The Mozambique Evangel April 9, 2007 By Charles Woodrow
Abstract: For the seventh year we sponsored a Christmas food distribution / evangelism program for needy persons in our neighborhood. Andrew and a young man in the church have started an evangelistic sports ministry on the compound’s soccer field. The church began 2007 with an all day fast and prayer service, and God’s response to those prayers is becoming evident, particularly in His gracious dealing with an erring church participant.
Greetings from Nampula. We have been kept busy since our last newsletter catching up on administrative work that accumulated during our twelve months away from Mozambique. At the same time, we have resumed several of our local ministries. The following is an update on the more noteworthy events.
In December, shortly after returning to Mozambique, we organized our annual Christmas food distribution ministry to 100 needy families living in our neighborhood. These are people, mostly elderly, widows, handicapped, and orphans, who are on the official government welfare roles. As you can imagine, one has to be pretty poor to qualify for welfare in a country that until recently was the poorest nation on earth for 15 years running! These are the poorest of the poor. They are also our neighbors, so you can appreciate the pressure we continually sense from the admonition of Galatians 6:2 to “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ.”
So every year since 2001 our family has provided food at Christmas time as a gesture of our purpose to serve the community, and it has turned into a Christmas observance we look forward to as much as our neighbors do. In Nampula $5.00 buys enough staples to provide a relative feast for a moderate-sized family. There are times when we wish we lived back home where we could enjoy our weekly candy bar without being reminded that all around us are people who can’t even buy bread, but on the other hand, where else does a gift costing five dollars make so much difference? This illustrates the simultaneous blessing and tension inherent in missionary life – because of great need on every hand opportunities abound to be useful, but with those opportunities comes the pressure of responsible stewardship to Him who said, “To whom much is given, of him shall be much required.”
Two of our handicapped friends receive food at the Christmas food distribution.
Even as the hospital ministry always existed primarily to get the gospel into the ears and the hearts of our patients, we also combine the food ministry with a gospel presentation and hand out scripture portions in the local language. Similarly, years ago we used a sports ministry to present the gospel to local youth who met on our compound to play soccer, but after a year that fell by the wayside when the fellows leading it moved away. Recently Andrew has taken up the cause, and he has a good number of neighborhood kids meeting with him and a Christian brother twice weekly to play soccer and hear Bible stories. Pray that until the hospital is built and functioning God will show us other ways we can minister to our neighbors and that He will own our efforts by shining into their hearts “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
Everyone who receives food hears a gospel presentation and receives Scripture portions.
In the church plant, we began 2007 with a day of prayer and fasting. This is a custom followed by many congregations here, and their good example has rubbed off on us. The month previously we had done a study on fasting from the Scriptures, and this seemed a good time to begin applying what we learned. The motive for doing this on New Year’s Day stems from the fact that this is a time when people typically take stock of what has gone before and consider what they want to see accomplished in the coming year. Scripture counsels us to “commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established,” so we invited the congregation to an all-day meeting for prayer, fasting, worship, and study to seek the Lord’s blessing upon our church through the coming year. People participated earnestly, so much so that they prayed right through two of the scheduled breaks. Our requests were that God would grant conversions; that long-time participants would grow in Christ; that the Muslim wife of our main leader, Arnaldo, would be saved; that our second leader, Gustavo, would be blessed with a believing wife; that our services would be attended with the power of God’s Spirit; and that Grace Missions would receive enough funds that hospital construction could get underway in earnest.
Since then one man has made a strong profession of faith in Christ and three people have been accepted into membership. For our small congregation, those results are gratifying, particularly as our leaders require evidence of genuine spiritual growth before granting candidates the right hand of fellowship. We wish we could be more “user-friendly” in our membership interviews, but experience has shown that we do no favors by granting applicants the benefit of the doubt. In African culture the need to be part of the group goes deep, and people will enthusiastically profess what they have not experienced personally in order to satisfy that need. Also, because the local culture lacks the Christian trappings that still characterize so much of western civilization, a church member who is not indwelt by God’s Spirit inevitably becomes a cause of stumbling to others and of painful church discipline as he continues in the ways of local culture, heedless of Biblical admonitions he cannot comprehend.
God’s dealing this year with one of our long time attendees is worth describing here. Her name is Maria, and she is an intelligent, attractive 20-year-old orphan who has grown up in our church for the past 12 years. The two brothers who raised her were also long-time participants before straying into short-term common-law relationships with unbelieving women. This is unfortunately so frequent in the Christian community that church leaders scarcely take note of it, but it is contrary to the Bible’s teachings and ours. Thus it regularly becomes a proving ground by which one’s submission to Christ and Scripture is tested.
For years Maria appeared to benefit from God’s good hand upon her. She attended church faithfully, participated actively in all our programs, and memorized our entire Scripture memory catechism of over 300 short Bible passages (usually one to four verses). More importantly she had excellent spiritual comprehension and could almost unerringly give the correct sense of Scripture, something that seems especially hard for most of our people. However, there were inconsistencies that fostered doubt in the minds of our church leaders. She seemed indifferent about her brothers’ departure from Christ, never even seeking prayer in their behalf. And though she wanted to be active in the church, she fended off invitations from our leaders to place herself under their authority by officially joining in membership.
When we returned from the States in November, we noticed that Maria had gained weight during our absence. Her personality was noticeably different, the sparkle was gone from her eyes, and she was clearly struggling spiritually. She had neglected her scripture memory work; and when I re-started the Scripture catechism classes, she battled to re- learn verses she had known for years while many who had always lacked her ability left her far behind. Within a couple of months it became apparent that something was growing in her lower abdomen. I drew her aside one day and mentioned my concern that she consult a gynecologist to verify that she didn’t have an ovarian cyst or something else needing medical attention. She glibly assured me that she had already had an ultrasound and nothing was there. However, aware that she could no longer hide her condition, she did not appear at any further church functions.
Julie and I resolved to visit her at home both to confirm our suspicions and to assure her that we were not abandoning her, but to my shame several weeks passed and I still had not worked a visit into my schedule. Eventually, we heard from mutual friends that she had indeed been pregnant but now had lost the baby after about six months. Immediately Arnaldo and I made our way to her and her brother’s home, wondering how we would handle this situation where both consolation and rebuke were needed.
Thankfully, God had already ploughed up Maria’s heart, and our job turned out to be easy. We assured her of our concern for her that though she had never placed herself under our authority we could not see her going astray and stand idly by. We asked her to tell us as much as she felt she could. She immediately burst into tears but made a clean breast of the entire episode. The older of her two brothers had died a few months earlier, and she was engulfed in loneliness. She decided to assuage her grief by having a baby. She knew her plans were contrary to Scripture, but there is no social pressure brought against it in the local culture or even in many evangelical churches. Her parents who might have remonstrated had both been dead for over ten years. The only problem would come when our own congregation became aware of her condition, before which time she intended to hide herself at home. However, she discovered she could not hide from God. During her pregnancy, everything she hoped and planned for ended in failure.
Indeed, her story left us speechless. Her application to nursing school was rejected as well as her back-up application to the teachers’ college. The boyfriend from another church who had courted her for four years and whose aid she had enlisted in this endeavor was immediately transferred by his job to a city hundreds of miles away where it became impossible to continue the relationship. Having been induced by Maria to stumble with her, in his new location he soon succumbed to temptation with another girl whose father then required him to marry her. In the midst of all this, she also lost the only family she had had for the past ten years by cutting herself off from the church. In short, by attempting to gain a baby by her own means, she had in a matter of months lost the Lord’s blessing, her hoped-for career, her courtship of four years, all possibility of ever marrying the father of her baby, and her family in Christ. Finally, she lost the child for whom she had sacrificed everything else. Even before the last disappointment, she was convinced none of this was coincidence. God’s chastening hand was upon her.
Amazingly, in the midst of these heartbreaks she experienced the paradoxical relief of realizing she was anchored to God by a bond that even sin and her own volition could not break. This manifestation of His faithful love to her, overruling so emphatically her intent to go her own way, actually served in the end to personalize her knowledge of God and solidify her love for Him, similar to Asaph’s response in Psalm 73 when he too realized under different circumstances that he could not shrug off the God who had taken hold of him. “When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant. I was like a beast before Thee. Nevertheless, I am continually with Thee. Thou hast taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me, and afterwards receive me to glory.”
In view of her tearful repentance and God’s own dealings with her, all we had to do was comfort her and remind her that the way back to God was simple when one had a broken and contrite heart, which God himself had created within her. However, to return to the church plant she would have to make a public confession of her sin and of her sincere repentance. In African culture losing face is usually avoided at all cost, but Maria was eager to set the record straight about her sin and to vindicate God’s response in upholding His word. I suggested she address the congregation the next Sunday during the announcements, thinking it would be easier at the beginning of the service when many still had not arrived. However, Arnaldo had previously pointed out that while her example would normally be a stumbling block to the other youth, God’s dealing with her could serve to warn them from pursuing the same course. She agreed with Arnaldo and asked that she rather be given time at the end of the service when all were present so they could learn from her experience. She further surprised us by asking if it would still be possible for her to join the church. Lack of accountability had contributed to her fall, she thought, and now she wanted to place herself under the leaders’ oversight. She ended by beseeching us to pray regularly not only for her, but also for her brother as well, the first time she had shown concern over his spiritual plight.
Maria is intelligent, articulate, and knows the Bible well. The following Sunday she gave a brief but earnest declaration of her sin and subsequent repentance, touching on each point where she had disobeyed God and how in faithfulness and love He had dealt firmly with her sin. She earnestly thanked Him that neither He nor the church had allowed her to go her way unchecked. There were a few moments when she had trouble maintaining her composure, but that was appropriate under the circumstances.
God’s faithfulness to His erring child and her response encouraged all of us. It was evidence He had heard our ongoing prayers from New Years’ Day and was indeed manifesting Himself in the lives of our church people. We don’t see that as much as we want. Ironically, the nagging doubts I formerly had about Maria’s spiritual condition have been virtually erased by this experience, knowing as she and I both do now that she has a Father in heaven who owns her as His child and will not permit her to go her own way.
There are other less important things to report which I will save for the next update. Please join our congregation in the prayer requests mentioned previously in this letter. Pray also that God will grant us the funding we need for the hospital. Pray also for our contact in the oil and gas business. Thus far he has been unable to secure the capital needed for re-drilling the well. Rather, during this time he has experienced setbacks both in church work and personal matters. Pray that God would bless his desire to generously help worthy Christian ministries as he has been privileged to do in the past.
By His grace:
Charles and Julie Woodrow