Ministry Update: Fellowship of Believers in Christ (March 2018: Crucified Youth Conference, Day One)

The next two installments in this series of ministry updates by Charles Woodrow are largely abstracts from the messages of the October 2017 Crucified Youth Conference. They are provided for those who would like to know in more detail what the Ekklesia men are teaching.

Mission Ekklesia’s latest effort was their first provincial Crucified Youth Conference which took place in Nampula last October. So respected is Ekklesia amongst local churches that pastors from many denominations throughout the province signed up 350 of their young people, registration fees notwithstanding, though only 300 finally made it to the meetings.

Day one of the conference was given over to the doctrines of salvation. The lead-off message was preached by Aquiles Junior, the dentist son of my surgical assistant in the OR back in the earliest days of our ministry. He presented the desperate plight of all men due to the fall.

Aquiles’ father Arnaldo was a Muslim when I met him my first day at work in 1990. He was assigned to be my translator from Makua to Portuguese and to work alongside me continuously as we made ward rounds, saw patients in the clinic, and operated in the O.R. It proved to be a match made in heaven. Aquiles’ father, though Muslim, translated all my prayers and evangelistic messages for the patients who did not speak Portuguese. When I started handing out gospels of John he eagerly took his and read and re-read it. Within a few months he was a wonderfully changed man. He was the first person to come to salvation in our ministry in 1990. At that time, Aquiles was 2 years old.

Though Arnaldo’s wife never left the Muslim faith (her father was the leader of a mosque) and walked out of the house every time the Bible was read in family devotions, Aquiles was brought up by his father to know and love the Lord, as were his three siblings. Today, all of them are pillars in our church, where his father serves as the “national pastor representative” in the eyes of the government. As mentioned, Aquiles is now a dentist who will soon be working from our hospital.

Aquiles is an eloquent man, and I thought his message could have been delivered in any church I know with no one thinking it was inferior to the preaching they were accustomed to. He chose Isaiah 6:1–7 as his main text, and used it to focus our attention on the majesty and glory and holiness of God, developing most of the metaphors in the text—the dead earthly sovereign and the eternal true Sovereign; the high throne; the train of the robe, the symbol of God’s glory, being so great that it filled the temple; the seraphim with two wings to shield their eyes from the blazing glory, two to cover their own shame/feet, and two to carry out their divine missions; the thrice repeated proclamation of God’s holiness; the reference to God’s glory filling not just the temple but the entire earth; the trembling of the house that contained such majesty; the smoke that would make it impossible for mortals to remain long in the presence of such an unapproachable one. It was movingly expressed with references to the fact that our own view of God is too low and base, that we know too little of His true character due to our spiritual laziness and our tendency to focus on man in our religion. His point was well-made: we need to encounter the true God as Isaiah did.

From there Aquiles moved into the theme chosen for him—our natural response as sinners when confronted with the glory of God—which is the devastating realization that we are hopelessly corrupt men who dwell among a race of corrupt creatures. At that point he branched off into many passages showing the different ways the fall of Adam has damaged us, illustrating key doctrines such as original sin and how the decisions made by our predecessors end up being binding on us today, even though we were not part of the decision or alive when it was made. In that regard he spoke of the leader of the Mozambican independence movement proclaiming the final liberation of Mozambique from the colonists in 1975, and how that decision is an ongoing reality for every Mozambican alive today even though he did nothing to bring it to pass nor was he present when it was declared nor was he even alive at the time of the act; he also spoke of the African requirement for the heirs to pay off the debts of a father when he died—all to illustrate that Adam’s act in the garden rendered all of us guilty before God.

After developing the effects of the fall that have echoed through the centuries and even been magnified and amplified over time, he spoke briefly on the third part of the passage, which was God Himself taking Isaiah’s corruption away through the fiery coal searing his lips. He left that largely undeveloped as it was the theme of subsequent messages. But his part of the gospel presentation was well organized and eloquently delivered.

The next topic chosen by Bila dealt with the practical manifestations of our corruption, and he preached that message himself. He spent the hour showing his hearers the myriad of ways our corruption reveals itself in our individual lives, in our culture, and in world affairs.

The third message was delivered by Ernesto Valoi and focused on our need for reconciliation with God. Not surprisingly for a teacher of philosophy, there was a scholarly bent to it. He spoke on Augustine’s famous quote about how God created us all with a need to be united to Him such that we can never find peace and satisfaction within until that happens. He showed how that reality manifests itself in all religions through their emphasis on re-connecting men to God (the literal meaning of religion in Latin according to Valoi—to re-ligar, re-ligate, or re-connect), and he spoke briefly of how all the world religions, including the African religion of ancestor worship and animism, fail to accomplish this objective and why they fail. Then he proceeded during the bulk of the message to describe how God provided the only true solution through Jesus Christ, and why the gospel is the only workable answer.

The fourth message was by Ibrahimo Hâmido. His assignment was to present the significance of the cross. He is a relaxed, confident, and effective speaker, easy to listen to, whose points are always clearly organized. He spoke on the significance of the cross in five areas: 1) the death of death for the believer in the death of Christ; 2) the end of man’s separation from God, illustrated in the torn veil of the temple; 3) our transformation from enemies to beloved children; 4) an impossible debt being paid in our behalf; and 5) full satisfaction rendered to God—all accomplished through the death of Christ. He used effective illustrations to show how substitutionary atonement operates in giving the sinner the righteousness of Christ in the eyes of God, the only eyes that really matter.

The final message of the first day Bila assigned to me and it was entitled “Our radical dependence upon grace.” We looked at scripture passages showing how the fall resulted in our inability not only to do good in the sight of God, but to even understand the gospel, to believe it, to embrace it, and to act upon it. We saw how we are entirely dependent on the Father, who is the Lord of the harvest, to send the truth to us in the first place; then the Holy Spirit to enable us to understand it; then Christ, the author and perfecter of faith, to enable us to believe it; then again upon the Father and the Holy Spirit to grant us the proper response of repentance; and finally upon Christ and the Holy Spirit to enable our sanctification. These assertions were accompanied by two pages of transcribed Scripture texts showing that God does much more in effecting our salvation than only sending His Son to die on a cross!

We also walked through a striking word study I first heard from my pastor in the States based on the Hebrew word chinnam. This word means literally “by grace,” being a derivative of chen, the word for grace, but it is always translated in the Bible as “without cause” or “without reason.” Three examples of this were God destroying righteous Job in Job 2:3 “by grace,” the Proverbs 1 thugs shedding innocent blood “by grace,” and the Jewish leaders in John 15:25 hating Jesus “by grace” (a fulfillment of Psalm 69:4)—all of that to show that in the Bible grace is always unmerited, bestowed without cause, without justification, without reason, at least from the perspective of our having done something to justify or induce the reaction—whether it be an act of blessing as in the unmerited favor of God bestowed on sinners, or one of destruction and hate, as in the case of the three illustrations cited in the Old Testament.

We looked at Ephesians 2:1–10 to note what good things Paul mentioned in vv. 1–3 that induced God to be gracious to us—none! And saw in vv. 4–7 that it was only circumstances within Himself—His abundant mercy, His great love for the elect, and His desire to show forth His grace for all eternity by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus—that instigated God to save us. And how we needed to drop all our pretense of having done something others failed to do in order to become recipients of the grace of salvation and come to recognize our radical dependence upon God to do it all!

Finally, we saw that the grace of salvation is not merely forgiveness of sin, but a whole package of blessings—hearing the truth, understanding the truth, believing the truth, repentance, the Holy Spirit, a new nature, abhorrence of sin, zeal for good works, intimacy with God, and more. And how all who receive the grace of salvation receive the entire package, not just forgiveness as is commonly thought today, with Romans 8:29–30 being one of several proof texts included in the supplement which illustrate this principle.

I trust by the conclusion of the five messages these youthful listeners came to see how the gospel was not mere words but urgent, blood-earnest Bible truth that will account for the difference between their spending eternity in heaven or hell, and how we must all cry out to God to make us recipients of this radical grace which only He can bestow.

As I heard the messages, I appreciated Bila’s carefulness in mapping out the gospel on the first day before branching off on the second day into practical issues such as sexual purity, work ethic, and succeeding in school. Before the meetings, the Ekklesia men had spent hours together in prayer, and it seemed to me that God answered by giving His special anointing to the preachers and sending 300 young people to the conference with the intent, we hope, of opening their ears and hearts to receive truths few would have heard in the typical Mozambican church until recent times.

As mentioned, the second day was given to practical matters. Those who want to know more of these men and their teaching can read the next installment to come shortly. Others who do not need such detail can skip that one and read the seventh when it arrives, which will describe advances in the church planting work.