Archives for July 17, 2012

Hospitality in Mozambique

As I write, I am staying at the home of Dr. Charles and Julie Woodrow, who have five children and a large home with an incredible maze of all kinds of little bedrooms. Close to two dozen people are staying in this home, which is quite ordinary I’m told. Wherever one turns, there is another bedroom or two, and another occupant or two—or three! Each bedroom has the name(s) of those who are sleeping in it that night posted on the door.

In fact, while just typing this last sentence, two young men just walked through my bedroom on the way to two other bedrooms beyond mine, one of which I didn’t know existed until just now. And now, while I was typing that sentence, a young man just walked in and said, “Hi, I’m Chris; by the way, you’re sleeping in my bed tonight, and I have my money stashed beneath the mattress—do you mind if I fetch it?”

When one arrives at the Woodrow home, there are eight German shepherd dogs—all friendly ones—waiting to greet you (and a cat or two) the moment you step out of the land rover, which somehow survives the incredibly bumpy roads. The conference site is only a few miles away but it takes half an hour to drive there due to the road conditions.

Julie Woodrow is remarkable; cheerful, easygoing, somehow she rolls with all the punches and enjoys ministering to her five home-schooled children and her large extended “family.” Dr. Woodrow, an able, well-known physician in the area, is of a perfectionist bent and holds the bar of expectation high.

The Woodrows’ local church in Nampula is quite Reformed. Attendance is from 25-30 each Sunday. Dr. Woodrow supervises the church and exhorts on Sundays quite frequently. He also is building a hospital for the needy local people. The hospital has been mostly built, but then funds ran out until a couple from Brazil recently donated $250,000 to complete it. So now, a South African couple, Mark and Hilda, who have great credentials for this kind of work, have volunteered to oversee the project to its completion by 2013, the Lord willing. This hospital still needs to be staffed, but hopefully will be a huge help to the local people in due course.

Ministering in a place like Nampula, Mozambique, can be overwhelming. The needs are so great, the perils so many, the challenges so daunting, and the opportunities so many, that one scarcely knows where to begin. Certainly for us we need to begin by praying the Lord of the harvest to send more reapers, workers, and volunteers into the harvest—especially into very needy places like this.

(I did have a few happy moments talking about PRTS with one of the Woodrow sons who is seriously contemplating if God is internally calling him to the pastoral ministry. Pray that God will call him, send him to PRTS, and that he may return to this needy area.)

Finally, let us not forget to bow humbly before God, thanking him for all the amazing freedoms and spiritual opportunities we have. We truly are blessed nearly beyond measure compared with most other areas in the world.

The Church’s Sufferings in Mozambique

In my last post I mentioned that Christians in Mozambique were persecuted severely for many years. Here is the sad story in a nutshell, as told primarily by Peter Hammond, whose evangelistic travels to Mozambique, led him to establish the Mission of Frontline Fellowship.  In 1975, Mozambique, which had been an overseas province of Portugal for 470 years, was abandoned by the Portuguese. Marxist revolutionaries, known as FRELIMO, then took control of the country, without providing a referendum or an opportunity for elections. Their leader, Samora Machel, imposed a harsh Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat upon Mozambique. Nearly everything was nationalized, including educational institutions, hospitals, businesses, industries, agriculture, and commerce. Property was confiscated. Tourism was basically shut down. Skilled Portuguese settlers fled the country, including 80 per cent of the physicians within one year.

Samora Machel and his Marxist protégés declared war on the church. Thousands of churches in Mozambique were confiscated, closed, or burned down. Missionaries were expelled or imprisoned. Evangelism was forbidden Bibles were burned. Thousands of Christians, including many pastors, were shipped to concentrations camps, never to be seen again.

Mozambique became a land of terror; 300,000 people were incarcerated in re-education camps; 75,000 were publicly executed as reactionaries, black marketers, and counter revolutionaries. Entire villages were sometimes massacred. Hammond writes that during one of his missions there, “I documented 42 villages which had been burned to the ground, 74 churches which had been destroyed, and over 60 incidences of Bibles being burned, and 28 incidences of FRELIMO, or Zimbabwe troops, having massacred whole villages. I regularly saw burned out villages, burned out fields, and unburied corpses. I was shown the scars of bayonet and bullet wounds of several church leaders. I listened to many testimonies of Christians who had suffered trauma and torture at the hands of the communists. I ministered to people who had lost all their possessions, and many who had had their loved ones taken away to Rua Rua, one of 16 concentration camps in Mozambique.”

By the 1980s, Operation World reported that the then war-torn, Marxist state of Mozambique was the least evangelized country in the Southern Hemisphere and that there was less than one Bible for every thousand people. By the 1990s, after three decades of civil war, first against the Portuguese, and then against its own people, Mozambique was a shattered nation. It was judged by Operation World to be the world’s poorest country at that time. At the height of the war, in 1992, more than 40 per cent of the population were refugees. Deaths from the civil war and resulting family were estimated at over one million people.

Then the unthinkable happened. Hammond writes, “In 1994, by God’s grace, and in answer to prayer and international pressure, the FRELIMO government renounced Marxism, opened up its economy, and accepted a multi-party democracy. Church buildings and lands were returned to the congregations that they had been confiscated from. Firearms that had been confiscated were returned to those still alive. The borders were opened. Missionaries were welcomed back into the country and religious freedom was announced.”

Today, Hammond concludes, “Mozambique is wide open to the gospel and spiritually responsive. After being devastated by decades of communist oppression and civil war, Mozambique remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Cyclones, floods, and other natural disasters have dramatically disrupted development and destroyed infrastructure. Mozambique remains heavily reliant on outside aid and a huge public debt burdens the country. Many people struggle from day to day to survive. Life expectancy has risen to 48 years. Over 16% of the population have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Corruption is endemic.” (See Peter Hammond, In the Killing Fields of Mozambique, Christian Liberty Books.)

Progress is being made, however. Thousands of new churches have opened. Thirty-five years ago, 3 per cent of the population were Evangelicals; today, that number is about 20 per cent. There is rapid church expansion with lots of activity, but with that expansion comes problems, such as limited Bible knowledge and doctrinal understanding, power struggles, and a lack of trained ministers. About 75 per cent of the ministers have little or no formal training. Some have difficulty reading.

The self-conscious Reformed movement in Mozambique is still small, but potential for growth is promising. If one considers that these two conferences alone drew close to 500 ministers, there is certainly hope! Then, too, the Dutch Reformed have been active for some time in parts of the country. Signs of hope are springing up. Some good and well educated pastors serve this denomination which is fairly conservative theologically, and several of them attend this Nampula conference regularly.

Conference in Nampula, Mozambique

On Monday morning, we flew early to Nampula. The conference, which began on Monday evening and concluded on Thursday, had as its theme: “Growing in Grace: The Doctrine and Practice of Genuine Sanctification.”

The meetings took place under a large tent, where mosquitoes that produce malaria are not uncommon, so we speakers were advised to take malaria-fighting medication for twenty days—from two days before we came to Mozambique until a week or so after we return home.  This is no idle threat as five million cases of malaria are contracted each year in Mozambique, and significant numbers die from it; moreover, visitors are especially prone to be infected, as our bodies have not built up any immunity against it. This does make one feel quite dependent on God, as it is hard not to wonder when a mosquito buzzes around your head: Is this one of the bad ones? You are also advised to give your body a good spray of insect repellant each morning.

Jaime Marcelino gave four addresses and I gave five to a group of 300 people, most of whom were pastors. Three of his addresses focused on the struggle for Christian virtues between brothers (Phil. 1:2–11) and one address was on the necessity of experiencing genuine holiness as a preparation for eternity (Phil. 1:9–11). Four of my addresses focused on various aspects of sanctification, and I was also asked to give one historical address on lessons we can learn today from John Calvin’s life. We both felt helped and the men were a joy to preach to and quite responsive.

Young People after a Q&A Session

A group of dedicated young people, who sat in the first rows just before the pulpit dressed in beautiful African garb, sang heartily for us periodically throughout the conference. All of these young people listened intensely and were great note-takers.

Unlike the conference in Maputo which was a first, this is the 13th year for this conference. The Protestant and evangelical church in Mozambique is still quite young in many parts, especially in the north part of the country where this conference is being held. In many places the church is only in its second generation. This is due in part to Mozambican Christians being severely persecuted for many years at the hands of a Marxist government.

Preaching in Mozombique

On Sunday I preached in an all-black Dutch Reformed church on the outskirts of Maputo, with a handful of white missionaries present. The thirty-minute journey from the motel to the church, often over bumpy roads, enabled me to see the poor sections of Maputo. The church itself is a large structure built by some Dutch Reformed South Africans at their mission’s expense. A new pastor named Gabriel was installed a few weeks ago. Gabriel and his wife come from a rural ministry. They are sweet, humble, warm, and welcoming people; every indication I have and heard indicates that they will do very well in this church, God helping them.

The church service was 2 ¼ hours long. The first 1 ¼ hours was largely singing: first, congregational singing, then about 100 children singing, followed by the older women singing, and then the younger women singing. The congregational singing consisted largely of the psalms; the songs sung by the three groups were not, but the words were edifying, though a bit repetitious for our Western standards. Typical of the Africans, the congregation sings with all their heart and with their bodies as well, which includes lots of clapping, constant moving of the feet, and swaying of the body. Some of the women also sing at certain points with a very high-pitched “warble” (I don’t know how to describe it) that is very unique and quite beautiful.

I preached about how Christ plants and grows faith in the hearts of His own through the story of the Canaanitish woman. My translator, who was a young elder in the congregation with a humble disposition, had lived in Australia for a year or two, so knew English fairly well, but it was still quite a struggle. I realized early on that I had to really cut back on my sermon and make every sentence incredibly simple if my sermon was going to go forward. But he did the best he could, and thanked me for the honor and opportunity of translating my sermon.

About 250 people were present—110 women, 100 children, and 40 men. The lack of many men is typical of African churches. This makes male office-bearing leadership a real problem in many churches; consequently, many churches have moved to women serving in all three offices. Happily, this church still has enough able men to serve, and hasn’t been tempted to move in the direction of female office-bearers. They seemed like a rather competent group of men, too—including three elders in their 30’s, one of whom did a very good job of leading the liturgy for the service.

After the service, the congregation wanted to sing their gratitude to me, so they all passed by me, everyone singing heartily as they shook my hand one by one. The elder explained to me that this is their way of saying “thank you so much for bringing us the Word so that we can praise and worship God.”

Then the consistory members gathered for prayer. The pastor addressed me for about five minutes, expressing heartfelt gratitude for the sermon. He said, “So many people in our culture and even in the church are prone to turn to witch doctors after praying to God doesn’t seem to help, so the example of the Canaanitish woman pressing on in waiting on Christ, has great spiritual benefit for our congregation.” Once again, I was struck at how God often uses His Word in cross-cultural situations in ways that the preacher never even thought about before he preached, or even in the act of preaching. How versatile the preached Word is under the guiding hand of the sermon’s internal minister, the Holy Spirit!

Rev. Gabriel and Three Elders