December 29, 2014

Mozambique: Learning to Lead

Pastors and church lay leaders in Mozambique have the opportunity to grow in their knowledge of the Bible and church leadership through the help of a Bible school outside of the coastal city of Beira. 

  • Worship Service

    Pastor Rafael Francisco worships with his church congregation during a Sunday morning service in Dondo, Mozambique. With the help of a local Bible school, he is learning how to pastor his congregation more effectively.

  • In the Classroom

    Alberto Portugal discusses the week's lesson, while Francisco leads the kids in a song.

  • Encouraging Word

    Keily Lima can often be found in the classroom giving an encouraging word to her students.

Manuel had learned how to evangelize using the wordless book, an evangelistic tool that uses colors instead of words to tell the story. One day, while waiting in line to pay his electric bill, someone saw Manuel’s bracelet with the different colors and asked him about it. Manuel used the opening to share the gospel.

When Keily Lima tells this story about one of the students at Instituto Bíblico do Dondo (IBD) in Mozambique, she feels gratified. It is just one example of how she and other missionaries in the city see God at work in a difficult field.

There are few reliable sources for data profiling religious adherents in Mozambique, but according to the most recent census conducted by the National Institute of Statistics in 2007, which have been described as “problematic” by researchers, 56.1% of the population of Mozambique is Christian, 17.9% Muslim (mainly Sunni), 18.7% claim no religion and 7.3% adhere to other beliefs. Another source, EveryCulture.com, claims roughly 60% of the population of Mozambique practice traditional African religions, 30% are Christian, and 10% are Muslim.

Others say while Christianity is the dominant religion, ancestral worship and influence of animism is strong. While statistics remain outdated and unclear, evangelical Christians represent the fastest growing religious group in the country, according to the National Directorate of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Justice — and TEAM missionaries have certainly found this to be the case. Yet, only about 5 percent of Mozambican church leaders can read or write, and fewer still can do so at a level that would enable them to teach others the Word of God, which means there is a great need for missionaries and teachers to train them. Then, there’s the challenge of teaching the Bible to and discipling believers who converted to Christianity either for practical purposes (for example, the promise of better employment) or without a solid understanding of being transformed by the gospel. This is what makes the work of IBD so vital.

In 2010, three Brazilian missionaries (including Lima) sent through the Missão Aliança Evangélica do Brasil (MAEB), a TEAM initiative, have been involved in theological education ministry in Dondo. After selling their business and going through missionary training, Nidovaldo Gonçalves and his wife Helaine moved to Mozambique in response to what they felt was a direct call from God. Lima arrived one year after the Gonçalveses and originally wanted to be directly involved in children’s evangelism but she soon realized it was more important to train others to evangelize children so the work could continue if she ever had to leave. “By teaching Mozambicans how to teach the Bible to children, my field is much larger. It’s a way to multiply and make disciples,” Lima said.

Nidovaldo Gonçalves explains: “We noted that a lot of missionaries come here to work with children, but whenever these missionaries had to leave, their missions failed and the children were abandoned.” Children in Mozambique are not exposed to Portuguese until they are 7, 8 or even 9 years old, making it difficult for Portuguese-speaking missionaries from Brazil to engage with them. “We understood God was leading us to start a school that would teach the teachers of children. Thus, the Mozambican churches, whose teachers speak both Portuguese and the native languages and dialects, would be able to teach their children.”

“There are more nominal believers here than true Christians,” Gonçalves said. “We see that people go to church not really understanding what they are doing, but as if it were a social gathering, a place to meet people. So our objective is to bring knowledge of the Word of God.” He said that many believers in Dondo have not understood that the gospel is more than the transfer of knowledge. “The gospel is something that should transform lives.” He adds that church-goers have “evangeliquette” — evangelical etiquette. “They know how to raise their arms and say, ‘Glory to God’ or ‘I received Jesus’ or ‘I love God,’ but they can’t explain what any of it means.”

Jurg van Dyk, Southern Africa regional director at Global Missions South Africa (GMSA), a TEAM partner, has been ministering in Mozambique since 1999. He explains after the nation gained independence from Portugal in 1975, people were told there is no God and pastors began to be persecuted. “So the church was scattered into the rural areas. They couldn’t openly meet because of the problems from the government side of things. The Christians had no one teaching them.” At that time, many Mozambicans worked in mines in South Africa and heard the gospel there. They brought back and shared what they learned, but van Dyk said that, having no one to disciple or train them, their faith remained shallow.

“Most people are still involved in their traditional beliefs, in syncretism, in ancestral worship. The challenge is to teach them the truth,” van Dyk said. “It’s a process. Their beliefs are so deeply rooted in their culture and history, it’s not something that you just teach them and the next day they break with it.” Even those who want to become Christians and leave behind their traditions face opposition from their families. “The spiritual warfare that goes into ministering here is intense. We actually see it and experience it ... so somebody coming to minister here needs to be trained before they arrive.”

When van Dyk saw the need for a place where pastors could be trained and equipped, he fell back on his civil engineering training, bought land and constructed a building before looking for people to come and teach. In 2007, with a house and Bible school established, he was ready when the first Brazilian missionaries arrived to start working in Dondo.

The greatest need for theological training and literature is among rural pastors, who need to support their families through farming and simply can’t go off to school for a year or two to study. Van Dyk points out that there’s a shortage of literature in the local languages. It can be found in Portuguese, but few people in rural areas read or understand that language. “There’s a big need to get workers who are prepared to go into these areas and spend time with the rural churches and pastors.”

IBD currently offers four courses, which are carefully scheduled so students who need to work and commute can attend without sacrificing their livelihoods. There is a basic Bible class, an elementary course (taken by students who completed the basic class), training for Sunday School teachers and Gonçalves’ pastors’ training class on Wednesday evenings.

Rafael Francisco, one of the pastors studying at IBD, believes the school has changed his life. “It’s changing my relationship with my wife because we are learning how to live in harmonious communication with our spouses. I’m learning how to care for my home, how to treat my neighbors and people in the church, how to care for the church and what true doctrine is.”

Reflecting on the results of IBD’s ministry, van Dyk said, “There is fruit on the work we are doing, and we praise God for that, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. We don’t see masses of people turning to God, but as we disciple them, as we walk the road with them, we see individuals really changing and making an impact in their communities.”

- Written by Ann-Margaret Hovsepian

- Photographed by Robert Johnson

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