Many missionaries and evangelists fight disappointment. Christians celebrate revivals in which hundreds or thousands embrace Jesus, but missionary work is more often a lonely twilight struggle against principalities and powers.
The most famous 19th-century missionary, David Livingstone, was directly involved with the conversion of only one African. Livingstone missed his wife and had her join him-and she died three months later. He headed deeper into the bush without the support of Christian backers disappointed with his lack of results (WORLD, July 16 and August 6, 2005).
Livingstone's brother-in-law, John Smith Moffat, also became a missionary unable to point to big numbers of conversions. Neither gave up. Livingstone took as his life motto what he told some Scottish schoolchildren: "Fear God, and work hard." He wrote in his journal that "future missionaries will see conversions following every sermon. We prepare the way for them. May they not forget the pioneers who worked in the thick gloom, with few cheering rays except such as flow from faith in God's promises. We work for a glorious future which we are not destined to see."
Is the Village of Hope ("From hopelessness to hope") part of that glorious future? The project is located in the most fertile part of Zambia, where deep wells could make available the water that would allow for planting and harvesting three crops per year. Its location along the Great North Road is excellent, and it turned out that builders of the road two decades ago had used the site as a supply depot. They left behind thousands of tons of crushed stones, initially hidden in the brush and weeds, but-once discovered-ideal for constructing orphans' homes.
The spiritual climate is also promising. In 1997 Zambia, with three decades of democracy and peaceful governmental transitions behind it, declared itself a Christian nation, so proclamation of the gospel faces no legal restrictions. The country needs more trained pastors and more lifestyle changes, but with a foundation in prayer all is possible.
The Village of Hope also has a providential past. Founder Benedict Schwartz and others were returning from a disappointing land-hunting expedition in northern Zambia when they decided to stop by a farm owned by three elderly sisters known as Christians. The oldest sister, "Auntie Harriet," told Schwartz that they were grandchildren of an evangelist in Malawi who had been converted in the 19th century through the ministry of-John Smith Moffat.
Moffat had taught their grandfather, who had taught their father, who became a school administrator and church planter. The three elderly sisters wanted the Christian work of the family to continue. They wanted their land to be used for a Christian agricultural training program or an orphanage. The appearance of Schwartz, a follower of Jesus who wanted to set up both, was a godsend: Harriet told WORLD, "We were worried, and then God's people came and we were very happy. . . . Now our people can become independent, can look ahead, can discover the gifts they have."
So Moffat's supposedly unsuccessful missionary work, which built on Livingstone's supposedly unsuccessful work, was truly the gift that keeps on giving. And maybe there is something to a story told about Livingstone's meeting with a tribal chief who said the missionary could go no further until he followed the exchange custom of the tribe: The chief could choose and keep any of Livingstone's possessions, and would give Livingstone something valuable in return.
Livingstone spread out what he had-clothes, books, watch, and a goat that furnished him with milk, since his stomach problems kept him from drinking water. He was upset when the chief seized the goat and gave him in return merely a carved stick. Then one of the tribesmen explained that the gift was not a walking stick but the king's scepter. It would give Livingstone entry into every community in the land.
Livingstone involuntarily sacrificed a goat to receive a king's scepter. He voluntarily sacrificed the comforts of England so he could make great use of The King's scepter, the Bible. So do his spiritual descendants, who are now enjoying the return on his original investment that Livingstone predicted.