Isaiah’s prophecy points forward to a bright future for a repentant and restored Israel in the land that God has given them. In that coming millennial day, ‘the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose’. The ultimate result will be that others ‘shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God’, Isa. 35. 1, 2. The praise shall be His alone.
Those of us who serve the Lord in Botswana are constantly reminded that our country is a desert. Indeed, over 80% of the land is covered with the sand of the Kalahari Desert. We have sometimes wilted under the harsh, unrelenting sun and often seen the effects of severe drought on the crops and livestock, but God has called us to this needy land, and we would not wish to be anywhere else. The people of Botswana are polite, gentle and peace-loving, and we are privileged to be welcome guests here.
Thankfully, the spiritual landscape is very different from the physical conditions. Despite being a landlocked country in an unsettled region of the world, Botswana has enjoyed a remarkable degree of peace and stability for many years. We continue to have liberty to travel anywhere within the country and speak to anyone about the Saviour and His love. The Lord has given us widespread opportunities for the sowing of the good seed of the gospel, and over the years many people, both young and old, have come to faith in Christ. We have been witnesses to the grace of God in saving souls – the joy has been theirs, ours and heaven’s too! We thank the Lord for all of these mercies.
When Jim and Irene Legge moved to Serowe in 1969, Botswana was still a neglected and relatively poor part of the world. Having achieved independence in 1966, the humble leadership and wise guidance of Sir Seretse Khama, our first president, was exactly what was required. When rich deposits of diamonds were discovered, the country was set on a course of growing prosperity and rapid development. The government did not squander these assets but used them for the benefit of all.
At first, Jim and Irene had to learn the difficult language of Setswana. Mr. Crawford Allison, their senior colleague in Salisbury, Rhodesia – now Harare, Zimbabwe – encouraged them to make this a priority. A few souls were saved, and a small assembly was planted in Serowe. Medical work was also used to bring help to those who were ill and suffering. The first steps were taken to provide suitable gospel literature and Bible teaching material in the language of the people. Opportunities were taken to make Christ known in schools and also in prisons. Step by step the work began to grow.
In those days most of the population were involved in agriculture. This would mean an annual migration out from the home village to the ploughing areas and also the cattle-posts. Such mobility presented its own challenges then, as it still does now, with regard to regular assembly activities.
The six assemblies continue in happy fellowship. Due to the great distances between, we do not see one another as often as we would wish, but annual conferences in various locations give us the opportunity to enjoy fellowship and feed on the word together. We are grateful that God has raised up gifted local brethren who not only share in preaching the gospel and teaching the scriptures, but also have a heart for shepherding the flock.
In general, we find that the work continues to grow slowly. While there is still a measure of respect for the word of God in Botswana, there is also a great deal of religious confusion, and currently many are being swayed by a false gospel that promises health and wealth. Adult men are particularly hard to reach, preferring to stay within their familiar male-only social group and rarely venturing outside it. Many men do not possess a Bible and some still have difficulty reading, so ‘coming to church’ can be something of an ordeal.
What has really made the difference over the years has been the wide-open door for work among the children. Hundreds of young ones are hearing the gospel each week, and children have been saved. They have influenced their parents – usually the mother – to come along and hear the word. Many mothers have been converted and the result has been transformed homes. Men and women we once knew as small children in Sunday School are now parents themselves. The spiritual influence upon many of them has proved to be lasting, not only in their own salvation but also in the way they have lived before others at school, college, in their work places, and especially in their own families.
We continue to make use of the many opportunities to preach the gospel in our halls, in tents, on street corners in the cities and under trees in villages, in people’s homes and yards, in schools, colleges and at the university, in clinics and hospitals, at funerals or weddings, and even at housewarmings and graduation celebrations. For a number of years, we were invited to preach over the national radio. Gospel correspondence lessons continue to be sent out over all the country to places none of us might ever reach personally.
God has worked in wonderful ways that have exceeded our expectations. It is one thing to see someone saved, but a much greater delight to see them progress in the ways of God and become effective soul-winners. One young woman was saved in the early years in Serowe. She became a busy nurse and was sent to work in different parts of the country, sometimes without any fellowship or assembly nearby. Despite this, in every place she has been, she has taken an interest in young people and seen some of them saved. She has continued faithfully to nurture them, often using her own home and resources. Some of us have gone from time to time to visit and give Bible teaching to these new believers. We always leave with a sense of deep gratitude for what God has done and continues to do through a single sister fully committed to the Lord. This is just one of numerous other stories that could be told.
During some years many have been saved and we have seen abundant evidence of the mighty hand of God in blessing. At other times, the going seemed tough and we felt we were not making much progress. Just as happened in the days of the Acts, after times of blessing there can follow days of opposition, when the devil would seek to hinder and disrupt the work of God by whatever means he can employ.
There are those who are still held in bondage by fear. Badimo, the spirits of the ancestors, continue to play an important part in the thoughts and feelings of many, even those who are educated. If they enjoy ‘success’, they need protection from others who might be jealous; if they have experienced failure, it may be because someone has bewitched them. In either case they will need to visit the traditional doctor. Only Christ can liberate from these fears. Another problem that has affected the lives of many has been the AIDS epidemic, and few families are unscathed. There have been times when all we seemed to do was attend funerals. Despite the government now offering treatment for all, there remains a large number of patients who suffer from this serious condition and require constant medical support.
New challenges have presented themselves. The gentler rural life is fast being replaced by a more hectic and sometimes chaotic urban existence in which the traditional cultural values no longer apply. At present 58% of the population live in urban areas. These changes are common to many other cultures, but here it is the rapidity of change that has been so notable. Students are no longer guaranteed employment after finishing their college or university courses because jobs are scarce. Even when some of our young men and women have succeeded in finding a job, they have had to face increasing pressure from their bosses to devote more and more time to their work. The competitive business environment sits uneasily with those who desire to give time and energy to the things of the Lord.
It is true that those who serve the Lord are sometimes anxious about the future of the work in which they are engaged, given the rising apathy and deepening spiritual darkness in the world today. One can fret over disappointments and even personal failure. As the apostle Paul sat in his prison cell awaiting execution, he had many reasons to be despondent. And yet his spirit soared with confidence in the knowledge that ‘the word of God is not bound’ and ‘the foundation of God standeth sure’, 2 Tim. 2. 9, 19.
In Botswana we see ourselves principally as sowers of the good seed of the gospel. We believe that this labour has not been in vain, and the blessing we have seen so far is only a foretaste of an even greater harvest yet to come. Perhaps Samuel Rutherford will not mind us adapting his soul-thrilling words: ‘If one soul from Botswana meets me at God’s right hand, my heaven will be two heavens in Immanuel’s land’. There will be no regrets in heaven, only joy!