Exploring New Territory
In July of this year, I made my first visit to the African country of Mozambique. This trip was initiated by an invitation from Dr. Charles Woodrow, a missionary doctor who has ministered in Mozambique for 26 years. The grace and wisdom of God at work in Dr. Woodrow is wonderful to behold, and his approach to medical missions is refreshingly biblical. During his years as a practicing surgeon in a government hospital, Dr. Woodrow shared the gospel with thousands of patients. Many of these patients were from Catholic backgrounds, living in a Communist country, and had never heard the gospel of grace through Jesus Christ. When patients responded eagerly to the gospel, Dr. Woodrow was grieved by the lack of biblical churches to disciple new converts. So from 1993 to 2000, Dr. Woodrow’s ministry expanded to include planting a church in his city of Nampula, a literature ministry in partnership with FIEL Publishers in Brazil, and an annual Pastors’ Conference co-led by a former missionary to Mozambique, Dr. Karl Peterson. The rest of Charles’ remarkable story will have to wait for another article...
Decades of Labor Bear Fruit
Dr. Woodrow now has the joy of seeing over 300 attend the annual FIEL Conference. In my 2 days of observation, it was exciting to see the leadership’s wisdom in both the content and structure of the conference. After the 4-day conference, Dr. Woodrow teaches a grueling week-long systematic theology course. Sure, big conferences are nice, but when everyone goes home from the encouraging week, is there a lasting impact? There is in Nampula. From the three-fold approach of the pastors’ conference, systematic theology course, and literature distribution, a group of men has emerged. These men are contagiously zealous for Jesus Christ, His gospel, His word, and His church.
The spark of sound doctrine, whether from Dr. Woodrow or the internet, has ignited and spread in the lives and ministries of several key Mozambican men. They have organized themselves into a fellowship called Mission Ekklesia. The leadership in Nampula includes Timoteo Bila, Ibraimo Hamido, Ernesto Valoi, and Andre Kizito. Timoteo is the founder and visionary leader of the group. He pioneered the organizing of reading circles to read and discuss excellent classic and current works. At least 4 groups read 1 book per month, then meet to discuss the book and its’ implications. Each member must contribute in the meeting in order to receive the next book. The list of books they have worked through include authors such as Owen, Bunyan, Spurgeon, Pink, Bounds, Tozer, Packer, Piper, Sproul, Carson, Dever, and Washer.
In addition to the reading circles, Timoteo has written and published an 80-page Portuguese catechism on the Doctrines of Grace, and oversees the publishing of an annual journal titled Meditai. Ibraimo and Andre are bi-vocational pastors, and Ernesto is a philosophy professor at the local university with a strong desire to evangelize and disciple students. Together, these men also organize and lead 2 conferences per year – one is a doctrinal study through a New Testament book, and the other deals with marriage and family issues.
Mission Ekklesia has big dreams for the future of the Mozambican church. They are creative thinkers and have not hesitated to invest their own hard-earned money into pursuing those dreams for the glory of Christ, the spread of His gospel, and the growth of His church. Timoteo and Ernesto took me to see a piece of land they purchased in an area where the city will grow and the university plans to expand. They hope to construct a library where students can access the same classic and current theological works that they have been studying, and eventually use the property as a conference venue.
Reforming the Church
Of course, reading and distributing good theological literature is an important work, but it is not enough. Everything Christ does in this world, He does through His church and for her good. The men of Mission Ekklesia are deeply concerned about the condition of the church in their country. They are making strategic efforts to promote biblical doctrine among current pastors through their literature distribution, reading circles, and conferences. They are also planning to target university students and prepare the next generation of pastors and church leaders.
Pastor Andre Kizito has taken biblical doctrine back into his existing church in a well-established denomination. His desire is to reform the existing church from within for as long as they will allow. Timoteo and Ernesto would not claim to be church-planters, but Timoteo has constructed a shelter behind his house, and he and Ernesto have befriended several couples in their neighborhood and invited them to a Bible study. It will be interesting to watch what happens with that Bible study in the future.
I had the pleasure of visiting Pastor Ibraimo Hamido’s church in the village of Murrupula, about 80 kilometers from Nampula. Ibraimo was sent to this village as a schoolteacher 7 years ago. It wasn’t long until he had a church gathering in his home. 2 years later, Ibraimo bought some land and built a church building with his teacher’s salary. As I observed their Sunday-school and worship meetings, I marveled at what the Lord is doing in Faith Baptist Church.
Ibraimo is a gifted and dynamic teacher. He is leading the church through A.W. Pink’s The Attributes of God during Sunday-school, and that morning there was a spirited discussion of God’s sovereignty in salvation from Romans 9. Later, during the worship meeting, he skillfully exposited the first six verses of John 15. Faith Baptist practices meaningful membership and church discipline, and they have 2-3 prayer meetings per week. Ibraimo is currently discipling 4 other leaders in the church, and together they are already planting another church 45 kilometers away. I think you can see why I was pretty excited. Any HeartCry coordinator would be thrilled to find such a church in their global region!
During my time among the men of Mission Ekklesia, I felt privileged to witness the early stages of what could become a mighty movement for reformation in the Mozambican church. 20 years from now, could we see a movement equivalent to what we see today among the Reformed Baptists of Zambia? Let us pray to that end.