Ministry Update: Comhunão dos Crentes em Cristo (Nampula, Mozambique) (February 2020)

Greetings, friends

This report will present exciting developments taking place in the reading programs springing up around Mozambique through the work of Mission Ekklesia using material supplied by Grace Missions. Today, there are reading circles in Mozambique’s three largest cities and in a fourth historic town, Mozambique Island. The latter is one of the oldest European settlements in Africa, site of the oldest Catholic chapel still standing on the continent, and the island from which the entire country receives its name. In coming months, Ekklesia expects to open two more reading circles, one of which will be in Mozambique’s northernmost provincial capital. At that point, there will be reading circles spanning the entire 1,000-mile length of this country.

The readers in these circles are members of evangelical churches who have come into contact with sound Bible doctrine through the nation-wide conferences of Grace Missions and Editora Fiel, and lately the provincial youth conferences of Mission Ekklesia. Each circle is led by an enthusiastic proponent of the literature discovered through Grace Missions’ outreach over the years by believers who are zealous to bring the gospel of grace to all the churches of Mozambique. Grace Missions currently is donating 88 books monthly to these circles, but in some places three persons must avail themselves of the same copy. Already we are unable to keep up with the demand, and we are praying that God will provide the resources to enable this multiplication to continue without restriction.

For decades I have maintained monthly, weekly, and daily prayer lists—until three years ago when the lists became so long most daily requests had to be scaled back to twice weekly. Since then, of the hundreds of matters slated for regular prayer, only one request remains on the list for daily intercession—that God would provide the finances to keep these ministries expanding, so that the grace of God in salvation might be understood and appropriated by all Mozambicans both inside and outside the church to the glory of Jesus Christ. The latter sentiment is the motivation for all our ministries here, but especially the literature outreach.

This report will also touch on the current status of Editora Fiel’s literature distribution ministry in northern Mozambique, called the “Adopt a Pastor” (or AAP) Ministry, and our own bookstore outreach.

For perspective, this is the longevity of the various literature ministries reviewed here:

  • Editora Fiel’s “Adopt a Pastor” (AAP) reading program—22 years.
  • Fiel Conferences—20 years.
  • Book store and reading room—17 years.
  • Theology seminars—15 years.
  • Ekklesia reading circles—8 years.
  • Ekklesia magazine—5 years.
  • Ekklesia youth conferences—3 years.

The birth of the Mozambique literature outreach

From the beginning of Grace Missions’ existence, obtaining good literature for the Mozambique church was one of our highest priorities. Soon after visiting the country for the first time in 1985 I contacted various Brazilian publishing houses requesting their book lists. I was delighted to discover Editora Fiel (Faithful Publishers), a Reformed Evangelical press which was translating and publishing hundreds of Reformation classics.

Richard Denham, founder of Editora Fiel, was a conservative Baptist missionary to Brazil trained at Bob Jones University who came to know and love the doctrines of grace through reading the old Puritan and Reformed books being re-introduced to contemporary Christendom by Martin Lloyd-Jones and the Banner of Truth Trust in England. Like the Mozambicans we work with today, he could scarcely believe these fundamental truths had been lost for so long in the churches he knew. So essential were they in correctly understanding the gospel of grace that he was compelled to provide this literature to all the churches in Brazil, and thus Editora Fiel came into existence.

Prior to coming to Mozambique in 1990, I wrote Editora Fiel to order a large supply of their books for the container we were filling with medical equipment. Richard Denham himself responded to my request with joy and encouragement, and thus began the Editora Fiel / Grace Missions partnership in Mozambique, which now includes also the indigenous ministry “Mission Ekklesia” organised by Mozambican brothers awakened to the full glory of the gospel by the same literature that had so inspired Brother Denham.

Once in Mozambique I set up the shelves of Portuguese literature in the front room of our apartment as a lending library for local pastors. These shelves were the seed that thirteen years later gave rise to the Biblioteca Fiel or Faithful Reading Room, the only Christian bookstore I knew of outside the capital 900 miles away.

For us, the purpose of this literature ministry has always been to help Christians understand their Bible better and walk in its light, and it includes much more than only the Bible’s instruction on the gospel. However, under the Catholic Portuguese regime until 1975, and the ardently communist Mozambican regime that followed from ’75 to ’92, even Bibles were unavailable to the local church. So for the first eight years of our existence here we were importing mainly Bibles and hymnals. The six-dollar Bibles were distributed for $1.00 each from the surgical block of the 120-bed government hospital where I worked three miles outside the city of Nampula. According to the laws in effect at that time, it was not permissible for even a pastor to pray out loud at the bedside of one of his own parishioners. Yet, being the only physician at this rural facility and one of the few certified surgeons in the entire country, my openly evangelistic approach to medical care was happily tolerated in exchange for the health services being provided.

Evangelism in those years consisted of preaching evangelistic services every week in the main hall of the hospital, conducting evangelistic rounds on the wards, distributing Bible portions in the clinic, and selling Bibles from the surgical block. Those opportunities helped make this period the most satisfying years of my entire life.

Teaming up with Editora Fiel from Brazil

Major events took place in 1998. The demand for surgery at the government hospital finally exceeded the capacity of the single-theater surgical block; the mission was granted authorisation to build its own surgical hospital within the city of Nampula; and I closed down the medical-evangelistic work to give my full attention to building the new hospital which in my mind was going to greatly expand both the medical and the evangelistic opportunities.

But in the church work I was discouraged at the slow development of the people in our congregation, most of whom were nearly or completely illiterate and many of whom could not even understand spoken Portuguese. After eight frustrating years, I promised the Lord I would continue my attempts to feed these people, but pleaded with him to send me some people on a fast track spiritually. This became a regular prayer request, and very soon, out of the blue for me, Richard Denham called from Brazil asking for help getting Fiel’s literature outreach going in Mozambique. Every month Fiel was distributing free books to scores of pastors throughout Brazil, and now they wanted to help the Evangelical pastors in Mozambique too. So it was that this frustrated surgeon-pastor became accessory to an exciting ministry which by its very nature focused on Evangelical leaders and literate believers who esteemed the knowledge available through books—people on a fast track spiritually!

Within a year, the first pastors on the program began receiving 36 free books spread out over three years. Two years later the first of 20 annual Fiel Conferences took place in Nampula hosted by myself and Karl Peterson, a like-minded associate helping Fiel from the capital. For that first conference, Richard Denham flew in from Brazil with boxes and boxes of literature, study Bibles, and reference materials which he made available to the pastors for pennies on the dollar. For the 83 church leaders attending, this was a glorious, unexpected, and previously unimaginable opportunity. The books were quickly bought up, and the need became evident for a bookstore that could provide good literature at great discounts so that poor Mozambicans could afford it. Three years later our Biblioteca Fiel opened on the main street of downtown Nampula, selling the Christian classics and more modern titles for 33–50% of what they cost us to obtain.

“Fast-track” Christians helped by the literature work

Among the “fast-track” Christians we have been privileged to know and help through the literature work have been the leaders of Mission Ekklesia.

Timóteo Bila in the capital discovered Reformation doctrines on the Internet, using the university computer for some “extracurricular” research. What he read shocked him to the point of conducting his own careful investigation. Once convinced, he began devouring Fiel literature, having connected with my associate in Maputo, Karl Peterson, who distributed Fiel books there. Then he traveled the length of the country to attend our Fiel conference in Nampula, and finally moved to Nampula to found Mission Ekklesia for the purpose of bringing Reformation to the churches in northern Mozambique. In time, he and his wife joined our congregation.

Another Ekklesia leader, Ernesto Valoi, is the professor of philosophy at the local university. He was trained in the capital and in Portugal and was sent to teach in Nampula. He was a Methodist thirsting for Bible knowledge, and his first year in Nampula he promptly signed up for the Fiel Conference where he met Bila. Though at first Valoi stoutly resisted salvation by grace, Bila gave him a suitcase full of Reformed literature and by the time he finished it, Valoi was transformed doctrinally. Eventually, he and his wife also joined our congregation.

A third Ekklesia leader, Ibrahimo Hâmido, was a professor of English and a leader in a local Baptist church movement which also resists the idea of salvation by grace rather than merit—but his hunger to understand the Bible led him to our conferences where he signed up for the 36-book reading program and enrolled in my systematic theology course, bringing his wife with him. An independent thinker, he challenged many points during the first days of the course, but ended up convinced, and today he is a leader in the Reformation movement here and pastors a local Baptist church.

These men have all subsequently completed their coursework at a conservative Reformed seminary in Brazil earning Masters degrees in Biblical Theology (Valoi), Theology and Christian Philosophy (Bila), and Pastoral Theology and Preaching (Ibrahimo) to be awarded upon successful completion of their theses.

Abel Chau works in an Evangelical bookstore in the capital, Maputo. In 2012 the nation-wide Fiel Conference Karl and I had been hosting for thirteen years split into two events, a southern conference in Maputo and a northern conference here in Nampula. Abel attended the Maputo Conference where he learned things never mentioned in any of the works-based churches he had belonged to. He began investigating carefully these truths from the Bible, sought out helpful sermons from Reformed pastors on the Internet, and soon became an avid reader of Spurgeon’s sermons and likeminded teachers of today, particularly John MacArthur and John Piper.

Another man whose story impresses me is Stélio Custema. His growth in grace in a spiritually hostile environment, fueled solely by the literature that fell into his hands coupled with his Bible and the staying power of the Holy Spirit, followed by the fruitful ministry God has granted him today, stirs sympathy, joy, and praise to God—so much so that I will devote the entire report next month to his present ministry. His spiritual odyssey also led him to our church before he went on to serve at the Island of Mozambique.

A sixth fast-tracker is Calton Manuel, a dedicated scholar who made the high score on the college entrance exams in his year. He started his search for God in a local health and prosperity church imported to Mozambique from Brazil, because prosperity, not God, was what he really wanted. Members in our church helped him see the error of that approach and won him over to our congregation just in time for him to volunteer to serve at the 2012 Fiel Conference. He says the messages he heard transformed him, stirring a longing in his heart to draw near to God just for the surpassing value of knowing him, not for the many other blessings he supplies. He signed up for the systematic theology seminar which overwhelmed him in a different way, revolutionising his thinking about salvation just as the conference had transformed his attitude about knowing God. A year later he was simultaneously in Ekklesia’s first reading circle and in Fiel’s AAP book ministry, consuming two volumes every month of Puritan and Reformed literature. But that was still not enough for this hungry student. He signed up for courses from the International College of Reformed Theology out of Brazil and in time completed 75% of their curriculum, all while taking a full load of university classes and participating in two serious reading programs with Ekklesia and Editora Fiel.

These are only some of the men who have been transformed through the literature ministry, but I mention them because each is today a leader of a reading circle started by Mission Ekklesia.

The ministry of Mission Ekklesia

From the founding of Mission Ekklesia in 2012, Bila was concerned that some men receiving free books were not sufficiently motivated to read them consistently, or to interact with them as they read, or to apply what the books taught from the Bible. His vision was to have reading circles where participants would meet monthly to debate and discuss the contents of the last book as a prerequisite to receiving their next one. This sounded good to me, and I offered to supply the books if Bila rounded up the readers. And so Mission Ekklesia launched its first reading circle in 2013, meeting at the Biblioteca Fiel.

The books these men study are significant. The first book is usually J. I. Packer’s essay on the old vs. new gospel first published by Banner of Truth Trust as the preface to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will is another, along with John Owen’s Mortification of Sin and A. W. Pink’s The Sovereignty of God. J. C. Ryle is a favorite author, as are contemporary writers R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, Paul Washer, D. A. Carson, and Mark Dever.

Ekklesia also publishes its own 80-page catechism on the doctrine of salvation and has produced an annual magazine for the past five years. The leaders serve as speakers at both the Maputo and Nampula Fiel Conferences and for three years have organised provincial conferences of their own attended by 280–300 young people. One year ago, two of their leaders were commissioned by our congregation to establish, along with a third Ekklesia leader, Osílio Chambal, an indigenous church plant called Gospel of Grace Church.

Fiel’s AAP reading program

Ekklesia’s literature program cannot be offered as widely as we wish because of the necessity for a large supply of books. But Editora Fiel’s “Adopt a Pastor” literature program sponsored by donors in the U.S. and Brazil is also active in north Mozambique. In this program select church leaders receive 36 free books over three years and submit reports to their sponsors on what they are learning.

Ekklesia leader Ernesto Valoi oversees this program for Mozambique’s northern three provinces, with administrative assistance supplied by my colleague. There are 26 church leaders on the program now, down from previous years, but 29 more who signed up at the last Fiel Conference are waiting to join as soon as Fiel can find sponsors for them. This will get the program back to the level where it has been in the past. To sponsor a pastor on this program go to here.

In this program, pastors travel to a central location in their province once every three months for a three-hour meeting in which they discuss the contents of the previous three books they received, write thank-you letters to their sponsors, and receive the books for the next three months.

Valoi has organised the titles available to him in a logical sequence according to theme:

His series starts with an investigation into the true gospel using J. I. Packer’s monograph on the “old” versus “new” gospel, What is the Gospel? (9Marks), The Truth of the Cross (Sproul), The Bondage of the Will(Luther), and Declared Innocent (Buchanan). He then covers the sovereignty of God: Chosen by God (Sproul), and The Sovereignty of God (Pink).

Then the atonement: For Whom Did Christ Die (Owen), and A Man Called Jesus (Piper).

Then the readers move on to sanctification with books on law and gospel, and so on.

The men often develop close friendships as they read and study together, and Valoi’s hope is that these meetings will develop into ongoing fraternals where leaders from various denominations can continue to exhort one another to apply the principles they have learned together and encourage each other when they encounter resistance.

One influential regional leader in a prominent charismatic denomination, who has brought many to our conferences in recent years and who had taken my systematic theology course without being entirely convinced, was especially excited at one meeting about what he had learned in the previous three books. He declared that these truths could no longer be ignored but must be proclaimed clearly to all Christians. Valoi was delighted, as this is the response we expect when people carefully compare what they are reading with what their Bibles actually say. But a few months later this pastor had throttled back his enthusiasm, most notably when colleagues from his own denomination were near.

Experience with this group of churches has shown that when their pastors begin to speak out in favor of basic Biblical truths such as salvation by grace or the preservation of the saints, they are quickly attacked and silenced. Their only options are to conform their beliefs to the prevailing opinions of their associates; to maintain their beliefs privately while trying to fly below the radar; to stand up for Biblical doctrines and face the flak they will receive for doing so; or to break away altogether. Those who choose to face the opposition and those who choose to break away need much encouragement and support from brothers in similar circumstances—and there is a growing number of such men.

Great advances in only 45 years

In closing this report, it is important to understand the amazing progress that is taking place in Mozambique in the light of African realities. The men reading these fine books do not come from a long line of Christians or scholars. Their grandfathers all lived in mud huts and few of them had an education beyond the fifth grade. This was the law under the colonial regime that prevailed until 45 years ago. Valoi’s grandfather, with whom he lived up to adolescence, was a witch doctor, and Valoi’s body bears the marks of the many incantations and spells that were cast over it.

When I came to Mozambique thirty years ago and started my first Bible class for nine teachers in the government schools, none could read intelligibly. By the time they reached the end of a simple sentence, the words at the front had long been forgotten, so difficult and tedious was the effort. Arnaldo, who works as an anesthetist at the Central Hospital and whom I trained to do surgery and regional anesthesia, had only 5 years of elementary school and less than two years of basic nursing training. Such was the level of instruction available even for “professionals” thirty years ago.

Not surprisingly, at that time Mozambique was the poorest nation on earth and the country with the highest level of human suffering in the world. I am impressed with what the government has been able to accomplish educationally starting almost from nothing at the time of independence, but even more with what the Lord is doing today to raise up men striving to place a Biblical foundation under the Evangelical church in Mozambique, men like the founders of Mission Ekklesia and the leaders of their reading circles featured in this report.

Grace Missions is fueling this effort with 88 free books every month, but many more could be distributed. The circles are intended to include only fifteen people each, but in the capital, fifty people are showing up at some meetings and a single book is being read by three different participants, due to the high level of interest. More could be done, and the leaders are enthusiastically sacrificing time, energy, and their own incomes to make that happen. But more books are needed. Each one costs on average $7.10. Pray that God will provide the funds to open even more reading circles, and if you can contribute specifically toward that end (e-mailing us at gracetomozambique@gmail.com to inform us of your intention), we in Mozambique would be most grateful!

When requesting funds for a specific purpose, it is the policy of Grace Missions to be transparent with donors. We intend to restrict all the designated funds we receive to be applied to this specific need. However, donors need to understand that in the event we receive funds in excess of the specific need, the funds will not be returned to donors. The mission reserves the freedom to designate such excess funds to other purposes related to the mission.

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