Ministry Update: Comunhão dos Crentes em Cristo (December 2018)

Greetings to friends of Grace Missions, Grace Medical Mozambique, Charles and Julie Woodrow, and Hannah Malone.

This is Charles Woodrow writing again, with two urgent prayer requests and more news from Nampula.

Troubles in South Africa

The first prayer request has to do with our trip to South Africa. Julie and I flew down last week to purchase building supplies to complete the mission’s guest cottage for visiting physicians and to hook up power and water at the Quinta Graça housing development for future missionary colleagues.

The mission’s truck was supposed to follow us to Johannesburg, but problems arose on the journey. You may recall our trials last June when the truck broke down while making the same trip and had to be abandoned 1,000 miles from home for two months until we could get it repaired. This time, it was not the truck, but our motorist, Marques, who was the object of the adversary’s assault. An hour out from Nampula he had a sudden bout of septicaemia from a neglected urinary tract infection that left him prostrate on the floor of the vehicle. We sent a second motorist to return him urgently to Nampula where he was worked up in the ER and started on powerful IV antibiotics.

So, once more, Julie and I have found ourselves in South Africa with a truckload of supplies and no means of getting it back to Nampula. We are arranging for another team of drivers to bring the truck to Maputo—a trip of three days—but I have misgivings about the plan, and even if we can accomplish it we will suffer a week’s delay—time we can ill afford to lose.

Please pray for our motorist to recover well and for God to guide the rest of us as we try to shift with these circumstances.

Meetings in Maputo

Recently, I flew from Johannesburg to Maputo for meetings with the Ministry of Health, which I hope will open the way for us to regularly import the drugs and medical supplies consumed in a hospital ministry. These materials can only be imported with special authorisation from the Ministry of Health—authorisation we have been unable to secure from Nampula.

Please pray that God will open doors for us while I meet with these important officials in the ministry.

Visit from the Former Vice Minister of Health

When I arrived in Mozambique back in 1990, the government was still Marxist and aligned with the former Soviet Union. Throughout the 1980s, the nation was the poorest country on earth. At the beginning of that decade, only two countries had fewer doctors per capita than Mozambique, so Americans were rare and trained surgeons even scarcer.

From 1990–1998, the Lord brought a lot of attention to the surgical program in the small government hospital where I worked, five miles outside of Nampula. Due to the faithfulness of our supporters, and the many means by which the Lord kept our facility continuously supplied, we never had to close the surgical block or cancel a single operation for lack of material or for any other reason, except for one month when the entire facility was closed by the authorities because of repeated attacks from guerrilla forces stationed nearby. After each of the four guerrilla raids, which always took place early in the morning before the car-loads of workers arrived, we were able to get the surgical block reorganised and carry on with the procedures scheduled for that day. In that era of great hardship in Mozambique, such a record of reliability was astonishing and was only possible because of the Lord’s constant protection and provision.

So the work being done at this 150-bed hospital became known throughout the north of Mozambique. People trekked from all over Nampula and the bordering three provinces to schedule their operations. I sent yearly mortality and morbidity reports to the Ministry of Health, detailing the results of the operations performed by myself and two nurses, whom I trained to administer anaesthesia and to do the most common surgical procedures.

For a long time, I never heard what happened to those reports once they were submitted, but without my realising it, our little hospital was becoming famous at the Ministry of Health in Maputo—1,300 miles away. Eventually, three different ministers of health came to visit us, and I enjoyed a good personal relationship with each of them and especially with my last provincial health director, Dr. Mouzinho Saíde, a remarkable servant of the Mozambican people who later rose to become the vice-minister of health. The strong support of Dr. Saíde and two of those ministers, one the chief surgeon of Mozambique, was crucial in our receiving authorisation to build our own surgical centre when demand outgrew the single operating room at the rural government hospital.

But all of that was twenty years ago. With the opening of our much-delayed hospital drawing near, I needed to renew my relationship with the Ministry of Health and secure important authorisations for us to receive privileges not usually extended to privately-owned hospitals. There was no reason to expect that the new generation of health leaders would know me, and it seemed likely that my old friends would no longer remember me even if they were still around.

But not long before I was scheduled to travel to the Ministry of Health, I was surprised to hear from our guard that a health official from Maputo had driven up to our gate asking to see me. Who should it turn out to be but Dr. Saíde, the former provincial health director who was instrumental in helping Grace Missions obtain authorisation to own and operate a hospital in Mozambique, something extremely rare in those days when Communist philosophy was still strong in the minds of government leaders.

This was the first time to see my former chief in 18 years. I was amazed anyone remembered or thought of me from days so long past. But he was visiting the medical school in Nampula and asked if I was still in town. The doctors he asked were Christian friends of mine, so they drove him straight to our property. We had a nice visit catching up with each other.

Beyond that, I was able to share with him that, for the past twenty years, I had been praying faithfully for him and all his family by name. I went to my prayer file and pulled out the card with all their names on it. He was amazed that anyone would pray consistently for him throughout twenty years and politely commented that his rise in the Ministry of Health was doubtless due to those prayers. He said if there was ever anything he could do for me, I should just let him know. He was still working in the capital, now as director of the largest hospital in the country, and knew all the bosses at the Ministry of Health, having recently served as the Vice Minister, the man who does most of the actual work involved in overseeing Mozambique’s health system.

Frankly, I was as amazed as Dr. Saíde that I had continued to pray for him these many years, even though he long ago ceased to be my boss. Every first of January I cull my prayer file so that I can add new persons and new concerns, and just this last year I wondered anew if I should finally cease praying for Dr. Saíde and his family. It is impossible to only add to your prayer list every year and never cull people who you are no longer involved with. However, every first of January I cannot bring myself to remove his family from my list.

As George Muller remarked, as long as you are praying for someone’s salvation, you have reason to think God intends to bring it to pass. If you cease praying, it is a worrisome indication that God has not marked him for salvation and therefore is not stirring any believer to pray or act in his behalf. I tend to reason the same way as George Muller and am impressed that God upheld many of this man’s convictions as if they were God’s own opinion.

Therefore, having been unable to accept the thought through all these long years that this man and his family will not one day come to know Christ as I do, I have been unable to cease praying for him. George Muller noted the corollary that the inability to cease praying for someone’s salvation is a promising sign for them. I hope this is true for Dr. Saíde. I have long been impressed with him and grateful for his steadfast support back in the days when jealous adversaries were seeking to cancel our work altogether. But though I cannot cease praying for him, I never imagined I would have this opportunity to tell him so, or that he would appreciate it.

So now I am in Maputo having met with Dr. Saíde, who has called the pertinent people at the Ministry of Health to set up my appointments with them. Please pray that I will receive favour in the meetings. Also pray that God will bless Dr. Saíde and his entire family. He is Catholic by profession, so I imagine that, while he fears God, he nevertheless is trusting in his good works to commend him for salvation, and we know from Galatians 5:2–5 that, if we rely on works at all, we are fallen from grace. Christ will be of no use to us as we seek desperately to justify ourselves before God in the final day. If this is the case with Dr. Saíde, he needs the prayers of Christ’s people in his behalf!

News from Nampula: Church Growth

For the past year our church has enjoyed impressive growth—impressive for us, at least. It began 17 months ago when Aquiles, a dentist in our congregation and son of one of our church’s founders, recruited several Christian friends from the medical school to assist him in the bookstore at the 2017 Fiel Conference. They were excited to be involved in a Christian ministry focused on giving Christians a foundation for their beliefs, and in the euphoria of the conference several signed on for the post-conference seminar in theology. Usually there are one or two people who undergo a permanent, radical change in their view of salvation during this week of intensive study, but in 2017 there were three, in addition to others in the class who were already embracing Reformed teachings and were being marginalised by their churches as a result.

I encouraged these people to remain in their regular churches and try to influence them in a positive way, but their new understanding of the gospel made that untenable. In the end, five people from the medical school joined the church and they brought more friends with them.

At this same time, Stélio, who was featured in these reports last February, was being forced out of his denomination because of teaching his students salvation by grace through faith, truths he had learned through our literature distribution program. He sought refuge with our people and soon was engaged to a delightful young woman who came into the church with the other students from the medical school.

When Stélio moved to our congregation, he brought a whole succession of followers in his wake. I lost track of the number who visited our church because of his influence, but in the end, nine of his students became regular attenders. Stélio’s students come from a neighbourhood on the opposite end of town, and the hour-long trek by bus each way was too expensive for many of them.

The result of this influx was that our church nearly doubled in size in the past year. We now have 41 adults as members or in the process of joining. Attendance often exceeds 50 adults. In the last months alone, we have received six people into membership and nine more are waiting to join once they complete the membership classes.

We rejoice in having such “large” numbers, and also because so many of our participants are deeply committed to Christ and his word. Marked affection is evident among them. In part this is due to the fact that along with a mutual love for Christ, several have suffered rejection by their former churches because of their understanding of the gospel. They are grateful to find a congregation where everyone embraces these fundamental truths. It has been a season of joy for our family to see a happy congregation so tightly knit to one other and actively involved in ministries to other Christians around them through conferences, literature, and training seminars!

New Church Plant

One concern, however, has been gnawing at me for many months. Whenever I contemplate the number of gifted African teachers in our small group—Bila and Valoi who preach well at national conferences, produce a quality Christian journal, and travel regularly to Brazil for seminary training; Aquiles, who grew up in the church as the son of a founding member and who today is one of our most eloquent teachers; Jeremias who proclaims solid experiential Christianity with ease and authority; not to mention two more participants who have completed seminary educations and still others who have been teaching the church for 25 years—I wonder how long God will allow so many preachers to minister to one small congregation in a land where teaching and understanding like theirs is rare. The purpose of a missionary church is to train men up and then send them out to plant new churches, not hoard them for one’s own enjoyment. For months I have been haunted by the thought that if our little church refused to disperse and multiply because of our mutual love for one another, God would have to accomplish the same end through letting an evil spirit slip in and divide us!

When it became clear that many of Stélio’s people from across town would appreciate a church like ours that was more accessible, I arranged for four of our best preachers to teach one Sunday a month in a location to be determined by those coming from that neighbourhood. That plan failed because those who made the journey each Sunday were happier to be with us than find their own location and worship without us. But in time, Bila, Valoi, and Osílio, a young man with four years of seminary training in Brazil whom Bila brought to Nampula and into our church several months ago, felt the Lord stirring them to pool their personal resources to rent a location across town where they could minister to these brothers and many more who do not have a church in their own community to attend.

They brought their desire to the church leaders two months ago. Part of me was grieved to hear of their burden because these men are the crown jewels of our congregation, like Paul and Barnabas must have been to the church in Antioch. Bila’s wife alone is worth two or three of any of us men! But though the thought of no longer enjoying regular fellowship with these families was painful to contemplate, God had been convicting me that we should not store up so many valuable resources for our own benefit.

Since then we have been preparing the congregation for this event. I have preached a series of eight messages on the Great Commission, discipleship, and planting of autonomous yet interdependent churches. Two weeks ago, the congregation was informed of the desire to make two congregations from the one and members were invited to give their input. The next Sunday, the leaders planting the new church were officially dedicated to the Lord for this purpose. The plan is for the new plant to begin meeting the first Sunday in January.

We expect the nine participants from the far neighbourhood to support the new work, as well as at least seven long-term members of our congregation who are family members of the church planters. Others may join them, though the work will not be easy. Much effort is needed to make the site comfortable and attractive, and the location, though possessing significant advantages for the local community, is not convenient for any of our regular members. It is even less convenient for the church planting families, but God has given these men a burden to establish indigenous, biblical churches. They willingly embrace the challenges and sacrifices involved in the hope that God in time will raise up a whole succession of autonomous, yet inter-connected, congregations zealously committed to Christ and the God-centred gospel of the sovereign grace of God.

This form of inter-church relationship is a novelty in Mozambique where churches generally are either lone, isolated congregations that have split off from other churches or are bound to a group of churches led by a man who exerts pope-like authority over the member congregations. Reformed-style teaching is still unusual here except where the literature and conference ministry has had influence. Pray that God will establish and bless this new church plant and use it to foster many more such congregations!

Mission Ekklesia

Last month, the Ekklesia men from our congregation sponsored their second annual two-day youth conference, titled the Justified Youth Conference, following the theme of the Crucified Youth meetings of last year.  The conference was attended by 285 young people from thirty denominations who heard eight messages from the third chapter of Philippians, participated in two breakout sessions on sexual purity and Christian courtship, took in two sessions devoted to miscellaneous weak spots in local culture—work ethic, self-sacrifice, integrity, and taking initiative and seizing possibilities—and enthusiastically drilled the Ekklesia leaders during one Q&A time that did not want to end. The Ekklesia men did all the teaching except for one session taught by a local pastor and one message assigned to me from Philippians 3:9 titled “Justification and the Righteousness of God.”

Somehow, 38 people were signed up for the conference from our congregation. I did not realise so many young folk identified with our church. Most of them were handling the logistics of the event. Everything was done by the Africans without any expatriate participation apart from financial sponsorship and my one message. Grace Missions gave the men full use of the property, the hospital building, and all our conference equipment as well as the expertise of our employees who set up the tent, prepared food, and built temporary outbuildings. Bonifácio, our faithful administrator with over ten years’ experience assisting with Fiel conferences, was in charge of the kitchen. Everything ran smoothly as far as I could tell—and on schedule, always an impressive accomplishment in Africa where many things can go wrong from lack of resources or meticulous planning.

But above all, I was grateful for sound, insightful messages carefully prepared by the Ekklesia men. They gave penetrating local applications on fundamental topics like Christian joy, the misery of trusting in works, justification by faith, the excellence of knowing Christ, sharing in the sufferings of Christ, reaching for the prize, and resting in hope.

Conclusion

As you finish reading this report, please remember these two urgent prayer requests:

  1. Pray that God will heal our motorist and show us how to salvage the situation with transporting our truckload of building supplies to Nampula.
  2. Pray that God will open doors for us as I meet this week with officials at the Ministry of Health.

Please accept my sincere thanks to all our praying friends for your invaluable partnership in this ministry!