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

Dear friends,

It has been a while since I have sent a report to supporters, so this one contains information about many projects, with special attention given to the church work.

Church Ministry

Our congregation ended 2018 feeling much blessed with 33 members and 45–55 adult participants on Sunday mornings. We revelled in the teaching of nine sound teachers and preachers but realised that, in a nation with few capable Bible teachers, we were almost shamefully over-endowed. We knew we needed to share our abundance with others, and not just in the seminars and conferences our members organise for believers outside our local church. However, we were a close-knit family that longed to be with each other rather than spread itself thinly among many congregations. Also, when one of our best teachers had attempted to help other church ministries in the past, their leaders had seemed threatened and did not make good use of the opportunity God had placed before them.

With these premonitions that one small congregation could not properly hoard so many sound teachers, it was not surprising when 2019 turned out to be a year of beloved members continually leaving us, many of them representing the cream of our church. This was an ongoing emotional blow for those left behind, but a necessary sacrifice I had anticipated for some time, and a valuable opportunity for expanded service to other parts of Mozambique.

Losses: Bila, Valoi, and Osílio

As reported before, in January sixteen faithful participants started a sister church, Gospel of Grace Church, in a neighbourhood where nine of those participants lived. These nine brothers had for many months been traveling 45 minutes each way to attend our services. The seven mature members from the congregation who took responsibility for the new church plant included three leaders of the Ekklesia movement together with their wives and families—excellent people and a loss to those staying in the parent congregation. But we are delighted that there is now a fully indigenous sister church developing well on the other side of town. I look forward to featuring in an upcoming newsletter the work the Ekklesia brothers are doing both in their own local congregation and also far beyond through their conferences and projects.

The three leaders of Mission Ekklesia we are most connected with are Timóteo Bila (founder of the movement), Ernesto Valoi (professor of philosophy at the local university), and Osílio Chambal. A fourth leader, Ibrahimo Hâmido, belongs to a Baptist denomination and, like Ernesto Valoi, is a former student of my theology seminar. All four of these brothers have now graduated from seminary, with Bila, Valoi, and Ibrahimo completing requirements the past two years for a master’s degree from an excellent Presbyterian seminary in Brazil. Grace Missions has encouraged and supported their ministry and their training in many ways, including financially, and their Ekklesia projects are often featured in these reports.

Another Loss: Aquiles Junior

The year ended with another major loss in the form of Aquiles, the dentist son of Arnaldo. Arnaldo is one of our church’s leaders and was the first person to come to salvation through Grace Missions’ ministry thirty years ago. Aquiles accepted a position in a new dental clinic opened by the government in a rural district far to the north of us.

A second-generation Christian, Aquiles was raised in the church, grew up benefitting from regular family devotions, and cut his spiritual teeth as a youngster reading the Banner of Truth literature Editora Fiel sent to his father every month. Probably our most eloquent preacher and one of our most learned believers, we miss him much, but now he is meeting with a small group of earnest believers living in the neighbourhood of his remote health post. Though these people may not realise it yet, our loss should be their great gain. The founder of that church’s denomination has faithfully attended the Fiel Conferences almost from the beginning and even participated in my first systematic theology seminar. So we hope that Aquiles’ involvement with this little church will be encouraged by the denomination’s leaders, and I look forward to reporting in the future on his opportunities to bless and be blessed in his new assignment.

On a less optimistic note, the district where Aquiles is working is vulnerable to ISIS-sponsored terrorist attacks that have been taking place regularly for over a year. Many people have been killed in the areas of northern Mozambique where these terrorists are active. For Aquiles, this is a dangerous assignment limited to one year, and he cannot have his family with him, so they are remaining in Nampula. Though the opportunities in this community to minister both spiritually and as a dentist look promising, when considering the overall situation for both Aquiles and his family there is much to be concerned about. Their friends have good reason to pray for them throughout the coming year.

More Losses: Stélio and Elga

Stélio has often been featured in these reports as a classic example of the fruit arising from the Editora Fiel literature work we have supported in Mozambique during the past 22 years. He is also a former student in my seminar class and arrived at our church in July 2017 after the church he served as a teacher heard him proclaiming salvation by grace and the perseverance of saints and publicly renounced him and his teachings.

In our church he soon met and fell in love with a young woman, Elga, who was studying nutrition. They became engaged when Elga graduated this year, but soon after that, Elga was offered a temporary position in the capital 1,500 miles away where she is gaining work experience as a nutritionist while waiting for Stélio to complete his college degree at a school 150 miles from us.

We miss having Stélio and Elga with us in the church, but God has opened up rich opportunities for Stélio to do missionary work near the island where his university is located, a former tourist destination in colonial days. On Saturdays and Sundays, he teaches Bible classes on the mainland across the channel from his island university, and recently he started a reading circle where Christian classics from the Reformation and forward are studied and debated each month. These circles are a ministry of Mission Ekklesia, but the books are supplied free by Grace Missions. God is giving Stélio the ardent support of a growing group of believers who formerly were committed to salvation by works but now are learning about salvation by grace. Not surprisingly, organised opposition to his ministry has recently become evident, though this is nothing new for Stélio. While we miss having Stélio and Elga in our congregation, I look forward to featuring Stélio’s exciting ministry in a future report.

More Losses: Lino and Iloida, Carlos and Nélzia

In addition to the teaching and preaching members featured above, who now function like missionaries encouraged and supported in various ways by Grace Missions, we have also suffered the loss, at least temporarily, of four more especially loved and esteemed members.

Lino and Iloida, both doctors recently graduated from the local medical school, together with Carlos, another doctor, and his wife Nélzia, a professor of architecture at the local university, have all moved long distances from us as the husbands seek work. Like Stélio, all four are the fruit of the Editora Fiel literature ministries and my systematic theology course. All eventually joined our congregation, seeking a church where the truths taught in the course were embraced and lived out, and all hope to finally obtain employment back in Nampula so they can remain with the church. But where employment is concerned, nothing is certain in Mozambique, even for physicians. Though the country needs all the doctors it can find, few people are able to pay for private medical care even when it is inexpensive; neither can the government afford to hire all the physicians the country needs supposing they were available. Thus employment, even for physicians, is not a sure outcome.

Lino and Iloida have found a sound church in the capital, but it is small and has only two mature male believers in the congregation. So they have pitched in to assist these men as they minister to this small church plant.

In summary, during the past year, we lost 22 much-loved members, generally our most advanced Christians, including five of our best teachers and preachers. Thanks to WhatsApp groups and our common ministries to the evangelical church at large, we are in constant contact with each other and have many opportunities to work together. But we do not get to see each other or worship together every week like we used to!

To our distress, we are also losing, due to serious sin, a member who had been in the church from its inception 25 years ago. We are still trying to bring him back to the fold, but thus far the temptation he must deal with is proving too great for him. Soon it will be necessary to formally remove him from our roll of those who are trusting in Christ.

The result of all this for our small church is that at the end of the year, four capable preachers remain, each of whom covets the still-too-limited opportunities (in their view) to preach from the pulpit. We are thankful for them, plus God has brought a good number of delightful new members to us both by conversion and through transfer of membership. So despite the exodus of 22 faithful brothers and sisters, we finished the year with 26 members, down from 33; with four teachers, down from nine; and with 40–50 adults each Sunday, down from 45–55. But counting the other groups now being reached with the gospel of grace, this has been by far the greatest year of expansion we have known in our thirty years of church ministry!

Please pray for our straying church member; that the indigenous ministries spinning off from our work will continue to thrive and bear fruit; and that God will continue to strengthen and bless the mission church as it trains up teachers and leaders to replace the ones sent out.

Praise: Four Engaged Couples in One Year!

And there has been expansion in other ways as well! It is always exciting when believers meet and fall in love in the church, bound together by their mutual devotion to Christ and his word. Despite our small size of only 26 members, this year, while suffering the ongoing sadness of bidding farewell to so many members and associates, we have been blessed and encouraged four times over with the happy event of marital love.

You have already read about how Stélio and Elga fell in love soon after Stélio moved to our congregation in 2017. As mentioned, they became formally engaged this year.

Stélio and Eliga were engaged in 2019.

Another couple, Lino and Iloida, two medical students who were already romantically involved before we knew them, took the theology seminar a year ago and subsequently joined our congregation after they were unable to influence their former church to embrace salvation by grace. Both were mature believers before joining us and they were quickly welcomed and esteemed by everyone in our congregation. Upon graduation from medical school this year, they too became engaged.

The third couple is also comprised of partners who each took the theology seminar, though in different years. The groom, Carlos, another medical student first introduced to salvation by grace in the theology course, also moved to our congregation after a discouraging six months seeking to influence his former church to lay aside its works-based approach to receiving and maintaining salvation. Once in our midst, Carlos fell deeply in love with one of our church members, Nélzia, a girl he had known casually before—only now, in the context of their mutual commitment to Christ and his word. Acquaintance rapidly developed into love and, after a year, they became engaged. They were married just this month in an outdoor wedding and reception held on the mission property, with Julie and me serving as the godparents.

Lastly, the long-time romance of a fourth couple who have been in the church for many years finally matured into engagement this year. The future bride is special to our family as she is Arnaldo’s oldest daughter Ancha. Arnaldo was my colleague in the surgical ministry and, as mentioned in the paragraph about Aquiles, was the first person to come to salvation through our work. Because of this closeness between Arnaldo and me, Ancha in many ways grew up as a member of our family. Her fiancé is Breginev.

So God has been faithful and kind, while parcelling out so many choice members of our church family, to give us also a generous dose of joy throughout the year!

This has been a detailed account of what God has done in the church ministry this year. A much briefer review of recent events on other fronts follows.

Update: Hospital/Evangelistic Work

Medical equipment received last June has been moved into the hospital building but is still waiting to be unpacked and assembled. When that is done, I hope to send pictures to praying friends of a fully equipped medical centre.

A recent trip to South Africa secured material needed for finishing out the hospital cupboards and counters. Unfortunately, new setbacks in that area are making it difficult to meet the stringent requirements for laboratory and medical furnishings.

Please pray that God will help us get past these challenges and finally pass the inspection required for the facility to begin functioning as a hospital.

Since my last update, I submitted a proposed accord between Grace Missions and the Ministry of Health, necessary to secure the cooperation we need from the government for operating our hospital as inexpensively as possible. To date I have not been invited to meet with the Ministry to formalise that agreement. I am told it must pass through many hands before the discussions begin and am growing concerned about the lengthy delay. I suspect a major matter of debate will be my proposals for obtaining from the local population the money necessary to cover operating expenses without excluding the poorest people we and the government expect us to serve.

Please pray that God will continue to grant us favour in the eyes of the government and that a formal accord will soon be in hand.

Praise: Mission Ekklesia Projects

Besides their church planting work mentioned above, in November Mission Ekklesia held its third annual youth gathering, this one called the “Sanctified Youth” conference. Over 260 young people met for two days to hear six messages on holiness from 1 Corinthians 6:9–20 and to participate in sessions devoted to case studies, questions and answers, and debates. As always, the ministry was completely planned, executed, and taught by the African brethren apart from one message assigned to me: vv. 15–18 which deal with the theme “flee immorality” an urgently needed warning for the African church and indeed throughout the world, especially in this age of the Internet.

Praise: Sunday School Teachers’ Training Program

Four women from Brazil used our facilities and personnel to host a four-day training seminar for persons teaching children in the church. I was away in South Africa purchasing equipment needed by the mission, but our two administrators report it was an attractive and meticulously prepared labour of love for the 100+ people who attended. The women brought Portuguese-language Sunday school curricula for children ranging from 3–11 years, material normally unavailable in Mozambique. They left these resources in our bookshop/library so their trainees could use them to develop their own Sunday school lessons.

The women, all from Presbyterian churches, learned of our ministry when two came to Nampula years ago as part of a team sent by Editora Fiel to help with the Fiel Conferences hosted in Nampula by Karl Peterson and myself. The pastor of another woman had been a main speaker at a later Fiel conference. We thank God for the many benefits flowing into the Mozambican church through our partnership with the Fiel ministries in Brazil.

For people new to our newsletters, Editora Fiel (Faithful Publishers) is a Reformed Evangelical printing press in Brazil that translates, publishes, and distributes excellent Christian literature intended to preserve the legacy left the church by our Reformation fathers. We have worked together for twenty years in literature distribution, pastor’s training conferences and seminars, and our bookstore.

Update: Guest Cottage

One of the purposes of my last trip to South Africa was to obtain materials needed to finish out the inside of the guest cottage built on the Grace Missions property so it can be used by short-term missionary physicians and their families. The outside has been finished for some time, as the attached picture shows, and I am keen to press on with finishing out the interior.

Thanksgiving: Quinta Graça (Graceland)

Progress has taken place as well at the Quinta Graça, a choice piece of land I purchased from our retirement savings so that long-term missionaries can have an affordable place within ten minutes of the hospital where they can build their homes. This year we got our repaired transformer working again, completed installation of area lighting and a network of water mains, put an electric pump in the borehole drilled several years ago, and made expensive repairs to the floodwater drainage system that suffered serious damage in the last rainy season.

Recent months also brought an end to nearly five years of lawsuits brought by a man who previously owned the property until 2011 but then lost it through neglect. In Mozambique, title to property can be rescinded if the land is simply held but not developed or used for the purposes stated at the time the property is first ceded to the buyer. This aggrieved and frustrated former owner never accepted the decisions of the city council and the courts by which the land was taken from him and re-sold to someone who four years later sold it to me. Finally, in recent months, all of the charges against me, including fabricated claims of corruption and criminal offense lodged in several different tribunals, have been dismissed for lack of evidence. Not one made it to trial.

But the succession of investigations and legal proceedings ground on for four years, and the cost of retaining a lawyer all this time has been burdensome, not to mention the calumny and the suspense of wondering if just decisions would be handed down without bribes in a case involving an unfortunate Mozambican and a “rich” foreigner—also wondering if my adversary was using bribes to get a decision in his favour! I thank God for the integrity of the many judges and investigators I encountered in Mozambique’s legal system during the past four years, and that a disastrous financial result for me was prevented!

Please thank God for this deliverance and pray that this investment will be a great asset to our ministry to the churches and people of Mozambique!

Thanksgiving: November Trip to South Africa—and Another Divine Deliverance

Since last April I have been endeavouring to bring a load of building supplies from South Africa to Nampula, a trip of 1,500 miles over some very bad roads. One bone-battering stretch of 210 miles takes twelve hours to complete, and our 1980’s NATO off-road 4WD troop carrier truck has regularly suffered a major breakdown soon after running that gauntlet.

In November I sent for the truck to once again meet me near the border so I could drive it across to South Africa and finally bring our load of supplies into Mozambique. Unfortunately, hours after completing that infamous and bruising stretch of road, the truck groaned to a stop with a completely destroyed rear diff and axle. The constant jarring of shoulder-to-shoulder potholes had loosened a bolt pressing the pinion gear against the differential. The gap that opened up allowed all the gear oil to slowly leak out of the differential housing. Once all the oil was gone, the red-hot diff was soon reduced to a mass of twisted metal.

By the sheer grace of God, the truck ground to a stop just 300 yards from the edge of a small town, not out in the middle of the bush a hundred miles from everything. Far more amazingly, in the town was the rusted wreckage of an old Bedford truck just like ours. This is extraordinary because we can no longer get parts new or used for these Bedford off-road trucks even in South Africa where they were once the workhorses of rural, off-road trucking. We have to order our spares direct from England, and even there we often have to settle for used parts. That our truck should break down only meters away from a twin truck defies all probabilities!

The owner of this rusting vehicle took note of the rare old truck stranded on the edge of town, saw an opportunity, and approached my driver and mechanic offering to sell them the rear axle off his matching vehicle. This must have been as surprising as Squanto walking up to the pilgrims, sticking out his hand, and greeting them in their own English tongue! We could not help but see the hand of God in this deliverance. So we swallowed hard and paid $850 for the axle.

But exchanging the rear axle of a four-ton truck by the side of a road is no easy task, and no amount of brute strength can do it even with two men at work. Thankfully a truck with a small crane was also passing in and out of the village every day and for another large sum the men were able to enlist its services getting the axles exchanged and our damaged one onto the bed of our truck to be scavenged later for usable parts.

Disassembling and exchanging two rear axles took days to accomplish, but by the sheer grace of God, after a seven-day delay almost in the middle of nowhere, the job was done and the truck was on its way again. Thankfully it made it to Pretoria with no further trouble.

But the episode rendered impossible the original plan to get the truck loaded, through customs, and back to Nampula in time for important church events that had been scheduled months before. Reluctantly, Julie and I had to fly home leaving the truck and its load still in Pretoria, awaiting the next opportunity to be fetched by me sometime in January or February.

We thank God for yet another deliverance for the mission, but pray with us that the supplies originally purchased last April will reach Nampula in the coming months so work can go forward!

Weddings and More Weddings

The event forcing our return to Nampula was the marriage of one of the couples in the church for whom Julie and I are the godparents. Ever since hosting the Fiel Conference on the mission property last July, people have been requesting to use our land and equipment for weddings. In the last five months we have provided the venue and much of the equipment for four large wedding receptions. Others have made requests but could not pay the $900 we charge for erecting the marquee tents and supplying the kitchen, chairs, tables, and bathrooms.

Renting our conference equipment for one-day events has been an experiment by us, undertaken because we have recently begun receiving such requests and because contributions in the past year have been insufficient to cover monthly operating expenses. We have discovered that a one-day rental can pay the month’s payroll for up to eight employees, a significant contribution to our budget.

Please pray for wisdom about the mission involving itself in the rental business.

Prayer Request: Funding for Reading Circles

The next newsletter will highlight the ministry of Stélio, residing on Mozambique Island with the assistance of funds supplied by us, and the work of Mission Ekklesia with its many reading circles. These circles are springing up in various cities where Grace Missions, Editora Fiel, and Mission Ekklesia have invested years of effort and expense to bring Reformation to churches teaching works-based salvation. Fruit is now being borne, especially in the enthusiastic response of young leaders in the church to what they are learning in the reading circles. Each circle is led by men devoted to what these ministries are attempting to accomplish. The books are supplied free by Grace Missions through donors who support our work.

Please pray with us that God will enable these spiritual ministries to continue and not lose their momentum, and if you are able to give toward that end, we will be most thankful.

To those whose gifts over thirty years have enabled us to develop to this point, I express a heartfelt thanks in the name of the Lord Jesus whom we each serve and whose glorious work of salvation we want to make known both at home and here in Mozambique!

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