Thursday, December 31, 2009

We're safely back in the United States getting ready for the birth of what we are told will be a baby boy! He's due in the middle of January and we can't wait to meet him.

We met with our midwife again today. She came and visited with us at Larry and Evelyn Wilson's house. Rachel's parents have graciously agreed to let us do a home birth again (Ellie was born in their room!). As we talked about our birth plan, I was impressed again with the craft of midwifery. Check out this blog that makes some great observations about what we can learn from midwives about ministry.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Greetings from northern Mozambique!

It is hard for us to imagine that most of the people reading this are experiencing cold weather right now! For those of us in this part of the southern hemisphere, our temperatures have been climbing, we’ve been sweating, guzzling water, and eating ripe mangoes around the clock. We’re also getting ready for the rainy season – it has rained a couple of times already and many of our friends have been busy working in their farms. Please join us in praying for the rain – asking God to send plentiful rains for a good harvest, but not too much that the fields flood and crops are lost.

Speaking of prayer, thank you to all of you who joined us in praying for peaceful elections here in Mozambique last month! This was only Mozambique’s fourth general election and it went smoothly. You might remember that it was in the context of an election year (2004) that rumors were started locally that we were political spies working for the minority political party, which resulted in us living in exile in another province for over a year. The atmosphere was much more peaceful and mellow this time around, and we are so thankful that they dialed down the rhetoric and that there was no violence.

At the end of September we participated in a women’s conference that was attended by about 50 women from 16 village churches all over the southern half of our province. The subject up for study and discussion was the ikoma, the initiation ceremonies for girls as a transition from childhood to adulthood. The ceremonies traditionally include many harmful practices (beating, abuse, ridicule, encouragement of sexual promiscuity), and in the past few years several women from the churches have done a Christian ikoma, and many more have expressed interest. We went through several passages of scripture from Deuteronomy, 1 Peter, Ephesians, and 1 Corinthians and discussed how we could redeem the ikoma for God’s kingdom. The weekend was tiring, but fascinating and fun watching women get into debates with each other and ask each other hard questions. I also bumped up against the limits of my Makua-Metto language ability a couple of times: in a room with 50 women and awful acoustics, between 1 and 3 crying babies at any given time, 1 toddler with squeakers in his shoes, and up to 8 women all excitedly talking at once about something they care about… it was hard to follow in those moments! But it was exciting watching our friends think critically about what parts of the ikoma glorify God, and what parts don’t, and discuss how to change those parts and possible implications of making changes to cultural ceremonies. Some of you may remember that we do not yet have the full scriptures in Makua-Metto; for this conference we had several of our Metto friends translate the additional passages we wanted to use – and it made us even more thankful for SIL/Wycliffe and all the hard work they are putting into translating the scriptures!

We’ve kept busy with our regular ministry activities as well. Recently we have been teaching marriage seminars with different clusters of churches in our province. This past weekend, Alan and our teammate Jeremy did two seminars, one with the churches in Nekwaya/Kambiri/Namwaciko, and another with churches in Chipembe/Nkunama/ Nkororo/Nhinawe/Neewara. These seminars are good times of encouragement as we learn what a Christian marriage should be like. It is also fun seeing friends from different villages getting the chance to worship together and enjoy each other’s fellowship. This fellowship was a big blessing especially to the church in Nkunama. One of the founding members of that church died the day before the seminar and when we arrived we went directly to the funeral. There were over 200 people there. Gabriel, the brother who died, was a very quiet old man, and it was surprising to see so many people in attendance. When Alan asked why there was such a big turn-out, the other church members said that the village of Nkunama wanted to see what the church would do. Funerals are very significant in this culture, and it was important that the church do a good job of taking Gabriel through this “last ceremony.”

We have continued doing leadership training and discipleship groups in Montepuez, Chiure, and in the villages north of town. Since Alan’s trip to Rwanda we have adopted a simpler, more reproducible method of studying the scriptures (called “Discovery Bible Study” by some), and our Mozambican friends have easily picked it up. Alan has encouraged different churches to work through the commands of Jesus with this method when they study together. He has spent a lot of time lately talking about the importance of trusting Jesus and living the life here in this world that he has called us to live – he really means for us to live out the Sermon on the Mount, for example. In addition, Alan has been studying with a group of folks in the village of Nhinawe that is interested in becoming a church. They have recently started studying through some of the key stories in the book of Genesis; please pray for this new contact point.

A few weeks ago we hosted a sustainable agriculture seminar on our land and were pleased with the turnout! We had almost 60 participants even though we were only able to give about a week's notice; this included representatives there from 15 or so villages and a number of men and women who live here in town. Even though there was not enough time to implement all the ideas before the rainy season, we decided to go ahead and have an initial seminar to introduce some of the concepts. We talked about not burning fields (a huge problem here), planting at the right time, planting with proper spacing, making a "blanket" of leaves and grass to help conserve rainwater, how to make compost, etc. Our project manager (running the non-profit chicken business), Domingos, did an incredible job; he presented it effectively and kept the participation level high. One of the best Mozambican farmers we know was there and he rushed home the next day saying that he was going to try to go ahead and get started this year. Implementing these concepts should drastically increase production. A representative from the Mozambican department of agriculture attended as well, liked what he saw and heard, and encouraged us to keep doing these seminars. The seminar was hosted on the land our team purchased earlier this year. In addition to housing the non-profit chicken business, we’re in the beginning stages of developing the land: planting some crops, and clearing brush and making improvements to get ready for more agriculture and possible construction next year.

We have about 3 weeks left until we leave for the States, and it feels like there is a lot left to do to get ready. Our baby is due mid-January, and I have been feeling well, trying to stay cool in this heat! Due to the poor state of healthcare in Mozambique we will be having the baby in the US, but we’ll be returning to Mozambique the first week of March. Last month, we were able to do an ultrasound in the city of Nampula, about 5 hours away, and the doctor told us that we are having a baby boy! He said he was about 90% sure, but due to our track record, we aren’t sure we’ll believe it completely until the little guy makes his appearance in January.

Our prayer requests:
• for the kingdom of God to come among the Makua-Metto
• for the non-profit business and future development of the team’s land
• for safe travel to the US on December 12th
• for the safe birth of our baby in January
• for a good rain this year leading to an abundant harvest in Mozambique

Thanks for keeping up with us and participating in this work,

Alan, Rachel, Abby, Ellie and baby Howell

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Alan's solution (?) to global poverty

A few weeks ago Rachel sparked a lively conversation on Facebook. She posted a link to an article by Michael Moore on capitalism and poverty and religion. In response to that conversation, I put some thoughts together about poverty and wanted to post it here on the blog and see if there are any takers to continue the discussion.

1. So, what causes poverty? or Who or what is responsible?

There is a book by Michael Landon called Sweating it Out: What the “Experts” say Causes Poverty, where he looks at the various explanations for poverty. He sees ten of them, but names 4 as the most common reasons cited. He puts them in a quadrant. With two axes representing differing answers to two fundamental questions: (1) is the cause of poverty primarily a way of thinking or a way of acting, and (2) is the cause of poverty located in the poor themselves, or in the society as a whole? So, depending on the answer to these questions, the reason for poverty could be due to

A. Culture of Poverty (Individuals think “poorly”),
B. Economic Ethos (Economic system keeps people thinking “poorly”),
C. Personal Irresponsibility (Individual makes “poor” choices),
or D. Structural Sin (Economic system is unjust).

Now, if this were a multiple choice test, I would like to choose E. “All of the above.” My hunch is that where poverty happens it is usually due to a mixture of these factors. Certainly some people are in a state of poverty mostly due to personal irresponsibility and only a little bit due to structural sin, but others may be in poverty through no fault of their own, they were just born under a failed system and suffer for it. This grid is helpful for me because it reminds me that there are a number of factors in play contributing to poverty.

Maybe we could think of this Jack Bauer-style. A person is bound to a chair about to be interrogated. His ankles have a cable tie that binds his feet to the chair. His hands are tied behind his back with rope. He’s got duck-tape over his mouth and a bandana over his eyes. If we come in and try to liberate him by removing the duck-tape, cable tie and bandana is he better off? Yeah, a little. Is he free? No, not yet. To really address poverty we need to help remove all the barriers: internal and external, personal and structural. Now, we all know that some people don’t want to be free. But that doesn’t mean we are going to say that no one wants to be free.

2. What does God have to say about poverty?

I’ve been thinking about the book of Amos lately. Here was an unlikely prophet – a poor southerner (from Judah), a hick farmer/shepherd who went to the wealthy in the industrialized north (Israel) to share a warning from the Lord. In his most scathing and memorable rebuke he refers to the wealthy women of Israel as the “Cows of Bashan” lounging on their couches asking their husbands to fetch them something else to drink. Whew! What strikes me about this passage is that these women were not doing anything to directly oppress the poor. They went to church…er… temple to worship, they went shopping, but they were probably not out in the field beating slaves or forcing others to carry heavy loads. But, the interesting thing is that even though they were not directly responsible for the economic suffering of others – Amos and God held them accountable. So, what does that mean for us? Huge question.

Another part of this discussion is wealth distribution. We’ve been talking about this in these posts. Rachel may be more optimistic about the government’s ability to redistribute wealth than I am. No matter what we think, though, about the government’s ability to redistribute wealth effectively, it is clear that God has thought a lot about wealth distribution and redistribution. The idea of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) was a central piece of the economic system of ancient Israel. Every 50 years, land that was sold was to be given back to the original owners. God even said that when you sell the land, you need to consider the number of years remaining until the jubilee into your accounting practices. Now, we don’t know if Israel actually practiced this, but it is clear that God wanted to put some checks and balances into place to keep people who experienced a bad crop or a famine or an irresponsible family member from putting them in a situation where the oppressive boot of poverty will be forever on their neck. God told them to clear the books every 50 years in order to not oppress those who fell on hard times.

Now, I’m not saying I think the government could do this well, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he chooses to use imperfect systems to bring about some ideas of his own. He’s done this in the past. In his own day, Habakkuk complained at God for using the pagan Babylonians to accomplish His purposes. He said, “How could You, a just God, use unjust systems and powers like these?” (ABH paraphrase 1:1-4). God replies, “Watch and be amazed, I am going to do something that you wouldn’t believe even if you were told” (ABH paraphrase 1:5). Now, I’m not saying that God wants the US gov’t to redistribute wealth – that would be an ugly and painful process to say the least – but I wouldn’t put it past God to do that, if he feels like “something’s gotta give.” At the end of Habakkuk, we read that in the midst of the confusion of God using unjust systems to bring about justice Habakkuk confesses that he will rejoice in the Lord and be joyful to God his Savior. “The Sovereign Lord is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on to the heights” (NIV 3:19). No matter what our Sovereign King is up to and what kind of instruments he chooses to use for his purposes and how it affects us, we will still be able to stand.

3. What should Jesus followers do about poverty? And more specifically, as citizens of a democracy, what responsibilities do we have?

I think that we should use whatever gifts, resources, and talents we have to release those in bondage. I’m thinking about those four causes of poverty: internal and external, personal and structural. On a personal level (external), we can loan or give money to the poor to help them get out from under debt (Jesus said we should do that). On a personal level (internal) we can teach our friends that are poor how to effectively manage money (if we ourselves are good at that ). It is right that Jesus said that “the poor will always be with us.” Sometimes we use that statement as a reason not to do anything, but I think that in the context of that passage (Mark 14), Jesus was saying, “It’s okay to lavish worship on me now, because you’ll still have time to take care of the poor…I want them to always be with you.” Unfortunately my perception is that in our fractured society it has become easier and easier to isolate ourselves from the poor – they are not really with us anymore. We don’t know very many poor people and that makes it difficult for us to help on a personal level.

Okay so here is what I think about what to do about poverty on a structural level. I think if we are to take seriously our task to “love our neighbor as ourselves,” then if/when we vote, we need to “look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others.” So, as we do research and weigh out how to vote on a complex issue like health care, etc., we need to figure out what would really help our neighbor. When Jesus talked about who our neighbor was he told a story about a Samaritan and a Jew – enemies who didn’t give each other the time of day. So, if Jesus really defines who my neighbor is, then I have to vote with a whole host of people in mind including those of different socio-economic statuses and zip codes (even our neighbors outside of the US!).

Ultimately, though I’m personally agnostic about our ability to bring about big, macro-level structural change through “political” means (this is where Rachel and I might differ I think). I’ve been reading a book called The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done so much Ill and So Little Good. It is actually a pretty boring book, but the main point is that big, top down structural solutions to huge economic problems… don’t work. Instead we need to focus on local, small, effective solutions. As more and more local solutions start working and changing things for the better, the big, macro level system will have to change to accommodate it. So, on a practical level, if we work to release people from as many of the four barriers on a personal level (duct tape, rope, cable tie and bandana…) and pray that God will work out the macro stuff, I think he will do it.

Okay…any thoughts or responses?
Am I just copping out by saying that there is not much we can do to bring about structural or macro level change?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Frontier Missions article

Over the past couple years I have been thinking a lot about the atonement - the significance of Jesus' death on the cross. I've been wrestling with what this means and some different ways to approach it, as well as how best to talk about it with my Makua friends. That exploration turned into an article and eventually the International Journal of Frontier Missions decided to publish in their latest issue - which I'm excited about - I've never been published before! If you are interested in checking out the article, you can download a copy from their website International Journal of Frontier Missions.


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Putting it into Practice

In August, my teammate Jeremy Smith and I went to a seminar in Rwanda where we learned a lot about Church Planting Movements and what we can do to see them happen among the Makua-Metto. We got to spend time with colleagues from all over the continent and get some advice and insight about this stage of ministry. One of the best things that we learned was a new (or is it a very old?) way to study God’s word. We called it a Discovery Bible Study. It basically has three parts. First, you read the text a few times to get familiar with it (literate people can write down the text as it helps it get into your brain). Second, you put the text into your own words. Third, you talk about what you need to do to obey it. At the conference we turned a piece of paper sideways, folded it into three parts and divided the page into three columns: copying the text, paraphrasing the text, and making “I will…” statements about how to obey what you have learned. At the end of the study you ask who each person will tell what they’ve leaned. While this way of Bible study is great for church planting, it also can work in place of preaching in the church setting. One of the most immediate improvements we’ve seen is in participation. Oftentimes, the nature of preaching and teaching as it is usually done (even when it’s done well) is to make us into passive recipients of the texts instead of forcing us to be active participants with the text. Maybe the difference is like between watching ice skating on television (seeing a religious professional or qualified layperson interpret the text) and actually lacing up some skates and getting out on the ice to skate (having to wrestle with interpreting it myself). By studying in groups each person shares what they hear and how they should obey and by sharing that with the group, the group can help correct and guide the individual if their interpretation or application is unhealthy.

A couple of weeks ago I drove about 4 hours south to be with a cluster of churches in the Namuno district. I spent the night in the village of Masha and when I was asked to speak on Sunday morning I divided the group of about 60 adults into groups of 4 or 5 and asked them to read from Deuteronomy 6. We made sure that each group had someone who could read and I asked them to read the text a few times until they felt like they understood it. My small group seemed to understand it pretty well. I asked for a few volunteers to tell everybody what they heard in the text and a number of people offered up the pieces they understood as we stitched the passage back together in our own words. Then, I asked the groups to meet again and talk about what each person would do to obey the text. When I posed this question to the whole group, one man said he needed to teach God’s word to his children. An older lady stood up and said that she understood that since there is only one God, in order to obey the text she was going to give up divination. A number of us were shocked – divination is a huge problem in our area. Then I asked everyone to talk about who they would share what they learned with. Some said brothers and sisters and friends and one young man said he would share it with his family in another village.

It has also been fun to use this method of Bible study in a small group setting. On Tuesday, I met with about seven people from the church in Nkororo who have wanted to plant a church in the village of Merenge. They have gone there a number of times to visit and I’ve gone with them twice. But the last time we were there, we all left feeling that something wasn’t right. So, after we chatted for a while this week, I asked them to look at Luke 10 with me to check out Jesus’ instructions for his disciples when they were going to new areas. We read through the text a few times and then I asked them to tell me what they heard in the text. Armindo summarized it pretty well, Victorino shared some insights from the leadership meeting last weekend, and a few others chimed in to fill in some holes. Then I asked them what we would need to do to obey Jesus’ instructions to plant a church in Merenge. That kicked off a lively discussion where I said almost nothing for half an hour. As the discussion wore down, I asked them, “So, what are we going to do?” They responded that they would go two-by-two back to the village of Merenge and look for a person of peace who would be the gateway for starting the church there. It was one of the best and most practical Bible studies I have ever led or been a part of and I barely said a word.

One of the best things about this way of doing Bible studies is that the text does the work. We’ve been in Montepuez for about five years now and I’ve been directly involved in planting a handful of churches and a big issue has been reproducibility. Specifically, the way I was teaching and church planting could not be replicated well by our Mozambican friends. This way of teaching and doing Bible study is more “text dependent” and much less “teacher dependent.” It has been fun seeing the work of God’s Word in the presence of His church and I’m excited to see where this will take us.



Saturday, September 19, 2009

resolution of our sticky rental situation... for now

Thank you so much for all your prayers and encouragement in our unpleasant dealings with our landlord (see the background info below). God hears our prayers and he is faithful no matter what happens.

The landlord came up over the weekend and had some very long conversations with Alan. Much of the (more than four hours of) conversation centered around money and the improvements we have made on his house. His attitude was basically that what we have done to improve this house is no big deal to him and not worth keeping the rent stable, and that what he wants is a lot more money.

In the end, Alan offered a very modest monthly increase in the rent, which the landlord promptly refused. After which Alan told him that if that was the case, then we would be leaving, leaving him all the improvements we have made without our being compensated for them (kind of like giving him the shirt off our back). This caught him completely off guard, and all of the sudden he was very accepting of the modest increase that Alan had initially offered. So we are increasing the rent slightly for the next year (Sept 1 to Sept 1). We were serious about leaving, despite the loss of the money invested in the house, but Alan feels that our desire to leave called his bluff – that he really has no one else to rent this house right now.

Obviously we have prayed a lot about the outcomes of our discussions with him, but we also really wanted to show God’s love (and not get angry with him) in the midst of our frustration with his behavior, and we feel like God answered both of those prayers. We agreed on a modest increase in rent, AND Alan was able to remain calm, patient, and respectful during their conversations.

Because of the landlord’s increasingly unreasonable behavior towards us over the last few years, though, we are very much ready to be out of this relationship; we know that these unpleasant confrontations (and all the accompanying frustration and anxiety) will only be repeated each year, until there really is another prospective renter, at which time he will make us leave. There are other factors involved besides his direct treatment of us; in casual conversation with Alan (while not discussing our rent), he has boasted about other things going on in his life that make us even more uncomfortable being in a financial, contractual relationship with him. We would really like for this to be our last year in his house.

Ready-to-move-in rental property is hard to find in Montepuez; pretty much every other house for rent would require extensive work or has serious disadvantages. The other option is house construction, which would include fundraising, both of which are a little overwhelming!

So keep praying for us! We are so thankful for all your prayers and encouragement. We want most for God to be glorified in all we do!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

our rental situation (but the newsletter is still below!)

Hello again,

As we mentioned in our newsletter, we are in a difficult situation with our landlord and the house we are renting. We want to share with you the details of our rental situation so you could join us in prayer. We have tried to summarize, but the situation is a little complex!

First of all, renting property and relationships with landlords can be very different in Africa than in the States. Due to lack of funds, many people in Africa may take years or decades to build a house, adding on little by little as they have money. That means that when expatriates arrive and look for a house to rent, some of the options they look at may be in various stages of not being completed, depending on the economy of that particular country or region. Rent may seem low compared to rent in the west, especially in rural areas, but, also unlike the States, very often the tenant is responsible for any and all repairs and improvements. This keeps the rent low; it is a stable income for a landlord who may or may not have another source of income, but the ways the tenant improves the house increase the value of his property.

Montepuez is a small town, and when our team decided to move up here, there were very few rental options for our (then) six families. Most of us moved into houses that were unfinished or in serious disrepair. We began renting this house in April of 2004 with many things in it broken or unfinished, and we have put a lot into this house and property, and in our opinion, greatly increased its value, while the landlord has invested in this property only very little. In the last few years, however, our relationship with our landlord has gotten increasingly difficult. It has seemed to us that he wants to be a rural African landlord (where the tenant makes all the repairs and improvements) AND a western landlord (where he can increase the rent every year).

There are several other factors involved, first of which that he is educated, well-connected, works for the finance department of the government, and is trying to acquire/invest in properties in a few different areas (those things are still very, very rare in Mozambique). Also, he lives in Nampula, which is the second largest city in the whole country, and where a house of this size with a yard (though in much better shape) could rent for $1500 to an NGO with a large budget (Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, etc). Also, his family is a factor; he is probably the only one in his family with any money. In many African cultures this means that he is expected to support not only his immediate family, but most of his extended family, too (uncles, aunts, parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins) whenever they have a financial need or want.

Please understand we are not saying the American rental system is good and the Mozambican system is bad. What is difficult is the meeting of different expectations from different cultures, understanding each other, and trying to make that work so that we can live here.

A year ago we had drawn up a new contract “for one year to be renewed for four additional years.” The expectation was that the rent would remain stable for the life of the contract, for the express reason that we had invested so much to improve/repair his house (the value of all our improvements spread out over the next five years is equal to the rent he wishes we were paying). However, the first year is up and he has just sent us a new contract without warning that included an increase of more than 50% of our rent.

We have been having difficult conversations with him by phone over the last few days. Our desire is that he either honor what we had agreed upon, or agree to a modest yearly rent increase for the remainder of the contract. His behavior is erratic, with some conversations almost being reasonable, and then a few hours later receiving an angry text message from him saying he’s through and wants us out of the house in 90 days. And then, the next morning, a conversation that is almost normal again, only to be followed in a few hours by him declaring that he wants us out of the house.

At this point, we are trying to arrange a time where I can meet with him to talk in person; we pray that conversation will go well. However, due to his increasingly unreasonable behavior over the last few years, we think it is wise for us to get out of the relationship – he may end the contract himself, we are not sure. If he does, we hope he would follow the contract and reimburse us for what we have invested in the house. Because of our experience with him, and because of the lack of rental properties in Montepuez, we are hesitant to rent another house with the expectation of living there for the remainder of our time in Mozambique. Another option would be to build.

Our prayers have been:
• that we will be kind and still show God’s kingdom of love to our landlord, even in our frustration
• that his heart will soften and that he will know God
• that God will provide our family a place to live

We would appreciate you joining us in these prayers; we know we are in God’s hands. We also know that though he never promised we won’t have trials, he does promise that he is always with us, and that we can’t be separated from his love.

Grace and peace,
Alan, Rachel, Abby, Ellie, and baby Howell

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 2009 Newsletter

Wow! This year is our busiest to date – we are thankful for our God who sustains us and for a few moments in between events/travel/visitors to catch our breath! You can find a copy of this newsletter and past newsletters on our blog

Alan has continued studying regularly through the Train & Multiply curriculum with leaders from Chipembe/Nkuunama and Nekwaya. He also has continued to study with the young churches in Nkororo, Khambiri and Namwaciko (inaugurated in February), and with another new church plant (July) in the village of Neewara. About once a month Alan and Jeremy have gone down to do Train & Multiply with church leaders in the Chiure district, and they have also continued to host leadership meetings here in town with leaders from village churches, focusing on having God’s love for each other and working peacefully together. Recently Alan also made the trek to visit and worship with the church way down in Maxoca (4 hours on a bad road) that we don’t get to very often. It was a good weekend studying and worshipping together, and 26 people were baptized.

Each year our team commits to at least one weekend study seminar in each of the districts/church clusters in which we work. Last year we studied through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount; this year we are studying faithfulness in God’s dream for marriages. The lack of faithfulness in marriage remains as one of Satan’s big strongholds here, and we ask for your prayers that God through his Spirit will grow people to walk in faithfulness. We have already done this study with the Balama/Upaco cluster and the Milamba/Chiure cluster, and in October we will study and discuss marriage with the believers in Chipembe/Nekwaya, Pemba/Nanjua, and Namuno/Montepuez clusters.

Earlier this year God answered our prayers for land here in town to start a non-profit chicken business and to have space for a development/resource center. We have started the non-profit chicken business and are finishing selling our second round of broiler chicks. The dream is to have a chicken-selling business that pays for itself, provides a few jobs, and also provides extra income to invest in other projects in the community. The first round was a good start, paying for itself and for the next round of chicks; the second round has not gone as well – we had a cold spell soon after we received the tiny chicks, and close to 200 chicks died. Please keep the chickens and this small business in your prayers!

Over the next few weeks our team will be talking more concretely about how to best use the land to encourage development. There are many possible options – ways that we can encourage better nutrition, more sustainable farming techniques, sanitation, etc. Some of you have already given towards the development of the land (building a storage facility for future construction) and the non-profit business (a group of layer chicks and another group of broilers). Currently, we have received $1000 and still lack $4500. If you would like more information or are interested in helping, please let us know!

On another note, as many of you know, our teammates Aaron, Mika, Josiah, and Elijah Roland went to the States in December 2008 to receive counseling and care. Based on the wisdom and counsel they have received there, they have decided to remain in the States and not return to ministry in Mozambique. We are thankful for all the ways the Rolands have blessed our team and our Mozambican friends, and we miss them and continue to ask for God’s blessings for them. More recently, in the midst of their transition as a family, several of Aaron’s extended family members have experienced severe health problems, and we ask you to continue to lift them all up in prayer.

In early June we received a team of 7 missions interns from Harding University. Kara, Harrison, Matt, Ashley, Amy, Abby, and Daniel lived, worked, and learned with us for six weeks, and God blessed the experience very much – it is difficult to summarize in one paragraph! The Harding Missions Internship is not a campaign; it is a learning experience for those who think they might be interested in foreign missions. The interns immerse themselves in life and work here for six weeks: language and culture learning, spending a weekend out in a village, joining with Mozambicans in projects (building a mud hut) and in daily life (harvesting and pounding grain), and fellowshipping and studying with believers. The internship also included a survey trip to an area where more workers are needed, and a visit to the team in Lichinga to see their development/resource center there. We were so thankful for the interns that God sent our way; we pray that God is leading them to come back to serve in Africa… and maybe even join our team!

God blessed us this year with more visitors as well: before the interns my brother and sister-in-law James and Kirsten Wilson came from Denver to visit us for two weeks in May, and we thoroughly enjoyed having them here! It was their first time on the continent of Africa, and did a great job meeting our Mozambican friends and visiting people. Their visit went by WAY too fast! Then after the interns left, my parents came for two weeks in late July/early August. We enjoyed having them here for Abby’s 6th birthday, and many of our Mozambican friends they met two years ago were happy to see them again! While my parents were here our teammates Chad and Amy Westerholm returned with Maggie and her new baby sister Jane after their furlough/ childbirth/ fundraising time in the States. We rejoice in God’s provision; he provided the funding that they lost in the previous year due to the economy, plus more! Then right after my parents left, as a team we received Dr. Van Rackley from Harding’s Marriage and Family Therapy department. Dr. Rackley has invested in our team since the beginning, working with us on team dynamics, our working relationships, our communication with each other, and personal and marriage counseling as we have adjusted to life and work in Mozambique. His time with us is always an invaluable blessing.

Dr. Rackley’s departure coincided with Jeremy and Alan flying to Kigali, Rwanda for a Church Planting Movements conference. They flew through Nairobi, Kenya, and were stuck there one night due to the strike of Kenya Airways employees, but thankfully still made it to Kigali the next morning, in plenty of time before the conference started (thanks to so many of you for praying!) Alan and Jeremy enjoyed the conference and learned a lot; much of the information presented seems to be very appropriate and reproducible for the kind of grass-roots movement we are in the middle of here. We have already enjoyed trying out some new ideas and changes in our study times with our friends here, and we look forward to growing in this further.

In three weeks there will be a women’s conference here in town for our province. We have been planning together with our friends here, and we are really excited about our time studying together as women. One main theme of the weekend will be the girls’ Ekoma, the initiation ceremony done for girls in this culture to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood. While it is a great idea to celebrate this transition in life, traditionally the ceremonies include a lot of abusive and harmful behavior from the older women in charge; beatings, humiliation, and instruction in sexual promiscuity are the norm, and sometimes even female circumcision is still done in a few areas around us. In the last few years many of our friends have been interested in doing God-centered Ekoma, focused on blessing and prayer for the girls/young women, and instruction/encouragement in walking with God. A few friends have already done an Ekoma within the church, and we are looking forward to discussing it with women from the whole province.

Speaking of transitions, we have had a few in our family this year as well. Abby finished kindergarten, lost her first two teeth, and has started first grade. Ellie is growing a lot, enjoying preschool lessons, and really likes to go with Alan on some of his visits out to village church members. And… as several of you already know, we are expecting baby Howell number 3 in mid-January! So far, both the baby and I are in good health. However, due to the poor state of healthcare in Mozambique, we will be going to the States to have this baby, and will be returning to Mozambique the first week of March.

We currently have a sudden, urgent need concerning our rental housing situation here in Montepuez, but since this is already a long newsletter, we will write about that in the next day or two so you can join us in specific prayer. Your prayers to God over us are so precious.

Our prayer requests:
• for the Kingdom of God to come among the Makua-Metto
• for the health of our team, especially our pregnancy and childbirth in January
• for the Roland family
• for the non-profit chicken business and future development & resource center
• for the women’s conference at the end of September
• for us as we parent and educate our children
• for our rental situation

We love and miss you all!
Rachel, Alan, Abby, Ellie, and baby Howell

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Giants in our midst

I have been thinking about the story of David and Goliath lately. There is a reason why this story has captured the attention and appreciation of people throughout history. It has some iconic imagery: An undersized and less-than-capable-hero amazingly overcomes the odds. Small of stature and yet, full of faith, this hero dramatically succeeds in knocking down the odds-on favorite. Through his victory, the little champion secures freedom for his own enslaved people. As I studied through this story with the church leaders from the Chipembe/Nkunama cluster, we all sensed that this story was about us. Here in a grass covered hut on bamboo basket chairs sits the “David” – six believers convinced (mostly?) that the power of the Living God can overcome any Giant. While out in the open stands the “Goliath,” the embarrassingly powerful and arrogant Giant, who has the respect, admiration and loyalty of the crowds. Goliath is calling out challenges to them…mocking David’s undersized appearance and oversized faith. When our small group talked about the Giants we face in this area we came up with a pretty daunting list. I’ve rearranged it some, but we basically named three Giants: Unfaithfulness, Drunkenness, and the Occult (Divination, Evil Spirits and Witchcraft).

Giant #1: Unfaithfulness and a lack of trust
There is a passage in the letter to Titus where Paul encourages his young disciple serving in Crete. He reminds Titus that “Even one of their own prophets has said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (1:12). And while it is hard for us to imagine anyone having such a low view of their own people, this expression is similar to what the Makua we serve with have to say about themselves all the time. They say, “you can’t trust us…we will lie and cheat each other.” This lack of faithfulness could come from a number of places – broken family structures, poverty, the effects of war on a society. But, no matter where it comes from, this unfaithfulness leads to many problems within the church. Leaders won’t follow through on commitments to the church and to each other. The church is reluctant to give because they don’t trust each other to administer well what has been given. It makes Paul’s counsel to Timothy to entrust the message to “reliable” people ring true (2 Timothy 2:2). Reliable and faithful people make up the backbone of communities of faith. For the gospel to truly take root in this area – we need faithful men and women.

Giant #2: Drunkenness
Drunkenness is a problem in many parts of the world, but it seems to most severely effect cultures that are already saddled with poverty. Men (and women) give in to hopelessness and get lost in the escape of alcohol. All over this area village after village you find people distilling their homemade brew. We have been encouraged to see some of our friends succeed in leaving this lifestyle behind. While others escape for a while, and then sadly get pulled back in. Churches in our area talk about drunkenness as it leads to other problems within families (misuse of money, physical abuse). It takes the intervention of God’s Spirit, family, friends and the church to effectively break this cycle.

Giant #3: the Occult (Divination/Evil Spirits/Witchcraft)
Three weeks ago I was on my way home after spending some time with the church in Nekwaya. I had a number of people in the car with me (as usual). Joaquim was riding back with me. He is from the village of Kambiri, but now lives in the village of Namwaciko where he has helped start a church. Joaquim was going to stay in Kambiri for a few days and when we arrived there, he wanted us to go visit his sister who has been sick. We walked to the house and sat for a few minutes on his front porch. After the greetings, Joaquim shared the problem with me. His sister, Julieta, has been having seizures lately. When I asked what they planned to do about it, the family responded that they were going to take her to the Diviner. Around here seizures are usually understood as coming from the demonic, and many people in this area are afraid of the hospital. One lady I spoke to said, “Everyone I know who has gone to the hospital dies.” From our time here in Mozambique we’ve learned that when people do divination there is usually only one of two results. The Onkulukano, Traditional Healer or Diviner, will tell you that you have been possessed by an evil spirit or "macini" and need to receive instruction from another person who has that kind of spirit to learn how to appease it. The second option is that the Onkulukano will tell you that you have been hit by witchcraft by a certain family member or neighbor that is jealous of you and has cursed you. In conversations with our Mozambican friends we have sent that this act of divination more than often leads to further participation in the occult.

We talked about the stories of Jesus healing people with seizures who were possessed by evil spirits and I asked the family to wait a week before going to the Diviner while we (the church in Kambiri and myself) could pray and fast for Julieta – asking God to release her from this evil spirit. We prayed for her and later that day the church in Kambiri prayed for her. At the end of the week, though, the family showed up at my house and informed me that Julieta had died. One of her brothers said, “Obviously, the magic that she had been cursed with was more powerful than your god.” It is hard to know how to respond well to that. His analysis of the situation sure seems accurate – if this was a power/truth encounter – then we did not have access to the greater power.

This system of demonic oppression has a hold on the Makua-Meetto (the picture above is from a "macini" ceremony we witnessed in the town of Balama). They constantly live in fear of the evil spirits and their power to disrupt and destroy life. When we share the good news of the Kingdom with our friends here we talk about how through Christ’s death and resurrection we have been freed from the powers of sin, death and Satan. We have been released from this Kingdom of Death and can now live as we were meant to in the Kingdom of Life.

When I shared the list of these giants with my friend and father-in-law, Larry Wilson, he noted that these giants are not all that different from the ones the church faces in the US. They have different names and different expressions, but the “Powers” or “Giants” seek to dominate us no matter what culture we live in.

Thanks for thinking about us. Please pray for us to have David’s confidence as we face down these Giants under the power of God’s Spirit.

Grace and Peace,

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

starting something new...

We have had an exciting past couple months here in Montepuez. I (finally!) finished up my master’s degree, our team received 7 interns, and we also took the first steps towards a new project that I have been dreaming about for some time now. After living in Mozambique for over five years, we have a deeper appreciation for the needs of the people here. Some of our friends require help in the form of relief (one-time help in a time of crisis) and others could really benefit from some type of sustainable development (changing the dynamics of the system here to enable people to find meaningful employment). A little over a year ago, I began to have a vision for something that would bless people in both ways. My dream was to start a non-profit business that would pay a good salary for its employees and provide enough profit to support some development projects and give consistently to ADEMO, the association of handicapped and disabled people.

While on furlough in 2008, I spoke to a number of individuals and Bible classes about these ideas and was blessed with $2000 of start-up money for this enterprise. After returning from the States to life and ministry in Mozambique, I began to more thoroughly investigate what it would take to make this dream a reality. Our team’s goal, here in Mozambique, is to help get a church planting movement going among the Makua-Metto people. I spend a lot of time in villages and in the city helping young churches get started and training church leaders. I enjoy what I am doing and feel gifted and called to it. Because of these ministry commitments, realistically I can only commit about five hours a week to this new project. So, as I looked at what it would take to start the non-profit business, the biggest initial barrier was finding a trustworthy manager to run the day-to-day operations. As part of my final two classes in finishing up my degree, I met regularly with a Makua-Metto pastor of an evangelical church here in town, Domingos Aurelio. I have known him for a few years now and he is well-respected in the community and one of the few leading pastors in area churches that is actually Makua-Metto (the majority of them are from other parts of Mozambique). Domingos has been employed for the last eight years as the manager of a wood-cutting business in Montepuez. He was responsible for overseeing their human resources as well as keeping track of finances and materials. In January of this year, I started praying more earnestly about this venture and shortly thereafter learned that Domingos’ boss was closing down his business in order to move on to other things. Domingos and I talked about our vision for this project, he was excited to join something that sought to bless the community and agreed to manage the day-to-day operations of the business.

As we looked for a small plot of land to house the business, we came across a larger piece of land (about four acres or roughly the size of two city blocks here!). Besides being in a prime location, the price was very good as well. One of the Smiths’ supporting churches had funds available, and we were able to purchase the land for just under $10,000. I am continually amazed and overwhelmed at God’s timing and plans. The original vision was to have something relatively small, and God has surprised us with a much bigger vision than we could have asked for or imagined.

In June we completed the sale of our first round of chicks and made enough money to pay the guards, manager and buy another round of chicks that will be ready to sell in August. We have employed one of the church leaders to sleep in the coop and feed and water the chickens. As far as our business plan, we are buying chicks from a business in Nampula and are raising them to sell here. Eventually, we would like to have housing for three or four groups of chickens at different stages of growth. We should be able to turn a profit of roughly $500 for every round of chicks. While that does not sound like much, it could really make a big difference here. At some point, we would also like to have layer chickens in order to sell eggs (which would make a good profit and bless people through the added nutrition/protein).

The land is large enough to house a number of different ministry projects, not just the chicken coops, and there are a number of costs involved in getting the land ready for long-term use. For the near future we have identified some things that would help the non-profit business run more effectively.
• start another group of broiler chickens and a small group of layers ($2500)
• construct a storage building used to hold feed and other supplies (about $3000).
So, with about $5,500 we could finance the first permanent building for this project and help stabilize it financially. If you are interested in helping out financially with this project, please let us know.

The non-profit business and resource center will initially only use a small portion of the new land. We have brainstormed a number of possibilities and are excited to see how God may use it for his glory. Please pray for the success of this new initiative and let us know what you are dreaming and imagining.

We’ll send a more newsy newsletter soon.

Grace and Peace,

Saturday, April 11, 2009

April update

Hello again from northern Mozambique!

Whew! The pasts two months have been really full and busy since we wrote our last blog post in late January!

In addition to our usual day-to-day ministry activities, in February Alan continued working through the Train & Multiply series with the leaders in Chipembe on Tuesdays, and teaching through the scriptures with the small church in Nkororo and a new group of believers in Namwaciko on Thursdays, and Train & Multiply every other Saturday with church leaders here in town. Twice on the alternate Saturdays, Alan and Jeremy hosted a weekend-long leadership retreat for 20 church leaders in our province. The leadership retreats used ropes course-style activities and debriefing sessions to teach and discuss the unity that we have through the love of Christ. Too often being a leader in a church means bossing other people around and focusing on being in charge instead of leading through servant-love, listening, and working together. It was neat to see them grow deeper together as a team and build trust. We have several more leadership retreats planned throughout the rest of the year; we are excited to see what fruit will come out of these encounters.

Also in February the small group in Namwaciko that has been studying with Alan decided to become a church and near the end of the month had 4 baptisms. Believers from Montepuez city, Chipembe, Nekwaya, Khambiri, Nanhupo and Nkororo joined them to worship together. About 25 of us gathered to inaugurate this church. Alan talked about what it really means to be a church – being the body of Jesus and following his example through sharing the good news of the Kingdom of God, teaching about what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God, and helping others through the power of the Kingdom of God. It was exciting to see this church plant rise up mostly out of the initiative of our Mozambican brothers. One Christian from the church in Khambiri had moved to Namwaciko and after a few weeks of living there said, “I miss worshiping with the church in Khambiri, but it is too far to walk… so, we should plant a church here in Namwaciko.”

Alan has also had two additional tasks on his plate these past few months, one being to complete his second practicum to finish his M.Div. degree through Harding Graduate School. The M.Div. is an 84-hour master’s degree; it will have taken Alan nine years to complete it since we left the States before he was finished! We are really excited that we have reached the end! Of course, we won’t be there for the graduation ceremony, but it sounds like they will let Alan’s dad accept his diploma for him on graduation day. This last class is a practicum that he has planned out one-on-one with his professor, and Alan has been focusing on witchcraft/divination aspect of Makua-Metto culture and its intersection with the folk Islam of this area. This has involved a lot of extra reading and extensive interviews with several people locally.

The other extra task Alan has been juggling lately is the beginning of a non-profit business and resource center, including working towards purchasing the land to house the project. The initial idea is to raise broilers from chicks, and the money taken in from the sale of those chickens will pay the salaries of the Mozambicans running the project, as well as the next round of chicks and feed, and also provide a profit of several hundred dollars a month (hopefully more if everything goes well). That profit money will be used to bless the community, through relief in times of crisis (hunger in drought, wheelchairs for our handicapped friends, mosquito nets during the rainy season), and to fund different development projects. One answer to prayer is that God has provided a very trustworthy Mozambican friend of ours to serve as the manager of the project. He is the pastor a local church in town, and has faithfully and honestly served as the manager of a wood-cutting business for years. Just as we were beginning to pray for someone who would be faithful and honest to fill this role, he lost his job due to the owner relocating the wood-cutting business. As we shared the vision for what we wanted to do, he took a cut in pay to be a part of it! His role is important as he will be handling all the day-to-day aspects of this project, and Alan will meet with him regularly for accountability and vision casting together.

We had also been looking and praying for a small plot of land to house the project, but a number of prospects that seemed good initially didn’t pan out. Then we spoke to the owner of a large piece of land about the size of two city blocks right in the middle of town – much bigger than we expected. The price is extremely reasonable for land of this size and it looks like it will work out to purchase this property. Praise God! We will keep you posted.

At the end of February we left Montepuez for the four-day drive down through Mozambique (it is such a LONG country!) to South Africa for the annual meeting of Good News for Africa, our legal organization within Mozambique. We really enjoyed the fellowship; some families we hadn’t seen in quite awhile! We also took the opportunity to put our truck in the shop and give it a good, thorough tune-up. Our truck hadn’t been back down to South Africa since we drove it up five years ago, and we feel really thankful to be able to get it worked on down there – it needed it! We were also able to purchase a new canopy, since the old one was busted. I am sure it is just our imagination, but the truck just looks like it feels better itself! =) We also took advantage of being all the way down there to take some family vacation time as well. South Africa is so beautiful and diverse; we stayed in two Unesco World Heritage Sites: the Drakensburg mountains and the Isimangaliso Wetlands, and we saw lots of amazing scenery and lots of wild animals! By the time we had our vacation and wrapped up the Missions Meeting and then got our truck out of the shop, though, we were really ready to not be living out of suitcases and to come home. As we were driving back up through Mozambique, our teammates the Smiths were a few days behind us, making the same trip home. The newly rebuilt gearbox in their truck was bad, however, and they broke down farther south in Mozambique after the first day of driving. God has been taking care of them; a man from the shop where our trucks were worked on came up from South Africa to bring a new gear box to put in their truck, and as I type they are driving the last few hours to reach Montepuez.

The Westerholm and Roland families are still on furlough/visits in the States, and we miss them a lot and look forward to their return, especially since we haven’t yet met baby Jane Westerholm, born at the beginning of February! In mid-May by brother and sister-in-law from Denver are coming to visit us, and we are so excited! This is their first trip to Africa. Shortly after their visit we will receive a group of seven missions interns from Harding University for six weeks, which will then be followed by a visit from my parents. So the next few months will be busy! We really enjoy having visitors from the States; the fellowship is so refreshing and rejuvenating for us since normally we are separated by so many miles. Our Mozambican friends are always excited for us to have visitors, too; relationships and connections are so important here, and they are so honored to get to meet people who come all this way for a visit!

As we close, we ask that you continue to pray for
• the purchase of this land and the beginning of the non-profit business and resource center. Thanks to all those who have already helped with start-up costs; if anyone is interested in helping, please contact us for more details! We will write again very soon to share specific needs.
• our teammates the Rolands and Westerholms in the States right now
• peace and wisdom in the next few busy months
• for the transformation of hearts that comes when people truly decide to enter into God’s Kingdom

With love in Christ,
Rachel, Alan, Abby, and Ellie Howell

Sunday, February 1, 2009

weekend gathering

We had a fun and interesting weekend. Twenty leaders from different churches in the Montepuez district converged on our house and the Smith’s house Thursday afternoon for a weekend gathering (about ten slept at our house!) Our hope was that this meeting, along with a few more like it throughout the year, would increase the leaders’ trust and confidence in each other. We planned a program of group games and low ropes course activities where they were given a problem and had to figure out a solution; Jeremy did a great job organizing and thinking through these activities and then debriefing with the leaders. Our essential theme for this meeting was that the process or journey is as important as the goal or destination. We looked at passages in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 and talked about how the leaders and the churches they serve can function more effectively as a body. We also focused on how, according to Paul, it doesn’t matter what we accomplish, if we don’t have love we haven’t accomplished anything. Our plan is to have five more of these leadership gatherings throughout 2009. Pray for us; the next leadership gathering is in three weeks, and we still have a lot of work to do! Also a big thanks to our New Heritage church family who sent us a couple boxes of BOGO lights. Each of the leaders received one and they were a big hit!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

happy new year from mozambique!

Greetings again from northern Mozambique!

Thank you so much to all of you who have joined us in praying for rain. The rains started just before Thanksgiving, but then right around Christmas, the rains stopped for almost three weeks, and we were nervous that we were seeing the beginnings of a drought. We contacted a few of you to join us in prayer for God to send rain to Mozambique, and he has answered our prayers and sent rain, and we are so thankful. Many of our friends here are subsistence farmers, meaning they grow all the food for their families for the year during Mozambique’s one growing season, and so drought and floods can be catastrophic.

Right before Thanksgiving we drove 12 hours through the bush to Lichinga to visit our friends Rusty, Ann, and Hallie Caldwell and see their resource center/ development farm there. We hadn’t seen them in two years, and it was a lot of fun to reconnect with them and get to experience their lives and work in person. The Caldwells, along with their teammates the Holtons (who are in the States teaching at Harding University this year as the missionaries-in-residence) have worked hard setting up their development center, and are investing in their community through co-ops using various community development projects. It was exciting to see what they are doing and brainstorm ways we could implement some of there ideas over here in Montepuez.

We are always reminded during this holiday time of year that even though we live so far away from our families in the States, God has given us other families in our teammates, colleagues, and friends here. We returned home to Montepuez just in time for Thanksgiving with the Rolands and Westerholms, and just a few days later the Westerholms left for the States for an extended furlough and childbirth in February (we are really looking forward to hearing the news, whenever he or she decides to make an appearance!). Also, the Rolands left for the States on December 20 for a few months to visit family and get some rest and recuperation. We enjoyed our Christmas, though it was unusual, since the girls both had stout cases of giardia and felt pretty crummy – we had to drag them out of bed to come open Christmas presents! For New Year’s Eve we had wanted to try and replicate the fondue tradition from Alan’s family, though we realized at the very last minute that we didn’t have the right kind of plug adaptor for the fondue pot we had borrowed. The food was still yummy, though, and then on New Year’s Day we enjoyed going to a party at one of our workers’ homes.

At this time of year our weekly schedules change as the rains come and the people here start planting their crops. From the times the rains begin in earnest, we cannot get to several churches in villages that we normally spend time in. We visited Nekhwaya and Khambiri a few extra times in early December, knowing that it would be awhile before we could go again. Since Alan can’t get to Khambiri right now, he has begun the Train and Multiply leadership course in Chipembe on Tuesdays, and is continuing to teach in Nkororo on Thursdays; both are places we can still get to even on muddy roads. There is also a group in the village of Namwaciko that would like to be a church, and we started teaching there last week. Every other Saturday Alan and Jeremy are doing Train and Multiply with a group of men from the churches here in town, but the weekly women’s study group is suspended through January and February, since so many people are spending almost all their time out on their farms during the week.

This time of year is also the time of hunger before the harvest gets underway in March and April. Thank you again for all of you who contributed extra funds last year to help us help people here who have run out of food. Also, we are looking to start our small chicken project in April when the chicken feed will be a little cheaper. Alan has been looking at different properties in town to find one suitable for the project and should be meeting with government officials about this non-profit business this next week. Alan has also been building a lot of Lorena stoves lately (see previous newsletter!), teaching different friends how to build these efficient stoves out of local material, and many of the guys he has built stoves with have begun building them for their friends and neighbors.

Last week we had two baptisms in Nkororo; one woman who was baptized got a ride with us back into town because her baby was sick. They took the baby to the hospital, but a few days later her baby died, and they went back to Nkororo for the funeral. The lack of sufficient health care is huge here in Mozambique, and the mortality rate is high – we have a hard time thinking if we know anyone who hasn’t had a child die. Even so, there has been even more sickness and death in the last month than we normally hear about or come in contact with; many people are suffering from severe diarrhea, and a lot of people are talking about cholera. We often get people showing up at our house asking us to help carry a dead body back to their village, or sometimes it is someone who is near death and has been told at the hospital that there is nothing to be done, and so they want to go back to their village to die there at home; sometimes we know these people, sometimes we don’t. Last week one of our night guards showed up for work and told Alan how tired he was, and Alan asked if he had gone to work in his farm that day. But he said no, he was tired because he had had to help dig three graves that day because three of his neighbors had died. And then one of our other workers had a baby son die just this past week on Thursday night. Death is always sad, whether you are an American or a Mozambican, but here in Mozambique we are around death more often. We struggle not to feel numb, but we hear of death so often that it can be overwhelming.

Recently, though, there have also been some things worthy of celebration. In December we had a small wedding at one of the churches in town – it was really the first church wedding that we have been to between two Makua-Metto new believers who are from here locally. Getting married in this culture is usually little more than moving in with someone and beginning to sleep with them, and while that is different than the culture we came from, that alone does not make marriage weak. However, marriage is very weak in this culture, rarely involving strong commitment, and very easily and quickly dissolved for a variety of reasons, and we can’t help but think that publicly celebrating the beginning of a marriage relationship with other believers could be helpful in redeeming marriages and bringing them into the kingdom of God. This really isn’t a foreign idea around here, but too often people don’t have a wedding ceremony because of the cost involved of feeding so many people at a big party. So we were encouraged when our friends Victor and Julieta, each from different villages in the area, told us they wanted to get married with the church, and that they had the courage to keep it small and manageable, so other people can see that it doesn’t have to be a huge party with a lot of cost involved. We enjoyed celebrating their commitment to Christ and each other and hope that many others will choose to follow their example.

This weekend I will be getting together with women from two churches in town are joining together to do an ikoma, an initiation ceremony, for one of the women’s teenage daughters. Initiation ceremonies are a big part of life here, for both boys and girls, marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, usually done sometime around puberty, though the age range varies. Initiation ceremonies around here often involve a lot of negative traditions, including beating, verbal abuse, instruction on sexual intercourse and encouragement of sexual promiscuity, and we have recently been told that even in a few places nearby they are still practicing female genital mutilation (we had previously heard that “oh, nobody does that anymore”). While in the past some churches’ response has been to declare that ikomas are bad and insist that everyone in the church forsake that tradition, we are seeing more openness to the idea of redeeming the ikoma in ways that glorify God and build each other up. After all, there is nothing wrong with celebrating the transition to adulthood with a ceremony involving the community. The opportunity is wide open to reclaim ikomas for the kingdom of God, replacing insult and beating with love and encouragement, replacing teaching of sexual promiscuity with teaching of sexual purity, faithfulness in marriage, and what it means to be a Godly woman. The interest among women especially has been high these last few months to do ikomas within the church, and we are hoping to make that a big part of the women’s conference later this year.

In March we will make a trip down to South Africa for a missions meeting, and also to have some work done on the truck. Our truck hasn’t been back to South Africa since we brought it up five years ago, and we are looking forward to getting it worked on. We will also take some of our family vacation time to get some rest and enjoy some of South Africa’s amazing scenery.

As we close, we ask that you continue to pray for the two requests that we mentioned last time:
• Pray first for a good rainy season so people can eat in the coming year. Enough rain for the food to grow, but not so much that fields and flooded and crops ruined. And long enough that each crop gets the water it needs to grow in its time.
• Please pray for everyone, especially those of us with more than we need, to work together to share deeply and together end poverty (physical and spiritual). Pray for the imagination needed to make this happen.

With love in Christ,
Rachel, Alan, Abby, and Ellie Howell