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, NapoleĆ£o, 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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Refuge



I vividly remember a day many years ago when rumors were circulating in Montepuez that dangerous, armed men were coming.

Some of our friends, anxious and nervous, were fleeing our town to find refuge out in “the bush.”  Thankfully, the rumors proved untrue and it wasn’t long before they were able to return safely to their homes.
 
That day made a big impression on me.  It was a powerful reminder that the after-effects of war and violence last for many years.  Our friends left behind food, possessions and sometimes even their own relatives in order to find refuge.

Lina Magaia’s book, Dumba Nengue: Run for Your Life – Peasant Tales of Tragedy in Mozambique, is disturbing.  The book shares some about the background of the armed conflict in Mozambique, but mostly concentrates on sharing story after story of mostly unsuccessful attempts to survive violent threats or find refuge.  It is staggering to realize that roughly the same number of people died in the Rwandan genocide as were killed or died from starvation in Mozambique’s “Civil War.”  And while the tragedy in Rwanda was concentrated in a period of 100 days, Mozambique’s conflict lasted from 1977 to 1992 (and its effects are still being painfully felt in skirmishes and violence up until today).  

With that background in mind, it should come as no surprise that the idea of refuge (or “nthawelo” in Makua-Metto) is a more powerful concept for our Mozambican friends than it is for me.  When I think and talk about the idea of refuge it is symbolic and theoretical.  But for many people here, when they talk about the concept of refuge it is something concrete, physical, and tangible – it connects with a specific time and place, certain smells and emotions. 

Our friends’ experiences of refuge makes it easier for them to connect with that of David.

Here’s what Eugene Peterson has to say about David’s experience of and application of the idea of refuge:

“The books of Samuel give the story of David from the outside; the Psalms – the prayers of David – give the same story from the inside.  In the word refuge we find the two stories intersecting.  Over and over again in the Psalms we come across the word refuge… thirty-seven times... (twenty-five times as a verb, twelve times as a noun).  David (and the traditions flowing out of David) provides the narrative context for spiritual meaning.  The wilderness was a dictionary in which David looked up the word refuge.  The meaning he found given indicated that refuge has to do mostly with God.  A striking thing happened to this word refuge.  Old Testament scholar J. Gamberoni has shown that it started out as a very physical word, a geographical word: a refuge is a place to run to.  But in the Psalms it ‘lost all its physical and psychological elements associated with flight, gaining in return an exclusive reference to Yahweh in the sense of a fundamental decision for Yahweh over and above anything and anyone else, whether made once for all or actualized in the face of specific dangers and temptations.’  Reflecting the history of this word, in David’s prayer refuge refers to a good experience, but what got him to refuge was a bad experience.  He started out running for his life; and at some point he found the life he was running for, and the name for that life was God. ‘God is my refuge.’” (Peterson, Leap Over a Wall, 78-9)

Our Mozambican friends understand that human beings have a tendency to try to find refuge in people or places that are unable to deliver on those promises.  But the important witness of David is that in God we find real refuge and help in our time of trial.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Psalm 57 lately and how in David’s song he not only declares that God is his refuge but promises to announce to others the truth of God’s unfailing faithfulness.  David does not keep his refuge a secret – instead he throws open the doors and invites all who will listen to take refuge together with him in God.

May Makua-Metto believers boldly share the good news of the refuge they have found in the God of David.

Grace and Peace,
Alan   

Friday, July 8, 2016

Elijah's Other Mountaintop Experience: A Story for the Future of Churches of Christ

“So, what’s church like in America?” 

It’s a question we’ve heard a lot in the weeks since our return from furlough in the United States.  And it’s a hard one to answer.

Since 2003, my wife and I have been part of a mission team serving the Makua-Metto people in Mozambique, Africa.  Our context here is predominately Muslim; Protestant churches make up less than 1% of the population. The Mozambican believers asking this question typically worship with only a dozen or so people in their villages each Sunday, so hearing about hundreds of Christians gathering regularly to praise God is difficult to process.  They smile in wonder; it sounds amazing and incredible.

But, this past year as our family traveled around the U.S., what my wife and I sensed a lot of was tension and anxiety.  It is common knowledge now that Churches of Christ in America are in decline and this recognition has left the church with some serious questions:  Didn’t we used to be the “fastest growing church” … Why aren’t we growing like we did in the past?  How should the church interact with a culture that seems to be moving away from vestiges of a Christian heritage? Why are so many of our children leaving the churches of their youth? What do we do now? Which way do we turn?

There are a number of different ways to approach these questions. Outlining the seven steps or five changes that churches should implement could be a useful exercise, but it seems to me that what would actually be most helpful for our fellowship as a whole would be finding a story that helps us find our bearings in the present context.

And there’s a story from the history of God’s people that I believe is extremely relevant to American Churches of Christ today.

...

To read more check out my recent post at wineskins.org

if you find yourself in the wrong story...


"I have a new second favorite children’s book.

The Napping House by Audrey Wood is my absolute favorite  But there’s now another children’s book that is coming in a close second.

It’s a book by Mo Willems, an imaginative retelling of a classic tale. His version is called, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. Not three bears. Three dinosaurs. You like this book already, don’t you? …I could tell."

To read more check out my recent post at Story Warren.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

home again!



Well, we’re back home in Mozambique!  We’ve been on the ground here for about six weeks now, and we are so grateful for the love and prayers and support we received from so many of you as we wrapped up our teaching year in the States to move back to Montepuez.

We felt energized and encouraged by the year stateside; we spent the summer traveling around to visit many of you before locating in Searcy, Arkansas for the school year.  Alan taught Bible and Missions classes at Harding University and at Harding School of Theology, I was taking classes at HST for my master’s degree, and we spent much of our time mentoring and recruiting college students for missions and ministry.   The girls were enrolled in school in Searcy, and they handled the transition so well – we were so grateful for that gift of grace and for your prayers over them!  We also cherished our time with the Donelson, Downtown, New Heritage, and Fernandina Beach churches; we were thirsty for those connections, and we were deeply refreshed in our relationships with YOU, both old and new.

And it is hard to believe it is over!  We came back to Montepuez at the beginning of the dry-cool season complete with thick layers of dust in the house, but after about a week and a half of scrubbing and trying (sometimes successfully) to repair all the broken things, our house began to feel like home again.  We were very surprised at the ease of speaking Makua after a year away – even our Mozambican friends have commented on how we didn’t forget Makua.  We have delighted to reconnect with our friends here; several have commented on how they weren’t sure they believed we were really coming back, and several also told Alan that he’s looking fat and very white! 

The critters and creatures have also welcomed us back; within six weeks we’ve run over a black mamba on the way to a village church, killed a rat in the house, Alan has already had malaria, and Abby has caught too many baby geckos to count (she catches them and relocates them to the rooms in the house where we have the most mosquitoes).  Our teammates Rose Perry and the Westerholm’s and our friends the Wakefield’s welcomed us back with more than two weeks of dinners, and our Mozambican friends have brought us peanuts and pumpkin and beans and corn flour and cassava.  Our first Sunday worshipping in a village, the church served us xima (stiff cornmeal porridge) with fresh pork (usually only for special occasions), and I was tickled to realize my plate included part of the jaw bone complete with two large teeth (that was a first).  The girls are enjoying reconnecting with their friends, going barefoot 24 hours a day, and rediscovering all their old books and legos.

It was an eventful year here in this part of Mozambique while we were away; many of you gave generously to the famine relief program during the hunger season.  Over $140,000 was raised to help provide rice to families whose food had run out due to the lack of rain the previous year; we have heard so many people express their thankfulness – your gift has been received with gratitude.  The church deacons and our teammates worked extensively to get the food where it was needed most in an organized manner; many Mozambicans have especially mentioned our teammate Jeremy Smith’s tireless efforts in the rice distribution, and we are so grateful for his loving service.

An ongoing conflict in the churches that we work with here also climaxed during the year we were gone; years of struggle with unhealthy leadership came to a head and resulted in a messy break from that faction.  Although that has been deeply painful for many of the people involved, it seems that the small group of divisive individuals has split off to do their own thing while the majority of churches are forging a path forward together.  This has meant that several church leaders are finally feeling empowered to grow in using their gifts (instead of being squashed – hallelujah!), but these are also learning experiences and come with some growing pains, so please pray for those leaders with us.  Several areas in the province have had an explosive number of recent baptisms (from a few to dozens to over a hundred), and we are so excited to see God calling people to himself!  However, our years here have also taught us that the long hard work of transformation by the Holy Spirit that follows an initial decision is where we need to dig in with the bulk of our prayers and our time - please pray with us in this too.

Since we are starting up again after a longer-than-normal furlough, and since it was such an eventful year that we were gone, we have been doing a lot of listening as we reconnect with our Mozambican friends.  We have made a lot of visits to hear their different stories of their experiences and to seek their counsel as to how and where we should be working to help the church grow well.  

A couple weeks after our return we received seven interns from Harding University; Alan was tasked with organizing the internship program during the fall semester, and we enjoyed getting to know this group of interns before they stepped off the plane in Pemba.  They come as learners, like in a job-shadowing role, and they have been good sports!  They have not been shy to try out life in Mozambique, and we are thankful to have them with us for the summer.

Our teammates the Smiths are on furlough in the States; and we were so thankful to be able to see them for a few days at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures before we left for Mozambique!  Our teacher Rose Perry is also on furlough in the States to return in August, and soon after that she will be joined by Jessica Markwood.  We are pumped that Jessica, a former intern, is returning to join our team as a teacher with plans to transition into agricultural work.  

Please join with us in praying for:
·         wisdom for church leaders as they stretch and grow
·         all the new believers to follow a path of true transformation
·         final approval and stamps on all our residence documents

Please know that we love and miss you; having a longer furlough with more time with those we delight in made it sadder to leave.  We are thankful for all the ways we can communicate BUT we feel spoiled by all the time we had with you face to face! 

Which makes me think of last Saturday.  That day we were at a very big wedding; the grown daughter of our carpenter friend was getting married, and since he is one of the kindest, most generous Christians in our town, the wedding was very well attended – most of the denominations in town were well represented and had even organized lively singing groups.  It was an all-day celebration with lots of worship and singing, and I was moved by the unity and togetherness on display.  I don’t mean to naively describe a superficial unity; I know that each denomination represented that day has their own (very real) struggles and dysfunctions, groaning like in labor pains.  But to see the different churches worshiping together is a taste of God’s New Creation, already begun but not yet complete.

May you live daily into the Reality of that Hope!

With much love,
Rachel (and Alan and the girls)