Ministry Update: Fellowship of Believers in Christ (March 2018: The Church)

Here is the seventh installment of the Nampula updates by Charles Woodrow, this one devoted to the church.

We are thankful for good things happening of late in our little congregation.

A year ago we had a typical Sunday attendance that ranged from 25 to 35 adults and 20 children.

Valoi

Then in the past year Ernesto and Selma Valoi joined with us. You already know about them and can imagine the benefit they are to our congregation. The reason Valoi is with us is to gain experience in a church that has profited from the kind of Bible teaching we have received through literature and exposure to strong churches and believers throughout Southern Africa and the U.S. Eventually Valoi hopes to be sent forth to plant Biblical churches himself.

Valoi is a great encouragement to me. Deprived of Bible instruction for virtually all of his church life prior to knowing Bila, he much appreciates every opportunity to learn from Scripture—to the point that he has asked me to write up some of the series’ we have undertaken so that they can be widely distributed for others and himself to use in their own ministries. Such is the esteem for Bible teaching when it can be had in this land of few seminary-trained missionaries, teachers, and church planters!

Before Valoi, this kind of appreciation was infrequent in our congregation, probably because from their earliest days in church our members were accustomed to being taught from the Bible by whoever stood in the pulpit. With the influx of 19 new participants who have left other congregations expressly to hear the teaching they were first exposed to in Fiel, Ekklesia, and UIFEC meetings, we are realizing more acutely that Bible instruction is indeed a special blessing here. So the church has been careful to let Julie and me (and the other leaders too) know of their gratitude. In the last four months we have been feted with three parties and one visit from a delegation of church members—all just to let us know we are appreciated!

Church members sing to Julie and me at a surprise anniversary party.

Our church still has deficiencies, and I blush to note how those deficiencies mirror my own weaknesses. But I am delighted to see God raising up mature leaders who compensate for those faults as they too minister, not only to our congregation, but also to believers from other churches.

Bila

On the heels of Valoi and Selma’s decision to join the church, Bila and his wife Sara also requested membership. They had participated as associate members for many years, but the idea was always that Bila would come alongside an influential Mozambican pastor, helping to encourage and mentor him in sound doctrine and practice, so that finally there could be a truly Biblical yet indigenous Reformed Evangelical church in Nampula. But that did not happen despite several attempts.

I imagine too that Bila’s charismatic origins made it feel like something was missing in our worship services—and he could have been right. However, after Bila’s four years with us, I recently tried to refer to him a charismatic believer who esteemed our literature but was torn about whether one could be charismatic and Reformed at the same time. I expected Bila to explain how it worked in his experience. Instead, he dismissed the matter, saying he had been delivered from all that. I meant to ask him later what exactly he was delivered from, but still have not had the opportunity.

Our church is un-African in many ways, doubtless one reason we have not grown more over the years. But finally Bila realized that God simply was not giving them any other options for a church to join, so they requested full, long-term membership. He commented that his wife was delighted, because she had wanted that outcome for four years. That was a happy day for me as well!

After joining, Bila was soon made one of the four leaders who function as elders, and we expect Valoi will also become part of that board before long.

Bila and Valoi have many impressive ministries, more than I have related so far, and they depend on the young people in the congregation as their volunteer work force in carrying them out. The youths and singles much respect them and long to follow their examples. Because I am neither African nor hindered by the limitations they must overcome growing up in difficult circumstances, they can hardly hope to follow my example, or so they think. But they see no reason why, with God’s help, they cannot each be a Valoi or Bila or Selma or Sara. Having such excellent and accessible role models always before the congregation is a great asset in the church work.

Young people sing during a church worship service.

UIFEC

The young people in our congregation joined with select youths from other churches to form an organization for promoting Biblical evangelism and Biblical yet African church music. The organization is UIFEC (Brotherhood of Believers in Christ) and they offer youth seminars in soteriology, evangelism, and church music.

A meeting with UIFEC leaders.

The members have written many songs for use in worship. It seems Africans can create music at the drop of a hat. At parties they make each other perform songs composed on the spot, demanding original words and an original melody, and of course dance steps to go with the music, based on a phrase they are given. To my surprise, the pedantic philosopher Valoi won the church-wide competition in this event at a recent church social.

But unlike much church music here, the songs of UIFEC are rich in true experiential Christianity and Biblical content. UIFEC has even produced a CD of their music for other youth choirs to copy. I have translated a couple of their songs in the past for use in our newsletters, and these can be found again at the end of this report.

In addition, UIFEC regularly hosts seminars for the young people of other churches on themes such as Biblical soteriology or the attributes of God. Some of the sessions they teach themselves, and others are led by invited speakers like the four leaders of Ekklesia or sometimes myself. Their weekend seminars are well attended with 80 or more youths from across town, and doubtless these seminars played an important part in securing a large audience for the 300-member Crucified Youth conference led recently by Ekklesia.

A seminar sponsored by UIFEC.

Lately, UIFEC has been ministering to a local refugee camp set up by the U.N. for people who have fled atrocities in other African countries. Refugee believers who made their acquaintance with UIFEC through participating in my systematic theology seminar (where all the graders were UIFEC leaders) have requested them to teach the same truths to their people. So far UIFEC has led one weekend seminar and one Sunday service, and a strong friendship is developing with these appreciative believers.

Conferences and Seminars

Both Ekklesia and UIFEC are blessed to have available to them all the resources Grace Missions uses for its own conferences. We have a contact list of 2000 church leaders throughout north Mozambique who have participated in our ministries and over 200 who have completed my theology course, and that list is used to inform everyone of the events planned by Ekklesia or UIFEC. They have free use of all our catering equipment and tables and chairs for feeding up to 600 persons, and when the hospital facilities are inadequate, they have our marquee tent which can seat 400 persons. Recently I bought three more large tents which I anticipate we will need in the not-too-distant future! After working at 18 annual pastors’ conferences for Fiel, our members know how to host conferences much as the average American knows how to drive a car!

Newcomers to the Church

After Valoi and Bila joined, the Lord led Stélio our way together with a still-growing number of young people he has influenced. Besides Stélio’s group, since the last Fiel Conference and seminar we have attracted five other earnest believers who first got involved with us either because they wanted to serve at the conferences and bookstore or through enrolling in the theology course. Welcoming this second group of newcomers seems like stealing the cream from other churches, something we have carefully avoided in the past, but they want to be with us and to learn from our leaders. I suspect as we gather more mature believers from a variety of churches there may be a growing influx of like-minded friends joining them. The effect on other churches is insignificant at present, but if the trend became noticeable, it could harm the larger ministry of Grace Missions and Editora Fiel, which is to serve Evangelical churches across the board, not plunder their membership. But after years of having old members transferred away at the same rate new members joined, it is exciting for us to make new friends every month.

Today, we have 45 to 55 adults meeting each Sunday.  Though still small, our church is a solid and close-knit group of Mozambicans God seems to be assembling for ministries that extend well beyond what our small numbers would cause one to expect.

A recent church lunch.

Lay Preachers

In our congregation, all the male members are called on to begin exhorting the assembly after they have read through the entire Bible at least once. This is a practice I copied from the ministry of the church that first sent me to Mozambique. The men start with five- to ten-minute exhortations during the 20-minute open participation time when any member is allowed to testify, pray, sing, or, in the case of the men, teach. At least one man is assigned to exhort during this time.

Once accustomed to addressing the whole congregation, the men begin leading the liturgy, which usually involves preparing multiple passages from Scripture used as we move through the various phases of worship. Those who become skillful at handling the word of God are given an opportunity to preach the main message. Opportunities are limited for men who do not have the gift of teaching or cannot prepare well, but those who are successful receive more pulpit time.

This pulpit time is possible because I preach at only half of the services, and I think the other preachers begrudge that I get to do even that much while they wait months for their next opportunity. A church with a gifted, well-trained preacher could hardly allow his ministry to be so limited as mine is. But in our case we have no one with an especially advanced degree of training, and the ironic result is that a number of effective preachers are emerging as we share the preaching opportunities. Since this is a mission field with very limited human resources, the desire from the beginning was to plant a church that could produce capable teachers to teach and lead other churches, so this result is, I trust, worth the sacrifice of not always hearing the best message possible each Sunday. God has granted so many capable teachers lately, counting those who have left their former churches, that it is becoming difficult for anyone to break into the preaching rotation or to remain there. And that includes myself! I am increasingly self-conscious about monopolizing the pulpit when we have several fine African preachers in the congregation who can teach the same things, but in the African context.

A church member teaches at a service several years ago.

The next installment will update readers on the medical/evangelistic ministry to resume soon at the hospital.

And, as promised, here are two hymns written by UIFEC leader Jeremias António Muquito, translated into English.

Death of a Christian

1 Be not so sad, Oh my brother!
I go to a far better home.
And you, Oh my friend, be not grieving.
A better place soon I will own.

2 This day for you too will come hasting,
But where will your confidence be?
Your works cannot help you, but Jesus
Alone sets the prisoner free.

3 “Weep not,” Oh my friends, says the Savior.
“This man is not dead, but asleep.”
’Tis Jesus who will me awaken
And ever in heaven me keep!

To live for the Christian is Christ.
To die for the Christian is gain.
If you would believe in my Savior
In heaven you’ll see me again.

Receive Me, Oh Receive Me!

1 Unto Thee, O my Lord, do I cry
If You should reject I must die.
Oh give unto me Your salvation!
In sin and perdition I lie!

2 Fast bound by the chains of its sin
My fainting heart unto Thee groans.
“Cleanse me, O Lord, would You cleanse me,
And welcome me into Your home!”

3 O Lord, how I long to be perfect,
But weakness within makes me faint.
’Tis You who alone can save wretches,
Through love transform sinner to saint.

Receive me, dear Christ, Oh receive me!
Condemned in great sin though I be,
Believing You died for poor sinners
I cast myself wholly on Thee!