‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news’ (Isaiah 52:7).
It has been the most amazing time! I have travelled to the most beautiful country I have ever seen, met with wonderfully friendly people, and helped to bring the Word of God to a nation eagerly hungering for it.
As a Gideon of some years’ standing, I was asked in April 2015 if I would like to go to Lesotho on an ‘International Bible Blitz’ (IBB) helping the local Gideons expand the work in that country (for more on the work of the Gideons, see www.gideons.org.uk).
I had heard of Lesotho, but knew nothing at all about it, save that it is a tiny, independent nation, entirely surrounded by South Africa. I knew several Gideon colleagues who had been on IBBs, and they all said that it was a wonderful experience, so after praying and consulting with my Better Half, I accepted.
To be honest, I was at first a little disappointed in the destination. To fly to some big city like Buenos Aires or Mumbai and spread the Word seemed more likely to produce big results, and to be, frankly, a bit more glamorous.
As the time drew nearer, I learned that the Blitz would take place in a place called Qacha’s Nek. I looked it up on the internet and found that it had a population of about 8000. How were we going to distribute tens of thousands of Scriptures in a place like that?
Grandeur and beauty
However, the day arrived and I flew from Heathrow to Johannesburg. There I met my colleagues, who were all from America, led by Larry Aspegren, an experienced Gideon who had been International President of the Association in the past.
From there we took the short flight to Maseru, capital of the Kingdom of Lesotho. We were greeted by a team of local Gideons, headed by the national director, Dr Moeti, who is also director of the Scripture Union.
As we drove the four-hour journey from Maseru to Qacha’s Nek, I realised the amazing grandeur and beauty of the country to which I had come. Lesotho among the highest countries in the world, in that its lowest point is 3500ft above sea level.
From there, mountains soar up to 10,000ft or more. The road we travelled was tarmacked. It was constructed only a few years ago, with help from South Africa and China, but already it was beginning to break up.
The country seemed sparsely populated, with just a few villages of round huts and an occasional ‘head boy’ or herdsman with his flock of sheep, goats, cattle or donkeys. I was soon to find out the purpose of the donkeys.
We eventually arrived in Qacha’s Nek, and found our pleasant hotel, the New Central, which was perfectly adequate for our stay. The staff could not have been more pleasant or helpful. There was a wonderful view over the mountains, as indeed there is everywhere in Lesotho.
We had our first team meeting and I discovered that I would be speaking at the Methodist church the following day, which was Sunday. Our purpose, I discovered, was to go into the mountainous areas and take the Scriptures to the schools and clinics there, as well as to the schools, prison and big hospital in Qacha’s Nek.
The local Gideons would accompany us to act as interpreters. Although most people in Lesotho speak English to some extent, the main language is Sesotho. Many thousand Sesotho New Testaments had arrived for us to give to the younger schoolchildren, aged from 8 to 11, while the older ones would have the choice of either English or Sesotho. Each school would also get one full Bible in English for the school office.
High literacy rate
Although Lesotho is a poor country, the education system is excellent. There are schools throughout the country, even in the most inaccessible places, as I soon found out. The literacy rate is the highest in Africa. I reckon that the 7, and 8-year-olds read better than many of their British counterparts.
Some schools were run by the Roman Catholic Church, others by the ‘Evangelical Churches of Lesotho’ and others by the state. Lesotho is a largely Christian country, but the good news stops there. Very few people in the country areas own Bibles and, as a result, nominalism is widespread, especially among Roman Catholics where native religions are also blended in.
Lesotho has the highest AIDS rate per head of population in the world and has the seventh highest murder rate in the world. It urgently needs revival and the Word of God.
So, on the Sunday morning, my interpreter and I showed up at the Methodist church. There is some dispute between the Lesothan and South African Methodists and, as a result, the churches in Lesotho are starved of funds.
The one in Qacha’s Nek was no exception. The minister had been called away and so the service was led by a young lady. She asked me if I would preach as well as talking about the Gideons, which I did.
The small congregation was attentive, but really came alive during the songs. These were sung in Sesotho to the accompaniment of a single drum. African gospel singing is sensational, and although I couldn’t join in, I really loved it.
At the end, a member of the congregation gave a short speech of thanks. At least I think that’s what it was! — in Sesotho.
My service lasted about an hour and a half, but some of my colleagues were at meetings that lasted up to four hours! However, singing and dancing took up nearly all that time, so I’m not altogether impressed.
Was there real gospel preaching and Bible teaching? I’m not sure. What I do know is that singing and dancing does not change lives, only the gospel does that.
Stephen Owen is a deacon at Scott Drive Church, Exmouth