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