“If it wasn’t for our Global Mission pioneer, I’d be dead by now,” says Kgosana Xase, a recently baptized member of the Bere Adventist church plant in Botswana. His young face looks so sweet as he sings hymns, it’s hard to imagine him brawling in a bar with men on the verge of stabbing each other. But this is the new Kgosana. The one who gave his heart to Jesus because a pioneer named Ishmael came to live and work in his village.
Sitting next to Kgosana in the sanctuary is his newly baptized friend Basimilwe. “My life changed dramatically when I became an Adventist,” he says, flashing a radiant smile. “I used to practice ancestor worship, and I was a serious robber. Wherever there was mischief going on, you could find me right in the middle of it!”
Basimilwe was arrested frequently, but his life began to change the day Ishmael knocked on his door to tell him about Jesus. “I gave myself to God and stopped drinking and stealing,” he says. “I’m a free man in Christ, and for the first time in my life I’m happy with who I am.”
As Chief Gorosho listens to the new members speak, a look of satisfaction crosses his weathered face. Since the former pioneer left several years ago, he’s watched sadly as most of the congregation slipped away. “These new members give me hope,” he says, patting Ishmael’s shoulder. “In just one year, our pioneer has brought many members back and added eight new ones!”
Chief Gorosho joined the Adventist church in 2000 when members of the Ghanzi* church held evangelistic meetings in Bere. He remembers worshiping under a tree while the Bere church was being built. “It’s very hard to worship on the ground during rainy season,” he says with a laugh. “We missed the inspiration of worshiping together during those months. But with our own church, we can worship together all the time now.”
Chief Gorosho and his wife weren’t Christians when they attended the evangelistic meetings. “We were so hostile to each other,” he says. “But when we met Jesus, He made us kind. Now our marriage testifies to His power.” Chief Gorosho longs for everyone in his village to experience the transforming power of Jesus.
Ishmael Rabatho is a seasoned pioneer who has worked many places where there was previously no Adventist presence. But he says serving the Basarwaor Bushmen people in Bere is the toughest challenge he’s ever faced. “Poverty, disease, and despair are rampant here, but one of my greatest obstacles is the language barrier.” The Basarwa’s language is very difficult to learn, and Ishmael has no translator or literature available in the villagers’ dialect. ? “I can only communicate with them because a few of them speak a little of my language,” he says.
Transportation is another challenge for Ishmael in this remote settlement. “His only mode of transport is a bicycle,” says Pastor Ramasankate, the Ghanzi district pastor who oversees his work. “And there’s no riding a bike in the Kalahari sand!”
To buy food, Ishmael must catch a ride to Ghanzi, a distance of 150 kilometers one way. To catch that ride, he must walk 14 kilometers on a road where lions are sometimes spotted. But the lack of a vehicle isn’t just an inconvenience to Ishmael. He longs to take the gospel to those living outside the settlement—a desire held in check by long distances and dangerous animals.
But perhaps the greatest challenge Ishmael faces is reaching the Basarwa people spiritually. It has taken a year of gently trying to earn their trust, of attending their funerals, praying with the troubled, visiting the sick, and playing with their children.
“It’s very hard to share Jesus with my people,” says Chief Gorosho. “But since Pastor Ishmael came, I’ve noticed a gradual softening of their hearts. He’s reaching out to those who have never known God, and he’s doing a great work in them. I’ve seen a remarkable change in my community.”
Pastor Ramasankate is also thankful for Ishmael’s ministry. “If it weren’t for Ishmael,” he says, “there would be no Adventist work in Bere.” Pastor Ramasankate’s district covers some 119,000 square kilometers, and he can visit each church in it only once a year. “I have only three pioneers but we need many more for such a large territory.”
Despite the many challenges of working in Bere, Ishmael is optimistic. He loves being a Global Mission pioneer and believes that God called him to this unique ministry. But he requests the prayers of his church family.
“Please pray that God will enable me to share the gospel without any hindrance,” he asks, “so that the Basarwa can see a true picture of Jesus and understand God’s Word. And please pray that God’s Spirit will be poured upon these people so they’ll be receptive to His love and ready for His soon return.”
*Ghanzi is the capital of Kalahari.
† There are more than 12 dialects of the Basarwa’s language. The New Testament has been translated into only one.
Botswana has a strong Global Mission pioneer program. From the union to the conference to the district pastor and local church, pioneers are supported with finances, resources, and prayer. But more pioneers are needed to reach the many unreached areas and people groups in Botswana. To learn more, please visit www.global-mission.org.
To view more pictures for this article and to read more articles visit http://www.adventistmission.org/mission360mag
Her short skirt and tight-fitting top, accented by her flashy red lipstick and darkly lined eyes, made her stand out from the rest of the modestly dressed women in church.
Centers of influence are currently being established in cities around the world.