I expected our trip to Mozambique to be challenging. What I didn’t expect was that my assistant would be arrested before we had hardly started!
|Water was collected from a river several kilometers away. Providing enough was a continual challenge, as was feeding the group.|
|Training delegates and their families gather during Easter 2011.|
|A Bible is a precious gift.|
|Pastor Mariano is "taxied" to church services.|
|The late Domingos Rede with his wife and youngest child outside their home in Chimoio.|
I had asked a friend, pastor Daniel Fernandes from Lisbon, Portugal, to accompany me as translator in Portuguese-speaking Mozambique. Daniel had arrived in Johannesburg that morning, and we left immediately, full of excitement, expectation and hope. But the moment we crossed from South Africa into Zimbabwe on our way to Mozambique, the Zimbabwean border police arrested him. It was not a promising start.
But I am getting ahead of my story. Why were we going to Mozambique?
Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony, situated on the eastern coast of southern Africa. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. About 10 years ago, Domingos Rede, a teacher in Mozambique, felt God calling him to preach to the people of Mozambique. He left his profession and enrolled in a theological college. He built a small church out of mud bricks and grass in his home town and started evangelizing even before finishing his formal studies. He called his fellowship “Maranatha Action Church” (M.A.C.)
Domingos was an evangelist in the truest sense. He and his family would move into a village where he hoped to plant a church. They would build themselves a small hut from branches, mud and thatch, and live and work among the villagers, telling them through action and word of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Three or four months later, he would move on, leaving behind a small church, cared for by an appointed deacon and served by one of his regional pastors. He had no means of income, but God always provided, even though they did at times go to bed hungry. Wherever he went, many responded to his message. After seven years M.A.C. had 54 congregations in the central and northern Mozambique provinces of Manica, Sofala, Tete and Zambesia.
In 2007, Domingos attended a non-denominational conference in South Africa where he met one of our GCI pastors, Caleb Makhela. They exchanged telephone numbers but did not keep in touch. About two years later in October 2009, Domingos felt moved to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, and preach there. He could give no logical explanation as to why, and he had no money to make the nearly 3000-kilometer journey. He sold his mobile phone for bus fare and set out. After traveling through Zimbabwe and into South Africa, he arrived in a little town called Louis Trichardt. He remembered that Caleb lived close to Louis Trichardt, and he still had his phone number. So he gave him a call, asking if Caleb could put him up for the night.
As pastors do, Caleb and Domingos started chatting theology. Caleb gave Domingos our booklets titled Statement of Beliefs, Transformed by Truth, and An Introduction to Trinitarian Theology. Domingos stayed up all night reading. The following day he explained to Caleb that he and his church board had been praying that God lead them to a fellowship with a sound theology that would be willing to affiliate with them and provide them guidance, structure, governance and accountability. Until he read GCI’s literature, he had not found a fellowship whose theology he fully agreed with. He told Caleb that he wanted to meet with the GCI leadership in South Africa. and discuss the possibility of affiliating with us.
Looking for a spiritual home
When I met with Domingos, I was at first skeptical. So often in Africa, churches want to affiliate with larger organizations for financial gain. I told Domingos that if he was looking for money, he had come knocking on the wrong door. In fact, if he affiliated with us, he would fall under our financial model and would probably have to pay a portion of Mozambique’s income to our National Office. (At that stage I had not fully realized just how poor Mozambique really was). He never blinked, just insisting that all he was looking for was training, governance and accountability. He didn’t want his church to go the way of so many others in Africa, where the leader introduced his own thoughts on theology and led his flock astray, or where it became focused on the leader rather than God.
I also explained to Domingos that affiliation was not something that we rushed into. We would go through an “engagement” period to see if we were compatible and if both groups got along. I suggested that he go back and explain the situation to his board, and that I would do the same. Then I would travel to Mozambique and visit his churches personally.
In February 2010, Caleb Makhela and I went to Mozambique to meet Domingos on his home ground. We traveled the country with him, visiting and speaking in 44 churches over 10 days. The welcome we received at each congregation was truly heart-warming, and the spiritual unity was overwhelming.
It was only then that the poverty of the country really hit home to me. All the members are subsistence farmers, growing maize, which when ground and boiled makes up their staple diet. This is their breakfast and dinner, cooked without salt or any other spice or sauce. Lunch is unheard of. Their only drink is water, drawn from a local river or one of the boreholes the government has installed in certain regions. Perhaps once a fortnight they slaughter a chicken, which provides a little protein to their diet. On one occasion we were presented with “tea,” which was simply boiled water with a teaspoon of sugar added. But these people were sincere and genuine and they did want to be associated with us.
We decided that we would formalize our association in August 2010, when Domingos was to have attended a pastoral training session in South Africa. The day before I left to attend the international GCI conference, in July, in the USA, I phoned him to check that he had received the funds that I had wired to cover his travel expenses. He wished me a safe trip, and told me that he and the members in Mozambique would be praying for a successful conference.
When I arrived in Orlando, I was shocked and saddened to learn that Domingos had passed away, probably due to a malaria relapse. Not only had I lost a good friend, but I had lost our channel of communication with Mozambique, since the primary language there is Portuguese. Domingos was the only member in Mozambique who spoke any English.
Thanks to 21st-century technology, however, I was able to use Blackberry and Google translation programs to reply to the frantic messages from those Domingos left behind in Mozambique. I reassured them that our relationship would continue and that I would see them again as soon as it could be arranged. I was able to return to Mozambique in September 2010, when with the advice and approval of their church board, I appointed Pastor Mariano Binzi as their new leader. Even though the affiliation process had not yet been formalized, they already considered themselves fully GCI.
One thing I realized on my first visit was the importance of training the pastors in basic theology. Some of the Mozambican pastors did not even have Bibles when I first met them. Since then, we have provided them with Bibles, and with the generous help of our Canadian churches, we have been able to plan a pastoral training program. We have also been able to bring in a leader and translator from our small congregation in Portugal. Enter Daniel Fernandes, who is originally from Mozambique, although he left as a young child.
I picked up Daniel from the Johannesburg airport at 6 a.m. on the Wednesday before Easter and left immediately for Louis Trichardt, where we picked up Caleb Makhela. The three of us then set out for Mutare in Zimbabwe, where we could spend the night at the home of one of our Zimbabwean pastors, Emmerson Gova.
At the Beitbridge border-post, we stood in queues for about five hours. As we were finally cleared to drive into Zimbabwe, Daniel was greeted with his first African sunset. He took out his camera and snapped two pictures of trees with the sun setting behind them.
Unfortunately, we were still in a restricted area where cameras were not allowed, and the Zimbabwe CID pounced, arresting him on the spot. They took him into a back room, confiscated his passport and camera, and told him he would have to appear before a magistrate the next day.
I realized what the border officials were really after when they started rubbing thumb and forefinger together! I told them we were pastors and were unwilling to pay any sort of bribe. I also threatened to phone the Portuguese embassy. This was more trouble than they wanted, so they made Daniel delete the pictures, and we were on our way again. We arrived at Pastor Gova’s home some time after midnight, waking him by throwing stones onto his roof!
We left Mutare early the next morning, traveling through into Mozambique and eventually arriving in Morrumbala, in northern Mozambique, just before midnight on Thursday. Most of the conference attendees had already arrived and were dancing the night away in praise and worship. After a warm and touching welcome, we crept off to our hut to sleep. The music and dancing continued into the early hours of the morning. African Christians know a lot about the joy of salvation.
The next day we found that instead of the 54 delegates we were expecting, more than 350 had arrived! They had brought their reed mats with them and most were sleeping under the stars, without even blankets to keep them warm. What a humbling experience to see this thirst and sacrifice for understanding.
We also discovered that since my last visit in September 2010, an additional 33 churches had been planted, bringing the total to 87 congregations. Even without Domingos, the spreading of the gospel in Mozambique was continuing.
We spent the next four days in fellowship, song, praise and teaching. The Mozambican leaders hungrily drank in and accepted all we had to say. On Sunday, in a deeply moving ceremony, we formalized the affiliation and welcomed our brothers and sisters from Mozambique into the GCI fellowship. We took communion with them, which was a first-time experience for most.
Please remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in Mozambique. The challenges they face are many. There is little or no formal transport system, making it very difficult for our leaders there to visit churches and members. Bicycles are often used to travel hundreds of kilometers over rugged terrain. Disease is rife. The average life expectancy is at least 20 years below the world average. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. We now have about 2500 members there, not one of whom are employed or have any means of income. They are all subsistence farmers and live day-to-day, hand-to-mouth, scratching a living out of the harsh African soil.
The Bibles we give them are their most valued possessions, and they are hungry for more knowledge and understanding. I continually find their joy and love a source of great inspiration, and a radiant reminder of what our faith is all about. Their hearts and prayers are with all their new brothers and sisters around the world, as I know yours are with them!