The Secret to Changing the World

Heidi—a pretty and vibrant blond from Laguna Beach, California—was familiar with the comforts of life. Her privileged upbringing allowed her to study classical ballet in Switzerland and vacation internationally. The daughter of an academic, Heidi eventually earned her own PhD from Kings College in London. With that kind of pedigree, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume that this woman had a bright future ahead of her. Indeed, Heidi now oversees an expansive, holistic ministry organization that includes Bible schools, medical clinics, church-based orphan care, well drilling, primary schools, evangelistic and healing outreaches in remote villages, and a network of thousands of churches. If that isn’t impressive enough, there is more.

Iris Global, the name of the organization that Heidi co-founded with her husband, Rolland, in 1980, has ministry locations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America. The global reach of Iris rivals that of any successful fast-food chain that has locations across the world—perhaps not in depth, but certainly in breadth. Now, before you start imagining Heidi running this international mega-organization from a nice office in London or even from her hometown of Laguna Beach, let me set the record straight. Heidi and Rolland Baker have been based in Mozambique, Africa—one of the poorest and most war-torn countries in the world—since 1995.

Heidi Baker sitting with children in Africa

The Bakers did not move to Mozambique to start a worldwide ministry: Their hearts’ desire was to live out Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with “the least of these.” Their simple practice of “stopping for the one” in front of them was, and still is, their modus operandi. It just so happens there were a lot of “ones.”

When the Bakers arrived in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, in 1995, they were offered an orphanage that no one could or would support, not even large churches in South Africa or European donor nations. In Rolland’s words, “It was horribly neglected and dilapidated, with eighty miserable, demon-afflicted orphans in rags.” Alone and without support, Heidi and Rolland offered to take over the center and provide for the children in return for the opportunity to bring the Gospel to them. Rolland reported: “Within months, the children were saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, weeping while still in rags with gratitude for their salvation. Jesus provided miraculously, more all the time as our children prayed night and day for their daily food. We brought in teams, improved the center, and took our children to the streets to testify to more orphaned and abandoned children.” It wasn’t long before Rolland and Heidi were personally taking care of 320 orphans. That was almost three decades ago. (If you want to read about God’s miraculous intervention during this time, check out Always Enough: God’s Miraculous Provision among the Poorest Children on Earth.)

Now, Heidi is known as “Mama Heidi” to literally thousands of children.

Heidi Baker sitting with hundreds of children in Africa

As someone who has heard Heidi speak many times, read most of her books, and financially supports her ministry, I can testify that the Bakers have paid a very high price to sow into the poor and change the face of Mozambique. For example, there was a time when the government confiscated all of Iris’ buildings, which meant hundreds of their children were instantly homeless. They have also battled health issues. Heidi was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and later, Rolland contracted cerebral malaria, causing him to literally lose his mind. (Both were ultimately healed, but at one point, Roland’s condition was so poor he was only given six weeks to live.)

The challenges for Iris continue to be relentless. Just today, Heidi was on social media reporting that attacks in Cabo Delgado resulted in pastors being killed, fourteen of their churches being torched, as well as villages burned to the ground. The horrors continue, but Heidi vows to continue to keep “going low and slow” because they are empowered by love. What does this even mean?

Silhouette of man carrying cross with words "Empowered By Love"

In last week’s post, we explored the idea that our love for others is limited by our ability to love ourselves. Since Jesus said that loving our neighbor as ourselves is the second most important commandment (Mark 12:31), it makes sense that we pay attention to his words. However, it’s also important to consider how a relationship with God contributes to our ability to love our neighbor as ourselves. As I’ve reflected on the life and ministry of Heidi and Rolland Baker, it is obvious to me that we can’t separate the most important commandment—to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength—from the commandment to love our neighbor. It’s clear that the Baker’s supernatural capacity to love “the least of these” is fueled by something other than good self-care and daily affirmations. God’s love for Heidi and her all-encompassing love for Him is what empowers her world-changing ministry. One only needs to read her life story to understand this. Her deep love for God was ignited when she was just a teen.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

When Heidi was sixteen years old, she spent a summer on an Indian Reservation in Mississippi. As she listened to a Navajo preacher during a revival church service, he spoke about how he hated white people until he met Jesus. It was Jesus, he said, who taught him to love. Heidi was deeply stirred by what the preacher said and immediately began to scream and cry. Heidi raised her arms above her head and sensed a white light shining on her as she began to feel washed clean. What happened next is extraordinary.

In her book, Compelled by Love, Heidi reported hearing the audible voice of God. She wrote: “Jesus told me that I was to be married to him. Oil ran down my arm, and I felt Him kiss my left ring finger. He said, “You are called to be a minister and a missionary. You are called to Africa, Asia, and England.” When the weighty presence of God lifted, she realized she had been motionless with her hands over her head for three hours. Heidi was then hit with incredible joy. She began to speak about Jesus on the reservation the very next day. Heidi continued: “I have been speaking for Him and living a life of a sent-out one ever since.”

Heidi Baker praying with African children

Years later, after Heidi had already begun her ministry in Mozambique, she went to Toronto to hear a preacher named Randy Clark. He was speaking about having a hunger and thirst to give your life away for God. Heidi was as deeply stirred as she had been all those years ago on the Indian Reservation. She ran forward for Randy Clark to pray for her. As Randy laid his hand on her to pray, he asked: “Do you want the nation of Mozambique? The blind will see. The crippled will walk. The deaf will hear. The dead will be raised, and the poor will hear the good news.” What happened next is extraordinary.

Heidi reports that once again, she came under the heavy, weighty glory of God. She was unable to walk for days as God’s power pulsed through her. (When I heard Heidi speak about this, she explained that people even had to carry her to the bathroom because she was paralyzed for almost a week.) Even more incredible than Heidi’s powerful encounter with God is the fruit that resulted from it. The miracles of healing in Mozambique were just as Randy Clark predicted; people are even being raised from the dead (over 400 of them at last count).

So, what can we learn from Heidi’s mind-blowing demonstration of God’s love flowing through her? Although it might be tempting to write off Heidi’s experience because the encounters she has had with God are extreme, Jesus emphasized the importance of loving God for a reason. We alone are not able to self-generate the kind of love that is needed to change our personal relationships, never mind the world. We need to be plugged into the original and only source of love: God Himself. While most people may not experience God’s love in such an intense and powerful way as Heidi, we all have the capability to receive from Him.

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11)

The question is, how can we be filled with the love of God so that we may love Him and others in return? Perhaps the most direct way is to ask God to meet with you as he did with Heidi. “God, I want to love You and others better. Please fill me with Your loving Presence.” I suspect that if we spend more asking God to fill us with His love (rather than just asking Him to fix our problems), we can and will have a more tangible impact on the world.

When I first read that Heidi spends hours alone with Jesus each day to receive a fresh impartation of His love, I decided to try this for myself. Since I was a beginner, I decided to start with five minutes instead of hours. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just laid on the floor and asked God to fill me with His love. While I wish I could report that I had a Heidi-type experience, I think I actually fell asleep. I even had a dream in those five minutes. I saw a chubby man with a goatee in a flowery shirt who I initially thought was my husband but clearly was not. I wondered: “Jesus, is that YOU?” Although I didn’t shake, freeze, or see a white light, I was reminded of a friend who was trapped in a harmful lifestyle, and I felt God’s love for him. I counted this encounter as a win because my heart was impacted for the good.

Heavy man in flowery shirt with goatee

In summary, the point of this post isn’t to encourage you to move to Africa to care for thousands of orphans or to try to seek after weighty God encounters in and of themselves. Rather, we all need the reminder that as we strive to love the ‘others’ in our lives and show them the love of Jesus, we need God’s love to do that well – either on a global scale like Heidi or on a local scale, like most of us in our day-to-day lives, interacting with spouses, children, friends, coworkers and so on. Below are a few additional suggestions of ways you can practice sitting in God’s love in order to pour out his love on others. 

  • Read the Bible. As I mentioned in previous posts, Scripture tells the story of God’s love for His people. Some good places to start are Psalm 139, Psalm 103, and John’s Gospel.
  • Spend time in nature. Being outside is one of the most consistent ways that I encounter God’s love. This was my kiss from heaven on my walk this evening.

It can be tempting to discount the impact you have on the world because you haven’t been called to love an entire nation as Heidi has. One of my seminary professors, Dr. Sheri Falco, has something to say about that: “Be content with the garden the Lord has given you to tend. Don’t worry about the size of other people’s gardens.” This is especially important when the other person’s garden happens to be a whole country.

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