Ministry Update: Comunhão dos Crentes em Cristo (Nampula, Mozambique) (November 2018)

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

This is Charles writing you this time, and I look forward to updating you on God’s kindness to us here in Nampula this past month.

Bonifácio’s Ministries

When the last newsletter went out, Bonifácio was only eight days away from hosting his denomination’s youth conference for northern Mozambique. The denomination has no funds for such events, so normally Bonifácio stockpiles food throughout the year from his own meagre resources to meet the needs of the young folk during the four-day event.

This year he could not do that. Getting his home built at the Quinta Graça (Grace Land) property ten minutes outside of town and starting his pre-school for peasant families in that rural locality consumed everything he could spare throughout the months since the last conference. When Hannah wrote our last report, Bonifácio had nothing with which to host the 230 participants expected. Food alone was going to cost $1,100. Bonifácio was on the verge of sending out phone messages postponing the conference, if not cancelling it altogether.

But only three days later, like manna from heaven, and just as rare for a typical Mozambican with no foreign friends such as God has granted us, gifts for Bonifácio’s work began showering down. One donor sent $3,000 for the pre-school and $1,400 for meeting conference expenses. This latter need was barely mentioned in the newsletter, but God stirred sensitive hearts to help, and other gifts followed! All this with only five days to spare before the conference began!

After the conference, but later this same month, Bonifácio’s pre-school celebrated the completion of its first year of operation. In the southern hemisphere, school runs from January through November. When the gifts came in, summer recess was rapidly approaching, after which the kids would move up to the government primary school. Bonifácio just had time prior to the big year-end celebration to cover the adobe school building with cement and brightly-coloured enamel paint. Concrete was poured over hard earth floors and regular cement blocks were laid to protect the foundations from rivers of water that eat away at the base of mud walls during tropical storms, which will begin soon. These were all dramatic improvements beyond what Bonifácio and his friends had been able to do with only their bare hands to serve them.

The playground was splashed in the same fun colours as the school building. Tables and chairs were bought, and the outbuildings got new walls all around made of bamboo matts bound tightly to bamboo frames via baling wire.

The big day arrived to celebrate the kids’ advancement to first grade. The festivities were graced by the presence of the “mayor” of the neighbourhood, the esteemed headmaster of the government primary school, and the august personages of three dignitaries all the way from the United States (Hannah Malone, Julie, and myself)! I was asked to deliver a graduation address consisting of two things: advice to parents for training their children in the wisdom that comes from God in the Bible, and a ten-minute gospel presentation.

The 27 four- and five-year-old scholars were the stars of the day as they demonstrated excellent comportment all through the lengthy ceremonies and displayed their impressive skills in counting to ten and reading and writing the entire alphabet as well as spelling their own names (more than I could do when I started first grade!).

Bonifácio’s school not only won a place on the local map as a result of this most successful event, but it put the whole community on the map. The civic leaders were excited that, when important people come to visit them in the future, they can show off the fine school operating in their midst. The headmaster of the government school was delighted with the students and not ashamed to proclaim they were better educated than many students years older in the public schools, thanks to the devotion of their teachers and the motivation of their parents—nearly all peasants who derive much of their zeal and hope from Bonifácio’s ministry among them.

Hannah’s home church (Emanuel Presbyterian Church in Cedar Park) donated a bounty of good gifts for the young scholars as they prepare to start primary school in January: shoes, school supplies, back packs, and toys, to mention only a fraction of the largesse—all prized possessions for rural children accustomed to life in a mud hut!

If our supporters intended to make this day the high point in the short lives of these pre-schoolers, they surely succeeded! We thank God for people whose gifts brought such encouragement to this little community out near the Land of Grace!

Ministry to Other Churches

In recent months there have been encouraging developments in our local church and the ministries of Mission Ekklesia. A new church plant will be presented in the next newsletter along with a report of Ekklesia’s second annual youth conference attended by 285 young people in our province representing thirty denominations.

For this newsletter, I am including the following recent story to illustrate the cumulative effect of the various projects carried out by Grace Missions, Mission Ekklesia, and Editora Fiel, the latter two being ministries we promote here in the north through my time and the Mission’s resources.

Despite certain doctrinal matters that concern us, the strongest group of Evangelical churches in northern Mozambique, numerically and perhaps spiritually as well, comes from a Pentecostal movement with regional directors in Nampula and each of the two provinces south of us. All of this area is served by the annual Fiel Conferences we host each year in our city. Many pastors from these assemblies participate in the conference, including the leaders of the two provinces south of ours.

The leader in Nampula, however, does not participate and vigorously opposes teachings related to God’s free, electing grace and the preservation of the saints. When his pastors and workers are influenced by our conferences, seminars, and literature, they are soon marginalised and some have been driven from the denomination. His pastors know that, regardless of what they may personally think or read in their Bibles, they must preach salvation through merit and the preserving of that salvation through conformity to church rules.

Stélio was a trainer of teachers in this group of churches. You may recall that in 2017, he became convinced of Reformation truths through careful Bible study and extensive reading of books from the shelves of pastors in the Fiel reading program and our own bookstore. He began pointing out these doctrines as they came up in routine exposition of the Bible, and this eventually led to his being relieved of all teaching responsibilities and denounced by the provincial director in a worship service of the conjoined Nampula congregations. Soon after this, Stélio became the second ejected leader from this denomination to show up in our church seeking encouragement and a place of refuge.

But three years ago, the leader of the same group of churches in the province to the south of us paid his first visit to the Fiel conference and brought seven or eight fellow pastors with him. Certain aspects of the conference pleased him, and he enrolled in the post-conference seminar to see if that might be helpful too. He was courteous in class and was generally successful in memorising the right answers for the tests and homework assignments, but in the discussions the students had outside of class, he cautioned them against accepting such “errors” as election and the perseverance of believers.

Because of his good performance in the seminar, his important position as head of the assemblies in the province south of us, and his consistent participation in each of the subsequent Fiel conferences, Editora Fiel put this leader on their three-year reading program which is overseen by Ernesto Valoi. You may remember that Valoi was the professor of philosophy at the local university, one of our church members, and a leader of Ekklesia. Valoi had been won to the doctrines of grace through the efforts of Timóteo Bila and was actually a fellow student of this Pentecostal leader in my theology seminar three years ago.

The men on the Fiel reading program receive a free book each month and, under Valoi’s tutelage, they must meet to discuss the books they have read before receiving the next batch. Last month Valoi travelled to this man’s district about 350 miles to the south where he met with five pastors on the reading program. Two of the books they discussed were Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will and D. A. Carson’s The Cross and Christian Ministry. Valoi was amazed to hear this former Arminian proclaiming to the other pastors the great importance of the doctrines in Luther’s book, which he himself had been resisting just a few years ago. He said the “whole church” was mistaken about these truths and it was imperative now that they understand and correct their former errors.  The pastor mentioned how he too had resisted these doctrines when he first heard them in the seminar, but now he was convinced they came straight from the word.

Valoi was delighted to see a man of such influence now embracing the truth so heartily. He could identify with the experience, as he too had passed through the same stages of rejection, reflection, and finally rejoicing during his own study of the same books and themes only a few years ago.

Bookstore and Finances

Grace Missions is making a list of Christian classics like Luther’s Bondage of the Willthat have been translated into Portuguese but are no longer being published. We have received permission to print these books in South Africa where we can import them into Mozambique free of customs and freight charges. Savings on shipping should make them even less expensive for Mozambican pastors than they were when we could order them from Brazil.

We have a limitation these days that in 28 years of ministry we never experienced until the beginning of this year. Formerly, we always received enough financial support to cover both ongoing and special project expenses, but for the past fourteen months regular monthly giving has been consistently $1,300 less than monthly expenses with no funds at all on hand for special projects. Expenditures have not increased, but monthly contributions have waned. In 2018 we could only afford to re-stock our bookstore and host the Fiel Conference because of generous one-time gifts we especially solicited from faithful supporters.

Because of these constraints, we can carry out special projects only by first raising the funds for them. To keep the book ministry going we are now charging our clients the full replacement cost for each book they buy instead of selling them at half price like we do at our conference. That significantly decreases the flow of books into the hands of local Christians, but makes it easier for us to keep the shelves stocked. Instead of a single costly order of new books each year, we are ordering twice a year to lighten the financial burden each time we restock.

For the order now at hand we have received $1,500 but need to raise $3,000 more before we can request the books we had hoped to order in October. With another $2,000 we could print additional books no longer available from their original publishers. If you would consider helping with this expense without diminishing your much-appreciated regular gifts to the mission, you can send your contribution to Grace Missions, and then to advise us by e-mail that your gift is especially for literature. As always, 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 should understand that if we receive funds in excess of the specific need, money will not be returned to donors, but rather the mission reserves the freedom to designate such excess funds to other purposes related to the mission.

Woodrow Family News

Julie and I are revelling in the joy known only by first-time grandparents, thanks to Kent and Anna who had a long sought-after baby girl in July this year. The wait has been well-rewarded by all the cute things we observe almost daily through the marvel of modern social media. Kent and Anna found their dream assignment as an assistant pastor with a PCA church in North Carolina, but circumstances beyond their control are requiring them to look once more for a more permanent post. We are praying that God will soon guide them to the work he intends for them.

Sarah Beth (pictured above with Gracie) continues working in a social services program in Montana helping disadvantaged children come up to speed before starting first grade. The goal is to keep these kids from falling forever behind on the education and development track right out of the starting gate.

Andrew and Jennifer are living in Springfield where Andrew works in social media promoting the programs of the Southern Baptist Churches of Illinois. Jennifer, whom Andrew married just last May, found her ideal job working part time as an assistant with a veterinary clinic. She hopes to be formally trained as a vet tech in the future. It is exciting for us to see things continue to work out so pleasantly for them.

Gracie returned to Mozambique for four months after graduating in May from Covenant College with a degree in community development. Her intent was to see if God would open doors for her to remain here permanently to minister to the people she loves. God has done that, providing her with a tough vehicle at no cost and an ideal job working for a Christian businessman helping his Mozambican associates, mostly peasant farmers, advance in life skills, business acumen, and the Christian faith. She is in the States for two months bidding farewell to friends and family and orchestrating her permanent move to Nampula in January. From childhood, Gracie has always seemed the missionary par excellence, and it is easy for me to believe that God has planted Mozambique in her heart, and her in Mozambique, for a reason he will reveal in time.

Benaiah is a freshman at Covenant College, still looking to the Lord to show him what he will do for the rest of his life. Among other things, he has a burden to provide a Christian high school in Mozambique for believing families. We are glad his interests lie along these lines. We are amazed and thankful that our kids all made the transition from conservative home-schooled African mission field to U.S. Christian teen scene without great emotional upheaval, but Benaiah surprised us the most when he promptly ran for president of his freshman class just after I had given the fatherly advice to focus on academics his first year and not over-extend himself in extracurricular activities. He did not win the post, coming in second in a field of five, but I was amazed he was comfortable enough in his brand-new culture to mount such a campaign in popularity.

Next Newsletter and Prayer Request

The newsletter coming a couple of weeks from now will provide updates on the church, Mission Ekklesia, and the hospital project.

Right now, I am scheduling meetings with the local health department and the Health Ministry in Maputo which I hope will clear the way for us to import not only the container of medical equipment waiting in San Antonio but also the medicines and sterile supplies that must be continually re-stocked in a functioning hospital. The present laws would require us to purchase these items from private suppliers in Mozambique when we can receive them for much less through foreign organizations founded to supply mission hospitals.

Please pray that the government officials will open doors for us to take advantage of these resources.

Thank you for your interest in our ministry!