We were young, excited YWAMers, and we went in 1998 to live among the Yao people. At that time, there were just about ten Yao believers in the whole of Mozambique. It was the hardest people group in that whole area. That was like the stronghold, where the devil really had his hands on the Yao people.
For the first eight years, we lived in the city, and we saw very little happen. We basically learned what not to do. Then we got connected with Frontier Missions, and we started learning to do a few things differently.
By the grace of God, we started afresh in a new village. We went to live with a team there. It’s a Muslim people group, and we really spent time in intercession. In the beginning, when we first went to that village, it was so dark that even to have a quiet time was difficult. It’s a people very involved in witchcraft and darkness. We spent a lot of time praying and learning the culture and language, and then we started sharing the Gospel and looking for men of peace. My wife and I were more behind the scenes. We spent time mentoring the Mozambican guys that were with us.
Geraldo, one of our teammates, found a man of peace named Mr. Maduka. He was counselor to one of the kings of the Yao – a very influential man. Mr. Maduka taught Geraldo the language, and Geraldo taught Mr. Maduka the Bible.
One day Mr. Maduka got sick – so sick that he couldn’t get out of bed. His children were all in their fields, as it was harvest time. Because of their fatalistic worldview, they said, “Oh, Mr. Maduka is going to die; it’s his time.” But Geraldo went every day; he brought a nurse to see him, he took medicine, and even when Mr. Maduka was so weak that he couldn’t get out of bed, Geraldo fed him with a spoon and even bathed him.
When Mr. Maduka was healed, he declared in front of the people, “Amongst all my sons, I do not have one like Geraldo.” Now, Geraldo is from the Makua tribe, and they don’t get along with the Yao. So for a Yao to say such a thing about a Makua is just mind-blowing.
That old man came to the Lord because of the love we shared, and we started a church in his house.
When we left that village after five years, there were only about twenty Muslim-background believers, and I thought, “Thirteen years in Mozambique – what did I really do there?” Only twenty believers, and I basically spent my time there investing in three people. So I was a bit discouraged. But in that time, God really ministered to me that my success is in my obedience, not in what I see happen.
Within nine months after we left, there were forty believers. It was a good thing that we left!
One of the big breakthroughs came the first time that a believer died. The imams (Islamic priests) in the village said, “We’re not going to bury this person. He’s a believer; he’s with you guys.” The believers said, “Fine. We will bury this person.” So they went and started digging the grave in the only graveyard — the Muslim graveyard. The young Muslim guys came and took away the shovels and the picks, and they said, “You’re not burying this person here.”
So the believers thought, “What do we do now?” But when the elders of the village heard about this, they called these young men in, and they said, “What do you think you’re doing? Who do you think you are? When you are sick, who’s going to take you to the hospital? When we have problems, these people help us. Why do you do this?” The elders told these young people, “Now you go and dig the grave.”
They dug the grave, and the believers did the funeral in a very cultural way. And because they did that, the fear of coming to the Lord was gone. Because that was what the imams were threatening them with: “If you die, we won’t bury you.” That brought a breakthrough, and within nine months, there were forty believers.
We left Mozambique at the end of 2010, and in 2013, I was invited to return and speak at the Yao church conference. In 1998 we knew of about ten Yao believers, and now there were about two hundred! I so wished that some of the missionaries who started out with us and did the hard work could be there to see some of the fruit. It was beautiful – like something out of the book of Acts. They said, “Okay, some of us have two wives; what do we do now?” I remember one of the believers with a young baby giving his testimony. He picked up the baby by his two arms, and he walked through the crowd saying, “Look at this baby! Look at this baby!” The people cheered. And he said, “Look how fat this baby is!” And he lifted up the shirt of the baby and said, “Look! No amulets!” The people said, “Wow! No amulets!” (The Yao believe that a child will die if you don’t put all of these witchcraft amulets on him.) And the way they treated their wives began to change.
From the beginning, we tried not to introduce foreign songs to them. We gave them the audio Bible, because many of them are illiterate, and we encouraged them to make their own songs. God gave two of these brothers a gift, and they started making their own songs. One day I was sitting with them on an anthill while they were singing. I watched the women passing by with their water buckets. And the women would stop when they came into range, and they would look; it was like they recognized the songs. And the kids would start moving when they heard the music. Right after we left, those became the cultural songs in the village – worship songs, Gospel songs.
At that conference in 2013, these guys sang. The women would move to the outside, the men to the middle, and the men would start chanting, and the women would follow. They started putting their traditional Yao dance together with the music. They would stomp their feet all at the same time, and the women would sing. It was a dirt floor, and as the dust went up, the Spirit of God just came down on them. Tears rolled down my face; I’ve never experienced God’s presence so tangibly among the Yao.
The people came to Pedro, who carries on the work, and said, “We want to take the Gospel to our family in other Yao villages.” So they prayed over some, and they sent them out on bicycles to go to other villages. Pedro held a seminar and taught them how to share the Gospel. Now the church has multiplied in that village and in six other villages.
Pedro is now mentoring all these Yao leaders. When I spoke to him recently, he said, “I want to switch off my phone! I can’t keep up. Every day, Muslims from new villages phone me and say, ‘We’ve been hearing about this, and we want a Bible study; we want a church!’”
(Fred is YWAM’s Frontier Missions leader for Southern Africa. Following his work among the Yao in Mozambique, he and his family now reside in their native country of South Africa, where they mobilize and train workers to reach unreached peoples.)