A MISSION to Mozambique to support the work of two missionaries embraced by their church has had a profound affect on Knowle Green pastor Chris Okpoti and his 17-year-old daughter, Rebekah.
“Even though I spent a number of years growing up in Ghana, this kind of poverty I have never experienced before,” said Chris, adding that when Rebekah was asked on the journey home how she could best sum up the whole experience, she used just one word: distressing.
Chris and Rebekah have just returned from a mission to Mozambique, where they were the first English visitors to witness the work being carried out by missionaries Mel Welch and Mandy Hunter in the rural bush of Inhambane, near the small coastal fishing town of Vilanculos, after Knowle Green Church “embraced” their work a number of years ago.
And while the Okpotis return home in the knowledge Mel and Mandy are doing what they say is “fantastic work” and Knowle Green is “making a big difference in people’s lives,” Chris and Rebekah aim to promote Charis Ministries – now a registered charity – even more.
The pair have been incredibly moved by their experiences travelling from village to village; whether meeting people who lived under trees; holding a poorly baby whose mother could not afford the taxi fare to hospital, to a hospital where there would probably be no medicine, in an area where babies are not named for their first nine months of life because their chances of survival are so slim; to being the first white visitors to one village.
Here are just some of Chris and Rebecca’s thoughts:
“They choose to die if they are sick. It was what I expected, in a way, but to see it first hand it is like nothing you can read out of a book. You see things in a totally different way. We met eight people who live under trees and you know all the money we send will go to help them. We did a lot of visits in the bush, and when the vehicle got stuck we just walked.
“We went to the villages and did medical care and had times of sharing and scriptures, but also lots of singing and dancing...
“Their diet is very poor. The three main crops are casava, peanuts and maize and wherever you go you are eating the same food. But they are very, very generous and very hospitable people. They always give you their best and that made us feel even more guilty.
“They cannot get their heads around why someone wanted to come and help them.
“It has made me very thankful of what we have here... but it has caused something in me to want to do something more for the poor of the poorest. These are the ones who need help. Charis is God sent and is making a real life changing difference to those people who would otherwise be forgotten.
“Our animals here, our dogs and our cats, are getting far better care than the human beings there and it changes your whole perspective of life. I would like to go again and send as many people as possible to see for themselves.
“Mel and Mandy, through Charis, are doing fantastic work. They have given up their careers to serve the poor and that is some calling.
“People see things on TV and turn it off, thinking it is someone else’s problem, but the responsibility is really for us. We have plenty. There is not enough food and water. We know you cannot support everything, but you can support something.......
Concluding their comments, Chris said: “I would like to encourage people and schools to support Charis. I know there is so much demand for money, but sometimes the little charities are the ones people tend to overlook, they don’t get the same profile.”
Chris concluded by stressing that every penny given goes to where it is meant to go, no costs are spent on adminstration and Mel and Mandy’s own expenses are paid for by themselves.
Chris explains that since meeting Mel and Mandy at a church in Tanterton where he had been invited to preach, Knowle Green Church has gradually become more and more involved with Charis Ministries over the years, also helping it to become a registered charity.
Whether by raising thousands of pounds, knitting blankets, making up baby packs, or by becoming trustees, Chris says its involvement has “embraced all ages”. Fund raising last winter also helped to fund the much needed 4 by 4 vehicle Chris which has so helped Mel and Mandy in their work.
Meanwhile, languages teacher Mel, who used to be a department head, and Mandy, who is a midwife who ran a midwifery suite and who will be returning to Britain in September to raise more funds and awareness over the winter months, sent the following message about the Okpoti’s visit.
“It was so good to have our pastor and his daughter visit us for two weeks. They were our first visitors since we arrived in 2008 and it was a real encouragement to us. The journey to Mozambique is a
“long and arduous one and we thank God they were prepared to sacrifice their time and energy to visit us.
“During their trip we visited five different villages where Chris became very proficient at giving words of encouragement working with our interpreters... not easy at first. Rebecca was also called upon to share; the ladies are still speaking about a teaching she gave on motherhood...”
The two devout missionaries report being busy in the villages, carrying out basic health work and Bible teaching and building small houses for the elderly.
“There is a saying here ‘if you achieve one thing in a day you have done well’,” says Mel.
She added: “We have certainly found this to be true. Having Chris and Rebekah visit was a real boost for us and helped to bring some light relief to our time here. It can get quite overwhelming seeing so much real need every day and having to decide who we can help and who not. The needs are endless, but the pot is not!”
Mel also says: “The vehicle has made such a difference to our work this time as none of what we have been doing would have been possible without it. Transport is almost non existent out to these areas, as there are no proper roads, just sand tracks.The need in the villages is much greater than in the towns, so it’s very worthwhile work.
“The old man in the photo said it’s a miracle, he never imagined he would be sitting in a new house! It shows God’s faithfulness to those who cry out to him. The man is blind now and can’t walk, but in the past he was a pastor in the villages and said he used to always preach God’s word. It was so humbling to be in that little house praying with them and thanking God.
“Thanks to all the people who make our work possible, without you all it would not be possible. If anyone would like us to come and speak about our work when we return, please do get in touch.”