Tribute to Faustino Reis (April 10, 1982 – August 21, 2004)

September 2004

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” Psalm 116:15

Abstract: This is the story of Faustino Reis, beloved Christian brother and third leading national in our congregation. Faustino was murdered in August while working at our bookshop, the Biblioteca Fiel. His personal testimony and the surprising events that followed his untimely death display God’s hand at work in the lives of men, bringing blessing and glory to those who know Christ, judgment and ruin to those who do not.

Faustino first visited our Nampula congregation 9 years ago at the age of 13. His mother, a widow, eked out a living working a small garden plot 30 miles outside of town. At night she and the six children still living at home crowded together in a tiny two room mud hut covered with straw thatch. During the day everyone lived outdoors. From time to time one man or another would join the family, then move on.

Mom was illiterate and didn’t understand Portuguese. That did not discourage her from attending the worship services conducted by our little Portuguese speaking congregation that met just 100 yards from her hut. Over the years it was evident the family did not attend church out of concern for Christ, spiritual life, the Bible, truth, or even a desire to live on a higher moral plane. As with many Africans, what mattered was being part of a larger social structure or tribe that could give one identity and that could supply the security everyone needs against disasters that overwhelm individual resources. That seemed to be all the family wanted, all they sought, and, despite our best efforts, all they got from their association with us. No one ever showed any abiding interest in the gospel, with one exception – the third youngest child, Faustino.

Faustino’s conversion:
For the first many months Faustino appeared to be like the rest of his family. He wore a permanent blank expression and in Sunday school responded inarticulately when asked a question. Though he spoke Portuguese and went to school, he could not recall any details of the Bible stories taught and acted out only a week earlier.

But almost overnight something happened. His whole countenance changed. His face lit up with interest. Soon he was volunteering for every question asked, getting not just the details of the stories but also the applications. Within a few weeks he became the star student. The transformation was obvious to all.

When he was 17 the church offered a weekly Bible class for adults that involved regular homework and tests. After looking over the handouts, Faustino came to the church leaders asking if he could study with the adults. Faustino was small and thin, looking more like 13 than 17, but as no one had shown such motivation before, we thought the adult class would be appropriate. From the first he did well, often scoring 100% on the tests and out-performing adult leaders from neighboring churches.

This is not to say that Faustino was naturally bright. He struggled in school and failed his grade last year. When Faustino was 15 the church began the catechism-Scripture memory program I wrote about in the last report. Faustino jumped in with both feet, but he would study for weeks just to learn two or three verses which he could say only haltingly. Memory work seemed beyond his mental capacity, but he kept at it. Once again something clicked, and suddenly, after months of effort, he began passing off on ten and more mini-passages a week. His peak performance was 41 passages in one week. In little over a year he memorized all the 300+ passages in the 46 page catechism, eventually becoming one of our three proctors responsible for testing others.

I visited him in his hut one Sunday afternoon soon after the breakthrough described above. I asked if he thought God was at work in his life. He was certain of it, and one of the answers to prayer he enthusiastically pointed to was God’s enabling him to overcome his agonizing inability to memorize Scripture, something remarkable in his own eyes, and giving him understanding of the verses he memorized.

His life in Christ
Unlike many of those we have worked with, Faustino’s testimony never faltered through the years. When he was still a teenager, the church was split by malicious stories fabricated by one of our leaders, Senhor M. Though Senhor M. was highly esteemed by all, including the leaders he falsely maligned, I was amazed and disheartened that some of our best members had trouble recognizing the flagrantly sinful behavior that characterized his fall. When Arnaldo and I withdrew from Senhor M. and established a new church plant, only five participants joined us at first. One of those few who had no difficulty discerning the spiritual issues at stake was the teenager Faustino.

Shortly after that, Faustino came to the leaders asking to be baptized and received into membership. As a member, he exercised his prerogative to exhort the congregation from Scripture during our open participation time each Sunday. Seeing his ability and desire to contribute, we put him into the monthly rotation for leading worship. He was never a charismatic personality, and on those occasions he pretty much plodded through his responsibilities. But there was no doubting his sincerity and commitment to Christ, and he never erred in his teaching.

When our colleague Richard Chiorino got the Biblioteca Fiel (Faithful Bookroom) underway one year ago, he asked Faustino to work there. Though we had an older man splitting shifts with him, Faustino was the one put in charge, and we trusted him completely. Similarly, when the youth group started this term, he was the natural choice in the eyes of all to assume leadership.

Though none of his family has responded to the church’s spiritual ministry, Faustino consistently worked and prayed for their salvation right up to the time of his death, and he solicited others to pray as well. He brought his two younger brothers to church regularly. As had become routine for him, he scored a perfect 100% on the Bible test he took the week before he was murdered. A week before that, he shared at one of the meetings his system for memorizing new Bible verses and keeping hundreds of old passages fresh, committing Sunday afternoons to reviewing them in sequential fashion and carrying memory cards with him throughout the week.

We are grateful for several fine Christians in our congregation, but Faustino was remarkable for his humble beginnings, quiet unpretentiousness, and the seeming absence of natural ability. Nothing about Faustino was flashy; his style was one of constant understatement, and so he never made it into any of our newsletters before now. But he raised the level of every Bible class Richard and I taught through his faithful attendance, his clear grasp of Scripture, his readiness to enter into discussion, and his capacity to support his comments from hundreds of passages he had hidden in his heart.

His death
For us, the blessing of his participation ended on Saturday, 21 August. A few minutes before closing time a customer came into our empty bookroom. Inducing Faustino to step into the bathroom with him, he suddenly seized him by the throat, strangling him to keep him from calling for help. After Faustino grew weak, the assassin beat his head against the walls until he lost consciousness. No one outside heard anything. When the deed was finally done, there was blood everywhere in the bathroom, on the walls, inside and outside the toilet, on the sink, the bidet, and all over the bathtub inside and out. A great pool of blood covered the bathroom floor, and there was more blood on the floor of the corridor leading into the bathroom. The shower curtains and rails, even the shower head, had been ripped out of the walls and were now strewn about the room.

The murderer took $90, all there was in the money box. He selected our two most expensive items, a study Bible and Bible dictionary costing together about $140; a radio; our calculator; and a few other books. These he loaded into a shipping carton we had on hand. He donned the Biblioteca Fiel service jacket to cover his blood-stained shirt and calmly walked out of the bookshop, wheeling Faustino’s bike down to the street below. Those who observed him assumed he was a friend of Faustino’s. Downstairs he asked the bank guard to watch the bike for him while he returned to get Faustino’s keys and the box of books he had selected. He locked the bookshop behind him, carried the box downstairs, and disappeared from sight with the box, the bike, and the money.

When the youth group met later that afternoon Faustino’s absence was conspicuous. His absence was even more noticeable the next morning at the Sunday worship service he was to lead. This was the only time Faustino failed to show without advising us in advance. His brothers stayed home, they said because Faustino had not returned from town and they were worried. It is indicative of Faustino’s humble origins that even after failing to appear for 48 hours, the only effective measure his brothers could think to take was to wait resolutely for him at home, as if somehow that might help Faustino materialize sooner.

Monday morning our second worker, Jorge, showed up for his shift at the bookshop. He was puzzled to see the padlock improperly applied to the grate. After working a while in the shop, he stepped into the kitchen where he caught a glimpse of the large pool of blood outside the bathroom door. Trembling, he turned the latch, opened the door, and beheld Faustino’s dead body lying in a pool of blood in the center of the wrecked bathroom. He fled the shop at once, ran to our home, and finally collapsed in a state of hysteria, stunning us with the awful news of Faustino’s demise.

We picked up the police and returned to the bookshop. Faustino was lying in a position of rest, his right hand on his chest, as if he had regained consciousness and had arranged himself as comfortably as possible while sinking into death. There was no rigor mortis. A police technician performed an autopsy which confirmed that Faustino died some time after the attack from a subdural hematoma, bleeding inside his cranium induced by the trauma to his head.

His funeral was held two days later and was a beautiful testimony to the one or two hundred people present. His remarkable transformation, his love and understanding of the Scriptures, his impeccable behavior, and the very fact that he died in the Lord’s service seeking to make His word available to Christians throughout northern Mozambique, furnished abundant opportunity to comfort the family in the assurance that his conversion was genuine and that he died prepared to meet his Maker, and to speak of how they too could come before God with the same confidence through faith in Jesus Christ.

The rest of the story
As Paul Harvey used to say, you’ve heard the story. Now for the rest of the story.

While Jorge, and I stood shuddering in the hallway that Monday morning, staring down on the prostrate form of our friend and brother, we were reminded of a similar eerie scene, but without the blood, that had played itself out in the same spot two weeks earlier.

A regular reader had come in a few minutes before closing time, asked to use the bathroom, then never came out. When Jorge was ready to close up, he showed the other patrons to the door, then knocked at the bathroom to check on the last customer. As there was no answer, he opened the door and was shocked to see the man lying stiff on the floor. After a brief attempt to rouse him he grew alarmed and ran for help, locking the customer inside the shop. Jorge went first to Richard’s house, but since he was not there he ran to get me. The message transmitted by the guard at our gate was that someone had died in the bookroom. I grabbed my medical equipment and together we hurried back to the shop. When we got there the “corpse” was seated on the bathroom floor, seemingly confused. He denied epilepsy, said he had fallen to the floor, then fainted. Even now, more than 30 minutes after the attack, he fainted and turned limp every time we moved him. I could not understand this when his pulse remained strong and full at 60 beats per minute, his blood pressure was elevated at 150/110, and his skin remained dry and warm. Each of these physical signs contradicted the story he was giving us, which was itself medically inconsistent.

Finally we had to wrap him in a table cloth, carry him supine to the car, and deposit him on an emergency room gurney at the downtown hospital. I wrote his name, Brigido Edson Ussene, in my pocket calendar so I could check up on him later. That wasn’t necessary as he returned to the bookshop within a few days saying he had spontaneously recovered while awaiting treatment in the ER.

Jorge confirmed further that Brigido had come during his shift each of the three days leading up to Faustino’s murder. The morning of Faustino’s death he showed up, allegedly to read, but then left promptly when he learned 8 people were having a Bible class in one of the back rooms, telling Jorge he would come back later. When Faustino arrived for the afternoon shift, Brigido had not yet reappeared. While Jorge and I mulled over these things, the police questioned everyone in the building and found that a first floor worker and the bank guard had each seen the killer but did not know his name.

Though there were possible medical explanations for the event two weeks earlier – epilepsy, hypoglycemia, metabolic derangement, brain tumor – none of them completely satisfied the strange picture Brigido presented. It seemed to me that in the course of events, God had unmasked the identity of Faustino’s attacker, who had tried his ruse again with Faustino, oblivious to the fact that the shop owner who had come to his aid was a doctor who had been baffled by inconsistencies in the feigned illness that Brigido himself was unaware of. I was so sure God had revealed the killer that I swore out a statement accusing him of murder that same day. But though we had a name and eye witnesses, no one knew where the fellow lived amongst the 400,000 inhabitants of Nampula.

Jorge remembered that the customer had formerly participated in Richard’s Bible class. Some of those fellows were now in my class, so we consulted with them. From them we learned the name of the church where he regularly attended the 6:00 a.m. daily services and the name of the school where he studied. One member said he had visited his hut months before and offered to help find it. However, the bairros change quickly as old huts fall down and new ones are thrown up in different locations, and our friend could no longer recognize anything. After several attempts in the following weeks he gave up. The police staked out the school and the church, but the suspect never showed. Jorge searched the school records and found he had not enrolled this term. None of his church leaders knew where he lived. They said he had not come to church for a month. Of course, he no longer frequented our book shop, though he came regularly in the months before the murder.

By now nearly three weeks had passed and we were fearful that if we did find the killer our witnesses would no longer recognize him and the stolen goods might already be sold off. Suspecting God had helped us thus far, we took Jeremiah 33:3 to Him in prayer, “Call unto Me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” Surely the omniscient God could show us where Brigido lived.

Twenty days after the murder, I asked our friend to try once more. The police promised to send plain-clothes agents with him if I would provide transportation. As God would have it, soon after they stepped from the car into the bairro of 50,000 people they found someone who took them straight to Brigido’s hut. He was at home, as was the Biblioteca Fiel box with the Bible and Bible dictionary he so coveted. They also found the blood-stained Biblioteca Fiel service jacket and everything else taken from the shop.

After two days in jail, seeing all the evidence against him, Brigido confessed to the murder. He had planned it out for a month and kept looking for an opportunity. During the first bathroom episode, Jorge was to have been murdered, but Brigido learned from that attempt that feigning shock and weakness did not give him sufficient advantage over his victim. So the second time, after asking to use the bathroom, he returned to tell Faustino there was something strange inside. When Faustino went to check, Brigido followed, pulling out an iron rod he had filed into a blade on one end. He struck Faustino over the back of his head, the blood flowed, but Faustino didn’t fall. Instead, he cried out, at which point Brigido dropped his weapon to strangle him before anyone could hear. As Faustino weakened, Brigido beat his head repeatedly against the wall until he lost consciousness altogether.

While Brigido was moving about the shop arranging the items he wanted to take with him, including the murder weapon which was already stowed in the box, he was startled to suddenly come upon Faustino standing dazed and bleeding in the hall outside the bathroom. Somehow he had revived. As soon as Faustino saw Brigido, he cried out again, so Brigido again strangled him, this time making a greater effort to knock him out permanently, beating his head against the bathtub, the bidet, etc. Somehow Faustino struggled on, ripping everything off the walls around the bathtub, but was finally overcome. When Brigido left the shop Faustino was still unconscious on the floor of the bathroom, bleeding profusely from multiple scalp lacerations.

In the days since his capture I have had several opportunities to speak with Brigido about genuine repentance, urging him to call upon Christ for salvation. As far as we can tell, Faustino lost his life and we lost a great spiritual asset in the church and ministry so Brigido could gain $90 cash and $200 worth of merchandise. We know Faustino is enjoying a rich reward, but we long to see something of eternal benefit come from his death. Please pray that God would save the soul of his murderer.

Now that Brigido is in the hands of the police, he is indeed sorry for his act and wonders how he could have done it. He claims to have made sincere attempts at reform, including going to church, attending Richard’s Bible class, and reading religious books from the Biblioteca Fiel. He broke down and wept when I told him the kind of Christian Faustino was and how valuable he had been to the church and bookshop.

The police aren’t buying any of it. They believe he cultivates these relationships in order to steal from churches and missionaries. We all think he is the culprit in a similar break-in at the Chiorinos’ house in June. While they were at church the guard was nearly killed by blows to the head with a piece of crowbar, then shut up in the outside bathroom. Several of the Chiorinos’ belongings were found by the police in Brigido’s hut. Brigido does not deny they once belonged to the Chiorinos, but claims they were gifts. We will know if Brigido is truly repentant when he confesses to something before it is proven and seeks forgiveness from those he has harmed.

Observations
Readers may be nonplussed that a missionary would so quickly suspect someone of murder who rises early to attend church every day, faithfully comes to Bible class, studies for hours in a Christian bookroom, and prizes study Bibles and Bible dictionaries. Part of the explanation is that I knew the church he attended. It is a charismatic sect from Brazil that preaches a blatant prosperity gospel, appeals to carnal desires to gain adherents, and teaches its members how to supposedly manipulate God to satisfy the flesh. The billboard in front of their building advertises all this without shame. But this is not new. From time immemorial false religions have been raised up to satisfy one of two ends – to manipulate God to serve man’s purposes, or to promote self-reform through works. Many “respectable” churches in Christendom as well never get beyond that.

And though they do not realize it, many “Christians” do not either. That is the rest of the explanation for so quickly suspecting a church-attender. The church in Mozambique suffers terribly from false brethren who are themselves deceived regarding their spiritual condition. For the majority of local adherents, and even many evangelical folk at home, Christianity is no different in essence from the false religions. They view Christianity as a works-based religion that has given some people remarkable success in being good, raising well-behaved children, having happy marriages, providing for their families, gaining respect and influence, and securing God’s help in their affairs. That remarkable success is what they want too. But unfortunately, if that is all they want, they miss out on the greatest treasure Christianity offers. That treasure is Christ himself, without which all the rest will ultimately collapse in catastrophic ruin, if not in this life, then in the day of judgment.

For every child of God the side effects of Christianity, as wonderful as they are and as much as they may be sought at first, become incidental in comparison to knowing Christ, having communion with God through Him, discovering the power of His resurrection at work in transforming one’s own life, not through religious works, methods, or gimmicks, but through His Spirit. Christ is all the difference between Christianity and false religions, even when those religions bear the name “Christian.”

For all his religious works, Brigido still has not come to this realization. He is not seeking Christ that he might know Him and devote his life to serving His purposes. He is seeking a god he can manipulate to accomplish his own ends. To discerning Christians, this is plainly evident through the advertising of the church he attends.

In contrast, Faustino discovered the wonderful difference knowing Christ makes. When he began attending our services nine years ago, he probably wasn’t seeking Christ any more than the rest of his family. But God was seeking him. And God found him, changed his life forever, and steered him unerringly to glory.

After Faustino’s funeral I went to the Biblioteca Fiel to make arrangements for re-opening the next day. There I discovered Faustino’s Bible, hymnal, and study notes on the desk behind the counter. When the assassin walked in, Faustino was working on the outline for worship he expected to lead the next day. He had gotten as far as the Scripture reading which was taken from I Peter 4. The passage he was studying ended with the words in verse 7 “for the end of all things is at hand.” He had only written out his comments for verse one and two before he was interrupted for the last time. He said to note the final words of verse one – to cease from sin. And the final words of verse two – to carry out the will of God. He then asked his listeners what they were concerned about as they planned their lives – food, raiment, shelter, education, a spouse, a job? “The greatest honor and privilege in life,” he wrote, “is to carry out the will of God.” There his notes ended.

It was a poignant reminder from the Lord that He was with Faustino right to the end, that he died with eternal concerns on his heart, expressing in his last words his supreme goal of carrying out the will of God in his life, the end of which came much sooner than any of us expected.

Brief Updates
Furlough ended for us in May. We have been back at work in Nampula since June.

Most of furlough was devoted to re-structuring Grace Missions. For this and other reasons, we did not have time to carry out our planned visitation of churches and friends.

It is imperative that we recruit personnel to work in the hospital we hope to complete this term. Therefore we are returning to the States from February to May to visit personal supporters and two to three churches each week. If you or your church would like a visit, please contact Grace Missions or myself using the phone numbers or e-mail addresses given in the boiler-plate of this newsletter.

Please pray for God to help us find: Two general surgeons, one anesthesiologist or anesthetist, one family practitioner, one business administrator, a church planting missionary, and someone to oversee the book store. For long-term associates we are seeking families who hold unequivocally to the classical Reformed position on the doctrines of grace.

The fifth annual FIEL (Faithful) Pastors’ Conference was held in July. We thank God for another good conference with several improvements over previous meetings. Nearly 150 church workers and wives attended. They came from 30 denominations spread over 8 of Mozambique’s 10 provinces. More details will come in the next newsletter.

The Chiorino’s returned to the States for furlough in August. Their ministry was invaluable to us and the local Christians. Besides conducting a useful teaching ministry, Richard was the perfect man for running the bookstore. We are saddened to report that because of family concerns these esteemed co-laborers do not expect to return soon to Mozambique.

Our Mozambican colleague, Baptista Boa, moved back to Maputo before we left for furlough. Financial considerations caused him to seek better employment closer to home. He now has a position with good advancement opportunities working in a warehouse run by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization.

One of the main accomplishments during furlough was setting up a web site. Please visit us at www.gracemissionsministries.org. We are also working on an e-mail address list for regular, brief updates and prayer items to be serviced through the web site. If you want to be on that list, send your e-mail address to gracemissions@juno.com. Though we may have your address already, only those requesting this service will receive the updates.

Church Planting Challenges

March 2004 – Vol.20 – No.2

“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, every man’s work shall be made manifest…because it shall be revealed by fire.”

Dear Friends:

The last Evangel chronicled how opposition in Nampula to church planting policies turned into calculated persecution by one of our leaders. A major theme in our trials, mentioned only in passing in the last report, was the application of Biblical principles to situations common in missionary churches. For those with a special interest in church planting in different cultures, I promised a detailed account of some challenges posed by the African situation.

Before describing cultural issues, however, one must note that difficulties on the field do not arise only from local customs. The missionary comes to the task with his own set of limitations and a potpourri of mistakes waiting to emerge. To understand the rough road we have traveled in its proper context, some facts about the missionary must first be mentioned.

From the outset, this ministry had to make do with less than ideal missionary conditions. First, I was not a veteran church planter. I was a medical doctor. I had not been trained in the pastorate nor was I an experienced elder. I did not possess the qualifications of an elder if one accepts that an elder must have children who believe. For those reasons I was commissioned merely to proclaim the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ, not to plant churches. With my full time hospital responsibilities, when a church was established it received only part time attention, and a mission church in a primitive culture requires much time and care.

Second, I was working alone, without a missionary colleague, contrary to the Biblical pattern we wanted to follow. Grace Missions anticipated that God would soon send a trained co-worker to join us, particularly if the door for church planting opened, but God did not raise up a second laborer until we had been on the field for ten years. Meanwhile, He clearly opened the way for me to go in 1990, albeit alone. Working without an associate was an imperfect circumstance we simply had to accept.

The occasion for planting a church came in 1993. Of the many people evangelized through the hospital, nine men had been discipled for one to two years. Following our example, they each had joined a local church. However, they began to note that what was taught and practiced in their churches often differed from what they were learning from Scripture. Eventually they requested to establish for their families a church that followed the doctrine and practice imparted through our Bible classes. After consultation with others and a three-month trial period of meeting for worship, we all thought this opportunity had come from the Lord. So we decided to start a church from those nine families and my own.

Biblical Leadership

The first problem was what to do for Biblical leadership. Applying literally the requirements of I Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9, we had no qualified elders. All the Africans were new to the faith, and some still lacked clear signs of regeneration. The nearest scriptural elders were too distant to exercise meaningful leadership. We sought the advice of experienced church leaders on extra-Biblical options and finally followed the recommendation of making all the founding men provisional leaders and having them act by unanimous accord until God would raise up two Biblically qualified elders. However, some of the men simply could not maintain the moral example necessary of anyone leading a church even as a “provisional leader,” and in the first year three had to be removed. The scriptures say with good reason that new converts cannot be made leaders, “lest they become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.” For two of the three who had to be removed because of scandalous sin, the loss of face was too much to bear, and they left the church and the faith altogether.

All along, the founders were reminded that we were all only provisional leaders who would one day relinquish authority to true elders. No one was allowed to call himself an elder or a pastor. The man who eventually became our persecutor found that a chaffing restriction. He complained against the policy in his secret meetings, and as soon as he got rid of the other leaders assumed the title of pastor.

The paucity of elder-qualified nationals is a great difficulty for the African church. For reasons given later in the section on nominalism, raising up a group of Africans who will clump together as a church is not hard. Gaining genuine conversions is, however, more difficult. The incidence of spiritually qualified leaders in churches is also low, due in part to the large percentage of nominal adherents overall. To find one elder leading 20 or more congregations is not unusual. Yet the same church planters, knowing they are unable to tend the congregations already established, work industriously to raise up even more. Their concern is to reach the lost with the gospel; but when one evaluates the fruit of shallow evangelism and the reputation gained for Christ by carnal, leaderless churches, there is reason to doubt the usefulness and the validity of this approach.

My experience forces me to believe that while evangelism is important, one cannot run ahead of the Lord in church planting. We have never accepted the approach of making elders out of the best men available whether they are qualified or not. Making all the founding men “provisional leaders” did not work either. I appreciate the strategy of the great Puritan missionary to the American Indians, John Eliot. Though he could see the Lord applying his messages to the hearts of the Indians from his earliest endeavors, he waited many years for God to raise up two Biblical elders before organizing his converts into a church. He did not immediately rush about evangelizing everywhere he could, throwing up churches in every village. Nevertheless, his careful, methodical approach over a 25 year period, painstakingly slow at the outset yet keeping close to Scripture, resulted in thousands of Indian believers who faithfully followed their Lord. His experience confirms that moving at the Lord’s pace is the surest way to effectively reach the most people in mission work.

Arguing the issue from another perspective, we can reflect on Christ’s own example as described in John 5:1-9. Verse 3 says there was a multitude of diseased persons lying around the pool of Bethesda, yet Christ did not rush through the crowd feverishly healing them all. He chose one and healed him. The fact that people must be chosen by God to salvation before gospel preaching yields true conversions should not become a grounds for dilatoriness in evangelism. However, a proper dose of the doctrine of election would remedy the too frequent error of rushing ahead of the Lord in church planting. Moving at the Lord’s pace is the surest way of reaching all His elect without leaving a trail of stillborn churches and false believers in one’s wake.

Material Gain

A second problem plagued the new church from the very beginning, and that was concern for material gain. While some of the original nine sought to establish the church from pure motives, others also saw the prospect of much needed financial help from ties through the Mission to wealthy “sister churches” in the States. This hopeful expectation was only natural as other mission organizations sent their churches clothing, farm implements, bicycles, vehicles, construction supplies, and office equipment by the container-load and sent money to build fine churches. One of the founders soon began submitting for publication in the Evangel letters requesting material help from our donors. These were not printed. I told him we never campaigned for such help and encouraged him to simply tell the people what the church was doing and then pray to God for the finances. I also established the policy that Grace Missions would match the church’s own giving toward any project but would not contribute more than 50%. The church needed to be self-supporting and avoid the dangerous habit of looking to men rather than God for the help it needed. Further, we did not want to fill the congregation with people coming purely for a share in the spoils sent from the mission.

These policies frustrated many in the church. The leader who used to submit letters for financial assistance left after two years. Brother Arnaldo implored his fellows not to seek that which perishes, but to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things would be added to them by the divine hand. That philosophy has worked wonderfully for him. However, because of his stand and the way God has blessed it in his case, he earned the disapproval and suspicion of many who felt a golden opportunity was being withheld from them. Eventually, our adversary found he could no longer endure Arnaldo’s and my position on the matter. Besides claiming in his secret meetings that the policy hurt the church participants financially, he announced it was only a cover allowing relief aid actually sent to the church to be diverted to Arnaldo and myself without arousing suspicion.

The issue of how best to help poor brethren is a thorny one. From the admonitions to wealthy Christians recorded in Scripture, poor Christians have every reason to hope for generous handouts from their affluent brothers and to wonder when such assistance is not forthcoming. We have had to wrestle with this matter on a personal level. Even when we lived as seven people in a one-bedroom apartment without running water and, in years past, no electricity for months at a time, we were fabulously wealthy in comparison to nearly everyone. We had a car, a computer, a telephone. Use of the latter alone cost a month’s wages for a Mozambican. Surrounded by 20 million poor people, if we were not obviously sharing our wealth, anyone could doubt whether we took the Bible seriously. But we did not want to turn all our acquaintances into opportunists ever angling for free handouts, particularly in the church. That tendency lies too near the surface in African culture already, where freeloading is accepted practice.

Christ taught that we should “give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42). John the Baptist said that the one who had two tunics should share with him who had none, and he who had food should do likewise (Luke 3:11). Paul said in the church that, “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10). Christians should develop a work ethic so they not only could provide for themselves but also supply the needs of others (Ephesians 4:28). We tried to honor all these principles by offering help to everyone who asked for it but in exchange for some effort on their part that did not directly benefit us. This allowed us to be generous and gave hope to those who really needed assistance, while culling out those who simply wanted something for nothing.

At first we arranged small jobs, but there were far too many supplicants for us to accommodate. So we had those who were literate read Scripture out loud, and we paid them by the hour. This approach gave birth to the idea of a catechism of Bible verse responses to questions about Christian faith and practice. When people requested money, we gave them a sheet with 20 questions and Bible verses and offered them a day’s wage for every four answers they memorized. We put no limit on how many verses they could learn; but each time they passed off on new verses, they had first to pass a spot review of verses already learned. If they had not kept those verses memorized, they could not receive credit for new ones.

This method pays as well as manual labor (two dollars a day). It encourages those who truly need the help while it weeds out those who merely want free handouts. By this means we have provided full support to a number of widows, orphans, and unmarried mothers. Our students pay all their school fees and purchase their school supplies entirely from money earned this way. One young man built a fine home entirely from money earned through the Scripture memory program. The catechism has grown to 44 pages with 320 Scripture passages, and we have many in the church who keep the entire book perpetually memorized. A side benefit is that those who are lazy or averse to Scripture weed themselves out, as they simply cannot endure spending time memorizing Bible verses even when they need the money.

This method is not the perfect solution. Though we have six volunteers who help with the quizzing, it requires hours of my time every week. I don’t begrudge the work, however, as I am glad for the material benefit it supplies to needy brothers and even more grateful for the impressive spiritual growth some have shown through the exercise. It also gives me a quick way of dealing with the unending succession of beggars here while maintaining a generous disposition toward them. The main disadvantage is that it has at times attracted clever fellows who attach themselves to our congregation for what is to them easy money. The program is available to believers and unbelievers alike, apart from participation in the spiritual ministry. However, some who are drawn by the catechism program connect with the congregation as well yet never manifest a genuine spiritual appetite. Their participation dilutes the congregation’s corporate witness and contributes to the ever-present threat of nominalism.

 

A large part of the catechism has been translated into English. A representative sample of questions can be found at the end of this Evangel.

Nominalism

The third problem we have had to face from the beginning was nominalism. One hears impressive statistics about tremendous church growth in Africa. From our “up close” perspective, we must say that most church growth is a social and anthropological phenomenon rather than spiritual. Africans are a highly gregarious people. The need to be part of a group runs deep in their nature. Rugged individualism, highly regarded in the States, is a serious character defect in their culture and is rewarded by various forms of sabotage and punishment. In earlier days, tribal organization assured that everyone was part of a structured group or herd. In modern Africa, where people have fled to cities for refuge from war and famine and to benefit from public services, the best way to become part of a herd again is to find a church.

There are practical necessities for the group structure as well. Social security, life insurance, health insurance, and fire insurance do not exist where we live. When any of life’s routine emergencies arise, the need is met by passing the hat through one’s network of friends. Their contributions are the premiums guaranteeing that when they need money for medicine or emergency house repairs or to cover funeral expenses, others will chip in for them. Again, the ideal service-minded group to belong to for such practical concerns is a church.

Another strong motive causing Africans to seek out a large group of friends is the need to have a well-attended funeral. Africans agree with Christians that this life is considerably less important than the life to come. For the Christian, this life chiefly affects the one to come in terms of how he responds to Christ. For the African, it seems the future life is mainly affected by this one in the number of friends he acquires throughout it who will come to his funeral. It is important to organize a large group of contacts to provide the proper send-off when entering the hereafter. Though I do not know the exact implications a large turnout has for the life to come, the fact that it is crucial to Africans is unmistakable.

Though I have observed this phenomenon consistently over the years, one incident illustrates it well. An elderly woman none of us knew before suddenly began attending our services once every four to six weeks, the usual pattern for folks who want to associate with a church but are not truly committed to the message or the people. After six months she died. She must have been expecting her departure, for when our church delegation, which was prepared to take responsibility for her burial, assembled at her hut, it found delegations from a mosque, a Catholic church, and one other Protestant group as well, each ready to preside over the ceremony. As they conferred, they discovered no one knew much about her except that she had joined their group in the previous six months. Her last minute efforts to prepare for the end backfired, however. After making this discovery, no one took responsibility for the ceremony, which had to be carried out by the family.

The danger of nominalism in our church was evident from the beginning. One month after we opened our worship meetings to the public, we held a special Easter service with a meal afterward, and 150 people participated. I wondered then whether a group of six or seven new Christians interspersed among 140 unbelievers could function as a church. Though the obvious need is for much teaching, what does one do if the majority ignores the spiritual message while they maintain their association with the church in order to satisfy social and financial needs?

For us, establishing church membership was the key to facing this challenge, up to a point. It enabled us to publicly distinguish between those who made up the “true church” and those who were our welcome visitors. To have the benefits of membership, one had to meet with the leaders and answer three questions. The first was, “Why do you want to be a member?” A suitable answer could not be one of the reasons described above. The second was, “How did God save you?” There we look for awareness on their part of a change in heart and mind and of God’s personal dealing in their affairs. The third is, “What are you doing to nurture the inner man besides attending church?” We hope for indications that they have a true spiritual hunger that must be satisfied throughout the week in some way such as worshipping God in private, reading His word, praying, or seeking out Christian fellowship.

By the time we got to this point in church planting, 65 adults were already participating regularly. However, from the interviews only 9 people gave credible evidence of regeneration. These numbers did not surprise us as we already knew fairly well who the Christians were. Their lights were shining without the interview, which mainly served to identify the dimly burning wicks not so obvious from a distance. But from that point forward we had a two-class congregation: those with rights of membership (taking communion, hosting church meetings in their homes, praying at public services, leading in the “open participation” time of worship) and those without such privileges.

As one would expect, this change in policy was disappointing for those who were denied privileges they once enjoyed. It was also difficult for them to comprehend. Having never known anything else, they were oblivious to their own spiritual disinterest and formalism. Even some who were accepted into membership could not understand why friends who came regularly to church and wanted to join the group should be excluded. These membership requirements drastically limited our growth relative to other churches, which in turn suggested inferiority and discouraged many. The discouraged brothers found the necessity for a supernatural work of regeneration unclear and harmful. Their fuzziness in this matter was itself worrisome, as it called into question their own accounts of such a transformation. When our adversary finally revealed his bitter opposition to regeneration as a requirement for membership, we were nonplussed. Did he not understand the fundamental change that takes place with the new birth described in passages such as II Corinthians 5:17 or I John 3:10? He seemed to view it as a theoretical notion with no palpable substance. Our amazement turned to understanding when the double life he was leading later came to light.

 

Church Discipline

The fourth problem that vexed us for a while was church discipline. Before church membership was established, anyone who claimed to be a Christian, took communion, and attended our services was accepted as a Christian brother and became the responsibility of the church leaders. However, this definition of “brother” took in many people who neither understood nor were capable of living the Christian life. When serious sin broke out in their personal affairs, we had to intervene. When their intention to continue in willful sin became evident, church discipline would result.

Church membership solved this problem, as the leaders became responsible only for those who were members. Though some members do stumble, encouragement and counseling is almost always sufficient in those cases, as one would expect for sincere believers. However, before establishing membership, we had removed eight people from church participation. Such action sows deep discontent among participants who are not spiritually mature. Disfellowshipping someone along the lines of Matthew 18:17 or II Thessalonians 3:14-15 is identical to the practice of shunning carried on in African culture. Shunning is an extreme measure. In gregarious cultures, the worst thing you can do to someone is to cut him off from the herd. Removal from the church is very serious as well, but not for social reasons. Rather, Christ says in Matthew 18:18, “Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” These are the implications that make church expulsion truly grave.

Even without appreciating the dire spiritual ramifications, to those who are not bound by Scripture, exercising church discipline is almost always an offense more egregious than the transgression that brings it about. This perspective is especially predominant in African culture for two intertwined reasons. First, shunning is extreme punishment, like the death penalty, as described above. Second, serious Biblical transgressions that necessitate it are, in local culture, minor offenses comparable to sneezing without covering your mouth.

The latter fact should not surprise us. Western Christians live in a culture still steeped in the legacy of our believing ancestors. Though the vigorous attempt now underway to put God’s laws and His name out of our sight is alarming, our consciences are still fairly well informed of God’s standards. In pagan cultures that have nothing but centuries of moral darkness underlying them, polygamy, incest, wife beating, divorce, child marriage, fornication, ancestor worship, and witchcraft are still normal, accepted practice. In many circumstances, lying is more socially correct than truth telling. Theft is more the fault of the owner if he is so careless as to mislay something momentarily or if he entrusts some belonging to a friend in need of money.

With this light regard for what the Bible calls sin, it is not surprising that people whose eyes are focused more on cultural tradition than on the Scriptures are incredulous when church discipline is exercised. However, in Africa, unless the church is discerning about those it accepts as believers, a policy that itself spawns misunderstanding, it will find that church discipline plays a major role in its affairs. Thankfully, after instituting church membership, we have needed to discipline only one member, who turned out to be an accomplished deceiver.

What We Learned

As we have grappled with cultural issues, missionary mistakes, Biblical direction, and advice from counselors, the key conclusions we have reached can be summarized as follows:

  • The ideal missions approach in our type of setting is to send two experienced, Biblically qualified elders to establish churches on the mission field.
  • Local evangelism can move apace, as a Biblical church can at any time be planted with elder leadership provided by the missionaries. Evangelistic efforts should not be planned for far-flung areas where Biblical spiritual oversight cannot be provided, trusting God in those cases to move His elect to areas where they can hear the gospel and join legitimate churches. (See 6 th point below.)
  • Participants must be evaluated with careful discernment – far more than in typical American churches – before being granted the privileges of church membership, or there will be great problems with willful, scandalous sin by members who are false professors. Besides damaging the church’s testimony, these situations will eventually consume all the time of the leaders if they are properly dealt with through counseling and, where required, discipline.
  • In pagan cultures, only members and others who have passed the same careful evaluation should be regarded as brothers in Christ. A clear distinction in church privileges must be evident between members and visitors to preserve the church’s corporate testimony.
  • Church discipline must be exercised for willful sin. However, the more discernment God grants in screening participants for membership, the less often problems advance to this point.
  • Premature distant evangelism seems to precipitate circumstances that have no Biblical resolution. For this reason, evangelistic campaigns in areas far from home base appear unwise unless God clearly and remarkably leads that way, or it happens naturally through dispersion of Christians. Distant evangelism should be undertaken when God has raised up indigenous missionaries or experienced elders in the mother church who can give adequate oversight to the daughter churches that will of necessity be established. This conclusion may sound shocking, but its apparent harshness is mitigated by the assurance from Scripture that no elect soul will be lost because of it, and much confusion and damage to the church can be avoided. It gives added urgency to the task of raising up local missionaries and leaders who can evangelize their own land for Christ.
  • The Mission and “wealthy” missionaries must encourage the local church to look to God and give from their own resources to meet the material needs of the church. Allowing the Mission to provide 50% of funds for church projects encourages the believers that their wealthy sister churches overseas stand with them without fostering unwholesome dependence.
  • Missionaries must be wise in their giving so as to generously help needy brethren without creating mercenary converts, promoting sloth and dependence, or stirring up jealousy from apparent favoritism. Our catechism program has proven to be an imperfect but acceptable means of helping the brethren while avoiding these pitfalls.

I close with this caveat: no list of principles or do’s and don’ts contains the key to church growth, either on the mission field or at home.

Numerical success in the missionary enterprise is dependent first and foremost on whether or not God has “much people in this city” (Acts 18:10). If we use worldly techniques and disregard contrary Scriptures, we can perhaps establish a great church filled with many people even where God has no elect saints (not that such a place exists in this age of grace!), while a Biblical church would have a membership of one – the missionary. At the other extreme, even a poor, inexperienced church planter may have converts falling from the trees in a time of true spiritual revival.

Too often the perspective in church growth manuals seems to be that method is everything. Method may be the key in throwing up successful franchise, consumer-oriented, user-friendly churches-for-the-unchurched, designed with conformity to culture rather than to Scripture in view. However, when one finds a Biblical church full of growing saints, it will not be reproduced merely by copying the method. That church’s success is a gift of God’s grace, just as is salvation itself. As Christ taught Nicodemus in John 3, the Spirit moves where it will. We do not send it or direct it.

If there is something helpful we should seek to study and imitate about a successful church, it is not the method, but the heart of those whom God is using to build it – their devotion to Christ, their divine calling, their burden for people lost and saved, and their commitment to Scripture and to prayer.

The modern church is on a stretch looking for new ideas, philosophies, methods, and plans to advance the church. God is looking for men – because men are God’s method, men filled and overflowing with Christ.

Please continue to pray that God will make this earthen vessel such an instrument of grace and that He will raise up other such laborers for the harvest in Mozambique.

 

Finally, if you have read this far, and God has granted further insights from Scripture into the issues described in this Evangel, please share them with me! We appreciate the participation we receive from our supporters in prayers, gifts, and encouragement. May we prize wisdom as well!

By His grace:

Charles Woodrow

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

First FIEL Conference

August 2000 – Vol.16 – No.3

Dear Friends:

The high point for me in over ten years of ministry here took place last May, at the first annual “Conferência Fiel” meeting for pastors and church workers held in Nampula.

The conference takes its name from a Brazilian publishing house established by veteran missionary Richard Denham, together with his wife Pearl. After serving several years as a missionary to Brazil, Richard became acquainted with the literature still cherished today from the fathers of the Reformation. He was profoundly influenced by their devotedness to Christ, their commitment to holy living, their lofty view of the majesty and glory of God, and the doctrines they re-discovered from scripture, doctrines which gave rise to the courageous lives they led and the mighty renewal God wrought within His church through their labor and sacrifice.

As a result of Richard’s ministry, several Brazilian pastors were similarly affected. Richard became burdened to see these books translated into Portuguese and widely disseminated through all Brazil. In time God raised up Brazilian translators who shared our brother’s vision, and they began translating and publishing under the name “Editora Fiel”. Today they have translated over 130 titles, all of them books of exceptional quality. In the last two years they have produced a magazine specifically oriented to pastors, excellent in content and attractiveness, that is distributed not only throughout Brazil but also in Mozambique and Portugal. They also organize annual pastors’conferences that have drawn hundreds of Brazilian pastors. Many have written stirring testimonies of how their ministries and their personal lives were transformed by the knowledge imparted through these books and conferences.

The conferences and periodicals are free to pastors, expenses being covered by donors who esteem the literature being disseminated. The books must be purchased, but in recent years God granted Richard the faith and boldness to begin offering even the books free of charge to pastors who enroll in a special book distribution program. Knowing I appreciated Editora Fiel’s books and had sought to distribute them in Nampula, Richard asked me to head up the distribution program for Mozambique. It was hard to pass up that opportunity, but I recommended a brother in Maputo, Karl Peterson, who could serve both Editora Fiel and the Mozambican pastors far more faithfully than I could.

And Karl has done that, making the Editora Fiel project the most satisfying of his various ministries to Mozambican pastors. Paradoxically, the highest concentration of pastors participating in the book distribution program come from the Nampula area, while Karl lives over 1000 miles away in the capital. Several months ago I was discouraged with the frequent disappointments in our local church. Many of our folk are uneducated and their spiritual growth is hindered by inability to read the Bible and reluctance to part with traditions that are contrary to scripture. I suggested to Karl that we sponsor a conference here in Nampula for the pastors registered in his book program and volunteered to handle the logistics for the meeting since I lived in the area. I hoped it would be a means of contributing to men who were on a faster track spiritually than many of the people I deal with in our local church. For his part, Karl was already hoping to meet personally with the men he only knew by correspondence. We anticipated having a small meeting for 10 or 15 pastors, but hoped it might lead to bigger things in the future. Enthusiastically we set to work on the preparations.

From the first, God’s hand in the conference was often apparent. How encouraging it is when you sense something you are doing is not merely a project dreamed up on your own. In retrospect, the first indication this might be more than we envisioned came when Martin Holdt accepted our invitation to address the men on the program. Martin is a gifted pastor and international preacher who is regularly invited to speak at church conferences throughout the English speaking world. I knew him through our family’s association with his church in Johannesburg. He had often expressed an interest to visit Nampula so I had the boldness to ask him to come now, when he could also speak to the handful of pastors we hoped to assemble for the conference. We were delighted when he accepted our invitation.

Next, when we informed “Editora Fiel” in Brazil of what we were doing, they voted to fly the founder and director, Richard Denham, to the meeting as well. His participation turned out to be a great animating force. The obvious affection he had for Portuguese speaking pastors and his delight in furnishing fine books for their use greatly motivated the men at the conference. When Karl and I heard of their desire to send Richard, we had some second thoughts. I felt his visit might be somewhat wasted at such an early stage. We expected minimal participation from the pastors and a lot of blunders on our part as we learned how to host a conference under Mozambique’s difficult conditions. However, the Lord led us to promote the plan, and it proved to be the right decision. Besides the force of his own presence, Richard brought four thousand dollars worth (retail value) of books, study Bibles, and reference works which were sold at the conference for one tenth their listed price. You can imagine the excitement that produced in Nampula where no one has ever seen a Christian book store, where even Bibles and hymnals are hard to come by! Four thousand dollars’ worth of books divided amongst ten to fifteen men would be quite a windfall.

Only there weren’t ten to fifteen men. As it turned out, the quality of Editora Fiel’s publications had impressed some of the more educated and influential pastors in the program even more than we realized. Scholarship does not run deep yet in the Mozambican church. That is constantly improving as the national education system finds its legs and as Bible schools gear up and organizations like Editora Fiel provide opportunities like their book program. But despite the current limitations, at least a few men were reading the materials, some of them voraciously, and were grateful for what they were discovering. When we told them an Editora Fiel conference would be hosted in the area, they enthusiastically recruited all their associates.

And so to our amazement, and some dread on my part, 137 pastors and church workers from various parts of the country mailed in registration forms to attend the conference. Not all of them followed through with their plans, but when the first meeting took place 85 men were in attendance from 24 different denominations! That they appreciated the conference was borne out by the fact that all of them continued straight through all of the 19 sessions during the next two and a half days. We registered no drop-outs! One of our requests before the Almighty was that He would send only those leaders who would benefit from the meetings, and apparently that is what happened.

The purpose of the conference was threefold: 1) to encourage and spiritually refresh pastors as they face the task of ministering to a desperately needy church out of their own spiritually meager resources, 2) to introduce them to the rich legacy left to us by the fathers of the Reformation, and 3) to promote the doctrines of grace amongst Mozambican believers. I was a bit surprised when Martin selected themes majoring almost exclusively on the first objective, but as a pastor of pastors, his heart was for the men to advance in their personal walk with God, in holiness, in prayer, and in their warfare against the evil one. Here again God was leading, and the men responded warmly as he discharged his burden in seven stirring messages.

God’s blessing was again manifested in the translation of the messages. Tyler Hopkins, our other Grace Missions’ missionary, leads a pastor’s seminary in South Africa. He has a promising Mozambican student named Baptista Boa now in his third year at the school. Baptista is praying about a place to minister when he completes his coursework and Tyler has encouraged him to come to Nampula. To promote this, he gave him time off to attend the conference. I had not met Baptista before, but it was soon apparent that he loved the Lord and had been well taught at the seminary. The translator we brought in from Maputo had great difficulty translating for the first session, though he came highly recommended. We knew we had to make some changes. Thankfully, Baptista was available and translated well throughout the rest of the conference. He had not been on our list of potential translators since none of us had met him before, but he turned out to be the most capable of all. We were grateful God sent him and averted a disaster that would have ruined the whole conference!

My part in the conference was setting up the meeting hall, the meals, and the lodging. I had an urgent trip to South Africa to squeeze in before the meetings and because of arriving home four days behind schedule, the conference preparations were in great jeopardy. I had only six days to do what I expected would take ten days. We built a large kitchen at the meeting site with bamboo walls and frame and a huge tarp for the roof. Electric lights were strung from the nearby meeting hall. For only fifty dollars we had a most satisfactory kitchen. The inside of the hall we decorated with curtains and banners purchased in South Africa. Then we set out to find food for all the men. Advice from local pastors, missionaries, and cooks who had hosted conferences before got us past most of the obstacles.

The hand of God was often evident in the mundane preparations for eating and lodging. While in South Africa I had purchased all the stainless steel table settings I could find, enough to serve 86 men. When I left Nampula for South Africa we had 20 men registered for the meeting. That was in keeping with what we expected. As I prepared to return to Nampula a month later, Karl told me there were 54 men registered. That was still fine. But by the time I got home, to my great dismay Karl announced there were now 137 men registered! It seemed impossible to accommodate so many. In the end, “only” 85 made it, just one less than the 86 table settings God had provided! Surely no one would call that coincidence.

When the men arrived for the meetings, 18 needed lodging. I had reserved rooms for 20, a wild guess at the time arrangements were made. Again, God’s ability to lead even as we walk in darkness was apparent. When I learned there were potentially 137 participants, I wondered how we would find chairs and tables in Nampula for so many. But when we showed up to decorate the meeting hall two days before the conference, we discovered a wealthy family had just hosted a wedding party there. They had brought in chairs and tables for 100 people as well as many potted plants, just what I needed! We asked them to let us rent their chairs, tables and plants for the three days of our conference and they accepted! What a provision from the Lord, to find everything already at hand when we were so pressed for time!

The meals were good and on time, thanks to a hard-working kitchen staff. Our two cooks slaved over wood fires day and night till their eyes were so burned from smoke that they could not keep them open. They had agreed to fix 600 meals for five dollars; ten dollars if the meals were good; and 15 dollars if they were good and on time. Of course I expected to pay them more if they truly did a good job, but that is how one starts bargaining here. With so much at stake, the men made sure the food was ready on time, probably a first for Africa. They even indulged me by following such rules as washing their hands and disinfecting raw food with bleach, things that probably seem as superstitious to them as sprinkling with fairy dust would be to us. In the end, I paid them $90 for their diligence and hard work. They were kings wages, as it represented a month’s salary for three days’ work.

Unexpectedly, the kitchen required my constant attention throughout the conference. One of Satan’s thunderbolts was to take both the Land Rover and Toyota out of commission just days before the meeting when there was so much work to be done. Thankfully we still had the big Bedford truck, but I was the only one on our work crew who had a license to drive a truck. That meant it was I who had to be at the farmer’s market at 5:00 each morning to purchase the fresh vegetables and fruits. Throughout the day it was I who brought all the meat in live on the hoof (no refrigeration available for so much food – the animals were slaughtered, butchered, cooked, and eaten right on the site). Contrary to plan, it was I who before each meal fetched the bread fresh from the bakery and brought in the appetizers and desserts prepared by Julie and a neighbor lady in their respective homes. The kitchen work went on without let up until 11:00 each evening when I was finally able to shut off the lights after the last pots and pans and knives and forks were washed, counted, and secured.

The 600 meals cost almost $1000, plus we purchased two thousand dollars’ worth of flatware, kettles, trays, mugs, etc. in order to serve all the food. I am grateful we have those supplies as now we can host more conferences and one day they will be needed for the hospital.

I had three personal ambitions for the conference. One was to enjoy seven messages from Pastor Holdt, a real treat on the mission field where average speakers are what we have on hand. The second ambition was the opportunity of preaching to 85 pastors and church leaders on the topic of my choice. The third was to disseminate a small primer on theology I have prepared in Portuguese that follows closely the 1689 Baptist confession. You have already heard how the first hope was dashed when the kitchen work required my constant involvement. Then, because of time pressure beginning a month earlier when we left for South Africa to buy material for the conference and send two containers of building supplies to Nampula, I had no opportunity to prepare my talk or assemble the primer. What a disappointment that was, to be shut out on all three of my personal aspirations.

However, after midnight before the last day of the conference I printed up the mock-up for the primer and sent it to the photocopiers the next morning. To my surprise, they not only copied the book, but colated and bound all the pages as well without my asking. That made the remaining work much easier, and in the end I was able to distribute the booklet as the last event of the conference Friday night. The pastors, who had already given a warm response to my message earlier in the day, received the primers with enthusiasm. Since then I have been heartened by visits from several men saying the primer was so helpful they wanted copies for their fellow pastors. How gracious of God to salvage that project after all hope for it had been abandoned!

I was similarly disappointed to have to speak on so important an occasion without writing out the message in advance or rehearsing the presentation. Though I wanted to prepare carefully, kitchen duties rendered that impossible. It was not until an hour before the message that I could put an outline together. Yet the unction of the Holy Spirit made up for all the deficiencies and the message was better than my most carefully prepared sermons.

My topic was true salvation, the means and the manifestations. I emphasized personal experiential knowledge of God as true salvation (John 17:3), with faith alone as the means (Ephesians 2:8-9), and the necessity of a transformed life in order to have any assurance of the genuineness of our salvation or that of any one else (I John 3:10). A common mistake here is to accept religious ritual and submission to the church’s moral code as the essence of Christianity when that is only the husk. “That I may know Him,” was Paul’s aspiration and we also must settle for nothing less as the goal for ourselves and those to whom we minister.

Another common mistake here is to preach the proof of salvation, good works, as if it were the means to it. The corollary that almost always accompanies this error is to let the means of salvation, faith, stand as evidence that one must be saved. That is, a superficial profession of faith with nothing else backing it up is accepted as proof that someone is “one of us”, often with disastrous results in marriage and in church leadership. It was easy to illustrate the confusion that comes into the church and our personal lives when we aren’t clear on these fundamental issues, as types and examples abound both here and in the western church.

The final point was the supreme importance of preaching Christ, not works or church rules or even religious activity, in order to produce the faith that alone leads to genuine conversion.

Each point in the message was an area of confusion in the churches I am familiar with. The opportunity to strike those nails hard on the head at a conference attended by so many church workers was one of the great motivating factors for me in the whole undertaking.

In the end, the men seemed pleased and encouraged by the conference. Pastor Holdt’s messages were stirring and well directed to the spiritual needs of the pastors. Richard Denham and his books and talks animated the men. The practical details I was responsible for passed without a hitch, far from what I expected for our first attempt. Baptista’s participation was an invaluable and unexpected asset. Karl’s organization and leadership was excellent. The pastors responded with enthusiasm. We thank God for His blessings on the conference and anticipate more men in the next one. We pray that these conferences and the book distribution program will grow to national proportions, significantly strengthening the pastors and local churches.

After ten years of struggling nearly alone in our church work, it was satisfying to be part of a team and to see things happening that one man alone could never accomplish

Which reminds us of those who labor with us from home. As always in our letters, we must end by thanking you for your help. The fact that many people remember us before the Almighty has been especially evident during this time.

By His grace:

Charles and Julie Woodrow

Winning the Minister’s Approval

Fall 1996 – Vol.12. – No.4

“Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings. He shall not stand before mean men.” Proverbs 22:29

Dear friends:

This is a verse I have more than once shared with the surgical team during the past term. They are a hard working crew and their productivity is enormous compared to their peers. Arnaldo and Jeremias, for example, recently churned out ten hernia repairs and eight hydrocele operations in only nine hours. In six years Arnaldo has never missed a day of work. All eight members of the team labor diligently. Yet our three nurses are each paid less than $30.00 a month (plus $60.00 from money earned through patient contributions), and the four orderlies receive between $20.00 and $25.00. For the orderlies, such as Jeremias who has eight mouths to feed on his pittance, the paycheck is gone by the third week, and by the fourth week there is no food to feed the little ones. When I say “food” I mean manioc root and dehydrated minnows, not rice, potatoes, or meat of any sort. When it seems hard work isn’t paying off and discouragement sets in, this is one of several verses from Proverbs I use in urging the team to remain diligent in their business. “God will stand behind His word,” I tell them, “if for our part we read it and be­lieve it. Your good work will not always go unrecognized. One day you will stand before kings if you just keep serving faithfully.” Then we pray and do not hesitate to remind God of reality as He has stated it in scripture.

Well, in the past month, God fulfilled that verse for the surgical team, and especially Arnaldo, in a literal and amazing fashion. I said in concluding our last report that “it will take a whole succession of extraordinary events for Grace Missions to establish its own health center.” Prepare yourself for the tale of extraordinary event number one. It will leave you overwhelmed at God’s power to order the events of men’s lives, great and small.

As usual this term, it all began in the furnace of affliction – actually, a few days before that, on July 24 when all appeared to be normal. Julie and I were reading the scripture portions for that day in “Daily Light on the Daily Path”. They dealt with being “patient in tribulation”. The last verse was John 16:33 which for reasons I did not then understand seized my heart and continued to inject itself into my thoughts for the next several days. This preoccupation must surely have come from the Spirit of God, which indwells every believer, for it was perfect preparation for what was about to take place in the ensuing weeks. The verse was this: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

The bombshell dropped on 6 August. For several days Marrere had been getting ready for a special visit from the Vice Minister of Health. Perhaps I should have had an inkling of foreboding when he appeared at the hospital with our arch nemesis Dr. Simon in tow. The visit was uneventful until the delegation reached the surgical block. Once the Vice Minister, Dr. Simon, the Provincial Director, city director, hospital director, and all the other chiefs and dignitaries were inside, Dr. Simon confronted the Vice Minister with the fact that Arnaldo was still openly and unabashedly performing operations at Marrere in complete disregard for the written directive from the Ministry of Health forbidding even his presence in the operating room. I immediately reminded Dr. Simon that the written directive was dated before the visit of Dr. Vaz, the head of surgery for the entire country. The Vice Minister rejoined that Dr. Vaz had nothing to do with the matter and that I was obliged to follow the directives of the Ministry of Health, not the opinions of other surgeons. The Provincial Director was right beside me and he was the one who had returned from the Ministry of Health with the information that the issue had been discussed at the Ministry and that Dr. Simon’s edict forbidding Arnaldo’s presence in the O.R. had been overturned. So I waited for him to untangle the situation, as he alone knew all the pertinent information, but he remained studiously silent. Dr. Simon seized the opportunity to resume his diatribe against the egregious practice he had discovered at Marrere that was now compounded by an utter disregard for the directives “from the Minister himself” (hyperbole on his part). I could not defend myself without deflecting Dr. Simon’s attack onto the Provincial Director, who has been our strong ally since January. Finally I interrupted with the comment that I could answer all of his accusations but preferred to discuss the matter in private and not in front of the surgical team and all the visiting dignitaries. The Vice Minister said it would be unnecessary to discuss the matter further as he would let the Minister of Health deal with me personally.

That ended the discussion and also the tour of the surgical block, which had only gotten underway. However, the Vice Minister walked out with the warning that the Minister would be unhappy with the report he would get upon their return to Maputo.

That evening I called the Provincial Director to find out how the tables had turned and to set up a private audience with the Vice Minister. He said it would not be possible to speak with the Vice Minister. Dr. Simon had been actively campaigning against Marrere at the Ministry of Health. He had turned the Vice Minister against us and apparently had convinced the Minister to support his position as well. Immediately I called Dr. Vaz to find out what exactly had taken place several months ago to get Arnaldo released from Dr. Simon’s restrictions. He was amazed when he heard of Dr. Simon’s attack that day. He said that after he spoke to Dr. Simon last November, the latter had promised not to raise the issue again. Apparently, that was the extent of the “fix” that Dr. Vaz had arranged at the Ministry. In reality, the verbal promise Dr. Simon offered Dr. Vaz with no written repeal of his former edict simply cast the surgical program at Marrere into an even more vulnerable position should Dr. Simon desire to terminate it, as he now seemed bent upon doing.

At this point it is important to repeat what regular readers of these chronicles already know, that because of the scarcity of surgeons in Mozambique, many nurses are authorized to do surgery (after completing an extensive training program) and they operate miles from any surgeon who could bail them out of difficulties should they arise. Arnaldo, on the other hand, only operates when I am present in the hospital. Moreover, the Ministry of Health has regularly received reports of Arnaldo’s surgical experience since 1992 and many people, such as Dr. Vaz, chief surgeon of Mozambique and former Minister of Health, the former Vice Minister, the former National Director of Health, and the former chief of Human Resources at the Ministry, all have known of Arnaldo’s work and given their approval, sometimes tacitly, sometimes enthusiastically. However, Dr. Simon was a general practitioner doing surgery in Nampula when I arrived in 1990 and opposed the creation of a second surgical center so near the city. He was later promoted to a high office at the Ministry of Health and has used his position to our detriment.

In a visit last year he insisted we cut our productivity by over 50%, saying that all operations had to be done by me. His written directive, which followed later, forbade Arnaldo from even scrubbing on cases. That meant I would have to do all my operations working entirely alone in the operating room, which essentially eliminated the other 50% of our output!

Once again, Dr. Vaz promised to campaign in our behalf to get the matter overturned. I assured him that I could not attend to the huge surgical case load at Marrere while working under Dr. Simon’s restrictions and would sooner relinquish my contract than cut our productivity, increase our working hours, or turn away patients with significant surgical illnesses. I needed the Minister to state in writing that Arnaldo was authorized to continue his duties in the operating room as formerly. Nothing less than that would be sufficient to allow our work to continue.

It was a tense time, since everything was now on the line and there were no encouraging reports regardless of whom I spoke with. For a week, things only got worse. Dr. Vaz was unable to secure an audience with the Minister, so he tried talking with the Vice Minister. The Vice Minister rebuffed him and repeated his ominous warning that he too was waiting to speak with the Minister and that what he had to say did not bode well for Dr. Vaz or me. My nightly phone calls to Dr. Vaz furthered our friendship but painted an increasingly desperate picture.

For the surgical team, the situation was even more grim. I at least could fall back on the church work for satisfaction. It always needs more attention than I can give it, as does the family. As I braced myself for becoming medically unemployed, I could still rejoice at the prospect of fulfilling many long delayed projects on those two fronts. For the rest of the team, there was nothing to look forward to if the program folded. For the orderlies, there wouldn’t even be employment.

Perhaps the most poignant moment for me came the Sunday after the Vice Minister’s visit. I was preparing for the evangelistic service at the hospital, attended by nearly a hundred patients and family members when I was pierced by the realization that these opportunities might soon end. Never had the hospital at Marrere with its foul latrines and roach infested rooms seemed like such a lovely place to work as during that moment when I saw the rich evangelistic opportunities it afforded slipping away.

My favorite words of scripture are the two that begin Ephesians 2:4. They are the words that form the hinge upon which our eternal destiny turns. After describing the situation every one of us is in until coming to saving faith in Christ – a circumstance infinitely more hopeless than the one we were now in with the Ministry – Paul begins to describe the unbelievable change in the believer’s condition with the words, “But God…”

The account that follows is truly a “But God…” event! The human agent God used in orchestrating it all was Dr. Geelhoed, a specialist in surgical endocrinology and professor of surgery at George Washington University medical school in Washington, D.C. Dr. Geelhoed has been touring southern Africa throughout 1996 as a Fulbright scholar and had come to Mozambique on a visit earlier in the year. During that visit he passed through Nampula with Mozambique’s own surgical endocrinologist, Dr. Ivo Garrido. Since Marrere is the only surgical center in the province that does endocrine surgery, the Provincial Director made sure these two specialists paid us a visit. I presented a comprehensive report of all our thyroid cases, and the visit came off very well. This was in part because Dr. Geelhoed’s interest in southern Africa, like mine, is not purely surgical. He is a Christian from the States and had done short term missionary work in Africa before embarking on his career in academic medicine. He never lost his interest in Africa though, and applied for the Fulbright scholarship in part because it afforded the opportunity to re-live his experiences as a missionary doctor.

Dr. Geelhoed returned for a second brief visit to Mozambique just when our problems arose. As he tells it, he was sitting in the Ministry of Health awaiting an audience with the Minister who wished to thank him officially for services rendered on his first visit when he saw a letter from Dr. Simon suggesting that the surgical program at Marrere be abolished. Having become a personal friend of ours and an enthusiastic promoter of Marrere both in the States and Africa, he was appalled. He postponed his meeting with the Minister in order to draft a strong letter praising the “outstanding program” he had encountered at Marrere, especially extolling the high quality of training evidenced by the excellent work done by Arnaldo. Dr. Vaz was only too happy to translate it all into Portuguese and when his audience with the Minister was re-scheduled several days later he surprised him with a eulogy of our ministry that would bring color to the cheeks of any corpse. His glowing report coupled with his lofty stature amongst officials at the Ministry completely won the day for us. The Minister said Dr. Simon was but a child who did not know what he was about, and that he would be sure to visit our surgical center on his upcoming trip to Nampula.

Following his visit, Dr. Geelhoed immediately called me at home in Nampula. I was amazed to hear from someone I thought had returned to the States months ago, and then dumbfounded as he described God’s providence in our behalf. Dr. Geelhoed’s first words to me were, “You must have some powerful prayers behind you. You’re not going to believe what has just happened.” We do, and I scarcely can!

However, God had only begun to turn the tables. When we received word that the Minister would be in Nampula for one day, 27 August, and that Marrere was to be his first stop, I immediately thought of a patient I had seen in clinic a couple of weeks earlier. How I would have loved to present her to the Minister as an example of why the surgical program at Marrere was vital to northern Mozambique! She had undergone a hysterectomy at the Central Hospital over two years ago and healed with a fistula connecting her bladder directly to her vagina. Urine flowed continuously onto her clothing and bedding and made life miserable for her. She was from one of Nampula’s upper class families so had the means to contract at great expense with the most respected local surgeon to perform corrective surgery. Vessico-vaginal fistulas are among the toughest cases we do here, and not surprisingly, after two more operations the defect persisted. Having given up on getting her problem corrected in Nampula, she flew to Maputo and scheduled a consultation with the leading gynecologist in the country. He treated her with medications and refused to offer her an operation. After a lengthy trial of medical treat­ment which was doomed to failure since the problem can only be corrected surgically, he sent her back to Nampula. For two years she had to wear foul smelling diapers until learning that we corrected fistulas at Marrere. She had been seen by me on 7 August, before we knew of the Minister’s upcoming visit, and I scheduled her operation for next October.

Now I just wished there were some way to call her in, do her operation, and present her to the Minister of Health. However, we didn’t have a clue how to get hold of her. But God knows all things, and exactly eight days before the Minister’s visit who should I find waiting for me on the hospital steps but my fistula patient! For reasons no one can explain, she had decided she did not want to wait until October to have her operation. She packed her bags, came to the hospital, and wanted to be operated on at once. She had even skipped breakfast so she could be done that very day!

This was clearly a turn from God. We immediately escorted her into the operating room, and shortly discovered why the Maputo gynecologist had deemed her an unsuitable surgical candidate. She was terrified of anything surgical, though perhaps she had good reason to be in view of her history. The first item of business was to repeat the exam with a special instrument that would give us a clear view of the fistula. It is an entirely painless procedure but the way the whole team had to pin down each of her limbs to allow me even a brief look at the fistula, you would have thought we were playing rugby on the operating table rather than treating a patient. Then she had to be catheterized, which again necessitated everyone piling on the patient and was carried out amid screams of supposed pain and terror. The spinal injec­tion was no different, and even after anesthesia set in she pleaded to be put to sleep for the operation. She was short but very heavy, and we could not risk sedating her too much as her respirations would already be hampered by her partial paralysis and the great weight of her chest and abdomen that had to be moved with each breath. In the face of such utter terror, I marveled that she came in for her operation at all, let alone two months ahead of schedule. However, while it was hard to explain on a human level, I was sure of the ultimate explanation for why she was now lying on our operating table.

For the same reason, I knew everything was going to turn out perfectly, even if we had the laundry men come in and do the operation. And just as we expected, the procedure went flawlessly. We opened her abdomen, dissected out the inside end of the vagina, then opened her bladder and identified the fistula and ureters. Working from inside and outside the bladder we divided the fistula, closed the defects in three layers, and then put a patch of fatty tissue (of which there was an abundance) between the bladder and the vagina. Now all she had to do was heal.

And heal she did. She did not loose even a drop of urine in the post-op period. The seventh day after surgery we removed her urinary catheter and she began voiding normally for the first time in over two years. The next day the Minister arrived. We could not have timed it better, but that is one of the hallmarks of God’s providence, isn’t it?

His visit was much different from the one earlier in the month with the Vice Minister. The Minister was accompanied by an even larger and more dignified entourage. The surgical team had carefully prepared a thirty minute presentation we hoped would impress the visitors. We covered a bulletin board with pictures of our most remarkable cases. There were pages of handouts, reams of statistics, and live demonstrations. Some of the statistics regarding the team’s productivity were:

  • Over 13,000 surgical consultations in five years.
  • 3002 operations.
  • 120 consultations in one day, on 10 September 1992.
  • 58 operations scheduled in one day, on 14 September 1994.
  • 95 operations performed in one month, in August 1994.
  • 13 operations performed on one day, on 7 August 1996.

This was not the work of a single individual. There are seven others on the team and each functions well beyond the capacity expected of orderlies or nurses. The orderlies assist on operations and handle sterilization of material, while the nurses operate (in the case of Arnaldo), administer anesthesia, make rounds, work up patients, and perform consultations. I had the opportunity to present each of them to the Minister of Health and praise their excellent service.

Which is where the verse at the head of this letter comes in. For these fel­lows, who live in mud huts with dirt floors and grass roofs, being recognized for their diligent, tireless, and invaluable work in the presence of the very Minister himself was the fulfillment of an impossible dream, but one which we have often referred to in daily devotions with a boldness which could only be justified because God Himself speaks of it in His word.

We concluded the report by presenting our fistula patient. By God’s grace, and certainly that is no empty cliche in this instance, it had taken our team only one consultation, one operation, and 12 days to solve a problem that two regional referral hospitals had been unable to resolve after much pain, expense, and lost time. The effect on the Minister was just what we had hoped it would be. After the presentation he invited me to join him and several other guests for dinner that night so we could discuss the surgical center Grace Missions would like to build, and talk more about Arnaldo (another fulfillment of Proverbs 22:29 – thanks to Dr. Simon he is now known not only throughout Nampula but also in the halls of the very Ministry of Health!).

At dinner that night the minister said that he had decided to prepare a document authorizing Arnaldo to operate as long as I accepted full responsibility for his work. He further said he would not only grant Grace Mission’s request to build a private surgical center in Nampula, but would give it his full support at the Ministry level and wanted it to function as a training center not only for surgical technicians but for doctors who wish to become licensed as full-fledged surgeons in Mozambique.

So now we have the support of the Minister of Health, the Provincial Director, Dr. Vaz (chief of surgery in Mozambique and director of the nation’s surgical training program), and the Nampula businessman’s association. Of all the people whose support is needed for Grace Missions to go ahead with this project, the only one we have yet to win over is the governor of Nampula. The businessmen say that will be a mere formality once they speak to him. They have even suggested they would get the President’s endorsement if that were needed.

What a dramatic demonstration this month has been of the sovereign grace of God in directing the affairs of men! From Doctor Simon to the Minister of Health to Dr. Geelhoed from George Washington University school of medicine to Arnaldo and Jeremias and Julia, our fistula patient, God orchestrates every­thing and everyone to the end that His purposes should be accomplished. And for us, that is a wonderful consolation in the hour of trial, especially since it now appears certain that His purpose is to build a Christian surgical center in Nampula that will serve as a witness to the whole of northern Mozambique. If that happens, it will exceed my most far-fetched dreams, but Ephesians 3:20 speaks of a God who is “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” And as the next verse says, “Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen!”

Ministry at Marrere

September 1993 – Vol.9 – No.4

In some of our visits this furlough, people have asked for a better description of the hospital work in Mozambique. Marrere is a 100 bed general hospital though it has the capacity for an additional 20 beds. It has a staff of one doctor; one administrator; 35 nurses, midwives, and technicians; as well as 30 servants. After seeing the picture of it in the last Mozambique Evangel, nearly everyone is amazed to discover it is a large, well built facility. Apparently I have understated its “grandeur” in these letters by calling it a rural hospital. Before independence, it was in fact the “hospital deluxe” for all of north Mozambique and the preferred medical facility for those who could afford it. Its pleasant, rural location five miles outside Nampula gives it a quiet, restful, almost resort-like atmosphere.

When the Africans gained independence from Portugal in 1975, the government confiscated it from the Catholic church who originally intended to use it as a boarding school for ministerial students. That explains why the center of the building is a huge, 4,800 square­ foot chapel with a forty-foot ceiling.

Jutting out from either side of the chapel are the north and south wings. On the ground floor of the south wing is the outpatient clinic. The nurses, midwives, medical technician, and I see about 1,600 patients each month. Patients who wish to be seen on a given day must be present by 8:30 AM. After signing in they wait in the chapel area where several of the pediatric clinics are held. Because these patients are usually accompanied by family members who help them walk to and from the hospital, there is always a crowd waiting for us when we arrive. My heart longs to see an evangelistic message preached every day, applying life-giving medicine to the souls of the people assembled there as we tend to their physical afflictions.

The most common medical malady is malaria, followed by ancylostomiasis – infestations of tiny worms that live by the thousands in the intestines draining the blood of their unwilling hosts. Next is bilharzia, another infestation of worms that invade the skin during their microscopic larval stage. These worms migrate to the bladder and urinary tract where they grow to an inch in size and wreak all kinds of havoc within the suffering patient. These three diseases are practically universal in Mozambique. Added to these maladies are sexually transmitted diseases of every type, including AIDS. Unfortunately, there is no information on the incidence of AIDS in Mozambique. However, in some highly infested areas of neighboring Zimbabwe, tests have been positive for nearly half the population. In Mozambique’s Nampula province there is an unusually high incidence of tuberculosis, along with the usual urinary tract infections, pneumonia, abscesses, and malnutrition.

There is also a tragic paralysis that is the direct result of eating improperly prepared cassava or manioc root, the food staple here. This disease is common and had me and other western doctors stumped until a Canadian farmer (actually an agricultural engineer) working for World Vision diagnosed it for us. To date, everything I know about it I learned from reading one of his agricultural journals. Sadly, the paralysis is irreversible and untreatable.

All the clinics, except one, are done by noon every day, if not earlier. The exception is the surgical clinic which is held only one day each week. Since, as many as 120 patients may show up, we run non-stop till all have been seen. My assistant and I are often still there late at night, working by flashlight, hours after the rest of the hospital (and the electricity) has shut down.

Our patients suffer along with us, since they arrive early and must get through the day without meals, faced with a long trek back home in the dark if they are among the last to be seen. At the end of each day I fill the Land Rover with as many patients as possible since it is unwise to walk through the bush at night. My assistant in the clinic always gets the next day off.

It isn’t necessary to make my clinic so demanding, but by doing it this way, I keep my work week down to four days, or about 35 hours. That leaves time for the spiritual ministry which must have priority. No surgeon operating in the US could see 100 outpatients, do 25 major operations, make regular rounds on 30 to 35 inpatients, maintain reasonable medical records, and still work just 35 hours per week. That is the efficiency of missionary medicine! Of course part of that is because Arnaldo has been trained to stand in for me on most of the simple operations. This is accomplished by scheduling only hernia and hydrocele repairs on my clinic day. By the time I am done with the clinic downstairs, Arnaldo and the OR team have finished eight to ten operations upstairs!

Besides hernias and hydroceles (fluid accumulations in the scrotum that reach the size of small melons), the most common surgical problems include: benign tumors of the uterus and ovaries; bowel obstructions and gangrene; elephantiasis; burns; snakebites; tumors and overgrowth of the thyroid gland; damage to the urinary tract from the bilharzia worm that makes it’s home there; and complications from child birth (where the rectum, bladder, and reproductive tract are so damaged that they all form one large incontinent opening). On top of all that, when compared to illnesses here, everything in Mozambique presents itself on a grand scale. Many patients have suffered for decades without access to surgical care, so when they show up their problems have reached gargantuan proportions. Huge hernias are the rule, for example, and it is not unusual to operate on men whose scrotums hang to their knees and have to be carried in slings because the entire large bowel and most of the small bowel resides there, along with two or three hefty hydroceles. Of course from the waist up they look great – no belly!

Thyroid, uterine, and ovarian tumors are almost never small and neat either. A wise old surgeon once told me his daily prayer was, “Lord, spare me from the interesting case.” It is always the unusual case that bites back, so to avoid problems it is best to handle as few “interesting cases” as possible. You can imagine my chagrin when, during the first months in Mozambique, almost every case that came to me proved to be “interesting.” Of course over time these cases have become routine. The sad consequence of this is that some of the more common cases performed in the US would now be difficult since I never encounter them in Mozambique.

Directly above the clinic in the south wing is a twenty bed maternity ward served by a staff of seven midwives. They attend about 140 deliveries each month. At the onset of labor, a pregnant woman must endure a long walk to the hospital. If the distance is too great, she might not make it at all. On several occasions I have been called to help women who had delivered their baby in the street or in the bush while trying to get to a health post. To avoid such an outcome, the more fortunate women arrange temporary lodging near a clinic as their due date approaches. Thankfully, improving the conditions for childbirth is one of the major goals of the government health program, since the national infant mortality rate is 15%.

Down the hall from the maternity ward, on the second floor of the north wing, is the medical-surgical­-pediatric ward with our surgical suite at the far end. Forty beds are available in this wing, which are increasingly filled by our surgical patients. Hoping to relieve this situation, the U.S. Ambassador has provided a grant to convert a building behind the hospital into a ward for ambulatory patients. When this project is completed, the capacity of the hospital will increase to 160 beds.

Back on the ground floor under the surgical ward is the TB sanitarium. Forty beds are devoted to these patients. Mozambique has one of the highest TB and leprosy rates in the world, and Nampula in turn has the highest incidence of both in the nation.

Tuberculosis is a difficult disease to treat because of the resistance of the organism. Patients must remain in the hospital for two months receiving three drugs daily. Then they are discharged with the proviso that they will walk to the hospital every week for the next six months to continue their treatments. Even for people living nearby this is not easy, but imagine what it’s like for those who have to hike twenty miles each way. Not surprisingly, there is a high drop-out rate in the outpatient program resulting in many relapses. The second time around the disease is more difficult to conquer than before, requiring more expensive medications and an even longer course of treatment. If there were time, a weekly Bible study for the TB patients would be invaluable. Those who participate could be taught much during their long stay in the sanitarium. Hopefully this will become a reality with additional missionary workers.

The hospital has a medical technician who is assigned to care for the non-surgical patients. In reality, little is done to ease their suffering or treat the complications of their disease. This is because Mozambican health workers generally succumb to a spirit of discouragement and apathy after their first few months in practice. The problems they face are over­whelming and the resources at their disposal are grossly inadequate. It is not hard to see why so many give up any hope of helping people. They soon begin to look at their job as merely a means of making their own life a little less difficult through the small salary they receive and their direct access to medications. Several times I have been called to see patients in extremis who had been in the hospital over two months without once being seen after admission by anyone other than the ward personnel. (This happened while a Mozambique-trained doctor was in charge of the ward.) The explanation for this negligent behavior is neither lack of time nor a heavy workload; the health care providers are always done for the day by noon and leave soon thereafter. Sadly, it is the result of a “minimum effort” mentally that arises from seldom seeing satisfying results when they do try.

One of the reasons we are seeking another missionary doctor to work at the hospital is because it is very unlikely we could find a local person who has not already been conditioned to function in this defeated, “minimal effort” mode. Grace Missions would scarcely want to accept responsibility for managing the hospital if the care provided there brought reproach to the name of Christ! Doctors trained in the West are accustomed to standards far higher than anything Mozambican health workers have ever seen or imagined. By God’s grace, a missionary doctor would have far greater ability to ward off the devastating effects of hopelessness when confronted with the extreme circumstances so common in Mozambique. It is because of God’s gracious provision that we have channels to supply what we need which the typical Mozambican health worker never enjoys. I hope to return next January with all the medications I could desire. Grace Missions plans to ship over equipment to give us full X-ray capabilities. We plan to set up the diagnostic lab which was donated three years ago. Given such a stark contrast, the apathy and hopelessness of the local health care worker is understandable.

Of course, the other reason we need another doctor is the great opportunity for using the hospital as a means of evangelism. The weekly evangelistic services, praying with the patients in the OR, evangelistic rounds on the surgical ward, and scripture distribution are but the tip of an iceberg compared to what could be developed in time. In addition, the spiritual needs of the Christians in the new church are great enough to keep two or three missionaries’ hands full.

So please continue praying for the families God may be preparing already for this mission field. If you know of individuals who would be interested, pass this letter on to them and invite them to give us a call! Grace Missions can be reached at (210) 657-6570.

Next month I’ll focus on the church ministry and the need for a full time pastor-teacher missionary. Until then, thank you for your continued prayers, support, and interest. We hope to contact you personally before leaving the States and look forward to visiting with you even if it is only by phone. We do appreciate your participation with us.

By His grace,

Charles & Julie