Charles Woodrow presents the latest news from Nampula, Mozambique.
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and se knows those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:7)
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. (Psalm 23:4–5)
Nahum expresses the principle that the life of David illustrated time and again. How encouraging to reflect on the truth that amidst all the disappointments and uncertainties of this present time, we have the same refuge that David ran into centuries ago, the same bulwark that sheltered him in even the most desperate of circumstances.
For American Christians, it is sad to see the year stretching out before us marred so soon by the foolish actions of those on both sides of the political divide in our country. God’s people will be disappointed if they hope to find an acceptable refuge searching amongst the institutions of unregenerate men! Though mourning what is happening in the world around us, we Christians take comfort in our true refuge, the God who once used the vilest deeds of men to bring about a spectacular and sudden deliverance from Satan, sin, self, and death! May he continue to manifest in our day his power to bring good out of bad, just as he so often did in the life of David!
In this report I will relate what God has been doing in the church to bring good things out of bad circumstances. Just as COVID-19 was used in a completely unimagined manner to finally launch our medical ministry, God has blessed our church with unprecedented growth during the very year it was not allowed to meet for seventeen consecutive weeks! Truly God is still in the business of preparing bountiful tables before his children, even under the scowls of threatening circumstances.
But first I want to mention an urgent prayer request and our great need on two fronts for people to join us here in Nampula.
Urgent Need for Prayer!
The prayer request relates to a pending verdict from a court case by which twenty acres of land I purchased five years ago for $120,000, and have developed with funds taken from my retirement account, is about to be returned to someone who had the land before it became city property in 2009—six years before it was finally sold to me by the person who bought it from the city in 2010.
When I acquired this property for future missionary housing and as a possible conference venue, it was still an undeveloped swamp and wasteland, but it was in a prime location just ten minutes from our hospital. During the past five years my workers have transformed it into a beautiful estate where future missionary associates can build their homes and where conferences and church functions can be held. First, they drained the swamp through a 500-foot-long subsoil drain, then put up a 4,000-foot perimeter enclosure, installed electricity from a half mile away together with public lighting, drilled a water well, put in a water distribution system, made more drains to protect against flooding, and built roads and bridges for access. Apart from the borehole, everything was done by hand with the help of one truck.
Now a judge has said she intends to return this land to the man who owned it eleven years ago when it was still a swampy, undeveloped wasteland because of a paperwork error committed by the city bureaucrats when the property was turned over to them by the national government. This is a complaint that has already been heard eight times by different tribunals which have always sided with the city (and me) in the dispute, but it has come up again in a new court, and this judge is not taking any of the previous decisions into consideration. She has made clear her intentions of transferring the land to the plaintiff, though we are still awaiting the final written decision.
The city has no means of compensating me for the consequence of this paperwork error, which they say they never corrected because the courts repeatedly upheld their position and they thought that resolved the matter. So, depending on how the judge decides, I could lose over $300,000, the lion’s share of the retirement Julie and I accumulated over the years (should we ever cease working!), and the mission loses this excellent resource for future missionaries and ministry.
Please pray that this loss will be averted. In my 31 years in Africa I have been unjustly brought before many tribunals. The motive in every instance has been to transfer money from the “rich” foreigner to a “poor” Mozambican. Any pretext will do. I am grateful for the integrity of the judges who have vindicated me in every instance with no hint of wanting extra incentive, but I always feel vulnerable and ask my lawyer when I get the next summons, “Is this an honest judge?” In this case, for the very first time, my lawyer answered immediately to the contrary.
So please pray with Julie and me as we face this unwelcome circumstance. I have been in many tight situations over the years in Mozambique, but never before have I prayed so earnestly about something over so long a time!
A Plea for Medical Associates
Thanks to a huge assist from the COVID-19 “crisis” in Mozambique, our hospital building is now fully operational and serving as the primary COVID-19 referral centre for our province of nearly six million persons. Recently, I was informed that our centre must expect to meet the COVID-19 needs for the entire northern four provinces of the country. This is the task of the health department, but we are involved in it since they are using our facility at our expense. Thankfully, the number of cases is relatively low, but it is increasing of late. Currently we have nine patients in the hospital, some of them gasping for air, and in the last week there were four deaths from respiratory fatigue. Here, people cannot die comfortably, unconscious, on a ventilator.
Once this situation passes, we will be free to open our facility as a surgical hospital. A sister pharmaceutical importation company has been founded by friends of the mission and registered so we can import the medications the hospital will need. Now we await issuance of our license, which the National Pharmacy Board says is on a fast track thanks to a directive from the Health Minister.
We also have a well-qualified, experienced surgeon preparing to join us after he separates from the U.S. Army in May, but we do not expect that family to be on the ground in Nampula until the latter part of 2022.
We urgently need more associates. For the hospital to function well, we are beseeching God to call and equip the following persons:
- general medical doctors;
- someone to maintain the hospital’s physical plant; and
- an administrator willing to promote and direct development of the centre to a 400-bed facility.
Grace Medical will soon be contacting supporters about how you can help us find these valuable resources. In the meantime, please pray!
Great Need: A Church Planting Missionary
The mission has long needed a trained, experienced pastor to help with the church work.
As you will see in the church report:
- we need someone who can train men who are already studying in good Reformed seminaries in Brazil and the United States and want help establishing Bible training institutes locally;
- we need someone who can help start an association of autonomous Evangelical churches for pastors who find themselves increasingly marginalised by their denominations because of embracing what they learn from our conferences and literature;
- our own church leaders need someone who can teach them much more about the role of a pastor/elder and about Bible study, preaching, and ministering;
- our young people need someone who can give them the spiritual attention many of them actively seek;
- the women need encouragement from dedicated, experienced godly wives and mothers who themselves have benefitted from good examples in mature churches;
- the conference and literature ministry needs qualified instructors who could continue training promising contacts made at the conferences and bookstore.
Our people are not holding back for lack of this assistance. For years they have been actively organising reading clubs, seminars, conferences, WhatsApp discussion groups and the like. Having no help from mature, trained leaders forces them to take all the initiative in their own spiritual growth and their ministries. This is good in one sense, but I regret the neglect that I see across the board, that is, all the things our people could know but do not because there is no trained leader giving them his undivided attention and advanced instruction.
Please pray with us for a qualified church planting missionary.
This has been an exciting year for the church. For the seventeen weeks before COVID-19 restrictions shut down church gatherings, we were averaging 36 adults at the Sunday services and we had 23 members. We were prepared when the COVID-19 restrictions appeared and immediately went to WhatsApp services where all the elements of the worship were uploaded to a WhatsApp group that existed only for the Sunday service. Up to 12 persons were allowed to meet in outdoor areas, so the church broke up into small groups that met under trees or large patios scattered throughout the city. Someone in each area would have a smart phone and everyone would listen to the service at the appointed time in groups all over town. To our surprise, attendance during this time increased by 36%, with an average of 49 adults each Sunday. This was in part because people from other churches began joining us for lack of other opportunities. Others who could not make the long hike to the mission could easily meet with a small group near their home. Most gratifying were a few people from far-off districts, customers from our bookstore who normally had no viable options at all for Sunday worship, who joined the group and were delighted to finally have a church family with which to worship, albeit remotely.
The first two weeks after live services resumed, the numbers fell back to pre-COVID-19 figures, but then quickly rose as people found their way to the outdoor meetings at the mission, averaging the same 49 figure over the next 22 Sundays despite losing those people who could only participate electronically. So, to our surprise, during all the COVID-19 restrictions, church attendance actually increased by 36% and has remained there!
Even more gratifying, at the outset we had 23 members, but during this time of COVID-19 restrictions, 13 people requested membership and completed the discipleship series required for joining the church. After years of averaging 20–25 members because of constant losses offsetting new additions, including many much-loved members who helped start a sister church across town two years ago, we now have 36 members, a surprising 57% increase during COVID-19! Seven people were baptised during this time, and there are still six persons being discipled with the desire to become members, and there are several faithful visitors who I expect will soon seek membership!
For us, the Lord has indeed prepared a bountiful table in the presence of adverse circumstances, blessings that, ironically, exceed those we knew during years of relative ease!
Proposed Religious “Liberty” Laws
From what I hear, diverse countries around the world have in recent years enacted legislation intended to restrict religious activity across the board. Though it may only be social media nonsense, I am paying more attention these days to notices blaming the United Nations for promoting a program to rid the world of religion. No proof has been given to support the charges I have heard, but it does increasingly appear our adversary has allies in many high places consciously working together to promote his opposition to truth. Does not the Bible assure us in 1 John 5:19 that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one,” and in Psalm 2:2–3 that “the kings of the earth take counsel together against the LORD and his anointed, saying, ‘Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us!’”?
Surprisingly, after forsaking failed communism with a vengeance twenty-five years ago and eagerly embracing for a time the heady pleasures of democracy, capitalism, and all the liberties enjoyed by free nations, Mozambique also has proposed new legislation on religious “freedom” that is more restrictive than what we experienced our first years here when the country was communist rather than democratic!
One of the worrisome laws being proposed is that “new religious confessions” cannot be practiced in Mozambique unless 60,000 adult Mozambicans, all with their government IDs, appear in person before the authorities confirming they are faithful adherents to the “new confession.” One wonders how a new confession can gain 60,000 adherents if it is not allowed to meet, evangelise, organise, or practice without first being registered, or how 60,000 persons can all appear before the government!
In the proposed legislation, the faith and practice of religious confessions cannot contradict the constitution, laws, and accepted practices of the state and local culture. In other words, religions cannot speak out against culturally accepted activities such as witchcraft or drunkenness, promiscuity or rampant divorce, let alone against worshipping false gods. But if the church cannot speak out against culturally accepted wrongs, it can no longer serve as the conscience of a society, let alone as the salt of the earth, which without savour is no longer fit for divine use.
Laws against “hate speech,” which is described as teachings that cause people to hate anything, also figure in the proposed legislation. To my understanding, this is tantamount to saying that people cannot be caused to love anything either, since if one loves righteousness and truth, for example, he cannot help but hate its opposite, wickedness and deception. God’s hatred of sin is not because he is a God of hate. His very essence and nature is love. But because he loves righteousness, he must hate sin, and this abhorrence is not only stated in Scripture (Proverbs 6:16–19; Psalm 5:5) but is seen in the reality of hell and of Christ’s suffering on the cross.
Also in the proposed legislation, a new church group, such as “The Reformed Evangelical Church of Mozambique,” independent of some already registered church but aligned with an approved religion in Mozambique such as Christianity, must acquire 15,000 adherents before it can hold meetings. But how can a movement grow to 15,000 members if it is forbidden to assemble until it reaches such an inflated critical mass?
The leader of the new church group must have a diploma confirming at least three years of instruction at a recognised institute of religious education. This would have been a problem for the twelve apostles, as it is for almost all Mozambicans and certainly for the animists who make up the vast majority of religious persons in Mozambique!
The founder must also have a letter from the leader of the religious group he no longer aligns with stating that he is fit to start the new church work. It seems unlikely that any church respecting its own doctrine would provide such confirmation for someone who no longer supports the faith and practice of the very church that must commend him to his work before the government! But without that commendation, a new church arising from different convictions cannot meet or function.
A religious body also cannot exist without first presenting proof that it has a building in which to meet. Under no circumstances can this be a building occupied by other entities, as these others cannot have their “freedom from religion” violated by worship services that may be overheard by non-adherents.
It is hard to imagine that such restrictions could ever spring from the hearts and minds of Africans! Africans are probably the most inherently religious of all peoples. Animism still runs deep in the warp and woof of African culture—from the highest political personages down to the poorest of peasants, in the halls of higher learning and even in the temples of most if not all the western religions that have been exported to Africa. These laws against religious expression cannot possibly be applied in the African context where animism is prominent at all levels.
While one can readily appreciate the desire and need of the government to get a handle on religion gone amuck, which is a problem all over the world, one has to believe the effort to smother it altogether must be the agenda of some non-African entity that has the power to foist its will upon those who otherwise would never conceive such anti-African ideas. Everything in the proposed religious law smacks of Western ideology being imposed upon African nations, as is the wont of globalist entities.
Inexplicably, and to my great relief, these restrictions are almost entirely waived for missionaries. Foreigners invited by Mozambicans and sponsored by a recognised religious group in another part of the world may promote and establish their religion in Mozambique relatively unhindered. Of course, the government has complete control over which missionaries are permitted into the country, and foreigners can be ejected at any time for any or no reason, so this provides absolute veto power should the government need to exercise it.
I do not yet think our government is against religion, though it has reason to be concerned about much of what is happening in Mozambique in the name of religion. I am also grateful that the government has allowed ample opportunity for anyone in the country to register his comments about the proposed laws.
But we in Mozambique would be foolish not to heed what threatens to overtake our nation in the days ahead. We must respond to and even prepare for these restrictions before they are thrust upon us by their (Western?) authors.
Our little congregation was miraculously registered by the government 23 years ago as a denomination.
My lawyer says that even if the new legislation is passed, it cannot rescind rights already granted by the government, and that our little “denomination” of 36 members should remain unaffected. So we are now seeking to broaden the umbrella God has granted us, revising our by-laws to accommodate an association of autonomous Reformed Evangelical churches in Mozambique similar to the FIRE movement in the United States or Sola 5 in South Africa, so that biblical churches embracing the five Solas of the Reformation and the cardinal doctrines of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone may have protection from the laws that may one day render other churches incapable of existing.
There is much to pray about in Mozambique, much to be done, and much need for associates. Please remember the prayer items in this letter:
- A trained, experienced church planting missionary.
- Continued religious liberty in Mozambique.
- Praise for church growth despite COVID-19 restrictions.
- Medical associates so the health centre may soon function as a mission hospital.
- That Julie and I may not lose our property and with it our retirement income.
In his service,