Charles Woodrow presents the latest news from Nampula, Mozambique.

22nd Fiel Conference

The dust has finally settled after our conference and seminar season, and I am glad to turn my attention to sending out this report.

A preliminary review of the conference was provided two days after it ended. Since then, we have processed the questionnaires and evaluations filled in by over three hundred of the participants. The surveys provide a treasure trove of information about the doctrinal convictions of our participants and the degree to which the conference and literature ministries are shaping this. A report on this has already been prepared and will be sent out in a couple of weeks for those who are interested in reading it.

This letter is an update on major events since the conference and seminars ended five weeks ago.

Marco and Laura Scouvert

Immediately after the conference I taught two week-long theology seminars for 22 students who stayed on for the six-day course. Soon after that, Julie and I enjoyed a twelve-day visit from Marco and Laura Scouvert, like-minded missionaries serving in South Africa. After working alone in church planting for the past eighteen years, it was a treat to have a seminary trained church planter and Bible teacher on hand to discuss matters related to ministry, family, and daily Christian life!

Our families were brought together by a mutual friend (Pastor Jim Elliff) at the time of my operation early this year when I was looking for someone who could carry on the church ministry in Nampula, at least for a while, if I were unable to return. Though I am glad to be back in the traces, I would relish having a colleague like Marco who could help the church in all the ways I and our other bi-vocational leaders cannot because of lack of time or training. I am sure the church also longs for that!

Visiting our godchildren at the Island of Mozambique, left to right, Carlos and Nelzia Sel, Marco and Laura Scouvert with Abigail and Matthew, Charles and Julie Woodrow

Soon after the Scouverts returned home, Julie and I intended to depart for South Africa for Julie’s shoulder operation in early November. Unfortunately for us, several urgent church matters have constrained us to remain here for the present.

Establishing an Association of Reformed Evangelical Churches—On Paper at Least

One concern that came up unexpectedly and has consumed several weeks was revising our church’s bylaws. This is something that the church has wanted to do since its inception. In 1998, under Communist rule, it was a requirement that all congregations had to be registered with the government before they could hold worship services, own property, or open a bank account. We tried to comply, but we failed to meet the requirement of having five hundred members. Growing a church to five hundred members without being allowed to legally meet is a deliberate Catch 22 circumstance that was devised by the colonial Portuguese regime more than thirty years previously to keep any religion apart from Catholicism from spreading in Mozambique. The communists who took over in 1975 were only too happy to leave this law on the books.

Besides the fact that we did not have five hundred faithful members, another reason we were refused registration was because our Constitution and our Book of Faith and Practice were not in the format required by the government for bylaws. Remarkably, however, after turning down our request to register, the National Director of Religious Affairs studied and appreciated the book of Faith and Practice, and with no further contact from our end, wrote bylaws for our church that carefully followed our manual which he cited repeatedly in his document. He then called to say he was sending an official to Nampula the next weekend to register our church and that we must prepare a big celebration for Saturday. To us this was unbelievable, a miracle that fell out of heaven with no prior inkling on our part! I have heard of no other church before or since that was registered this way or whose bylaws were written by the National Director of Religious Affairs himself! 

However, thankful as we were for this gift from God, we were dismayed that the Director wrote into the bylaws some of his own ideas about the purpose of a church—to preach against alcohol and tobacco and to promote tolerance, to mention a few things sprinkled throughout the document that jarred with the more Christ-centred aims and the Biblical language he incorporated from our own statements.

What compelled us to finally make this global revision to our by-laws now, just as Julie and I were preparing to depart for South Africa, was an urgent request for help from our brothers in Mission Ekklesia, the indigenous Reformed work that we have often written about and have assisted in Nampula since its inception ten years ago. The three leaders were members of our congregation and/or former students in my theology seminar. In recent years these men have earned Masters’ degrees from good Reformed seminaries in Brazil and are opening a Reformed Evangelical seminary in Nampula. However, for the seminary to be credentialed by the government it must be established under a registered church, and we are the only likeminded possibility around that is registered.  They hope to start offering classes in January, hence the need for us to alter our bylaws quickly to include a seminary.

Inserting a few clauses about a seminary is a small task, but guiding the document through the bureaucratic maze to obtain legal status takes weeks. Since we already had to invest so much time in the endeavour, the leaders decided to spend an additional few days extensively revising the bylaws and, most importantly, establishing an association of autonomous Reformed Evangelical churches under our charter. That section alone takes up one third of our new bylaws. The hope is that other like-minded congregations can obtain legal status by joining us through this association of churches.

Providing this opportunity is essential, if it can be done, because, 48 years after obtaining independence, Mozambique is finally rewriting its Religious Regulation Law. After a century of religiously hostile rule by Catholic-minded Portuguese settlers followed by twenty years of control by ardent Marxists, Mozambique became a democracy 28 years ago and adopted a constitution that guarantees religious freedom and the right of Mozambicans to assemble. Yet ironically, the proposed Religious Regulation Law being drawn up by Mozambique’s “democratic” ruling body is even more restrictive to religion than either the Catholic or Marxist regimes were. The Law being considered still forbids the assembly of people in a church that is not registered, but now, instead of needing 500 members before a church can meet legally, it must have two thousand members! And that number may increase even more before the Law is enacted. Such is the attitude governments these days are taking toward Christianity, even in Africa, even in allegedly democratic societies!

I am thankful that during the 33 years I have lived in Mozambique, the government has turned a blind eye to unregistered churches. I hope that policy continues. Still, unregistered churches cannot own land or have a bank account or enter into legal agreements with anyone. Worse, some unregistered churches have been threatened by local officials asking to see their registration papers. These churches are keenly aware that the officials have power to shut them down for operating illegally. Even if the central government tolerates the church’s existence, opportunistic local officials can use the church’s vulnerability under these hostile laws as a means of financial gain. This is typical modus operandi in this part of the world!

As expected, it took several days of work and research to revise the document, but it has taken weeks to get all the signatures in hand and paperwork properly formatted just to get the document past the first rung on the bureaucratic ladder. We would appreciate prayers that this step may be accomplished successfully for the sake of churches that one day may need this connection with us to ward off rapacious government officials, and that the approval can be granted quickly so that the seminary can open in January.

$15,000 Embezzled by Mission Employee

To our shock, we discovered, after the Fiel Conference, that our bookshop attendant sold nearly 1,800 books from the store in the past 16 months without invoices, putting the money in his own pocket and changing the stock in the computer to make the computer say the books never existed. Because the worker had not been taught how to change the inventory in the computer, we assumed this sort of scam could not happen. Since the monthly stock inventories almost always agreed with what the computer said should be on the shelves, we did not detect the deception for a long time. We only became suspicious when we discovered books were sold to friends with no computer invoice being issued. A thorough investigation quickly revealed that what we had discovered through our friends was only the proverbial tip of a very large iceberg.

The worker did not realise that the Mission’s conscientious administrator was making and storing backups of the computer files every month. Comparing consecutive backups and noting the books sold via the computer during each interval revealed the startling fact that one third of the books disappearing from our shop month by month were not paid for—at least, not to the Mission. When the full investigation was completed, the loss to the Mission came to $15,000, or ten times the annual income of a typical Mission employee!

The Mission is requiring full restitution, but as seems to happen with thieves, our worker may have squandered all the money he stole. Apart from $1,100 worth of books we have taken from his own home, we have not found a way to recover anything significant, but we are only starting our enquiries.

We sell the books at cost or even under cost to make them affordable to local believers, so we never have surplus funds from the store to make up for losses that we incur. Our main disappointment financially speaking is that replacing the books sold in the past year will require paying $15,000 beyond what we have received through the sales of the other books. This is just to get us back to what we had on hand before. We also give away hundreds of books away to church leaders who participate in reading clubs that meet monthly to discuss the last book read and receive a new one. We were planning to greatly increase this program for 2024 and will be processing our book order in December for the next year expecting to provide for these many reading groups. We beseech Jehovah Jireh to enable us to recover from this unexpected setback to our plans literature ministry!

Mission Ekklesia’s Proposed Seminary

As noted already, the three seminary-trained brothers with Mission Ekklesia have been strongly encouraged by seminary professors they have met with in Europe and the United States to establish a Reformed seminary in Mozambique. God has raised up these brothers and drawn them to Nampula from various parts of the country, and I can vouch for the fact that they are impressive academically and spiritually. They performed well in their studies at a respected Reformed seminary in Brazil, and two are now working on a second master’s degree. The third was already a university professor with an advanced degree in philosophy before starting his master’s program in theology.

The Ekklesia brothers, local faculty for a new Reformed seminary, left to right Ibrahimo, Timóteo, and Valoi

These men have successfully recruited a number of Portuguese-speaking professors from overseas to help teach students via Internet courses. For those of us who long for the church in Mozambique to embrace the gospel of salvation by grace through faith and establish itself firmly upon a correct understanding of the word of God, this seminary represents a great step in the right direction!

Fees for people who will be starting their seminary studies in January are $150 per semester. The seminary also offers a master’s degree for qualified individuals through Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS) in Grand Rapids, MI. The fees for that course are $100 per month.

Pastor J. A. Paulo

Just this week I was contacted by Pastor Paulo, a former Assembly of God leader, enquiring if I knew how he could receive sponsorship for enrolling in the PRTS master’s course offered through Ekklesia’s seminary. The pastor is a retired high school teacher, yet, like the Apostle Paul, even in his sixties he continues to thirst for a deeper knowledge of God’s word. 

Pastor Joaquim António Paulo

Pastor Paulo has an interesting story. Fifteen years ago, he began attending our Fiel Conferences from 650 miles away. That may not sound like a great distance, but Google says it is an eighteen-hour journey traveling over our kinds of roads. Through the conferences he came to understand the doctrines of grace, but when he began preaching salvation by grace through faith rather than the works salvation his own denomination insists upon, he was soon marginalised. It was not long before he realised that if he wanted to preach the gospel of grace unfettered, he would have to establish an independent congregation—one of those congregations vulnerable to being shut down at any time by unfriendly officials due to not being registered with the government!

For many months, maybe longer, his wife could not understand what had come over her husband. She saw no reason to abandon their former denomination, so he went off to preach in his new church each Sunday while she continued to meet with her friends in their old church. Eventually she began to see the difference between what her husband was teaching from the Bible at home and what she was hearing at church. Once she was fully convinced of salvation by grace through faith, she joined her husband’s ministry and has supported him ever since.

Even while teaching high school and pastoring a church, this man completed a law degree. Despite his varied qualifications, since retiring from teaching he has devoted himself full time to ministry to his own and other congregations. He continues to travel to the Fiel Conferences bringing with him pastor friends he is influencing, signing them up for my post conference seminar.

One of our own church members was transferred to his city for a year, so we put the two of them in touch. Our member was thankful to be in this man’s congregation and learned much from him.

During my phone conversation with this pastor, I mentioned that while I longed to see him have this opportunity to learn even more, I wanted to be sure we had money for the 2024 book order, the 2024 Fiel Conference, and all the new reading groups we hope to establish this year before starting a fund for sponsoring students in Ekklesia’s seminary programs! However, I am happy to pass along his story for those who might have other priorities. The total cost would be $1,000 a year for three years.

A brief interview with Pastor Paulo is part of the video “Faithful” prepared by Tim Challies. At 19:30 in the video, he serves as a spokesman for many other Mozambicans explaining how through the conference ministry he came to realise there were serious errors in the message he and others were preaching to their congregations.

Church and Family News

We are thankful that Julie’s shoulder pain has been manageable for the lengthy time she has had to wait for her operation. Relief from the steroid injections should have worn off months ago, so we ascribe the good results to the prayers of God’s people. Unfortunately, other joints are wearing out too, and sometimes we wonder if their complaints are not simply drowning out the cries still being sent to her brain by the damaged shoulder! Julie’s operation has been scheduled for 7 December. Please pray that this time it can truly take place!

I am well after my own operation last February. When I resumed my old aerobic workouts ten weeks after my coronary bypass procedure, I was amazed to discover how weak I was! It has taken months of training to do even half of what I used to do when I had a bad heart. Fondly I hoped that the three additional vessels sending blood and oxygen to my myocardium would result in more speed and energy for both work and exercise, but unfortunately my dreams of a turbo-charged pump and ramped-up ministry have not yet been realised! It appears age is taking away strength faster than the operation and physical training can give it back.

The past months have been a time of increased spiritual need for people all around us. The worker in our bookshop is not a member of our church but is nevertheless a soul we formerly looked upon as secure in Christ. Now we wonder and are dismayed. There is another presumed believer on our team, also from another church, who has systematically stolen from us as well for two years, though in a much-restricted way because of limited opportunity. His recurrent transgressions only came to light in the past week.

And there are souls in our own fellowship that for months have needed special on-going attention. Applying the word of God to their circumstances is not the hard part. I am keenly aware that pastoring them, wooing them, encouraging and loving them into a position of spiritual strength is beyond the pale of men operating alone. We pray for God to work, even against their will, to make them will and do according to His good pleasure. That is a task only God can perform, though somehow pastors must attempt to do it too. For months, Julie and I have been praying for success to this end for several in our congregation. We would appreciate your prayers in their behalf.


I hope this account has given you a glimpse of what the Lord continues to do here in north Mozambique even during our “slow” time of year. I trust readers can appreciate the momentum that is building on the one hand, and Satan’s attempts to thwart God’s work on the other. We appreciate prayer for these many individuals and ministries and are so thankful to God and to you for your ongoing interest and the generous financial help that makes these ministries possible!

Thank you for your prayers and support,

Charles Woodrow