Ministry Update: Fellowship of Believers in Christ (April 2018: A Word about Finances)

The following report was written by Charles Woodrow in November 2017 at the request of Grace Medical.

Where does a lone missionary family sent to the field by a local church with no mission board backing them get the money to build a million-dollar hospital, to order $30,000 of books every year and then sell them at half our cost, or to host $30,000 conferences for hundreds of church leaders who cover only 10% of the actual expense? The answer is, I am not sure. But somehow the money is always there, even when we do not discuss financial matters in our newsletters, even when we go for years telling no one where to send a gift if they should want to, even when nearly four years transpire without a single general report to our supporters.

When it comes to raising money, I may be the most backward missionary on the planet. Though I am occasionally informed of the people and churches who give to us, I am not sure who is helping so much. All of us here in Mozambique who benefit from their largesse are thankful for their strong support, and thankful to the Lord for causing them to be faithful even when we are not.

Fiel Conference session.

Bookstore at the conference.

One phenomenon I have long noted is that investing our personal money in this ministry has never hurt us. In 1998 our family was given $40,000 to help us buy a house we would own ourselves. At the time we were a family of seven still living in the one-bedroom apartment the Ministry of Health provided Julie and me when we first came to Mozambique as a couple with only one child, a 9-month old baby. Eight years later, when the gift for a house was received by the mission, five children slept in the one bedroom and Julie and I spent every night on an air mattress on the floor of the living room.

But in that same year Grace Missions was offered for free eight acres of prime land inside the city limits, provided we built a hospital on it, so we scuttled our plans to own a house and invested the $40,000 getting the hospital effort started instead. Our family moved into two shipping containers on the recently donated land for the next 14 months. To our unending amazement, once the pump was primed with that $40,000, God kept providing funds until we had spent over a million dollars developing the hospital and $85,000 building a beautiful home we never would have expected to own even in the States.

Our container home (top and bottom).

Our current home (top and bottom).

When the first annual pastors’ conference was planned jointly with missionary Karl Peterson, our family had $10,000 in the bank. We put it all into hosting that first conference for 83 church leaders, buying the expensive catering equipment, renting the venue, and purchasing food, but somehow when the conference was over and the money was spent, the savings account was back up to $10,000! For the next four years as the conferences grew in attendance we continued to cover all our conference expenses from our family tithe money, accepting no assistance from the mission because we wanted the conferences to be our personal offering to the church in Mozambique. And somehow the money was always there. Though today the mission pays almost the full cost of the conference not already covered by associate Karl Peterson, there are times when the event approaches and the $60,000 needed from our end to order books and pay conference bills looks like it will not materialize. But somehow it always does.

Meal service at the conference.

Later, in 2003, when we launched the bookstore ministry, a Reformed Baptist church led by Ron and Thais Edmonds gave $16,000 to stock the shelves so we would actually have books to sell. But for the first many months or possibly years, the rental for our downtown location and all the overhead operating cost was paid by Julie and me from the missionary stipend intended for our family, not from mission funds. Once again, after the pump was primed with our own offerings, it never went dry. Fifteen years later the bookstore has more books than ever before, we are still selling them at half their cost so that Mozambicans can afford them, and our family is none the poorer for having made that original investment.

Our first bookstore (top and bottom).

Since 2015, Julie and I have spent 280 thousand dollars of our own money, most of what we had set aside to live on during our retirement years, purchasing and developing the 20-acre piece of land we call Quinta Graça, or Land of Grace. We hope it will serve as the site for many conferences by Ekklesia, UIFEC, and the Fiel ministries, as well as the location for the homes of eighteen future missionary families participating in the medical/evangelistic work. So far we feel we have not risked anything as we could always sell the land to recover our investment, though we want far more to see it used in the Lord’s service.

These were the first paragraphs of the report that until two weeks ago I intended to send at this time. But an unexpected development has overtaken the mission in the last fourteen days that compels me to radically alter the rest of this update.

The treasurer for Grace Missions informed me two months ago that he expected a $30,000 shortfall in funds for 2018. At that point we had over $30,000 in our accounts and I assumed the shortage would only manifest itself in the final months of the year. In the meantime, I expected to do what we have done repeatedly for 30 years on the field: commit the matter to God in prayer, not panic, and strive to be faithful in administering the resources God has entrusted to us.

But quite suddenly I learned on Monday of last week that already the mission was completely without funds. That is, if I were to process even one-third of the annual book order that I must make every March in order to have literature on hand for the pastors’ conference in July, there would be no cash to pay anyone’s salary, including my own, and no funds to pay our bills and other obligations.

With that news I have been constrained to close the book store in order to save the books now on hand so they can be sold in July to the pastors who come to our conference from far and near hoping to purchase good literature. If we can return to selling books, either at the conference or at some other time in the future, it seems unlikely that we will be able to subsidize them as we have always done before. But subsidizing the books is the only way they are affordable to the majority of Mozambican pastors.

Next I met with the mission’s workers to inform them that we cannot guarantee their salaries after the end of April. Eight of our faithful workers, including the bookshop attendant, received notices of their lay-off in 30 days, as required by law. These are good people whom we have secured through decades of hiring and firing until we finally acquired a strong core of conscientious helpers able to carry out their work in support of our ministries with minimal supervision from me.

Daily devotions with our regular workers and construction crew.

I have marvelled often during the four years we were out of touch with supporters how the Lord was able to provide for our large expenditures, which require an average monthly income of $15,000. God’s constant provision was an amazing testimony of His faithfulness as well as that of our supporters at home.

I thank God that He held off for so long the harmful result one would expect from lack of contact with pray-ers and givers. Apparently, now that we have finally re-established our reports from the field, thanks to the recent arrival of the very able Hannah Malone, God has permitted to happen what should have occurred long ago. I am glad we could let everyone know He was still at work in Mozambique through our ministries and those of Mozambicans He has brought alongside us before finding those ministries suddenly in danger of drying up!  The timing of this crisis is remarkable to me, as I had no idea we would be in this situation when I wrote all these updates last November in expectation that Hannah would soon be able to send them out.

This is not the first time we have faced significant threats. In the past 30 years we have come close to having the medical work closed down by jealous doctors on several occasions, with one of the schemes rising all the way to the national Minister of Health before being overturned. I have been threatened with expulsion from the country through elaborate intrigues that finally ascended to the ears of the provincial Governor before being defused by him. At other times I have run completely out of personal funds, or the mission has had insufficient funds to pay for large, looming expenses. I have been arrested and taken to jail under false charges (and released the next morning with my accuser being placed behind bars for conning the police), and I have been wrongfully sued in court for $150,000 . . . all potentially devastating situations.

In every case, God has delivered the mission and me from the snares before us, and at times even used them to turn the tables on adversaries, propelling us ahead through their efforts to cause harm. So I do not see this latest development as reason for panic or despair, but nevertheless, decisive action is necessary.

It is rare for Grace Missions to respond to financial threats by sending out a call for money, even in the form of a request for prayer. I cannot recall ever doing this. But I bring Grace Missions’ situation to your attention now because adverse consequences are already affecting others to whom or with whom we minister, and to conceal our predicament while they suffer seems inappropriate.

Upon informing a small group of supporters last week of our circumstances, one responded immediately with a challenge grant of $15,000. The donor’s stated purpose is to match every gift of $1000 or more with an equal amount up to a total of $15,000. If his challenge grant succeeds, we will have $30,000 available to process our annual book order, with a good start toward meeting the conference expenses in a few months. The book order provides literature for the book store, the conference, and Mission Ekklesia’s reading circles.

A Mission Ekklesia reading circle.

For those concerned to know how our funds are used, we normally spend $50,000 to $60,000 a year on the literature and conference ministry and $2,200 a month on salaries for 16 mission employees (there are six more employees paid by other entities). The rest is spent on maintenance and development of our facilities, operating expenses, and the missionary stipend.

Ironically, I must advise that after decades of ministry with only one fund-raising campaign, also in response to a challenge grant that demanded it, there is another challenge grant waiting in line after this one. It is to get the hospital to the starting gate, and Grace Medical (the hospital board) intended to present it in the near future. But in view of the more urgent needs of the church ministry, that grant will be announced only if the needs of Grace Missions (the church ministry board) are adequately supplied.

Please pray with Grace Missions in this situation, that we would respond appropriately. If the Lord prompts you to help financially, know that the gift is much appreciated.