Matt Chappel said he viewed majesty, and saw miracles, during his six-month stay as a Christian missionary in the African countries of South Africa and Lesotho.
Chappel, 22, of Marlette, said he observed the “Holy Spirit at work” while with Operation Mobilization, and traveling remote portions of Lesotho, a mountainous kingdom of about 2 million residents encircled by South Africa.
Missionaries, trained over a period of weeks in South Africa before journeying on three “outreach” trips, carried a Bible with them along with “evangelism tools” – props one could use to show listeners to keep their interest – as they traveled door to door.
“Almost all of them wanted us to pray for them,” said Chappel, son of Glenn and Cyndi Chappel who left for South Africa on Aug. 28, 2015 and finished his missionary work in the winter of 2016. “The third day we were in Lesotho, a guy who lived across the street from the church we were at called the pastor’s wife over to him,” Chappel said. “The guy was blind and couldn’t see, and over the last few days he had a crazy pounding headache – like a migraine – and he couldn’t stand it anymore.
“He asked the pastor’s wife if she would walk him into the compound where we lived to see if we would lay hands on him and pray for him.”
Chappel, a 2013 Marlette High School graduate, was one of 10 missionaries – part of a larger group trained in South Africa over several weeks earlier in their visit – who began praying over the man.
“As we were praying for him the first time, he got this awestruck look in his eyes,” Chappel said. “Something came over him and he got really excited. As soon as we stopped praying, he told our translator that he was able to see almost. He couldn’t see entirely but he could see shapes, and things were there, but they were blurry.
“He also was saying that his headache was starting to recede.”
The missionaries prayed over the man a second time.
“The guy said his headache was gone, and that he could see through the window, across the field and past the fence to where his house was, and he couldn’t see before,” Chappel said. “This is happening and it’s so surreal. It’s not like this huge wave of awe came over everyone. It just seems normal, like you’re doing a normal, natural, everyday thing.
“But at the same time, you’re asking ‘Did that just happen?’ The guy got up on his own and walked home. After that time, everyone had heard about it and wanted us to pray for them.”
The missionaries experienced “extremely similar things,” Chappel said, later in their stay in Lesotho, where most residents live in rural areas and herd animals and try to grow enough food for survival, according to the U.S. government. The country “depends on a narrow economic base” of textile manufacturing and agriculture, according to “The World Factbook” produced by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
“He just wanted us to simply pray for him,” Chappel said. “When we found him, he was just sitting hunched over, and hardly moving at all. He was cleaning a pair of shoes or something, and all of his motions were really slow and lethargic, and he just looked tired, and his eyes were droopy.
“We prayed for him, and because of what happened to the blind guy, we thought ‘Something’s going to happen.’ We sat there about 20 seconds and nothing happened. We said ‘We’ll see you later, we’re going to the next house’ and the man said ‘OK.’
“We started walking away, and we got about 20 feet away, and the man jumps up off the stump and sprints over to us, and starts praising God, and saying his spiritual eyes have been opened, and he felt this wave of healing come over him, and that his body was all better.
“Stuff like this was happening every single day.”
Residents of Lesotho often asked for assistance from the heavens – literally.
“Three different times, on three different days, we were asked to pray for rain,” Chappel said. “Those three days we prayed for rain, we would get back to the compound and start preparing lunch or something, and it would start to rain. It wouldn’t rain for very long – not for days – but we would be telling the stories back and forth to each (missionary) team, saying how different people asked us to pray for rain.
“All of a sudden in the distance, you’d see these storm clouds. You’d say ‘Nah, it’s not going to rain. They’re in a drought.’ Then all of a sudden, ‘Boom!’ You’d hear a crack of thunder and all of a sudden it would just be a downpour.”
Missionaries traveled on “outreach” trips to Mamelodi – a more urban area in South Africa – before going to Lesotho. Their third trip took them to the urban area of Durban, in South Africa on the Indian Ocean.
“In Lesotho, the communities we were in had less than 100 people,” Chappel said. “The landscape totally changed. It went from city to absolute countryside. When we woke up in the morning, we could walk outside and the sun had just come out of the east, and to the west there were these huge – like 10,000-foot-high mountains.
“The horizon would drop down into a valley, which would be about eight miles wide, and then these huge sheer rock faces would just pop up out of the landscape. And it looked so beautiful. But everything there is desolate. All the roads are dirt roads, no one owns a car, almost everyone is poor, and they had been in a drought for two years, so the crops are not growing. The people are struggling to survive and eat.
“It was a weird transition from the city to that.”
Chappel worked and saved money to help finance his trip to South Africa, but also received donations including financial assistance from residents of Marlette and Gaylord.
During his six-month stay in South Africa, the missionaries were given a two-week period of holiday free time, and a number of them – Chappel included – paid for a bus trip from Pretoria to Cape Town on the southern tip of South Africa.
“We decided it wasn’t just going to be just a Christmas rest with friends,” Chappel said.
“We would go to a local market in the morning and buy five or six loaves of bread, and go into the heart of where the homeless were. “There are thousands of people lying about the streets. It’s an insane amount that are homeless. They’re scattered throughout the place.
“We would go right to that place, and we would sit down with a couple people, and start to talk. During the talk, we asked if we could pray for them, and we would pray for them. At the end of the talk, they were all extremely hungry, so we would then give them a loaf of bread.
His missionary work in South Africa also sent him to the city of Durban, where missionaries knocked on doors of apartment complexes “and try to get as many kids into the street as we could to do a children’s ministry.” Missionaries regularly spoke to about 30 children, playing a game and delivering a presentation “that had an underlying message in it,” said Chappel, who longs to keep working as a missionary.
“That’s still all I want to do, but I only had enough funds to stay (in South Africa) for six months,” Chappel said. “I had six months to pray about it, so me and Jesus would sit down and hash it out. I’d ask ‘What am I going to do next?’”
One option, he said, is to work as a missionary in the U.S.
“There are not many missionaries coming out of America in the first place, but there are no missionaries coming into America,” Chappel said. “America – I think – is one of the nations that needs to be reached the most, right now, at this time in history.
“So many people have grown comfortable in their nominal faith that now America is the one that needs saving. I want to see America changed for the good, and I want to see the Holy Spirit move like he moved in Lesotho, and people be healed, and miracles be seen.
“And have people fall in love with Jesus.”
Chappel, a member of Marlette First United Methodist Church, began studying secondary education at Saginaw Valley State University after returning to the U.S. this year. He said he enjoys writing, and noted he could teach English as a second language in foreign countries, but figures a college education will benefit his career goals in his home country.
“This is just my way to get an education that I can use effectively and still try to be a missionary in the United States,” Chappel said. “You can be a teacher and be a missionary at the same time, but I want to somehow be a full-time missionary.
“I think this is an avenue that has several branches that I can choose from.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org