Greetings from Montepuez!
The past few months for us have been VERY full, so we sat down today to share a newsletter to catch you up on what's been going on in our part of the world.
It was SHEER JOY to have my parents, Larry and Evelyn Wilson, come visit us back in March. My Mom blessed our team immensely by staying for two months and teaching kindergarten in our Montepuez team school, and my dad came for the last two weeks of that time. It was so special to have them here with us, but the time flew by so fast.
Also in March I started studying again with women in different villages as the rains usually slow down in March and the harvest begins. This year's abundant rains were record-setting, though, and continued strong through April, so I spent more time driving in water and mud than I'd expected! This year I've been studying with women in three different clusters outside of Montepuez, and each group is at a different level of maturity and understanding. I've been trying to encourage leadership by asking others to do the reading and the teaching, and that has been interesting and exciting.
Another major event on the calendar in April was the annual women's conference for our province, which was held in Balama this year, and the teaching and worship and testimonies all went well. There were a couple difficult conversations during the three-day seminar, one about one particular woman's treatment of the other women in her church, and another about the difficulties of the organization of the women province-wide (town church women vs. village church women). And while it can be discouraging to see our friends struggle through disagreements with each other, it also struck me as growing pains that are to be expected at this stage of development as Jesus' Kingdom Gospel continues to sink in and challenge the hard areas in our hearts.
Over the past few months, Alan has continued with his regular schedule of visits with different church clusters. In this stage of our work, he is not involved directly in planting churches but is focusing his attention on discipling and equipping emerging leaders. He has continued teaching a series of lessons on leadership that are specifically geared for this context in different clusters, and the series of lessons he developed on how to respond to poverty have been very well received. Besides teaching on poverty to our regular groups of churches, Alan has also presented the material on poverty at a Christian Women's Business Seminar and to the debate club at the local High School here in Montepuez.
What will undoubtedly be the highlight for the whole year, though, was a visit from Evertt and Ileene Huffard and Monte and Beth Cox (former missionaries who currently serve as professors of missions (and more!) with Harding University). They spent the last week of May here in Montepuez meeting with our team and Mozambican church leaders in order to evaluate the state of the work. Currently the Smith, Westerholm and Howell families have all committed to stay in Montepuez into 2018, and as a team we are committed to doing our best to prepare the churches for our eventual departure, whenever that may be. So, the major goals of the "consultant visit" were to discern the strengths and weaknesses of these churches and our work with them, and also to help us figure out how long we should stay here as well as forming a healthy exit strategy. We've begun chewing on their suggestions and will spend some time over the next few months reflecting on how best to put their suggestions into practice.
Immediately following the Huffards' and Coxes' departure, our team again hosted college student interns this year. The four of them spent six weeks job-shadowing us and experiencing what life in Mozambique can be like. They went with us on village visits, learned to speak some basic Makua-Metto, harvested rice and carried water on their heads as well as learning to cook xima. Each of them also tried spending a weekend with a Mozambican family without any other English speakers. And of course they were celebrities with our kids, who thoroughly enjoyed having a new audience to entertain! The internship is an opportunity to give students interested in missions an experience of what serving as a missionary actually looks like on the ground.
On the same day that the interns left to return to the U.S., our family flew south to Maputo. We crossed over into South Africa and spent the first few days visiting the doctor, the dentist, and the orthodontist before heading into the mountains for a few days of vacation. We spend our vacation days hiking, sleeping late, eating broccoli and ice cream (not together!), and being followed by our new friend Gerry the extremely social, half-blind Giraffe. When we crossed back into Mozambique, we spent Abby's eleventh birthday renewing Ellie's and Katie's passports at the US embassy. She appreciated Alan's joke about spending her special day on U.S. soil, but said it wasn't nearly as good as being with our friends and family in States. We've been back home in Montepuez for almost a week now and are settling in to regular life again.
The other development and side projects that Alan has been involved in are moving forward as well. We have had a good response from the sustainable agriculture project this year - it looks like a good portion of association members are beginning to implement what they've been learning in their personal farming plots. Also, all the funding that we need for the bridge project has come in, so, Lord willing, construction should begin within the next few weeks. This bridge will bless thousands of people in the region who are cut off from Montepuez during the rainy season each year. To read more check out this blog post.
Our team works with about fifty churches of Christ here in Cabo Delgado with a total of around one-thousand members. One of the challenges we are facing for long-term sustainability is in the area of organization. So, every other month we've been meeting with a group of men who are respected as leaders in the churches in order to build a better sense of unity and figure out how to work effectively together. This same group met with Evertt Huffard and Monte Cox while they were here, and in a few weeks on August 29th our team will present the consultants' recommendations to these church leaders. Hopefully by implementing a plan together we will be able to move forward in a process of naming deacons and elders and setting up healthy structures to serve God's Kingdom. Please be in prayer about this meeting that God's spirit would give us wisdom to know how to best serve His purposes.
Mission work and ministry in general can often feel like the waves of the ocean - flowing in an out. One place where this dynamic has been felt recently has been in the cluster of churches in Chipembe. Last year, they experienced some growth and we felt like the churches in those villages were gaining some real traction. Unfortunately, over the past few months two men in the church died of illness, another man divorced his wife and then another fell back into drunkenness, and it feels like some of the momentum has been lost. Those kinds of experiences are discouraging, but we're praying that that cluster and others can experience more sustained growth.
Our team has had multiple transitions lately; we were sad to say goodbye to Kara Tobey in early June; she taught in the Montepuez team school for two years and became an important part of our lives and ministries - she is certainly missed! Also in June the Westerholms moved out of their rental house and onto the land, and then two weeks ago after about eight months without a vehicle, the Smiths have received their new truck and have begun their drive back to northern Mozambique. In a little over a week I am starting graduate school working towards an MA at Harding School of Theology. AND, thankfully God has provided us with two new teachers, Rosemary Perry and Amber Roe. We are grateful for the blessing of receiving teachers to come help educate our children; it is a vital part of our team ministry - it greatly increases the hours we can spend teaching, training, and mentoring. They will be moving to Montepuez in just a few weeks, but both of them still lack funds to complete their total financial needs for their time in Mozambique. If you or anyone you know could assist them please contact us.
Our other big news is that our upcoming furlough in summer 2015 will be extended so that we can serve as Visiting Missionaries-in-Residence at Harding University in Searcy, AR for the 2015-16 school year. We're excited about this new opportunity to influence and recruit students to missions, and hopefully even to Mozambique. We know, though, that by the time that year is wrapping up we will be very anxious to get back to our home, friends and teammates here in Montepuez.
Thanks so much for keeping up with us and keeping us in your prayers. Please be sure to pray along with us about the following things:
- upcoming leader meeting Aug. 29 where we'll be presenting some of the consultant's recommendations.
- peace in upcoming Mozambican elections in November
- teachers transition to Mozambique and blessings for this school year
Grace and Peace,
Rachel, Alan and the girls