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

Here is the sixth installment of the Nampula updates by Charles Woodrow, devoted to day two of the October 2017 Crucified Youth conference.

On day two, the Ekklesia men pressed on to practical matters.

Valoi spoke first on the Christian worldview: seeing the world and life from Christ’s perspective. His second message, like the first, had a philosophical element as he spent the first part developing the different worldviews that are prevalent in both the western world, which increasingly influences Africans today, and the African world. This gave us an opportunity to discern just how much our personal outlook lines up with these non-Biblical systems. Then he emphasized that a Christian must drop perspectives gained during his years outside of Christ and be transformed in his mind, living and thinking as one possessing a new nature, one redeemed from the world and devoted as a vessel for God’s own possession.

Valoi used four passages from the Pentateuch that illustrated how the people of Israel physically left Egypt and slavery at the exodus, but in their minds continued to think like slaves, regarding Egypt as their real home instead of stepping into the promised land and living as men set free by God. “You can take the savage out of the jungle, but you cannot take the jungle out of the savage,” is a local proverb, but this is not to be the case for Christians who receive a new nature at regeneration. He used Isaiah 55:8-9 to show how man’s thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and the necessity of even regenerate Christians being re-taught to see everything from God’s perspective which is infinitely higher than how the natural man sees and lives.

In the next message, Bila spoke on how to succeed in school and the workplace. He teaches whole seminars on that in his job as director of human resources for 500 employees, so it was hard to limit himself to one hour, he said. Bila spoke from the parable of the talents and made 7 points. Three key points were that in everything our aim is 1) to bring glory to God, 2) to please God, and 3) to be productive laborers. On the third point he emphasized that we must be producers, not merely consumers, a serious problem for many Mozambicans who expend their effort only to get food and think after that there is no reason to continue exerting themselves, when to escape their poverty they must produce something more useful and long lasting than mere fertilizer!

In his fourth point he warned against looking upon one’s employer as an exploiter—the prevalent mindset of many Mozambican workers. They begrudge the fact that their employer is developing and progressing “at their expense” and consider themselves exploited when they observe advances happening at work. The actual problem, Bila says, is they are not following their employers’ example by using their own resources gained from work to advance in their own affairs. Instead, they spend all their paycheck on things that do not generate durable, long lasting fruit.

His fifth point was that it was commendable for Christians to be content, but they also should be eager to improve and advance. Christian workers are too laid back, passive, and unmotivated, he said. He pointed out that while we were not to be driven by greed or a desire to make a name for ourselves as others may be, there were many legitimate motivations toward making the world a better place for our families and children and toward fulfilling the Lord’s mandate to tame and develop His creation—enough to put more than sufficient steam under any Christian’s kettle.

His sixth point was that Africans look too much to magic and witch doctors to get results, and when they become Christians they have the same attitude toward gaining success, but now in Christian trappings. When final exams approach they spend time in prayer and fasting rather than working to learn the material or to master their jobs. He used the example of David who, though he knew victory came from the Lord, invested time learning to use a sling in killing lions and bears.

As mentioned, all his points came directly or indirectly from the parable of the ten talents, and his last point was that God’s commendation depends on our diligence in using His gifts wisely, and the greatest gifts He gives us are spiritual—the Holy Spirit, a new nature, power over dominating sin, etc. Our goal must be to use these assets to leave a mark for Jesus Christ and for good on the lives of everyone God brings across our path.

Next, Ibrahimo taught two messages on sexual purity which covered the waterfront well and in sufficient detail given that he was speaking to a mixed audience. Ibrahimo’s natural style is generally relaxed, cheerful, and fatherly and perhaps not suited for a topic like sexual sin in the African context. The issue he was preaching on is a consuming fire devouring Christian youths on every side, often ruining their future prospects in marriage and for having a family and even leading to premature death. The warning that God demands sexual purity and abhors religious hypocrites like those of Matthew 23 who talk one way and live another should be thundered forth in cultures such as ours in Nampula where sexual immorality is common and costly!

Ascribing due seriousness to the matter is further hindered by the fact that it seems to be an accepted truism amongst African churchgoers that there is an inevitable and enormous gulf between talk and walk. In church you are expected to make radical proclamations like, “Give every cent you have to the church,” along with such genuine commands as “Love your enemy, abstain from sex before marriage, be faithful to your spouse.” But it is assumed that no one, including the preacher, the missionary, and God Himself, expects anyone to live by such commands—neither the fanciful man-made declarations nor the divine injunctions.

Ibrahimo solemnly reminded his audience from I Thessalonians 4:3-8 that God would avenge those who disregard His commands in this area. He finished with wise counsel on how to avoid sexual impurity—the necessity of having a new nature, fleeing temptation, walking in the Spirit, controlling our thoughts and words, and eschewing relationships of affection with unbelievers of the opposite sex.

The next session was devoted to questions and answers. There must have been scores of questions, all of them worth asking, and the men gave gratifying, Biblical answers. Some young people said the Q and A was the most important part of the seminar because they had so many questions and so few reliable counselors. I can readily believe that. Lack of Bibles and good Bible instruction in previous decades of Catholic and communist domination in Mozambique means that the older generation of Christians often provide answers based on tradition or fatuous religious precepts that are more detrimental than helpful.

I listened to a discussion in the past year at a youth meeting where respected denominational leaders and matronly counselors declared with confidence that courting a girl to know her heart before marrying her is worldly and wrong, and that young people who do so are setting the snare of sexual temptation before their feet. Truly godly Christians, according to them, would only need to pray and then listen for the voice of God telling them who to marry, then in blind faith obey that voice, trusting God’s choice and finding out who exactly they married only after the wedding day! There was a saintly older man who advocated a wiser approach I could readily endorse, but he was ridiculed into silence. Another unrealistic piece of tradition that I am told still receives some lip service is that a couple must not touch or hold hands until the pastor himself clasps those hands together during the wedding ceremony.

The questions were so numerous that the session extended on to the end of the day. That meant sacrificing the final message entitled “The Crucified Youth,” which probably was to be the climax of the meetings. Normally a strong challenge to live lives of undistracted devotion to the Lord (I Corinthians 7:35) and separation from the world would have appealed to Christian young people like these who turned out to hear ten messages in two days. But while spirits were willing, the flesh was flagging, so the decision to save the message for a future conference was probably wise.

With the exception of one message, the entire conference was organized and conducted from beginning to end by the Mozambicans. A large group of volunteers served tirelessly the entire week leading up to the meetings, many of them working all through the last night before the conference to be sure everything was ready. Registration began at 7:00 a.m. and ran smoothly. All events, meals, and messages were on time. The conference ended just ten minutes past the scheduled closing time—impressive results in the African context!

Thanks to the generosity of our donors through the years, Grace Missions was able to supply without charge all the re-usable material needed for the meetings—the conference venue, the tent, the PA system, the chairs and tables, the catering supplies, and anything else Ekklesia requested from our 40-foot container of material devoted for hosting Fiel conferences and seminars. Mission employees erected the tent and kept tabs on all the loaned equipment. But apart from teaching one message, nothing was done by myself or any other expatriate.

In the seventh installment I will tell what God is doing today in the local church ministry.