Travail of a Church Planter

January 2004

“Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in Heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12

“So they went on their way…rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Acts 5:41

Persecution because of the truth is supposed to be a fact of life for believers. II Timothy 3:12 states it simply: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Christ warned His disciples in John 15:18-21 against thinking they could be liked by all. “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own, but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, ‘The servant is not greater than his lord.’ If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”

Despite an abundance of such teachings in Scripture, most of us manage to go through life minimizing the conflict we have with unbelievers. Much of the time we do this at the cost of blunting our testimony to the world and our stand for the truth. I know, because I managed to escape any real persecution related to Christ during the first 27 years as His disciple. However, as readers of these letters may remember, three years ago I became the object of personal attacks over stands I have taken from Scripture in the Mozambique ministry. That opposition has not ceased. Last August, in what were supposed to be the final three hours of my time in Nampula before beginning furlough, two policemen showed up at the Grace Missions complex. As over twenty of our workers stood by waiting to be paid, the men presented a warrant for my arrest, took me downtown, and put me in jail.

I wish I could say my adversary was an incorrigible, violent atheist. However, throughout the ages those have not been the people who most persecuted the faith. Who were the persecutors of Christ, or Paul, or the other apostles? They were religious people, leaders in fact, who outwardly appeared to be pious, respectable, wise, and devoted to God. The greatest opponents of the truth are often those with a religious bent and a record of success in their religion. It is for this very reason they so oppose the true gospel, for it disparages all forms of human righteousness, the thing most esteemed by those who are merely religious and which they think they have attained through their prodigious efforts.

Beyond being merely religious, in Scripture the main persecutors were people who actually aligned themselves with the true religion of God, which at that time was Judaism. But while they joined the religion of truth, they did not possess the Spirit of truth, and the result was a catastrophe. Today as well, churches can be filled with people who have opted for the right religion yet do not know the Spirit of Christ savingly at work in their hearts, sometimes with catastrophic results. This phenomenon is referred to even in the early church through the sober warning of Acts 20:29-30 and in five of the seven letters of Revelation 2-3.

In my case, the adversary was a leader in our own congregation. Though the story has grown complex during the past three years, it originated from opposition to four principles governing the church-planting ministry.

The first principle was Biblical eldership. As we were a church of new believers, we had no Scriptural elders. We functioned with provisional leaders who were not called elders or pastors and who understood that their role would cease once God raised up two Biblical elders from our own congregation. In time, one leader chafed at this restriction. His dissatisfaction was heightened by the fact that other churches did not require that elders possess all the qualifications listed in Scripture.

The second principle was that God was the source of our help, and the church should look to Him to supply its material needs as we faithfully served and prayed. Overt requests to the Mission or its donors for financial help were not forwarded. The Mission unstintingly provided all the spiritual help it could and automatically contributed 50% of the expenses for any project the church carried out, but the members had to do the rest. Some felt this restriction kept the church from enjoying the material prosperity other mission churches have known. For them this was a cause of perpetual dismay.

The third principle was regenerate church membership. More than participation in church activities is required to be a member of God’s church. Clear evidence of salvation has to be evident in one’s daily life. In our setting this excluded the majority of applicants, though they were warmly encouraged to take hold of Christ that they might soon enjoy the privileges of church membership. This policy limited numerical growth and the influence that comes with being a large church, which was disappointing to some.

The fourth principle was that church discipline must be applied in cases of serious, willful sin where the offender is not repentant and refuses to correct his error. Those who are not bound by Scripture often view the exercise of church discipline as an offense even more egregious than whatever elicits the discipline. This perception is probably more pronounced in African culture than our own, and this was a recurring source of dissatisfaction.

One of our leaders, Senhor M, grew increasingly frustrated with the way these four principles adversely affected the church and his personal aspirations for recognition as an elder. In time frustration grew to bitterness, which the evil one used to precipitate an astonishing, full-scale capitulation to sin and double-dealing both in the church and in his personal affairs. This was the more astounding to us because Senhor M had the complete trust of his fellow leaders. Experience has made us a wary congregation where even routine applicants for membership are subjected to careful scrutiny. However, no one doubted Senhor M’s salvation or his integrity. He had proven himself as a man of character and high ideals, committed, we thought, to the Word of God.

In time this trusted associate formulated a plan to expel the missionary from the country and to expel Arnaldo, our national leader and most mature believer, from the church. If he had succeeded, he would have become the sole leader of the congregation. To carry out the plan he met repeatedly with government authorities complaining that I had stolen $10,000 from the congregation, had appropriated thousands more sent by Grace Missions to construct a church building, had destroyed a container-load of relief aid sent to the church, had sold other relief supplies for personal profit, and had assumed ownership of a vehicle donated to the church. His knowledge of these dealings allegedly came through his participation on the church board. He further told the authorities that neither Arnaldo nor I participated in the church but simply used it as a front to request financial aid for destitute Mozambicans which we then divided between us.

Eventually the authorities agreed to forward a letter containing these charges to the governor of the province for the purpose of having me expelled from the country, despite the lack of any evidence to support the claims. Thankfully, the governor refused to act without this evidence and instructed the department of religious affairs to investigate. The first inkling I had that such intrigues could even be concocted by our trusted colleague was when the civil authorities presented me with the charges that had been sent to the governor.

These stories had not been told only to the civil authorities. We later learned that the same information was being spread through secret meetings to most of the families in the church and to influential leaders in other churches. Had the man been a scurrilous rogue with no credibility, his schemes would have had little affect. However, even as we trusted him implicitly, apparently so did everyone else. Though the stories were incredible, it was equally incredible that this man would make up such accusations.

To turn the church against Arnaldo, Senhor M said that besides cooperating with me in the above schemes, Arnaldo was secretly practicing polygamy, was given over to drunken debauchery, and was teaching his children to sin sexually and with drink.

After being summoned by the civil authorities, I set up a meeting with Senhor M to present him with what little we knew of his clandestine activities. Divining that his dealings were out in the open, he did not keep the appointment. Instead, the following Sunday he announced an emergency meeting of the church at which time he presented a letter expelling Arnaldo and myself from the congregation for being disloyal to the church and using it for personal gain.

The letter itself carried no authority; but even without knowing the extent of his secret meetings with church members, Arnaldo and I could see that the church was deeply divided by Senhor M’s allegations. Plans had already been made to establish a second congregation in the city under Arnaldo’s leadership; so until we had evidence to deal with Senhor M that was not simply our word against his, we proceeded with the second church plant. We assured the church that Senhor M’s charges were untrue and that any who wished to worship with us in the daughter church would be warmly received. We imagined that all the believers would join us, as Senhor M’s handling of the alleged offenses was clearly contrary to Scripture and to our book of faith and practice. We were amazed when only five men were present at the first worship service. We still had not learned that for months Senhor M had sown fictitious stories amongst the church participants to prepare them for these acts of expulsion. During the following year several others from the original congregation joined us, but never as many as we had expected. Others withdrew from both congregations to avoid calling either Senhor M false or those he accused.

Arnaldo and I soon discovered that Senhor M had shed his high standards not only in the church but also in his personal affairs. Providentially and to our increasing amazement, in the next few weeks dozens of offenses concealed for as long as nine months rapidly came to light. Soon after the meeting with the department of religious affairs, nine strangers visited me at the Mission. They were teachers employed at one of Senhor M’s private schools. They said their families were starving and pleaded that I turn over their paychecks. I was bewildered at this request until they informed me that Senhor M had not paid his employees for nine months because, he alleged, all income from the school was turned over to me at which point it disappeared. I told them I was not involved with the school or its finances apart from making personal contributions and passing on other contributions from the Mission. I showed them the file I maintained on charitable giving to the school, with over $3000 contributed already that year, and the signed requisitions submitted by Senhor M for each withdrawal. Then it was their turn to be amazed. None of the items allegedly bought with the money had been seen at the school, nor had any salaries been paid, though in Mozambique the contributions would have covered the full annual salary of eight teachers.

Participants who left the first congregation also revealed details of the secret meetings they had attended. The information was recorded and attached to supporting letters and documents. Eventually, Grace Missions sent a representative to inform the civil authorities and the first congregation that the Mission had never sent material aid or money to the church as Senhor M had maintained. Senhor M was presented with the information against him and was repeatedly asked to respond. No response was given, so in due course he was removed from the church. Taking this action was difficult as the leaders who had to expel him, Arnaldo and myself, were also the ones whom he had offended. To avoid the appearance of acting vengefully, we moved slowly and gave every opportunity for repentance. Senhor M was not expelled until a year after his offenses came to light.

The report from Grace Missions’ representative discrediting Senhor M’s stories to the congregation momentarily stunned the people who followed him. So did the revelation of his many offenses given at the time of his expulsion. At first they pledged to support the action taken, but they changed their minds after being persuaded that Senhor M was being slandered for having exposed the real villains. Though formerly the church leaders were not called elders or pastors as none possessed all the scriptural qualifications, Senhor M soon took the title of pastor of the first congregation. Even after being officially removed from the church, he continued to act as its pastor and claimed to represent our ministry in meetings with leaders from other churches, and his followers gave credence to his claim. Legal and ecclesiastical removal of the first congregation from our church’s charter seemed the only way to end this confusion. To avoid the appearance of vindictiveness, this too was done deliberately over a period of months with many opportunities given for the congregation to change its position. Because it was a legal act, the department of religious affairs accompanied the process, together with several leaders they invited from other churches.

Even after this action, the disenfranchised congregation continued to use the church name, and Senhor M continued to act as a pastor commissioned by us. Besides stating that Arnaldo and I had diverted thousands of dollars of aid from the congregation, Senhor M had said that after our expulsion the church could finally take possession of material aid long withheld from them: a vehicle, a building, literature, and whatever relief supplies and money were in our containers and bank accounts. Though the scheme failed, the persistence of Senhor M and his followers in using the church’s name, and perhaps their main reason for continuing to meet, appeared to stem from the hope of yet inheriting the land and buildings registered in that name. This motive became more pronounced when Senhor M moved his private school into the education building erected by Grace Missions on the church property. To end once and for all any expectation of material gain, the new leaders determined to sell the church’s entire estate, to give all the proceeds to the government’s welfare program for assisting orphans and widows, and to start over in rebuilding ten-year’s worth of lost equity. When a buyer was found, the first congregation was told that they would have to find a place of their own for holding their meetings.

As expected, the prospect of losing all hope of material benefit elicited the greatest response thus far from Senhor M. The day I was to leave Nampula he went to the police accusing me of the same charges he had made up three years earlier in attempting to get me expelled from the country. He added that I must be seized at once and placed in jail as I was planning to depart that night with the stolen money.

The warrant for my arrest was made out in the name of missionary-pastor Charles Woodrow. That name was unfamiliar to the police, as I am known in Nampula as Doctor Carlos. However, when the two arresting officers brought me to the station, I was soon recognized as the surgeon who had worked at Marrere for eight years and who was now overseeing construction of the mission hospital in Nampula.

The Lord can operate any way He pleases, but often He uses the medical card to trump our adversaries. That happened once more in this case, making the effort of getting to the mission field by such a convoluted and arduous path seem increasingly worthwhile. While a surgery resident, I often prayed that God would make all that work pay off for Him. Though I would not say that prayer has been fully answered yet, He has often used the medical connection to open doors in remarkable ways.

This time He used it to literally open the door of my jail cell. When the police realized whom they had arrested, their demeanor abruptly changed from one of aggression to solicitousness. Hoping to cancel the warrant, they called the commanding officer at home. He was away and did not return their call until 2:00 a.m. In the meantime they had to detain me, but instead of putting me in a cell with other prisoneers, they put me in the officer’s break room which was really an outdoor patio. When the malaria-infested mosquitoes began biting, they moved me indoors to the public waiting area where I spent the night sleeping on a bench. They allowed our co-workers, the Chiorinos, to provide bedding, food, clean drinking water, a Bible, and some good books to pass the time. Richard also brought the church documents confirming that my adversary, together with his false accusations, had already been dealt with by both the church and the civil authorities.

The commanding officer arrived early the next day anxious to correct his mistake. Because of missing my departure the evening before, I had already called from jail to cancel a meeting in the capital with the Adjutant National Director of Customs regarding importation of building supplies for the hospital. I also had to cancel two preaching engagements in South Africa where we hoped to recruit western doctors to work in Nampula. The commander at once assigned two men to disprove the charges so I could be on my way before more damage was done. Then, angry at being deceived, he filled out a warrant of his own arresting Senhor M for “abuse of confidence,” or conning the police. I was released that morning even as two officers were dispatched to find Senhor M and put him in jail.

In the end, the commander decided not to press charges against Senhor M. Taking him to court would have drawn attention to his own errors in making a wrongful arrest. However, he kept his prisoner in custody for more than a week while shuffling paperwork. He also drew up charges in my behalf for defamation of character, without my asking. The thought of intimidating Senhor M into ending his mischief-making was tempting, but that would appear vengeful, and the other church leaders advised against it. So the matter was dropped, much to the commander’s displeasure.

The first half of this distressing tale was told in a report two years ago. As it has continued to beset us, even increasing in its seriousness, an update was called for. We do need the protection that comes from prayer specifically directed to the issue. I am concerned for the stigma that must adhere more and more to our work as Senhor M’s stories gain greater circulation. Shortly after I left the country, a medical colleague paid a visit to the Chiorinos to find out if the latest reports could be true. He had heard that I was arrested while crossing the border and was now in jail in the capital for sex crimes. Richard consulted with the other church leaders who confirmed those are the rumors now circulating. We know where such stories originate. Though we must not retaliate, the Lord can deal with this matter, and we ask your prayers toward that end.

On a personal level, such vehement opposition from one of my closest friends has caused much distress and searching of soul. As the verse at the head of this report indicates, one cannot rejoice if his persecutors are reacting to his own offensiveness rather than the offense of the gospel, nor can one rejoice if the scandalous stories being told are in fact true. Plenty of just criticism could be directed against me. However, the arrows actually shot forth are extraordinary fabrications, and there is consolation in that. Ironically, of all those whom I may have offended by my own faults, the one who has risen against me has been the man most helped by our family, and there is consolation in that as well. Surrounded by millions of desperately needy people whose cry for help is mostly shrugged off, I am often oppressed by the thought that I am not doing all God expects of someone in my position. This is particularly a concern toward those in the congregation who are my special responsibility. Nevertheless, because this man showed such promise and seemed so spiritually motivated, he received considerable help, much more than anyone else. Next to Arnaldo, he was our closest friend. From the beginning we supported his private schools with monthly contributions and sought to encourage him in his labors. When his family began begging from neighbors while he was working far from home, we provided a monthly food allowance for his wife and children in addition to personal contributions sent to the school. Later we publicized his work to our supporters who in turn gave generously to promote his ministry. Though he harbored a resentment against the church’s policies which he mostly concealed over the years, he was always treated as an esteemed and trusted friend.

Senhor M’s effort to expel me from Mozambique was not the first time attempts have been made to terminate our ministry. Permission to build the mission hospital actually resulted from strenuous efforts to close down the medical work that ascended all the way to the Minister of Health before being overturned. Behind these prodigious and destructive labors by men who ought to be allies, we cannot help but see a far more sinister and powerful hand at work. A culture that constantly and openly calls upon the evil one for everything from curing physical diseases to finding lost articles or influencing others is a culture God will punish by granting Satan the large role they want for him. I believe Satan has been given much power in our area, and we need the protection afforded by prayer.

We do not assume that our long-term presence in Mozambique is assured simply because God has clearly called us there. Of 14 consecutive missionary families known to us and sent to northern Mozambique between 1960 and 1995, 11 were forced to terminate their ministries prematurely, often after only one term. Six were expelled, two by the government and four by adversaries raised up within the churches they served. Two more left after one term when they realized they were headed to the same end. One ministry was ended by death in an auto accident and another by a disability requiring long-term treatment outside the country. One family left suddenly without explanation. For 25 years during that interval, there were no missionaries at all in the north. Of the 12 families who re-entered the field between 1985 and 1995, only our family and two others remain. Of these three families, two have weathered expulsion attempts.

I believe the evil one is using all his power to eject those who have invaded his domain in Christ’s name. Some of those removed were the very best, which may explain how they became targets for elimination. One went on to become the international director of his mission. So despite our clear calling and several divine deliverances thus far, we do not imagine we are indestructible in this struggle. In any conflict, there are casualties even on the winning side, as we have already seen. Satan has been granted much authority in our region, and we need your prayers if we would long survive his continued attacks.

We do thank you for the prayers that have sustained us in the battle for 13 years and have given us the most longevity among our colleagues. Please continue to pray, not just that we might barely survive in Mozambique, but that much spiritual fruit would result from the medical-evangelistic ministry, the church work, and the Fiel ministries to pastors and church leaders in Nampula and across the nation.

By His grace:

Charles and Julie Woodrow