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.