The newest members of our Nampula congregation are Ernesto and Selma Valoi. Valoi was reared in the home of his grandfather, an African witch doctor. As mentioned in the last report, he spent the early years of his life sleeping every night in the special hut reserved for Satanic rituals, incantations, and the casting of spells. His flesh bears the scars of cuts inflicted during those ceremonies.
His mother, though she married the unbelieving son of a witch doctor, was the member of a Methodist congregation, so periodically Valoi would be taken to church. At some point in his school years, he made the decision to follow his mother’s religion.
While a student of philosopy at the university in the capital, Valoi learned through the Methodist church about the Fiel conferences we host every year in Nampula, 1300 miles away. Having a thirst for knowledge, and wishing he could learn from reliable sources what the Christian religion really was, he longed to attend, but the journey was too great.
By God’s grace, a year later he was assigned by the government to teach philosophy at the university in Nampula. Since he was a leader in his local Methodist congregation and eligible to participate in the Fiel ministries, he eagerly registered to attend his first conference in 2010. Little could he have guessed that seven years later he would deliver a message on Martin Luther and the Reformation as one of the conference’s featured speakers!
For Valoi, the most important consequence of the 2010 meetings was his getting to know Timóteo Bila who was also attending the conference for the first time and who later founded Mission Ekklesia for the purpose of bringing the doctrines of grace to the Mozambican church.
Bila was living in Maputo and had graduated from the same university as Valoi. They discovered each other at the conference and began a transforming friendship. The relationship initially ended with the conference, as Bila had to return to Maputo, but God kindled a strong and permanent friendship between Bila and Grace Missions at the meetings which ultimately led to Bila moving to Nampula two years later. Unlike Valoi, who had only a rudimentary understanding of Biblical Christianity, Bila was far advanced in the Reformed doctrines which he had discovered on the Internet, was teaching them at his own Bible school in Maputo, and had written a publishable 84-page manual on the doctrines of grace for the Mozambican church.
As soon as Bila moved to Nampula, he looked up his old Fiel acquaintance at the university. He and Valoi met often, and the main subject of their conversation was Christ, the Christian faith, and Biblical practice. Valoi stoutly rejected Bila’s presentation of the doctrines of salvation, but could not escape the glaring fact that the Bible gave strong support to Bila’s position while he himself struggled in vain to find Scriptures to confirm his own ideas.
Now Valoi had to get to the bottom of the matter. The government sent him to Portugal for a year to earn a master’s degree in philosophy, but he left Mozambique with his baggage loaded, not with books on philosophy, but with 20 tomes from our bookstore, the classics of the Reformed faith. During the next year, he completed his master’s degree in philosophy, but more importantly, he devoured the twenty books Bila had recommended and returned to Mozambique a convinced Calvinist, all aflame with a new-found understanding of the Bible that provided answers to seemingly everything!
Valoi signed up for one of Bila’s reading circles where the participants receive one book every month supplied free by our bookstore provided they have read the previous title and have come ready to discuss its contents at the monthly meeting. Valoi soon became a leader in the monthly discussions.
Then in 2016 Valoi signed up to take my systematic theology course offered every year after the conference. It is an intense six-day course of 15 lessons, 15 homework assignments, 15 discussions, 15 tests, and 15 reviews which fill up ten to twelve hours of each day. Valoi made the highest score with a perfect result on the final exam. He said recently that that week was the most transformational of his entire life. He had already encountered nearly all the doctrines we studied through his extensive reading and countless discussions with Bila, but he was overwhelmed at the beauty of how it all fit together when he finally saw the whole integrated picture compressed into only six days. I feel the same way each year, and it was gratifying to see again that some of my students experience the same wonder!
That was the year HeartCry came to Nampula to get to know the Ekklesia ministry, of which Valoi was now an integral part. They were impressed with the four leaders and provided airfare to get at least one of them to a Reformed Baptist conference in Zambia headed by Conrad Mbewe, Roland Kalifungwa, and Choolwe Mwetwa—some of our favorite speakers for the Nampula Fiel conferences. I joined in, paying the airfare for two more men, one of them being Valoi.
Months earlier, Valoi had been nudged out of the United Methodist church when he began teaching salvation by grace through faith, and at this point he was working to help a team of Pentecostal missionaries plant a church in Nampula. At the Zambia conference, Conrad Mbewe preached a once-off message on neo-Pentecostalism, exposing the excesses and unbiblical character of much of it. Valoi was shocked to realize that what his missionary friends were promoting fit exactly what Conrad so effectively discredited from Scripture.
Valoi returned to Nampula with three burdens. First, he had to preach the Biblical gospel as his primary calling in life – it seemed to him hardly anyone else was doing it. Second, something had to be done to bring the Mozambican church to the level of piety and understanding on display in the Zambian Reformed Baptist movement. And third, he was convinced that he must take up again his search for a Biblical church to join. I encouraged him to visit our congregation, apologizing for the fact that we were not nearly as African as we should be and have our own deficiencies in certain areas. But I told him with us he could get good preparation for teaching the word of God, and when he was ready he would be sent out, not to establish churches with somebody’s label on them as would be true of any other church he might join, but autonomous churches governed by Christ and the Bible. Valoi and Selma began attending—and quickly fell in love with the congregation. Bila’s presence in the congregation no doubt contributed to that result. But it has been a wonderful situation all the way around—for the church, for the Bilas, for the Valois, and for Julie and me!
All the Ekklesia men are desperate to get further formal training, but Valoi more than the rest. He longs to gain the qualifications (a Ph.D) that will earn him a place in the debate amongst erudite Africans as they try to re-discover true African identity and religion in the post-colonial era. For decades, African identity was suppressed as Africans conformed to the colonial culture superimposed upon their continent. Now that the colonists are gone, nationalistic Africans are trying to discover who they really are as Africans—but it is hard to discern as all the pure, pre-colonial Africans died out generations ago. There is much debate about what it means to be truly African, and to thinking Africans, it is a crucial question to resolve.
Valoi is frustrated that the few Christian voices in the discussion are as foggy and confused as everyone else. He says they are writing worthless essays on the existence or not of black people in the Bible, when they need to be proclaiming the gospel and how it holds the practical and intellectual answers to all the questions already on the table. He wants to gain the credentials necessary to enter the discussion and point everyone to Christ!
Valoi recently presented me with a list of over 200 books and papers he needs for accomplishing his research. He also asked me for everything I could get him by Jonathan Edwards, Hermann Bavinck, and Abraham Kuyper. I looked on my Puritan Hard Drive to see what I had available and found Kuyper’s Systematic Theologyand 47 books by Jonathan Edwards, including two volumes of over 2000 pages each. When I presented all that to Valoi, he lamented, “It isn’t enough—I need more!”
I could not help laughing to myself—and rejoicing. Back in 1998 I was discouraged as I looked out over the congregation I was leading. In a collection of 80 adults, only a handful of the women could speak Portuguese and few of the men could read a Bible. When we drove up for the pre-worship prayer meetings on Sunday mornings, we found the young people gathered outside refusing to come in and pray. They were boycotting God because He did not answer their prayers—only the prayers of select individuals like the church leaders. When the leaders referred a congregation 20 miles out in the bush to another church ministry for oversight, knowing that we were too far away to minister effectively to them, the church people surmised I had sold the congregation to another missionary for profit, much as professional soccer teams are sold by one owner to another. That is how missionaries made money on the mission field according to local gossip. So much nonsense! So much impenetrable darkness!
I remember crying out to God at that time, promising that I would continue to serve the people He had brought under my spiritual care, but would He please let me work as well with at least a few believers on a spiritual fast track? Within days, Richard Denham called from Brazil wanting to know if I would help Editora Fiel get their literature and conference ministry started amongst pastors and church leaders in Mozambique. From there the conferences, seminars, bookstore, and literature program have developed, until today I have the unspeakable pleasure of working with people like Bila and Valoi, the cream of the Mozambican church as far as I am concerned – and other exciting Christians who you will learn about in the next few reports—men who are carrying forward the banner of Christ and Biblical Christianity through the labors of their own indigenous organizations.
Contributions for Valoi
Before concluding this report, let me say that God has opened the door for Valoi and two other Ekklesia leaders (Bila and Ibrahimo Hâmido) to attend the Andrew Jumper school of theology in Brazil. This is a conservative Presbyterian seminary. Its great advantage is that students pursuing advanced degrees can study from their home towns where most are probably pastoring churches. For the Ekklesia men, it means they can carry on their ministry of reformation in Mozambique, avoid losing meaningful contact with their own culture as happens when students permanently assimilate the foreign mindset of Brazil or the United States, and not grow accustomed to the comforts abroad that spoil most Africans for life back in their homeland.
I am pleased too that Valoi will be pursuing a degree in theology rather than Christian philosophy. This was always his preference after learning the doctrines of grace, but he thought he would be qualified only for the advanced philosophy degree because his previous degrees were in that discipline, not theology. But this is not the case at his selected seminary.
Pastor Heber, our speaker at this year’s Fiel conference and professor at the seminary, was impressed with the Ekklesia men, just as HeartCry had been the year before. He arranged full scholarships for all, providing they could pass the entrance exams, which they all did. But they must fly to Brazil once each term, two to three times a year, which will cost $1500 each trip for air fare and meals. Karl Peterson (co-founder of the Fiel Conferences in Nampula 18 years ago) and I are committed to devoting our own tithes to make this happen—but we would welcome the assistance of any churches or individuals God leads to help after reading this report.
Contributions can be sent to Grace Missions, c/o Faith Community Church, 723 South D Street, Oxnard, California 93030. Please indicate that you want to help the Ekklesia men get their post-graduate education so we can know your desire.
An ongoing commitment to help the men all the way through their two year program would be most gratifying.
If anyone is curious to know the kind of teaching Valoi and the other Ekklesia men offer, abstracts of their messages at the October Crucified Youth Conference they conducted for 300 Nampula young people are included in a report prepared for release later this month.