Sunday, November 20, 2011

‘Honey, we’re going to Africa”

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

SAN DIEGO, CA (ANS) -- It was back in the late 1940s when recently-wed American, Harvey T. Hoekstra, bounced through the door of his home and light heartedly announced to his new bride Lavina, “Honey, we’re going to Africa!”

Cover of book written by Harvey about his life
Harvey, who on Sunday, November 20, 2011 celebrates his 91st birthday, told me, “Well it didn’t happen at the door, but it led to constant conversation and to that sleepless night when we got out of bed, knelt down together and committed our lives to obey God’s call to Africa.

“The verse of Scripture the Lord gave us was from Matthew 28:20b ‘… and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.’

“There were only eleven passengers on that freighter when, on July 2, 1948, Lavina, our two sons Denny aged five and a half, 3 month old, Jimmy and I started our journey to Africa. It’s been an extraordinary journey.”
Fascinated to learn more, I discovered from Harvey that his story began on November 20, 1920 when he was born into a Christian home on a farm near Maple Lake, Minnesota -- 55 miles northwest of Minneapolis.

“When I was fourteen years going on fifteen, I spent 45 days in a small hospital having three life threatening major abdominal surgeries resulting from a ruptured appendix,” he said.

“During those hospital experiences I came to know Jesus as my Savior and Lord. During those days I said in my heart, ‘If God spares my life, someday I’ll try to be a preacher.’”

Harvey went on to graduate from Hope College in Holland, Michigan with a Cum Laude degree. That same fall, he began my theological studies at Western Theological Seminary.

Harvey and Lavina
“While still in college, I had married a beautiful gal, Lavina Irene Hoffman,” he went on. “During my last year in school, Don McClure, a red headed, rash, religious United Presbyterian missionary on furlough from the Sudan spoke at our seminary morning chapel service. He shared his vision to reach an entire tribe with the gospel. He said that he was looking for a Bible translator. He later encouraged me to consider being that person.

“Then there was that night when sleep eluded us. In the middle of the night, Lavina and I both got out of bed and were together on our knees seeking the Lord’s guidance. That night we made our commitment to go to Africa with that promise from the Bible that I talked about earlier.

“Two years later, in Africa, sleeping in our mud-walled, grass roofed house with just mosquito netting over the windows, we were awakened by the roaring of a nearby lion. We were glad for the Lord’s promise.

“And now with my 91st birthday approaching, when I stop and reflect, I truly marvel at what God has done in us and through us. I have often said, ‘He wields a might blow with a crooked stick’. Lavina and I were both people of very humble origins but by God’s grace and mercy He choose to do extraordinary things in us, for us, and through us to bless others.

“People who know me best note my health and vigor in spite of the many serious injuries, illnesses and surgeries I have had during our years in Africa. I, myself, sometimes feel that I am a walking miracle.”

Harvey said that life in Africa wasn’t always easy.

Lavina Hoekstra at her first house In Ethiopia
“I marvel at the wonderful way my dear wife, Lavina coped with extraordinary challenges, living under unusually difficult circumstances. Many people who know our story wonder how Lavina could have done it,” he stated.

“We were in the South Sudan from 1948 until 1962. With two African team members, we reduced the language to writing and translated the entire NT in the Anuak language.

“In 1962 we were expelled from the Sudan. On the small MAF plane that fetched us was a small parcel. When I opened it, I saw five brand new, beautifully printed copies of the Anuak New Testament I had translated. The other 995 copies were with the Bible Society in Khartoum.”

Harvey said that he will always remember what one of the Christian leaders said as he and Lavina said their farewell before boarding the plane.

He said, “We don’t know why our government is sending you away, but we want you to know that you are leaving behind God’s best gift. You have given us His word in our language.”

Harvey added, “Let God be thanked and praised. We spent the next eighteen months living and working in several different African countries. And then, after eighteen months of waiting and uncertainty, we finally moved to Ethiopia.

Baby Paul on horseback
“Several weeks after an exploratory trek into the rain forest, Lavina and our 3 ½ year old little boy named Paul started our trek from a town called Teppi to where we would begin our ministry. I can scarcely describe the challenges and difficulties we experienced those ten days on the trail.

“When we finally arrived, by previous arrangement, the small Mission Aviation Fellowship plane flew over us and made two air drops with supplies. As darkness fell we came upon an open sided stick shack where a Majang man was sitting beside a fire. We decided to spend the night sleeping on the wet ground beside that shack.

“I still didn’t speak a word of the Majang language. In the morning the local chief and some 25 curious men showed up to help us. By nightfall our stick house, in which we lived for many months, was finished except for its grass roof.

“We gradually understood and spoke their language. When the cassette recorder and players came on the market, we recorded the essential truths about Jesus on cassette. Each cassette made sense in one hearing.

“The Majang forest people came in from far and wide. I believe theirs was a curiosity born of the Holy Spirit. They were curious to see these white people, their horses and the way we were felling trees, clearing an area so the plane could eventually land.

“At an appropriate moment, we sat together on the hillside and listened to this voice from the box speaking in their own language telling the good news about Jesus. Some would spontaneously muse softly, saying in their own language, ‘I hear you.’ Another might say, ‘That is no lie’ and And still another common response was, ‘It is true.’

These non-literate people, wearing leaves and grass, frequently asked to take the player with them that others might hear also. Even before there were believers, these cassette players were being carried far and wide by the Majang.”

Harvey then recalled one unforgettable day, when a young, teen-aged Christian girl, Argem, came back from her mother’s village two hours up river.
Argem bringing the first knotted string
In her bag she had a grass string on which there were thirteen knots and speaking in her own language, she shared her story saying, “I’ve been in my mother’s village. When I played my ‘radioni’ (their name for the cassette player) I would tell them, I haven’t been to school so I cannot speak like this radioni, but I know that what it is saying is true because I am a person of this Jesus.”

She said, “They would ask me to play it again. And before I left there were 13 women who said they wanted me to make a grass string and to tie a knot on it to indicate that they, too, wanted to become a person of Jesus.”

“As time went on we saw numerous such knotted strings the Majang brought in after playing the ‘radioni’ in their villages,” said Harvey. “We lived among the Majang a little over a dozen years. During that time we had a daily clinic, a school for children and several work projects like teaching them how to plant and grow coffee and how to grow bananas. Etc.

“From the cassette players carried by the Majang, the gospel was being widely heard throughout the forest, but there probably were not more than two or three hundred baptized believers when we left them for the last time in 1976. It was several years before explosive growth occurred.
“The Holy Spirit was mightily at work. Pagan practices came to an end. Today, instead of leaves and grass they are clothed. Schools are in many locations. We hear reports of some who are students in the University in Addis Ababa. Reports tell of numerous miraculous healings. We were told that the entire tribe no long suffers from tropical ulcers. Deaths now are occasions for singing and joy rather than despair and fear. They estimate as many as 26,000 Christians in a population of 30,000 Majang.”

Eventually, the couple left Ethiopia in 1976 and Harvey completed his graduate studies at Fuller’s School of World Mission in Pasadena, California.

“Lavina and I established our home in Southern California,” he went on to say. “We traveled overseas four to six months every year. We established recording ministry centers in other countries in Africa, India, Bangladesh, Singapore, Indonesia and beyond.

A Talking Bible
“In 1989 I founded a donor supported ministry, based in CA, and identified it as Audio Scriptures International (now Talking Bibles International). My son, Mark, joined the ministry and later designed the world’s first Talking Bible. His brother Paul used his connections in India to have it manufactured there.
“The Talking Bible was designed to be easy for non-literate, oral-culture people to use. It gives non-readers the same access to the translated Scriptures as is enjoyed by all who read.

“Last year I retired as chairman of our Board and the ministry is in the capable hands of two of my sons, Mark and Paul.

“My precious wife and inseparable missionary partner, passed away in May of last year. She was God’s gift to me and we had each other for 68 incredible years in sickness and in health, in dangers and in safety.”

The huge banner in Teppi
Earlier this year, after 35 years, several family members and Harvey were able to return to Ethiopia.

“To make such a trip at my age was a formidable challenge,” he said. “Only God could have made it happen. When the Caravan aircraft flew us into Teppi, landing on a grass airstrip some 400 miles SW of Addis Ababa, we were amazed to see anywhere from five to ten thousand Majangir out there to welcome me back. It was unbelievable.

“Near the town hall we saw a huge banner with a photo of Lavina and me. It read, “THE HOEKSTRAS – WE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER YOU FOR YOU LED US TO ETERNAL LIFE.” It was humbling to see and brought tears of emotion to realize what God had done.

“We dedicated 200 Talking Bibles in a huge gathering that took place in the town hall where at least 2,000 were inside with many outside unable to find room. When I spoke, I quoted where Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows me will no longer walk in darkness.’ Hearing those words, they began to clap with thanks and praise to God.

“God gave me a privilege beyond anything I deserve or could have anticipated. After 35 years He enabled me to see what He had done among a people He had determined to bless. To God be all the praise and glory!”

If you would like to contact Harvey Hoekstra, his e-mail address is: and the website to go to is:

Dan Wooding, 70, is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 48 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and was, for ten years, a commentator, on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. He now hosts the weekly “Front Page Radio” show on KWVE in Southern California which is also carried throughout the United States. The program is also aired in Great Britain on Calvary Chapel Radio UK and also in Belize and South Africa. Besides this, Wooding is a host for His Channel Live, which is carried via the Internet to some 200 countries and also provides a regular commentary for Worship Life Radio on KWVE. You can follow Dan Wooding on Facebook under his name there or at ASSIST News Service. He is the author of some 44 books. Two of the latest include his autobiography, “From Tabloid to Truth”, which is published by Theatron Books. To order a copy, press this link. Wooding, who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, has also recently released his first novel “Red Dagger” which is available this link.

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

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