Autumn 1990 – Vol.6 – No.3
God has His people in every part of the world. Some of them are white, some are black, and some are different shades of brown. Some speak English, some speak Swahili, and some speak Chinese. And just as they look and talk differently, when they come together to worship God there are many differences that we would quickly notice.
In Mozambique, the Christians meet for worship only once on Sundays. That is because nearly all of them have to walk to church. Some come from miles away. So when they get to the church building, they want to stay a while. Sometimes a special service will start at 9:30 and still be going strong at 2:00 in the afternoon.
The church building is really just a large room. There is no nursery, but the children are generally well behaved. Mrs. Woodrow and I have a great responsibility to keep our own little Kent at least as well behaved as the African children. We thank God that so far he has been good in church, even when the service goes on for 4 hours or more.
Not only is there no nursery, but there are no bathrooms either. We haven’t figured out yet what people do about that. We still have a lot to learn about life here.
There are only a few pews in church. If you want to sit on a bench with a back, you have to come early and sit at the front. In the middle of the room, people sit on logs cut in half. They are hard and close to the ground. They might be ok for children, but if you are a big adult you have to squat very low to use them. After a few hours they get uncomfortable, but the Africans are used to it. They have a much harder life than we do.
People who show up late or like to stay in the back must sit on the floor. I think this would be a good idea for American churches to adopt, don’t you?
The Africans love to sing and they are very good at it. They always sing “a cappella.” That means without a piano or organ or guitar to help them. Such musical instruments don’t even exist in Nampula! But the Africans don’t need them, because they have very good ears for music. Everyone sings in different parts just like a church choir. Even the children begin singing their parts at a young age.
Because they are so good at it, there is a lot of singing in church. One time 11 different choirs from the same church sang 19 special selections during one service. Much of the music they make up themselves. We don’t usually get tired of it because they sing so well. Sometimes they just sing the same phrase over and over for three or four minutes, and we are reminded of how Christ cautions us against mindless repetition in Matthew 6:7.
There are no hymn books in the church. People bring their own from home. However, only new Christians need them, because the African carries his hymnal in his heart. He memorizes all the stanzas to dozens of songs. They can sing for hours without ever opening a book.
Once after praying I started singing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in English because it said what I wanted to say just then. I had never heard the Africans sing it before, but sure enough, after a few bars they all joined in, singing the words in Chitswa. They know a lot of the hymns we sing, which someone has translated into their language.
Another way the Africans are different is they never sing just part of a hymn. They always sing all the verses. And then, sometimes, when they get to the end they keep right on singing, starting over with the last verse and working backwards to the first again.
They do their offerings differently as well. They take I Corinthians very literally, where it says God loves a cheerful (hilarious) giver. During this part of the service they always sing a happy song, and people go dancing up to the front, waving their offerings in the air, to place them in the offering basket. Even the old women can hop and skip like little children, for a while. We can’t help smiling as they dance to the offering basket, faces all lit up and beaming, offerings in hand. This is our favorite part of worship here, and we hope one day we can send back a video tape for you to watch.
Though they wave their gifts in the air for all to see, it isn’t done in order to show off, because the offerings are very small. The Africans don’t understand that they ought to give generously to God. They are not stingy people, but because they are so poor they think they need to give only a very tiny fraction of their increase to the church. They don’t realize that Proverbs 11:34-35 teaches if we give little to God, we will remain poor and never have enough! But if we are generous in giving to Him, He will meet all our needs. This is a hard lesson for people anywhere to learn, but it is especially hard in Mozambique where most people do not have enough money to even buy their daily food.
When the church really needs money, they have a contest. All the Sunday school groups compete to see which one can give the most. They have a separate collection during the service for each class. At the end, the money is counted and the winner is announced. Sometimes people stand up and cheer if their class wins.
Many American churches have contests too, but this is not right. Such Christians do not realize that God says in Matthew 6:1-4 if we do something just to win a contest or to pat ourselves on the back or to get the applause of men, we might as well not do it at all. If we only try to please God when we think we’ll get something for it, or because others are watching, God says we have no reward in heaven! Such offerrings are meaningless to Him.
Many of the African Christians don’t know this so they go dancing to the front to put money in the offering plate for each of the different classes. These Christians give six or seven times in the same service, and they love doing it!
Prayer seems to be important to the African church. They have not forgotten how to kneel. Because the room is so crowded, only the leader gets on his knees, while everyone else kneels in his heart.
When someone dies, church members will gather at his home every night for many days to pray with the family. However, they are praying to God to help the dead man. They have learned this from the Catholics, who believe you can help a man get to heaven after he dies by praying for him. This is a serious mistake. Like the Catholics, they do not seem to realize that whether we go to heaven or hell is determined solely by whether or not we come to faith in Jesus Christ during this life.
We appreciate the preaching at church. A different person preaches every Sunday. But we have heard some very strange things taught from the pulpit because the people do not know the Bibles very well. Several people have taught that the church needs to become more and more righteous so that the Holy Spirit will come into the lives of its members. They do not realize that Romans 8:9 teaches that all truly saved Christians have the Holy Spirit already. Theyvare still waiting for Him to come, with the sound of rushing wind and with tongues of fire such as happened at Pentecost.
The Christians have a good reputation among their neighbors. People in Nampula know that a Christian is different. Once a Christian came to see me at the hospital. The interpreter helping me thought perhaps I had never heard of a Christian before, so he started telling me what a Christian was like. He said, “A Christian is different. You can beat a Christian, and he won’t fight back. They are faithful to their wives. They don’t smoke or drink. And when they are sick, they never go to the witch doctor or get help from spirits.” He didn’t understand why Christians were different, but I was happy to know that, like the early Christians, they are highly spoken of by unbelievers.
Like the early Christians, they seem to love and accept each other, even if they are not members of the same church. If a church has a special cause for rejoicing, such as when a new building is dedicated, all the other churches in town send delegations to rejoice with them and help them celebrate.
The church in Mozambique is different from churches we know at home. There are many things we can teach them. Do you think there is anything they could teach us?