Miles of pristine beaches on the Indian Ocean make Mozambique a growing destination for scuba diving enthusiasts and eco-tourists, a fact that only became known to me while reading the in-flight magazine on LAM, the Mozambican national airline. Despite such great natural resources, colonialism and seventeen years of civil war left the country impoverished.
Like many Americans, I understood very little about this southeast African country from the scant information available in our media. A brief visit taught me much, but my glimpse into Mozambican society mostly reaffirmed my outsider’s naivety. Mozambique is a complex society with a very difficult past. The question on everyone’s mind now is whether Mozambique has found a way to escape its tortured past.
In the early 1500’s, Portugal first laid claim on the lands of the southeastern coast of Africa as its colonial territory. The Portuguese supplanted Arab traders who had developed a seafaring economy in the region. From the city of Lourenco Marques (renamed after independence to Maputo), Portugal traded agricultural products, natural resources, and human laborers. The trade language became Portuguese and the dominant religion Catholicism. However, an incredible diversity of languages, cultures, and ethnicities continued to exist under the colonial administration. Vestiges of Portuguese culture are still apparent in the architectural styles, locally made Portuguese bread, and pervasive Portuguese language.
Mozambique seems to have come to grips with its colonial past, but ten years of war for independence followed by seventeen years of civil war still scars the country. Beginning in 1975, a vicious civil war between the Marxist government and rebel forces tore the nation apart as Mozambique played a supporting role in the global Cold War. Ethnic and tribal fractures in the society became exacerbated by the struggles for political power and war continued to ravage the country until a peace agreement in 1992 ended the violence and destruction. Political reconciliation, social healing, and rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure and economy have been a long and arduous process. Mozambique remains one of the least developed nations in one of the most underdeveloped regions of the world. These are the challenges of the Evangelical Church as it seeks to share the healing and transforming work of Jesus among the hurting families, villages, towns and cities of Mozambique.
There are encouraging signs for the country and the Church. Although daunting obstacles lay ahead, stability and peace have returned as the government continues to show good faith with its people and the world. The vast natural resources of the land and the resilient spirit of the people are creating new opportunities for growth and the promise of future prosperity. Young people with no memory of the hard years of colonialism followed by civil war are bringing new ideas and hope to the country. Most encouraging, people are seeking spiritual meaning in their lives and strength to move beyond their troubled pasts. Each of these opportunities also presents potential dangers. Lack of education combined with spiritual hunger has made the population vulnerable to cults and false teachings. The push to stimulate the economy and utilize natural resources has opened the country to exploitation and resource management problems. Emerging prosperity for many in the cities has created huge disparities with the countryside. Evangelical Churches are seeking to turn these pitfalls into opportunities.
Reverend Salvador Vilanculos is a leader with vision and enormous energy. As the Pastor of a growing and healthy church in the capital, Maputo, and National Chairman of the Evangelical Church of Mozambique with its 193 member churches throughout the ten provinces in Mozambique, Rev. Vilanculos is at the forefront of transforming Mozambique’s challenges into opportunities. He relates his vision for the Evangelical Churches to the personal vision that God gave to him while living and working in South Africa. Making disciples begins in one’s own home and extends in ever widening circles until it reaches the ends of the earth. Born in the small coastal town that bears his family name, Vilanculos, Mozambique, he moved to South Africa at the age of sixteen. He found Christ as a young man of twenty and married his wife while sojourning in South Africa. He began his ministry just as he became a successful businessman training workers on sophisticated high tech equipment. The Lord revealed to him that his faithful service in South Africa was only his ministry in Jerusalem, and his new calling was to return to his birthplace, to his Judea, Mozambique. Vilanculos moved to Maputo and with the encouragement of his family began a Church that met in his garage. That Church is now central to his vision for reaching all of Mozambique.
The grinding poverty and lack of opportunity in the countryside is an immediate challenge. Vilanculos realized that evangelizing and discipling of new believers in the relatively prosperous capital city would allow the Church to mobilize assistance to the struggling rural areas. The chances for economic growth and job creation in villages around the country depends largely on the willingness of employed workers, entrepreneurs, and investors from the city to leave their comfort zone and reach out. That kind of commitment and sacrifice comes from the love of Christ that compels his congregation to serve their brothers and sisters in isolated locations and depressed areas that remain throughout the country’s interior.
In addition to economic needs, the rural Churches need trained leaders and decent education to insure spiritual growth and accountability among the harvest of new believers. Evangelism is not an obstacle to Church growth. As Vilanculos describes the situation, “People are hearing the Gospel for the first time, and they are responding to the message.” The greater challenge is to help these new believers experience the fullness of the Christian life, grow in Biblical knowledge and develop healthy Churches. The overwhelming challenge is a lack of mature Christians and trained leaders to guide new believers and congregations. The Church in Maputo and several other similar churches envisioned in main cities in central and northern Mozambique are the keys for educating new leaders and providing resources for discipleship and Christian education.
The Maputo Church has grown to over four hundred members and purchased property for a future center. Currently it meets in a large tent erected on the new site. The Church holds worship services five nights a week every week with additional meetings on Saturday for young people and worship team practice. It holds Sunday Services from 9:00–12:00 and also has a regular prayer group that fasts and meets to pray all day on Wednesday. Their enthusiasm and commitment is truly amazing and equal to the immense vision God has given them for their country.
This was not always the case with the Evangelical churches in Mozambique. Church planting work supported by TEAM suffered a severe blow when the civil war cut off access to the country. The work had been successfully establishing churches but local leadership was weak and drifted toward personal agendas rather than Biblical steadfastness.
This was the situation when Rev. Vilanculos arrived in Maputo to provide a new direction in leadership. He re-established the relationship with TEAM, but more importantly, Vilanculos began to mentor new local leadership grounded in biblical principles and committed to establishing churches to glorify and worship God. The church is preparing for the harvest God is bringing but trained leaders are still few and the resources to minister to new believers are meager. The Evangelical Churches of Mozambique are in need of partners that will work with them to develop their vision and build Mozambican churches.
Reaching Mozambique for Christ is a vision with an even longer history for TEAM. More than one hundred years ago, TEAM missionaries established a ministry just across the border from Mozambique in Zimbabwe. The Portuguese colony was predominantly Catholic and evangelical missionaries were banned from the country. The teams in Zimbabwe were not allowed to enter Mozambique but a fruitful ministry among the Shona people of Zimbabwe developed. At the end of the civil war, Zimbabwean based missionaries were finally able to cross the border to the city of Dondo in central Mozambique and establish their work as well as South African workers in the Maputo in the southern region. TEAM continues the work in Dondo today through the efforts of one missionary family. That ministry, however, has expanded into a partnership with Brazilian missionaries who, from their colonial roots, share language and cultural similarities with the Mozambicans. Brazilian teams are now working with TEAM to establish new churches in the northern and central coastal region. The partnerships with national churches under Vilanculos’ leadership and with the new Brazilian outreach provide TEAM with multiple avenues spanning the entire country to send missionaries to Mozambique. The need for more personnel is great.
Mozambique is a beautiful land with beautiful people. The potential is so much greater than the past troubles. The people of Mozambique need the love of God and biblical truth to guide their way. There is also a great opportunity for the worldwide Church to help. Economic investment and business expertise, building and infrastructure repair, education, biblical training, Children’s ministries, and the list goes on—are critical needs. The window of opportunity is wide open. The people are coming to Christ and the churches are growing, but the task of meeting needs and making disciples is overwhelming. Rev. Vilanculos asks for our prayer because “prayers can change the way things are” and it is the prayer of Mozambican believers that their country can be healed. You are invited to join them in praying and maybe in the course of your prayers for Mozambique, God will reveal a place for you in building his Kingdom of new life in this devastated land.
-Written and Photographed by Ray Scott
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, September 2008]Download This Issue of TEAMHorizons