Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Happy New Year from the Tropics

Happy New Year from the Tropics!

November and December have been HOT, and the rains started almost a month late, so if you’re too cold where you are, please come visit us over here!  It’s a busy ministry time since it is the end of the dry season; sometimes there is a feel of a rush to the finish line to squeeze in certain visits or studies before some roads become unpassable because of mud. 

Alan has continued his normal ministry activities with visits out to churches and meeting with the deacons that are collaborating the work on the Provincial level.  Our teammate, Jeremy Smith, organized a census of the churches, and while these numbers are still being finalized, the network of churches we work with has added about 20 new faith communities over the last year or so. This is of course both exciting and challenging as we work with church leaders to both encourage and disciple them well and to empower them to encourage and disciple others. 

The Sustainable Agriculture program went well this last year; Alan, Gonçalves Ignacio, and Jessica Markwood recently visited the strongest 10 farming associations in this ministry.  They were able to see their collaborative sites and encourage the members to implement the practices in their own personal farms. The most exciting report was from the church in Mutota (Chiure) whose farming association produced enough last year to buy tin sheets and lumber to put a metal roof on their church building (instead of the temporary grass roof). While visiting the three farming associations in the district of Balama, they also dropped off copies of the recently printed “Seven of Paul's letters” (Ephesians, 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon), in the Makua-Metto Bible translation that is in process. The groups were excited to receive both kinds of “seed;” it's great to have more of the scriptures translated and printed, and we look forward to even more in the coming year.

In our last newsletter, we described the inaugural “semester” of our Bible School; the final numbers from 2016 added up to 84 total course completions, consisting of about 45 different students from six different denominations.  We are thankful for such a great start, and our team is currently planning for 2017.  The goal is for the school to aide deeper church growth, and over the next few weeks we will schedule out the classes for this year’s semesters and decide on what construction projects to undertake to help with the school logistics. 

As many of you know, in 2014 Alan worked together with our friend and Peace Corps volunteer Will Zweig to build a pedestrian bridge over the Montepuez River. Over the past two years the bridge has blessed many, many people; at least once a week someone stops Alan to comment about it.  Will came back for a visit in October, and he and Alan discussed some minor maintenance the bridge needed (varnishing the boards and putting a permanent slab on the larger of the two ramps).  In December, then, Alan worked with a crew to get the maintenance finished before the rains made it too difficult to get down to the bridge site with a car.  The crew was able to mix all the cement and pour the whole slab and then a few days later open the bridge back up for pedestrian traffic (a lot of people were anxiously waiting).

Since our last newsletter I had several women’s ministry events as we wrapped up the dry season.  My teammate Martha and I went with a handful of women from Montepuez for three days to two locations in the Namuno district to worship and teach and learn with the women in churches down there.  It is so healthy and fruitful for women from different villages and towns to get together; the fellowship and dialogue they share is deeply encouraging as they tell their own stories of beginning to follow Jesus, learning to leave their old lives behind, breaking off practices of witchcraft, and even some experiences of persecution from their families.

We invited the women from the churches in the Mirate Post (who I study with regularly through the dry season) to come down to Montepuez for an overnight “retreat” time together. 37 women from north of Montepuez came down, along with 10 women from town, to worship and fellowship together.  We had to improvise our plans a bit since that afternoon was our first rain of the season; I had to stop my teaching session since no one could hear over the thunder, and later after the meal when I finished the lesson I ended up preaching in the rain, which was a first for me.  So we were all already a little wet, and then as it was getting dark the power went out, and after that of course the generator broke.  But electricity isn’t required for worship - everyone had fun singing together in the dark and partly by flashlight, even though we were damp, and we were all dry by the next morning.

Martha and I also went with women from town to meet with women from churches in the Balama district for two days for worship and fellowship and teaching time.  The Namuno and Balama districts have experienced a lot of growth in the past year – a handful of new churches and several hundred baptisms – and it’s mutually encouraging for groups to get together, meet each other, worship together, and share stories – especially women since usually they don’t get to travel as much as men.

Thanks to so many who have been praying for our team’s residency documents; all the confusion that the toxic ex-church leader caused was making our process more complicated.  Thankfully, even though we have not received a formal declaration that we are in the clear, our team’s documents are being stamped again.  Paraphrasing what our teammate Martha Smith noted, “God may not have given us a bakery (an announcement that we have been officially cleared), but God continues to give us our daily bread (renewed work permits).”

It seems that the network of churches is moving into a different phase.  While we have dealt with a couple of painful cases of unfaithfulness or setbacks among close disciples, overall the majority of the movement and its leaders are trending towards maturity and stability.  There have been several situations recently where church leaders met on their own to resolve complicated issues without input from our team, and these are good signs about the faithfulness of God in their lives and the progress of the work.

Celebrating holidays in Mozambique is a little different for our family than when we were in the US.  For starters, it’s crazy hot, and Christmas isn’t really celebrated much in this culture, so there aren’t a lot of reminders like elevator music in stores or advertising with holiday themes.  So we try to make it special – we went to the beach for a weekend, decorated Christmas cookies, worked on ridiculously hard puzzles, ate Christmas cookies, and went hiking with spunky friends in Balama.  This year our family started a weekly Advent worship during December to focus on the season of the world’s waiting for the Incarnation of Christ, and we exchanged gifts with our teammates during our annual Christmas Eve party.  We were sad to be so far from family when Alan’s grandmother passed away the Tuesday after Christmas; in the same week I came down with my first case of malaria, and also our dog died suddenly.  While we ended 2016 with some sadness, we look forward to seeing what God will do in us and in you this year.

Please pray with us:

  • for depth for the church members – that believers who have said yes to God and chosen baptism to not stop there but to daily commit to following Jesus as a disciple
  • for leaders to disciple those in their care
  • for healthy rains to grow healthy crops

May God’s love transform us all deeply,
Rachel and Alan

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

November 2016

Greetings from Montepuez!

We hope you are doing well and trusting in the Very Real Hope that we have because of Jesus’ Resurrection and Victory over death.  Nothing can touch that, and because of that there is always joy.

We have been busy since our last newsletter – I am still trying to figure out what happened to September and October???  We spent July and August wrapping up the internship, sending off interns, continuing to study with village churches, hosting deacons’ meetings, becoming parents of a teenager (!!!), and preparations for the Bible School (developing curriculum and constructing temporary dormitories). 

Then September began and we all hit the ground running!  We were delighted to receive our teammates Rose Perry and the Smith family back from their furloughs and cook them lots of meals while they unpacked, recovered from jetlag, and got settled.  And right away the Bible School opened the first week of September with our teammate Chad Westerholm teaching the inaugural course on the book of Mark.  The goal is to provide more advanced training for Makua-Metto church leaders; so far our team has offered four different classes:  three different formats in two different locations for a total of six courses.   With the coming of the rainy season, the last class finishes up next week; after that we will sit down with different church leaders to evaluate this first year and discuss improvements for 2017.  Though it has been a steep learning curve (especially in regards to housing and feeding the students), it has been exciting to see how hungry they are to learn.  Adding up the number of students in each class there have been 84 total course completions: this is made up of about 45 different students from six different denominations.  Please pray for us as we begin planning for next year that the school will be a catalyst for further church growth.

In late September, our team hosted 22 students and faculty from the HIZ program (Harding-in-Zambia) for a short visit.  We spent four days giving them a glimpse of what life and ministry is like in rural Mozambique; they accompanied us to Bible study groups in remote villages, worshipped with us in village churches, and took tours of our local hospital and high school with our friends in the Peace Corps.  Our team has never hosted an international group of that size, and it was a crazy four days, but it went really well and we hope we can recruit them some of them to return to Mozambique in some form or fashion!

Immediately after the HIZ group left we hosted a conference for Churches of Christ in Cabo Delgado on our team’s land.  The local church leaders completely organized and led the three-day conference, but since it was held on our land, we were kept especially busy (=exhausted!) ensuring various behind-the-scenes tasks ran smoothly.  About 250 people came from 5 different districts, including some visitors from other parts of Mozambique.  Cambama, Alegria, Pinto, Goncalves, Napoleão, Chad, Jeremy, and Alan taught sessions on the theme of how to strengthen the church. 

The only sad element from the conference was that the divisive church leader who has caused so many problems turned in letters again to the government to try to shut down this gathering.  These complaints meant that throughout the conference there were several impromptu meetings behind the scenes as local church leaders and church leaders from another province tried meeting with him repeatedly to get him to repent.  Unfortunately, he seems bent on continuing down this divisive path, and his false accusations have provoked even more meetings with officials to get to the bottom of the problem.  We have pleaded our case and have turned in additional documents, and we are still waiting to be cleared of these accusations.  Please keep this matter in your prayers since there are three residence visas on the team up for renewal this week.  The local church leaders from Cabo Delgado continue to show a depth of maturity and patience in this situation that gives us great hope for the future – please pray for their endurance in this situation as well.

Because of the low levels of literacy in this area, over the years we’ve experimented with a variety of methods to share audio files on a large scale with church members (from MP3 players to iPod shuffles to solar powered players to hand-crank radios – all with your generous help).  All of these have gone well (though some better than others), but they eventually wear out, and the technology continues to improve – even way out in the bush.  Since cell phones are everywhere now, even in the most remote villages, Alan’s most recent project along these lines involved formatting 120 mini-SD cards with recordings of songs, scriptures, dialogues and sermons in Makua-Metto, and it has been fun to hear our friends listen to the programs on their phones.  One of the first people to receive one of these cards, Pedro from Nekwaia, called Alan a week later to say that he had sat down with his neighbor and had listened to ALL the Nviriyane dialogues already – about 40 hours of programs walking through the core stories from Scripture in Makua-Metto.

My study time with women’s groups has continued over the past few months in six different rural locations as well as the weekly study here in Montepuez.  We’ve spent most of our time studying different passages from the book of John, and in a few weeks we will wrap up with a women’s retreat-event before the rainy season when many people move out to their farms for the months of January and February.  Tomorrow I’m heading out for three days with my teammate Martha to visit, worship, and study with women in two locations in the Namunu district.

Our weather is warming up and the earliest of the mangoes have ripened, which of course we’re all excited about.  My girls are longing to play in the rain and I’m ready for the rain to wash away all the dust, but so far we’ve only had sprinkles.  The kids love having Miss Rose back from furlough, and Miss Jessica (our new teacher returning intern Jessica Markwood) has been a big hit.  Ellie is days away from turning eleven, and we are planning a big Thanksgiving party since we are so far away from our families.  We miss you all!

Please join us in praying for:

·         the upcoming rainy season to produce healthy crops 

·         perseverance for church leaders and continued growth

·         final approval and stamps on all our residence documents

Grace and Peace,

Rachel, Alan and the girls