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Taking The Gospel To A Wildlife Paradise

by | Sun, Jul 2 2023

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American missionaries Jerry and Jana Lackey have been spreading the Gospel in the southern African nation of Botswana for more than 30 years. They’re based in the famous Okavango Delta region which is a World Heritage site that has become hugely popular with adventure tourists hoping to get up close to Africa’s wildlife in their natural habitat. It also means they are conducting baptisms in rivers that are home to hippos and crocodiles.

The Lackeys run the Love Botswana Outreach Mission which focuses on equipping indigenous leaders to effectively reach their communities for Christ.  The ministry has a multicultural staff of more than 120 who reach out to more than 10,000 people each month in northwest Botswana.

According to its website the ministry’s Hands Of Hope programs are “the means by which Love Botswana extends the love of Christ in evangelism, helps, encouragement, giving and mercy.” They support government initiatives by filling in the gaps. There’s also a Bible Institute offering a two-year diploma course in practical theology, a Life Centre for youth, a rescue centre for abandoned infants and a Deaf Heart program which helps educate and find employment for deaf young adults.

Jerry who’s the Senior Pastor spoke to Vision Radio from his base in Botswana and told how he and Jana were first called to do God’s work in Africa:

“My wife and I were living the American dream before we married. She was working in radio communications and in concert promotions throughout the state of Texas and the southern part of America. I was working with a corporation and doing marketing and mass store layouts for them as a designer and then God kind of wrecked our lives. Before we met, she was in Bible school in Christ for the Nations in Dallas. She had an encounter with God while she was in chapel service from a guest speaker from Swaziland. And God literally shook her and called her to Africa.”

“We didn’t meet for about five years in between that time. I was at a Bible Institute and watched a documentary [on a Christian crusade, religion, paganism and miracles] filmed in Nigeria called Black Gold and God used that to literally wreck my life. I left the classroom and said: Well, you know, God, I don’t know what You want out of me, but I’m going to make myself available to You. And that was the start. My wife and I met a few years later. We were both attending the same church, got married in 1986, bought some wedding gifts, put them in storage, and came to Botswana, Africa with only a call from God and $300. We believed God would provide for us and he has.”

Their headquarters is in the town of Maun which is considered the gateway to the Okavango Delta and its animal reserves. “I think we have about 140,000 elephants here. It’s a beautiful little safari town. It’s a village that’s becoming more of a town. But when Jana and I came here in 1987 there was no electricity, no tarred roads. It was really quite a different place,” Jerry explained.

“The main church is the Maun Village Church. And then we have planted 14 other churches in Botswana. And all of these are in unreached areas — many among the Hambukushu tribe and the Bayei tribe which in the early years had no witness of the Gospel, nor did they have any churches that were life giving in their villages, just, you know, traditional churches. So those churches are being led by national pastors and growing and strengthening and [this month] we’re having our annual pastors conference up in the Okavango. We literally have it right alongside the river with the hippos and the crocodiles. And it’s a beautiful thing. We’ve also crossed over into [neighbouring] Namibia and we have three churches now in Popa Falls and a couple of nearby villages.”

“We work in very remote areas and our ministers have always been reaching the unreached and telling the untold, so that’s our heartbeat, although we’ve established quite a a ministry here in Maun that spans a vast area. But like in the early years, we still continue to do that and work in very remote villages. We preach and teach the Gospel there.”

Pastor Lackey told Vision Radio that sometimes requires baptising new converts in a river that teems with crocodiles, hippos and other potentially threatening wildlife.

“There are no facilities, no baptism pools, there are no swimming pools. And so what we have is the Okavango River. And I think the incredible thing is I don’t think we’re being careless. But, you know, you do what you can do with what you’ve got, where you’re at, and you have the river and you have people who are sincere, who’ve given their life to Christ, and they want to follow up with water baptism in obedience to Christ. So they’re willing and  because they’re willing, I have to be willing to get in the river and baptise them. And we thank God for His grace. We’ve never lost anybody.”

The Love Botswana Mission also runs a child welfare centre that’s an emergency rescue facility for orphans and vulnerable children between the ages of 0–5 years as well as children with disabilities from 0–10 years. The Lorato House Rescue Centre is staffed to ensure that the children have 24/7 care and protection.

Jerry Lackey admits abandoned children is a significant problem in Botswana:

“I just want to say that no woman wants to abandon a baby and I wouldn’t want to paint the nation as this is something that all women do. It’s women, oftentimes they come over from Zimbabwe. They’re in a desperate situation because of the economy there. It’s young girls that are in desperate situations. They have no income. And in desperation, oftentimes they do abandon babies. We don’t have a safe law here, like many countries where you can leave a baby at a police station or a fire station. So they find themselves in difficult circumstances for whatever reason. We have developed the rescue centre called Lorato House which in Setswana means ‘love.’ So it’s like the House of Love. We’re the only rescue centre in the country that is licensed to take babies and children with severe disabilities.”

“It’s an incredible work. God’s heart is just so touched with that work there and we find that we’ve been able to help so many children. The rescue centre works with the Government to admit orphans and vulnerable children and children living with disabilities. We’ve had more than 100 children that have stayed at Lorato House with the good news of probably 81 children leaving to be reunited with families or adoptive families, which is the goal — to help them find families. We prefer to see them become adopted within the nation so they can stay in their culture. We provide 24-hour around-the-clock physical, mental, educational, spiritual and psychological care for these orphans. We’ve changed over 120,000 diapers (nappies), had 9000 loads of laundry and provided 1250 hours of therapy. We’ve seen kids turn their lives around. Thank God for Lorato House.”

“We also have a ministry for deaf young adults to help them find jobs and places in industry. We’ve partnered with the Botswana Bible Society as they’ve worked on translation work with several languages that have been translated into both the New and Old Testament. We’re just launching in partnership [with the Society] the first Deaf Bible for the deaf here. It’s beautiful. With  pictures and sign language on all the pages. Very exciting.”

Click below to listen to the full interview with Pastor Jerry Lacey about his Botswana ministry:

Visionathon Will you stand with us?
Visionathon Will you stand with us?