Cotton farmer's faith weathers trials

MAGOYE, Zambia (BP) -- Walking through his fields, Passmore Hacaba studied his cotton with the keen eye of a farmer. He is a tall, soft-spoken man and his large, brown hands are calloused from working the land.

"There is no good cotton in all of Magoye this year. At least the sweet potatoes, peanuts and maize are okay," he said.

Hacaba has lived most of his 52 years in Magoye, a rural area in southern Zambia. He is Tonga, a member of an unreached people group of more than 1 million that lives in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Most Tonga are subsistence farmers or fishermen.

And most Tonga are still unreached by the Gospel. But Hacaba put his faith in Christ nearly 10 years ago, when International Mission Board missionaries shared the Gospel at his home. Up until then he had been involved in a church that only believed in following the Old Testament law. Such churches are common in Zambia, and many have mixed animistic beliefs with the Bible. Like his father, Hacaba had become a leader in the church until one day they told him to leave the church because he had "taken a journey on the Sabbath."

Hacaba and his wife Olitar stayed away from church for years until they heard the truth about Jesus and how faith in Him gives us freedom from the law. Hacaba started witnessing to others in his village and was soon leading a small group of Tonga believers.

Like many new Christians around the world, Hacaba began to face persecution because of his new faith. An opportunity came up for him to help some corrupt people scam an organization out of seeds, fertilizer and small farming equipment. Hacaba refused and soon heard of threats made against him, threats that he thought were empty until armed men showed up at the small mud-brick church where he taught. The men tied his hands behind his back and dragged him out of the church into a small vehicle.

"As they took me away I could hear the sound of my grandchildren in the church crying," Hacaba said.

The men drove out to a field where they knocked Hacaba to the ground with their guns.

They put a gun to his head and told him to start running so they could kill him. At that moment a group of local farm workers came into sight, and the men jumped back into their car and fled.

Hacaba returned to his village and continued teaching the Bible. He began riding his bicycle to other villages and teaching, because they too wanted to hear the Gospel.

While sharing his story, Hacaba gently picked one of the bolls of fluffy white cotton and inspected it between his fingers. There are only two or three bolls on each plant; some have none.

"Too much rains," he said softly.

Last year Hacaba had his best cotton crop ever. It was a crop that grew under very unique circumstances.

Like most farmers in Zambia, Hacaba had planted his cotton by hand when the rains began. By Christmas he had some promising looking fields. Then one morning, he came out of his hut and noticed that something was wrong.

"I was confused. At first I thought it was an animal that had destroyed all of the plants, but then I found all the footprints," Hacaba said.

Vandals had come into the field at night and cut down most of his cotton. They had also cut down some of the maize he had planted to feed his family.

"We really cried, but God heard our tears and He helped us," his wife said.

The couple began praying and asked God to help them and their eight children survive. After one month they were shocked to see that all of the cotton plants that had been cut were growing again.

"The community was amazed. We were seeing that God was showing His hand and helping us," Hacaba said.

Not only did Hacaba harvest the best cotton crop he's ever had, but he also noticed that the remaining maize had a very high yield.

Months later, a man from the village came to Hacaba and told him that one night he and his friends were drinking beer together when a man came up and offered to pay them to go slash Hacaba's fields.

"He said that he wanted to see if you were really a Christian or not," the man told Hacaba.

Sitting on a hand-carved wooden stool, over a breakfast of sweet potatoes and roasted peanuts, Hacaba talked about the latest trial he has faced. A few weeks ago he was hospitalized with malaria. While in the hospital someone broke into his hut and stole a Bible, a small radio and one suit of clothes.

Hacaba sighed and smiled as he said, "You know, a man's life does not come from the abundance of things he possesses."


James Langston and his family serve with International Mission Board in Zambia. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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