Hello from northern Mozambique!
It's hard to believe that it is May already; the past couple months have flown by quickly for us, and the next few months feel like they're rushing at us pretty quickly too, so we are buckling our seat belts and holding on to our hats.
The rainy, hot season is over, and we're into the beginning of our cool, dry time, which is nice. Several mornings a week we find ourselves digging through drawers to find our seldom-worn long sleeve shirts because of the cool temperatures! Two weeks ago our town/district had a visit from Mozambique's President Armando Guebuza to celebrate the opening of a new clinic in the rural post north of town (the area where Alan and I spend most of our time). We didn't see the president himself, but we saw his entourage, but the great side benefit for us personally was that road crews worked to widen and smooth the dirt road going north before his visit, so now our drive north is much less painful!
We love sharing with you what God is doing in this corner of the world, and we are happy to get to participate (most of the time!). It would be so great if you could come visit and see for yourself and meet the friends here who are learning to follow God and live out life in his Kingdom in their different villages and neighborhoods. You'd be able to see how they live - the challenges and the joys - and meet their children and see their farms and worship with the church. But we know not everyone can come, so we want to paint the picture for you: the good, the bad, the joys, the sorrows. It is not all good news, but neither is it all bad news. Churches here have problems like churches in your neighborhood, but God is working here just like God is working in your neighborhood.
During January, February, and March the women's studies I usually participate in were suspended for the farming season, though each week I visited different women here in town. But by the end of March and beginning of April all of the studies have started up again, which is so fun. I alternate between four women's studies in a two-week cycle: one study in town, one study in the Chipembe-Omeringue-Nkunama church cluster, one study in Nkororo, and one in Newara.
All the groups are so very different; I wish you could come visit and know them all with their varying maturity levels and group personalities and learning styles. This year I am regularly going out together to the village studies with women from the town churches (before it was more occasional); two or three different women from town each time I go out to a village study. The brand-new women's group in Nkororo is starting the Sermon on the Mount booklet that the other groups have already studied; the other groups are going through different booklets that have selected stories, miracles, and teachings of Jesus translated into Makua-Metto (we still don't have the whole Bible in this language!)
I have two friends named Juliana from two different villages north of town that I have been studying with the past year and a half, and at the beginning of the rainy season both Julianas moved into town. Juliana from the church in Chipembe moved to town with her husband and children because of her health (she had polio as a teenager and continues to have occasional problems from that) and to be near her mother. She and her husband (who in the past has struggled with drunkenness) have alternated worshipping at the two different Churches of Christ in town when they're healthy enough to go, and they're currently in a really long stretch of good marital health. She still goes with me every other week to the Friday women's study in Chipembe, and she also goes with me on alternate weeks to the new Thursday study in Nkororo.
Juliana from the church in Newara moved to town, also stating vague health reasons that I never fully understood, but it came out much later that she was also running from some family conflict back in the village. She is single and very energetic and social, but when she moved to town she rarely worshipped with any churches and only showed up to ask for money, and we've had several conversations about participation and faithfulness. Our first Friday starting up the women's study again in Newara she caught a ride with me but then skipped the whole scripture study to go to the field to gather food. When she did show up right at the end of the discussion time, in the course of conversation I suggested that if she wanted to come up and get food from the family farm (and get a free ride for her sacks of corn and large bundles of firewood back into town), would she mind coming up the day before to gather up all the harvested crops and firewood bundles so she could also join the study? She got a little defensive (but not nasty), and a passionate, whole group discussion followed that lasted nearly an hour but ended well with Juliana claiming to hear what the group was saying to her and promising to participate faithfully. Group discussions here take me to my language limit - usually there are three or four people talking fast all at the same time, which means I get lost sometimes. But it was beautiful to see the wisdom and kindness come out of the other women talking with Juliana, and I pray she chooses faithfulness.
Over the past few months our team spent a lot of time (especially Jeremy Smith!) finishing off a census of the Churches of Christ in Cabo Delgado. We hosted a meeting of forty influential church leaders to present the data. It was a really good experience to see these men wrestle with both the good and the bad that has been happening over the last few years in their churches. At that meeting and in many other settings, Alan taught about the five giants that oppress the Makua-Metto people: drunkeness, witchcraft, unfaithfulness, ungodly leadership, and poverty. He worked to mobilize churches all over Cabo Delgado to fast and pray for a two week period asking God to defeat these giants, and we were encouraged to see so many people working together against the common Enemy. Alan has been blogging more about his ministry experiences, so if you get a chance, poke around our blog and read some more about life, ministry and the giants.
A little over a week ago we sent off the Smiths to their furlough in the States to visit sending churches and family there (we miss them already!), but we also have only a couple weeks before six missions interns from Harding University arrive to live and work with us for six weeks. For family news, Abby and Ellie love school and their teachers Miss Kara and Miss Bekah, and they have a couple weeks of school left before their break. Katie loves being three and is already shaping up to be our little family comedian.
Our teacher teammates Kara and Bekah have both done a GREAT job teaching our kids and weathering the highs and lows of their first year in Mozambique - it is not easy at all, and it requires patience and perseverance through the hard parts of living here. They will both be visiting family and friends in the States during the "summer," and coming back to us for another year of teaching. Their job here teaching missionary kids is unique but vital to our team, adding many more man-hours (or woman-hours, really) to our team's time spent teaching, mentoring, and encouraging. One teacher currently lacks the final $5,000 to complete her funding for living expenses here; please contact us if you can help with this need.
Kara and Bekah have committed to two school years of teaching; this will take them through May 2014. We are already praying for God to provide two more teachers for the following year: August 2014-May 2015, but it would be great to find teachers for another two-year stretch through May 2016. In addition to the very important role this fills on our team, it is also a great intermediate step for anyone who feels a desire to live and work in Africa but is still looking for a team or a location. Please share this information with anyone you know who might be interested!
As we close, we ask that you join us in prayer for:
- God's Kingdom to come here among the Makua-Metto
- Health and safety with lots of travel going on
- Teacher fundraising
- For God to provide 2014-15 and 2015-16 teachers
- For God to provide for our transportation: either truck repairs or new trucks
With love and peace,
Rachel and Alan Howell