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