Greetings from Montepuez!
Well… we're about a week away from leaving for furlough and wanted to send out another update to let you know what's been happening in our part of the world. The rainy season is over, our Mozambican friends have collected this year's harvest, and the last few weeks have been busy as we've tried to finish up different projects and say goodbye well to people here. Our normal furloughs only last about four months, but with this one, we'll be gone from Mozambique for one year to serve as the visiting missionaries-in-residence at Harding University in Searcy, AR for the 2015-16 school year. Knowing that we'll be apart for longer this time has made these goodbyes even harder.
In April I invited the women from the three different village groups I studied with last year to a celebration here at our home. We ate, worshipped, and studied together, and they all camped out in our guest house, gazebo, and yard. We worshipped again the next morning, and talked about Jesus washing his disciples feet when he knew he was leaving soon, and how we should be following that example of servant-hearted love. Then the women took turns washing each others' feet and putting a new pair of flip-flops on them. The celebration was a good wrap-up to our studies last year, and it also served as a good-bye party since we'll be gone for a year.
Two weeks after that was the Provincial Women's Conference in Pemba, where around 130 women convened in Pemba for a three-day meeting of worship and study together. We got off to a bumpy start as the big truck carrying 90 women from Montepuez broke down an hour outside of Pemba, followed almost immediately by our truck losing an entire wheel. It was both scary and very weird - the best guess we have is that at some point someone took off most of the lug nuts while trying to steal our tire but wasn't able to finish the job without getting caught. We were amazed and very thankful that no one was hurt and that a couple South African mechanics who work for Caterpillar passed by and actually pieced our truck back together so I could drive it slowly to a garage in Pemba (the truck is fixed now =)).
The rest of the conference went well; there were eight teaching sessions, lots of singing and dancing, an out-of-season rain shower that meant that all 130+ of us had to squeeze into the smallish church building and sleep like sardines. At 5am on the last morning we all walked the 4km down to the beach; a few of the women had never seen the ocean, and it was very funny watching all our friends splash and play in the water. To me, the chance for these women from all over the province to be in the same place and worship together, also to plan and learn patience with each other, is just as important as the content of the teaching sessions.
Alan has taken about 50 men he's been discipling and studying with to a waterfall about three hours away from Montepuez. Men from different areas have come in, spent the night at our house, and then taken the day trip together. Only a handful of them had been there before, and it was fun to see these men acting like boys as they saw a waterfall for the first time. Alan used the water as a teaching illustration and shared how the power of water they are witnessing is nothing in comparison to river of living water that Jesus has opened up in them. He has challenged them to keep up the work of disciple-making and sharing living water with those around them.
Over the last few months Jeremy, Chad, Alan and two Mozambican missionaries have taught on deacons and helping the 13 different church clusters choose them. Following the counsel of our consultants Monte Cox and Evertt Huffard who came last year, we've been using the story in Acts 6 (where the church named servants to address a specific need) to help us address the leadership challenges here. The main problem the 50+ Churches of Christ in Cabo Delgado are facing is huge distances between each other. So each cluster has been encouraged to select deacons to serve the church in various capacities as well as choosing a deacon for "coordination and collaboration" to help the churches work together more effectively.
In the past the American and Mozambican missionaries have often set the agenda, but it is exciting to transition into a different phase of partnership with the Makua-Metto leaders. All of the clusters have gone through the process of naming deacons and setting aside one for communication and collaboration (over 100 total have been selected, about 30 of them women and the rest men). Unfortunately, one of the Mozambican missionaries has tried to block this process and it has been sad seeing him burn up his influence as Makua-Metto church leaders are seeing through his protests and perceiving his motivation as coming from a desire to hold onto power and control. His attempts to undermine the process have added a sad note to what should have been a joyful process. This week, we'll be having a meeting with those 13 deacons to lay out a collective vision for working together well and putting that challenge behind us.
At the end of February we were excited to see the baptism of the first believer in the village of Nikokwe. That village has never had any kind of church (Catholic or Protestant) and has always been closed to any Christian presence. At the end of last year, though, a man named Fransisco made contact with believers in a nearby village and decided to follow Jesus; his baptism was the first baptism ever in Nikokwe. Fransisco is well respected by his extended family and village leaders; he used to work as a tailor but has suffered from glaucoma and now cannot see at all. He covets prayers for healing, and we are also praying that God would multiply his and the church's witness in Nikokwe.
Unfortunately the very next week, Caunia, one of our very close friends and a man who was instrumental in reaching out to Fransisco, passed away. Caunia loved God deeply and was hungry for God's word in a way that is rarely seen; Alan really misses him a lot. Please pray for the church in Nkunama, where his family lives, that God would raise up more people and new leaders in that church.
Sunday was our last time to worship with the church in Chipembe before we're gone for the extended furlough - the believers in that cluster are the group we've known the longest, and we really feel at home with them. So while we love worshipping there on a Sunday, there was a sad feeling all around, knowing we're about to be so far apart for so long. We rejoice in their faith, their love for God, and the Kingdom connection we all have, including the solid hope of resurrection. But we also really miss them when we're not together, and given the mortality rate here in Mozambique we always face the knowledge that some will not be here when we come back.
At the same time we're missing our families in the States so much that it hurts! We are aching to hug our parents and our brothers and our sisters-in-law, and we also have 3 nephews/nieces that we haven't even met yet, and 2 more who will be born while we are there. We'll be landing in Dallas in May, and then continue on to Tennessee in June. A good chunk of July will be spent in Nashville with our Donelson church family, and then in August we will head over to Searcy for the school year. Abby, Ellie, and Katie will have their first taste of school in the States, and we would love your prayers that their experience will be smooth and full of God's obvious care. Alan will be teaching classes at Harding University, promoting missions and disciple-making, and I will be continuing my classes with Harding School of Theology in Memphis. At the end of the school year we'll hop back on a plane to head back home to Mozambique. Please keep this transition in your prayers - we know it will be both fun and challenging to fit back into life in the U.S.
Thanks for keeping up with us. We look forward to seeing many of you stateside!
Please pray with us for:
- Peace and unity in the church, especially among leaders
- Success in receiving permanent residency documents before we leave
- Safe travel
- Prayers for girls especially as they transition to life in the USA for a year
Grace and Peace,
Rachel, Alan and the girls