior. In fact, when their “first missionary” (me!) visited them on this trip, the main church was crowded out by all the folks who came from each out-church to greet (and see!) this “mzungu” (European) who had come to live among them and had preached to them and encouraged them in their witness.
Yes, and for me it was a time of reigning in my thoughts. It was easy to bask in the recognition and praise they gave but that was wrong. It was the Lord who not only send our family out to live in the area but also He was the one who “built” His church through the faithful witness of many. To God be the Glory!