Greetings to friends of Grace Missions, Grace Medical Mozambique, Charles and Julie Woodrow, and Hannah Malone.
Here is the latest news from Nampula, Mozambique, written by Dr. Charles.
Pastors’ Conference in July
I want to thank all our friends who prayed for this year’s Fiel Conference. Several things made it unique: It was the first time to host the conference at our own mission compound, which presented us with many challenges and some distinct advantages; it was our twentieth consecutive annual conference, a significant milestone that warranted special thanksgiving to God matched by special manifestations from God; and the theme—“Planting Churches Biblically”—was particularly attractive and important to the Mozambique church.
The conference was abundantly blessed in my opinion, more so than recent meetings. Three hundred church leaders participated from 46 different denominations and six of Mozambique’s ten provinces. Our speakers, Ronald Kalafungwa with the Reformed Baptist churches in Zambia and Sillas Campos from the Reformed Baptist churches in Brazil, did a fine job preaching eight messages on church planting principles from the book of Acts. My colleague, Karl Peterson, superintended three sessions where many issues and 20 case studies related to church planting challenges in Mozambique were available for discussion. During these sessions our two speakers provided valuable insights from Scripture. Another five sessions were spent in group and independent studies of passages in Acts that deal with church planting.
The attached pictures illustrate the complex logistics of feeding and lodging the participants; ensuring uninterrupted electricity and water despite Nampula’s fragile and unreliable infrastructure; providing sanitation facilities for so many guests; setting up and operating the bookstore; and supplying the sound system, chairs, tables, and meeting areas for the various sessions.
This is the responsibility of Grace Missions’ team of increasingly experienced workers along with seasoned volunteers from our church. Preparations began months before the conference: in all 37 people were employed at one time or another to provide the necessary conditions, and 26 volunteers joined the force as the conference date approached.
Surprisingly, the job has become more taxing over the years despite increasing experience and more hands at work.
That is because each conference is more sophisticated than the last. I once thought surgical residency with its twenty-hour days and only three or four nights a week at home would be the most fatiguing exercise I would ever engage in. However, I now realise that was just conditioning for setting up and executing Fiel Conferences later. I believe the only contributors who invested more in the conference this year were the three head of beef and three hundred chickens who died in the process, but they have the benefit of not having to do it all over again in just twelve months!
What makes it worthwhile every year, of course, is the blessing of hearing solid guidance from Scripture on vital church issues supplied to leaders serving throughout a large portion of Mozambique and coming from many denominations. Another major objective of the meetings is to acquaint evangelical leaders with the rich legacy of the Reformation and to make known salvation by grace through faith in a land where salvation by works is the predominant “gospel.”
Later in this report I will include stories illustrating how these conferences impact not only pastors who participate, but also Christians who have not participated but come into contact with men who have.
Moving to Our Property
The biggest challenge this year was moving the conference venue. For more than ten years we enjoyed the attractive, shady campus of the local SIL branch of Wycliffe Bible Translators, recently bought by YWAM. However, it was always difficult to set up and run the conference at a site so far from our own mission, and in recent years the facilities needed to be shared with other ministries operating simultaneously, which added to the complexity of our task.
So we bought three additional marquee tents and twelve cabin tents, each accommodating five beds; purchased a large freezer which will soon serve the hospital; built temporary facilities for large-scale food preparation; put in more bathrooms, showers, and sinks; and moved the conference to our own property.
However, we still do not have a suitable generator for the hospital, and this exposed the event to great risk from power outages. Just before the conference began we removed our small home generator and hooked it to the hospital mains, but we never had time to test it out. Sure enough, in the first 24 hours of the conference, electricity went out for seven hours due to three downed power stanchions.
Because our generator could supply only one of the three phases of the hospital, we could not provide electricity even to all the lights that were needed. We thank God that just before nightfall power was restored! The only inconveniences were interruptions in the sound system while we switched between power sources and having to close the bookshop for a few hours because the store operated on a different phase from the tent speakers.
I considered that episode a message from God reminding us how dependent we are upon him and how faithful he is to undergird us, not only in the temporal concerns which are my responsibility, but more vitally in the spiritual fruit we want to come from the meetings.
City water is frequently unavailable during the dry season, and then we must depend on our own reserves. Last year, when housing only sixty or so conference participants in the hospital, we ran out of water the first night due to a faucet left open. For morning ablutions, workers had to hand carry buckets of water from the lap pool at the rear of the property to the bathrooms on the hospital terrace up front because the pump for transferring water from the pool to the tower failed. Mike Stolk built the swimming pool when constructing the hospital because a three-day emergency water supply is obligatory once the hospital begins to function. In actual fact, we sometimes go much longer without city water, and as we found out during last year’s conference, when there are many users, water from the mission’s original cistern and water tower will not last even three days. This year, with the kitchen, bathing blocks, toilets, and 350 guests and workers wholly dependent upon us for water, we knew life would become nearly impossible if the city again cut off water and we could not access our backup supply. We bought a new pump and sixty meters of pipe to resolve that threat, but barely had time to test out the system before the conference was upon us. To my immense relief, the city provided water all four days—nothing to take for granted in the dry season!
Everything else ran smoothly as well, and people responding to the evaluations about the venue all appreciated the comfort and attractiveness of our facilities. No one had a complaint; several lamented that we had not moved years ago; and others asked that the conference remain permanently at the mission. How very different the experience could have been, no one but myself and the Lord seems to know!
Because this conference was a twenty-year milestone for us, friends and supporters made special arrangements that Karl and I knew nothing about. We were both amazed when internationally known blogger, Tim Challies, suddenly showed up one day before the conference started. He brought with him a videographer, Thaddeus Maharaj, to document the conference as well as other ministries taking place here. Tim, who was already scheduled to speak at next year’s conference, read a surprise message at the opening session from Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto where he and Paul Martin are two of the elders. Our family has had the great blessing of being supported by this church since 2006, and Tim’s visit was just one of many ways they have encouraged us through the years.
But the unannounced visit was neither pleasant nor encouraging for me, at least not at first! With Tim there to document everything that was about to happen, the dread I felt when contemplating looming disasters doubled. Now everything would be sent around the world and caught on film no less!
Of course, the Lord had a different purpose in mind. That became evident as the work unfolded and God answered the prayers of many supporters, sparing us from all potential disappointments!
Conference Transportation Fund
Among the three hundred participants were 39 who benefitted from kind responses to our request in June for contributions covering transportation costs for church leaders from Beira and Pemba, two cities devastated by twin record-setting cyclones occurring just weeks apart. I am sure even more pastors would have jumped at the opportunity if they had had sufficient time to plan. From multiple donors we received $4,000 almost immediately. In the end, nearly $1,500 of contributions were still unused, but with permission we are planning to make the funds available next year to other leaders far away who cannot pay the busfare to Nampula.
One man, whose ministry was transformed years ago by Fiel Conferences and literature, is Joaquim António Paulo. He spent four days and a month’s salary ($85) traveling 4,000 kms through five provinces to attend this year’s meetings. Like most evangelical leaders here, he was proclaiming a works-based salvation message when he first attended our conference eighteen years ago. Upon hearing of salvation by grace through faith, he immediately consulted the Scriptures to find out if this doctrine was really true. Once convinced of it, he felt constrained to correct his wrong teaching both in his local church and amongst his fellow pastors. This eventually brought him into conflict with the denomination’s leaders, and in time he was removed by them.
For some years Pastor Joaquim carried on alone with his own congregation, but now has planted other churches and has several pastors reading the literature he has obtained through the conferences and Fiel’s reading program in which pastors receive 36 books free over 36 months. They meet together regularly to encourage each other. But Nampula is so far from his province that his colleagues hesitate to undertake the expensive trip to attend our conference. Transportation costs alone multiply their financial outlay sixfold. When I told Pastor Joaquim that we had money left over in the transportation fund to cover busfares for ten such men, he returned home and immediately mobilised ten leaders who he says are eager to pay the registration fee to secure a spot among the pastors getting bus subsidies next year. He believes with this kind of help he can spread reformation to more Evangelical churches in his province.
Because of the eager response of 39 leaders serving far from Nampula, who in just ten days paid a nominal registration fee in order to qualify for the bus subsidy, I would like to raise funds for other pastors and church leaders like Joaquim’s associates who live at least 500 km from Nampula. This should not only boost attendance considerably, but would also widen the impact of the Fiel Conferences in Mozambique. On average, we would need $100 to cover the bus fare and the actual food costs and manual (an 83-page workbook this year) for each qualifying participant. The rest of the overhead, usually about $90 per participant, we will already be paying in order to serve the leaders participating without transportation subsidies.
Would you please consider contributing to this fund? If you contribute, be sure to send word directly to us in Nampula at firstname.lastname@example.org, letting us know of your contribution so that we can earmark it according to your wishes.
To Be Continued
Due to length, the second half of this report on the 2019 conference and seminar will soon follow in a separate email. In it, I highlight several seminar participants and, as promised above, include the stories of two men whose experience with the Fiel ministries illustrate how God is working to transform lives here. Their stories also depict the difficult choice many of our participants face in trying to support their local churches while also promoting the true gospel of salvation by grace through faith.