While living in Swaziland, it was common on Sundays to see droves of Zionists walking along the roadsides on their way to and from services. They were easily spotted because of their distinctive, often colorful "uniforms. I never knew how the Zionists came to be. I was told that they were a mix of Christianity and other beliefs. And I read about some of them in the newspapers...such as when someone was injured or killed because of being beaten by crosses because they thought it would cast out evil spirits. I knew that they were following, sometimes quite passionately, a form of religion that was misguided in its attempt to be make its members right with God.
But now I've learned something amazing. I've met via facebook a couple who are moving to Swaziland to minister to these very people. And what they have told me about the history of the Zionists and what God is doing among these precious lost sheep is incredible. As I read Dudley's account, I got chill bumps.
Here is Dudley and Inge's story, but it's something bigger than that. It's the story of a Father who never gives up on His children and is working to bring them back into a loving and right relationship with Him and each other.
OUR SWAZILAND STORY
In August 2007, a missionary our church supports in Swaziland came to report on the work he and his wife are doing there. There names are Bruce and Carol Britten. Bruce spoke in our morning service and told this incredible story.
In 1904, a church in Zion, Illinois sent a missionary to South Africa to start a church. Within two years, he had baptized around 5,000 new believers. But then the church in Zion ran into some financial difficulties and they recalled their missionaries. So, most of these 5,000 new believers were left behind with no Bibles, and no instruction to help them grow in their faith.
Fast-forward about 70 years. Around 1980, someone from South Africa traveled to Zion, Illinois and arrived at the church that had originally sent out the missionary. He asked if they were aware there was a church in South Africa that was using their name. As it turned out, that group of about 5,000 people has today grown into a spiritual movement of almost 18 million people spread across southern Africa, who all point to that church in Zion as the foundation of their faith. They call themselves "Zionists" for that reason. These people are divided up into thousands of churches and denominations, each with a tribal pastor in place.
Over the generations, however, with no Bibles and no discipleship, the Zionists (or amaZioni) have incorporated many false beliefs into their churches—things such as ancestor worship, animal sacrifice, and even witchcraft and voodoo. So, what the Zionists believe and practice is no longer true Christianity. But the Zionists remain
staunchly loyal to Zion, Illinois. In fact, over the decades, numerous
evangelical groups have attempted to win the amaZioni people out of what is
considered a cult. But they will not listen to anyone who is not from Zion.
Upon learning this, the church in Zion took responsibility for the
situation and began working toward an answer. They have partnered with several
organizations and mission agencies, such as The Evangelical Alliance Mission
(TEAM), to develop Bible colleges to train the pastors of the Zionist churches.
And since the pastors are so loyal to Zion, many of them are coming for training
at the schools because they are hungry for the truth of God’s Word. Many have
never read the Bible, much less been taught from it. Many are trusting Christ as
Savior for the first time, and then are going back to their congregations and
teaching them the truth of the gospel and many of them are coming to Christ! The
school in Swaziland has been operating for just over five years now and last
year saw its first graduating class.
That was the story Bruce told in the service I was attending. I couldn’t believe it! I thought, This is incredible! What an amazing opportunity! This is just unbelievable!
Now, let me interrupt the story to tell you a little about my life. I was raised in a Christian home, prayed to receive Christ as a child, was always in church, no big rebellion issues. I thought I was living for the Lord and serving Him faithfully through my early adult life. When I was 43, however, my world was shaken with the death of my wife, Mavis, from cancer. In the year that followed, I went through a very difficult grieving process. I fell into depression. As the Lord was bringing me
out of that, I began to take stock of my life and realized that there were areas
of my life where I had never given God full control. I had held onto control of
those areas. I realized I had not been serving God whole-heartedly. At the time,
I was no longer working in Christian radio. I was working for AT&T and (even
though they had been great to me during Mavis’ illness and death) I was
miserable in the corporate world. In desperation, I cried out to God and said,
"Lord, I’ll do whatever you want me to do and go wherever you want me to go, I
just want to serve you!" And I meant it with all my heart. I gave God complete
control of every area of my life.
That was in January 1997. The first thing He did was bring Inge back into my life after 17 years of no contact. We had been friends working at KTIS/Northwestern College in the late 1970s. Mavis and I had supported her when she first went to the mission field. She would visit us when she came home on furlough. Then we lost touch with her until the Lord brought her to my mind following my prayer of commitment to Him. Inge and I got reconnected as old friends and six months later we were married. Next, God got me back into Christian Radio at Pacific Garden Mission and the "UNSHACKLED!" radio drama. I served there as Program Manager for over six years. The Lord also allowed me to teach Bible classes to the men on the Bible program. Then, God called us to Eau Claire to work at WHEM—a little Christian radio station that had no budget to pay me. Still God always provided enough to meet our needs.
So, it was with this track record of faith over the previous ten years
that I heard Bruce Britten tell the amazing story of the amaZioni in Swaziland.
Now, over the years, I’ve heard hundreds of missionaries speak. And quite often
I would think to myself, Is this for me? And almost immediately I would say, No,
not me! That’s not for me! But now, after giving God full control of my life and
seeing Him do great things in me and through me, as Bruce spoke I said to
myself, Is this for me? And guess what I said this time. I said, No way! Not me!
That’s not for me! God was speaking to my heart and I pushed Him away just like
all the other times.
So, by the time the service was ending, I had already dismissed God’s call. So, when Bruce ended by saying, "You know my wife and I can’t keep doing this on our own much longer. We really need another couple to come and join us—and I’d love it to be a couple from this church…" I had already pushed God away. So, the service ended and I was walking to the back of the sanctuary while Inge, who is the Office Administrator, went off to take care of her responsibilities. As I walked toward the back, I saw John Schone standing at the end of the aisle waiting for me with a big smile on his face. John and his wife, Lucia, are retired TEAM missionaries who spent over 30 years in Japan. They are both still very active for the Lord and we’ve grown very close to them over the past few years.
So John had this big smile on his face and I walked up to him and said, "What are you smiling at?
"Did you listen to what Bruce was saying?" he asked.
"I listened, but I just dismissed it," I said.
"Well, I think you should consider it, because when he was talking, all
I could see was the back of your head! I think God might want you to consider
"Well, I’ll pray about it," I said. And John said, "Well; let’s pray
about it right now!"
So John and Lucia got around me and prayed that we would be open to God leading us to Swaziland. And from that moment on, it just started bubbling inside me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Inge and I started praying about it and we both got excited about the possibility. After several weeks, we decided to apply to TEAM. We thought for sure that at our age they would find something wrong. But they didn’t. We sailed right through. In February we went through our first week of training. In the Spring we began raising support. We prayed that God would allow us to leave for Swaziland by the end of the year. In October, we had enough support to be invited to our final week of training. And by December 1st, we were able to reserve our tickets to leave for Africa on December 29th. Unbelievable!
What stands out for me in this incredible story is how gracious God is. I had shut Him off when He was calling me. I was ready to walk out of that building and never think of Swaziland again. But in His great grace, He placed a roadblock for me in the
form of John Schone! God could have let me go and used someone else, but by His
grace, He gave me a second chance to be blessed through following Him. I am so
So, in Swaziland, I’ll be teaching Bible courses to the Zionist
pastors enrolled in Zion Bible College. Inge will work in the office. We’ll be
there soon with a commitment for a minimum of two years.
God is so good and I'm so thankful for people like Dudley and Inge who are willing to let Him use them in His amazing love story.