Two Hearts, One Mission
A young Adventist couple makes the gospel
practical in rural Zambia.
Short-term mission projects and stories abound in the world of Adventism. The church’s focus on service to God and to others in need has spurred countless individuals to venture far from home to share God’s love. Hein and Melissa Myburgh, however, who run an independent ministry called Mukuyu Outreach in a remote region of southern Zambia on the bank of the Zambezi River, call the place “home” and say they are there to stay.
The Myburghs relocated to Mukuyu (which means “wild sycamore fig tree” and is pronounced Mu--qu-e-u-) in Zambia’s Siavonga district in 2006 following the death of Hein’s brother, Johann, who first established the ministry four years earlier. Tragically, Johann, at the age of 32, was attacked and killed by a bull elephant while out walking. Hein, a nature conservationist, felt called by God to continue his brother’s dream to share the gospel message with the people in Zambia. Melissa had aspired to mission work since she was a child, and she too believed that God was leading them to Mukuyu.
This outreach ministry in the heart of rural Africa is surrounded by a population plagued by severe poverty and superstition. Animism and witchcraft are prevalent. Most inhabitants have little or no education, and no reliable health-care system exists. In the six years since Hein and Melissa first committed to work there, they have served their way into the hearts and lives of the people. They’ve launched—or are in the process of establishing—outreach that includes an orphanage; open-air, short-term dental and medical clinics; a medical launch for tribal groups living along the banks of the Zambezi River; a women’s training center; a Bible-worker evangelism program; a community center to help feed senior citizens; and an Adventist school for children in grades 1 through 4.
What could possibly entice a young married couple to leave a comfortable lifestyle in South Africa to live in a snake-infested region with no indoor plumbing, no electricity other than that provided by a generator, limited medical resources—and an hour’s drive from the nearest town? Adventist World editor Bill Knott and assistant editor Sandra Blackmer talked with Hein and Melissa to find out.
BILL KNOTT: You’re a long way from the places you first called home, Hein and Melissa. Describe the setting where you live.
HEIN MYBURGH: Our front porch is about 10 to 15 feet from the Zambezi River bank. You can almost step right from the porch into the river, so it’s a beautiful setting.
BK: And what does this home look like?
HM: It’s actually a thatched-roof bungalow with tan plaster walls and wooden support beams. There’s no running water inside the house— the bathroom and shower are outside—and a generator supplies our electricity.
BK: Do you use well water?
HM: Well water in the area is undrinkable. The underlying rock is very soluble, so you end up with a lot of sulfur in the water. It’s used only for washing. So our water comes mainly from the river. We buy bottled water for drinking.
BK: It takes a lot of effort just to sustain a home in the conditions you’ve described, but you’ve also launched a variety of outreach and service ministries. Tell us about some of those.
HM: Many children in this region are left parentless here because of the high incidence of HIV/AIDS, and the severe poverty leads to their neglect. So we’ve built a home that will house about 12 orphans. We don’t have a regular income ourselves or enough finances right now to provide children with the basic necessities, but we have a home ready to house the kids pending available finances.
We have a roof structure up—no walls yet—just opposite the orphan home that will serve as a community center, where we’ll provide a feeding program for senior citizens. Right now Melissa teaches sewing classes each week to women outside the orphanage, but she’ll be able to use the community center once it’s completed. These are located, not on the Mukuyu property, but in the village about a kilometer [.62 miles] away.
BK: Living on the banks of the Zambezi puts you on one of the only consistent transportation routes in the area, and I understand you’ve launched a boat ministry. Tell me about that.
HM: When my brother was here, he got his hands on an old, rusty hull that he wanted to fix up and use as a medical boat on the Zambezi, but he didn’t have the funds to repair it. Melissa and I obviously wanted to carry on with that idea, but we didn’t have the money either. Then about a year ago we were in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, helping with a One-Day Church program, and we did a presentation for all the volunteers there about Mukuyu—and talked about our dreams for the boat. Later one of the medical doctors on the project approached me and offered to provide the funding to fix it up. He said his brother, who also was a medical doctor, had died about 18 months before, and so this man said, “Why don’t we do the medical boat in remembrance of my brother and yours?” So we fixed up the boat and named it Bakwesu, which is Tonga for “brothers.”
SANDRA BLACKMER: How do you plan to use the boat?
HM: Neither Melissa nor I have any formal training in medical care, so we would like to organize short-term medical mission trips on the boat down a 25-mile stretch of the Zambezi River between the ministry base and the border town of Chirundu, using medical volunteers—doctors, nurses, and dentists. I’ve identified about five different sections along the river where there are sizable villages. We want to stop at these villages and spend a few hours or a whole day there, allowing the medical personnel to offer their services. Most river villages are located far from main roads, so it’s difficult for the people to reach state-run clinics.
BK: That sounds like it will be quite an adventure.
HM: Yes, it will be. One of the extra perks of this kind of short-term medical trip is that participants on these projects will get to see all sorts of wildlife while traveling up and down the river. It’s beautiful here in the middle of the African bush.
BK: You mentioned plans for a school. That’s certainly an ambitious project. Tell us about the school you’re building.
HM: The school that the children in the nearby village have to attend is located more than five kilometers [3.1 miles] away. Much of the year they’re unable to go—especially the youngest children—because in the dry months there are elephants everywhere looking for food. Then when the rains come, there’s mud everywhere. The community gave us a piece of land—one hectare [2.5 acres]—just opposite the orphan home, and we’ve begun construction of a school for the first four grades. We’ve worked with the local Adventist conference office on this, and it will be a standard Adventist elementary school. There will be four classrooms, an office, and teachers’ houses. The roof structure of the first classroom is up, but not the walls and floor.
SB: Melissa, it takes a remarkable woman to make the choices you’ve made. What has this experience been like for you? How well do you deal with life at Mukuyu?
MELISSA MYBURGH: When I first came here to the bush, it was really hard. I thought a lot about all the wildlife and the elephants, and especially about what happened to Hein’s brother. I was very scared, and my family was nervous about it as well. But we all believed that the Lord was leading. I’d been praying that the Lord would send me out to the mission field since I was a young girl, and I knew in my heart that this was the mission for me. So I just prayed about my fears, and every day it got better. Now I feel like I’m in the safest place ever, and that the Lord’s protection is always with us.
SB: I understand that you once had a close call with an asthma attack.
MM: Yes, I had a severe allergic reaction, and while Hein was driving me to the hospital, which is an hour away, he had to continually stop and give me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and then drive again. About 12 kilometers [7.2 miles] down the road he saw a neighbor approach down the road and called for his help. The neighbor jumped in and drove us to the hospital while Hein did mouth-to-mouth breathing. They saved my life. God definitely has been here with us.
SB: What are the other most challenging aspects for you?
MM: Probably the snakes, because most of the snakes here are poisonous—and they’re all over the place. We’ve had a few in our house and a lot in our bathroom, because the bathroom is outside the house. The other challenge is the heat. It gets very, very hot here in Zambia.
SB: Tell me about a typical day.
MM: Among other things, I’m a housewife, so I do all the house things that need to be done. Then every Tuesday I drive to the orphanage and meet with several women for sewing class. We have two sewing machines that were donated to us, so I’m teaching them how to make quilts, and they’re also crocheting and knitting. The things I make I sell in the village and closest town; half of the money goes to the women, and the other half goes toward the orphanage.
I’m a trained hairdresser, so I cut and style hair for some of the local women and put the money I make toward our projects. It’s a beautiful outreach tool since I get to visit with my clients as I serve them. I also visit people who are sick, and moms with babies, and do what I can to help them.
SB: Where does the funding for all these projects come from?
HB: We have depended heavily on donations in the past. We built the orphan home solely with donations. But we’re striving to become self-supporting. We have a small farm now and 700 sheep. We’re growing hay using a donated tractor and baler to feed the livestock and to sell to area farmers. We also have a mill grinder to grind maize flour for the villagers—which brings in a small amount of money—and we’ve started construction of fish ponds. So we’re doing all sorts of things to augment our income.
SB: I heard a story about a time when you had miscalculated the amount of money you had in the bank. Tell us about that.
HB: It was the day before Christmas about three years ago. We’d gone to Lusaka, about three hours from home, to buy some food, and I was sure that we had enough money in my account to buy all the food we needed and the fuel to drive back home. Melissa went into the supermarket, and I headed to the bank to withdraw the money—but my account was empty. I’m still not sure what had happened to the money. We not only couldn’t buy groceries, but we couldn’t buy fuel to get home, either. I didn’t know what to do, and I was very discouraged.
We had walked literally 10 steps outside of the supermarket when my cell phone rang, and a man I had never met before asked, “Are you guys in town?” I said, “Yeah, we’re in Lusaka.” He then asked if we could come to his office, because he had some money for us. His office was about five minutes away. We were shocked! When we arrived, he explained that someone had told him about our ministry, and that we were one of more than 20 charities for whom he had raised money. Then he said, “You guys are lucky to get your money before the holidays.” It seems that before the fund-raising event had even occurred, he had allocated percentages to each of the charities according to their size. When the money finally came in after the event, the amount of money that was allocated to us happened to be exactly the amount that he had with him on that day. It was the only sum that matched, so he phoned us up and said, “Come get your money.” It was an amazing, amazing experience—and an affirmation that God is really alive and that He’s loyal to us.
BK: Your daily experiences seem bound up in an awareness of God’s presence and the power of ongoing prayer.
HM: Absolutely! Living this way definitely improves our prayer life! We’re never very far removed from human need, and our own limitations make us so very aware of how much we must depend on God’s power and resources. Sometimes, I’ll admit, it’s hard, but it’s really such a great privilege to be doing what we’re doing.
BK: Tell us about relationships with what sometimes is called the “organized church,” meaning the structures of the local Seventh-day Adventist conference or union.
HM: We’re an independent but fully supporting ministry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We live according to the beliefs and the principles of the church, as well as the Spirit of Prophecy. So whatever we do, we do in conjunction and full harmony with the church. But structure-wise, the Adventist Church is not very well represented here. We have one pastor for the whole district, which is about 700 square miles in size. He does have a vehicle these days, but hardly ever the fuel he needs to visit his many churches. So as far as the organized church structure goes, in the area where we live, there isn’t much. But whenever we put up a church structure, we always talk first with the local pastor and the conference to be sure it fits with their plans.
BK: I understand that you also employ Bible workers. Tell us about that.
HM: When we first got here, Melissa and I did a few evangelistic meetings. She would do the health talks, and I would do the sermons using a small generator, a PA system, a projector, and some lights. Obviously, there’s no electricity where we go, so we have to take everything with us. But when we do evangelistic meetings, we’re coming from a culture totally different from that of the people who live here, which is problematic. We also have to use an interpreter. So now we find local people interested in evangelism and send them to Riverside Farm Institute in Kafue for four months of training. They then return to their home village, where they already know the people, have influence with them, speak the same language, and know the local culture. When the time is right for an evangelistic series, Melissa and I go and facilitate it. Right now we have three Bible workers.
BK: Have you seen baptisms resulting from those meetings?
HM: Yes, praise God—hundreds! Seed sown in faith always brings a harvest.
BK: What would you identify as your top current needs?
HM: If I had to name several, I’d say funding for more Bible workers, for completing the community center, and a trailer for construction and agricultural use. We also desperately need medical volunteers for short-term mission trips to provide health clinics for those living in remote areas on the riverbanks—and we certainly are looking for funding and volunteers to help complete the school.
BK: When you think about the millions of Adventist believers worldwide who will read this story, what would you most like to say to them?
HM: Most people want peace, and they try to achieve it in many ways. But there’s only one way to have real peace and happiness in this life, and that is by surrendering your life to the Holy Spirit, and to keep busy with what God calls you to do. Once you step in line with God’s will, that’s the end of restlessness. It’s certainly not the end of all problems, but when you’re walking with God you’re working with Someone who is all-powerful and knows what’s best for you. That’s the most important thing we’ve learned here—and it’s a lesson renewed every day that we serve.