Friday, July 29, 2016


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,

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

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)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Recognizing Poverty Rules

"Absolute Poverty" is one of the giants that oppresses the Makua-Metto people. After a long research process of trying to discern how to encourage a holistic response to poverty that fits well within our context, I developed a series of lessons on poverty that received a lot of positive feedback from our Mozambican friends.  That material has now been published (in English!) in the Missio Dei Journal.  If you are interested, you can check it out here.

Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Magic and the Quest for Blessing among the Makua-Metto people

I recently published an article with the International Journal of Frontier Missiology called "Building a Better Bridge: The Quest for Blessing in an African Folk Islamic Context."  In deals with topics including evangelism, magic and even zombie slaves!  If you are interested check it out here.

Grace and Peace,

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Newsletter May 2015

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