MASERU, Lesotho — As the
woman lies dying, a spiritual struggle begins.
The woman’s body has wasted
away. Her organs are shutting down. Sweat beads on her emaciated face. She
smells like death.
Southern Baptist missionary
Babs Dial leans over the woman and whispers to her about the love of Jesus
The woman’s mother, a witch
doctor, interrupts: “She does not want to hear that.”
Dial persists and asks the
woman if she understands what Jesus did for her. The woman nods.
Does she want Jesus to be
“No, she is dying,” the
witch doctor insists. “She wants to hear happy things.”
The woman’s eyes flutter.
She nods once more.
“The way people measure
value in this world, she has absolutely none,” said Alan Dial, Babs’ husband. “The
combined wealth of her entire family would not pay for a bag of groceries. But
she’s passing into eternity. Does it matter? Yeah, it matters.”
The Dials know just how
much. For six years, they labored in the tiny African country of Lesotho to
bring salvation to a people for whom time is running out.
The Dials went to Lesotho in
2004 from Tallahassee, Fla., to work among the mountain Basotho people, who
languish in the grip of death. They are desperately poor, often lacking basic
food and clothing. Nearly a quarter have HIV/AIDS, by official estimates, but
the Dials think it may be closer to 60 percent. They have been in villages
where everyone has the virus.
The Basotho also are poisoned
by the stinging, oily smoke from the fires they build inside their huts.
“Almost all of them have
some degree of tuberculosis or other chronic pulmonary disease,” Alan said. “Their
eyes are always red and watering, and they all cough.”
Hungry and sick, their
bodies ravaged by AIDS, the Basotho perish in droves, most before the age of
45. Fewer than 2 percent know Jesus as Savior, Alan said, and their people
group is becoming extinct.
“We cannot get to them fast
enough to give them the Good News about Jesus before they die,” Alan said.
That knowledge fuels the
Dials’ urgency. By foot, horseback or truck, by themselves or with volunteer
teams, the couple has trekked to countless villages with the message of the gospel.
At each village, the Dials
ask the chief’s permission to share with the people. Almost all the chiefs are
eager for their people to hear about Jesus Christ. One chief who wasn’t a
Christian welcomed them anyway.
“He said, ‘Christians don’t
beat their wives, steal their neighbors’ animals or get drunk,’ so he wanted (his
people) all to be Christians,” Alan said.
“We heard him tell his
people they needed to change, that the way they were living was not working,”
The Dials spoke to the
villagers about AIDS and orphans, trying to change the destructive way of life
that fills so many Basotho graves. They told Bible stories during town
meetings, showed the “JESUS” film and went home to home, talking about Jesus.
The grip of African
traditional religion, which is steeped in ancestor worship, makes for rocky
spiritual soil. The Basotho coordinate everything in their lives — from
marriage to funerals to naming their children — with clan witch doctors. They
have little concept of sin and believe that no matter what they have done, they
simply go to be with their ancestors when they die.
“Clinging to that, being
taught it and living it day in and out, is a tenacious thing that keeps (the
Basotho) from surrendering to ‘the white man’s God,’” Alan said.
More sinister forces also
oppose the Dials. Alan remembers a harrowing spiritual attack while he was
showing the JESUS film to a room packed with 400 high school students.
“During the crucifixion
scene, just as the nail was put in Jesus’ hand and the hammer struck the nail,
the most blood-curdling scream I have ever heard in my life came from the
middle of that crowd,” Alan recounted.
The crowd passed a girl over
their heads to the Dials. She was stiff as a board, lying in the crucifixion
position, screaming hideously, with terror in her eyes. The couple prayed over
her for 20 minutes until she stopped screaming and went limp. She had no memory
of what had happened.
With opposition from demonic
forces and tribal religion, bringing the Basotho to Jesus takes patience.
“It takes a while for them
to come to Christ, but they are coming,” Babs said. “They’re not coming in
The rate at which the
Basotho are perishing means the need for workers to spread the gospel is
urgent. Health problems with Alan’s back will probably prevent the Dials from
going back to Lesotho after stateside assignment to join another missionary
couple and local pastors who continue the work. It is a heartbreaking reality
for the Dials, who have given their hearts to the Basotho.
“When we came down the
mountain before leaving, I just wept, because I knew I wouldn’t be back,” Babs
said. The Dials plan to serve in another area where Alan will have access to
ongoing medical care.
Alan’s voice burns with the
passion of a man who knows the people he loves are dying. There are not enough
missionaries, money or resources, he says. If something is not done, the
Basotho will be only a memory of a people who perished in their sins.
“Somebody has to go tell the
story before they die.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — The
ministry of Alan and Babs Dial as International Mission Board missionaries is
made possible by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions
and the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention. To watch a
video on “Basotho … the forgotten people,” go to the Entire Church Videos section