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!