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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...




Triumph Over Tragedy

By Bryan Webb
Nov. 3, 2013

The Speed the Light truck turned into a narrow parking lot barely visible between two rough concrete walls. A flock of gray and white pigeons swirls into the sky like scrap paper caught in a whirlwind. Faded laundry flutters from the balconies of the tall, unpainted apartments that flank the narrow space. A purple billboard and the bright blue sky offer the only splashes of color in an otherwise gray box.

Outside the truck, the morning breeze fills the air with a sharp, oily odor mixed with the spicy-sweet smell of barbecued chicken and the salty scent from the nearby harbor.

This is the heart of Maputo, Mozambique’s capital city.

Lance Hines, my missionary host, expertly navigates the narrow, crowded streets in this city of 1.2 million people. Battered minibuses dart in and out of traffic while thousands of pedestrians move like a swarm of ants over the sidewalks and roads. Men and boys push oversized handcarts full of produce. Women, many with babies strapped to their backs, maneuver through the crowd while balancing enormous tubs of bananas on their heads.

The scene no longer seems chaotic to Lance. He and his wife, Mindy, have served as missionaries to Africa since 2000. They ministered the first few years in Zambia before moving to neighboring Mozambique in 2004. They now work closely with the national AG fellowship, building churches and equipping leaders.

Only a few years ago, Mozambique was billed as the poorest country in Africa. For decades the nation, located on the continent’s southeast coast, was plagued by war and unrest. But the scene today is different as God restores His people and builds His church.

I have come to tell the story.

After jostling through the potholed, litter-strewn streets of Maputo, we have arrived at Baixa Church. The square, two-story concrete building houses a congregation that includes doctors, lawyers and other professionals. One of Mozambique’s most modern churches, it stands as a testament to the rebirth taking place in recent years.

Following Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975, the new nation became embroiled in a bloody civil war that lasted nearly two decades. During that time, the church was oppressed and believers persecuted. Today the recovery process continues as people struggle to put the past behind them.

Fernando Bata, pastor of Baixa Church and former general superintendent of the Mozambique AG, is standing outside to greet us. His seemingly boundless energy is evident in his brilliant smile.

After enthusiastic handshakes all around, Pastor Bata and Lance fall into a cheerful banter in Portuguese, Mozambique’s official language. In a country ravaged by war and disease, the 61-year-old pastor has exceeded the average life span in Mozambique by more than a decade, yet he is more energetic than most 30-year-olds.

Inside the church, we head toward a row of benches. A crowd of 1,500 people has packed into a building that would comfortably seat 800 in the U.S. Across from them, a brightly robed worship team bounces with enthusiasm. Eyes shining and faces lifted to heaven, they lead an upbeat worship song in a local dialect as talented musicians accompany them.

The high ceiling, block walls and tile floor amplify the sounds of worship as 1,500 Mozambicans passionately praise God. The sound rattles the panes of the brightly colored glass windows, and the tile floor shakes as 3,000 feet dance in praise. As the worship leader motions for the youth choir to join in the song, a tsunami of sound washes over me.

A church member translates the sermon for me as the visiting minister shares the ageless story of the believer’s identity in Christ. In this war-torn country filled with orphans and dislocated people, his words bring reassurance and hope.

“God chose you, adopted you, and placed His seal upon your life,” he tells them. “Do you feel abandoned? Unwanted? Marked by this world? The Father chooses you! He longs to make you His child!”

When the altars open, a steady stream of people responds.

“I have yet to be in a service in Mozambique when someone wasn’t saved,” Lance says.

In Mozambique, a nation of 24 million people, the AG Fellowship has grown to about 1.4 million believers who gather each Sunday in approximately 9,500 churches. Such growth seems incredible, yet church leaders are aghast when I ask for precise totals.

“Brother, we don’t take time to number such things,” they tell me. “We are too busy reaching souls.”

When pressed, one pastor at Baixa Church says more than 2,000 new believers were baptized last year — just from his area of responsibility. Another pastor reports 200 people received Christ last week. Stories of miracles and Holy Spirit baptisms abound. I get the sense that these pastors cannot envision church without people being saved, healed and delivered every week.

As the service closes, I watch as 13 babies are dedicated and 1,500 Mozambican believers stand in unison to welcome them to the church. The scene is a fitting end to a gathering teeming with life. Only 11 years ago, the group around me was struggling to survive a bloody civil war, yet today they are rejoicing over new life, both physical and spiritual.

This is the sound of revival triumphing over tragedy.

The next day I arrive for an afternoon prayer meeting at Tlavane Church where Tiago Manhiça, general superintendent of the Mozambique AG, is pastor. The intense midday sun burns my skin, and the smell of automobile exhaust assaults my nose.

Traffic noises and the sputtering cough of a poorly tuned generator are mere accents to the low roar emanating from behind the steel church doors. As soon as I enter, I spot the source of the sound: 300 men and women joined in intense prayer.

I stop for a moment to gaze at the open expanse of the bare concrete room with its sky blue walls and high vaulted ceiling. Swallows fly freely, swooping to clusters of nests built high in the rafters.

At the far end of the room, a crowd of 300 people has gathered. The roar of their prayers is deafening. My arrival is unnoticed as all hearts are focused on God. The air throbs with intercession punctuated by waves of song. Though the participants will vary, the prayer meeting will continue around the clock.

A pastor taps me on the shoulder and motions for me to follow him. I resist, longing to bask in the presence of God. Though I can’t comprehend a single word being spoken, my spirit understands perfectly. This group has the rapt attention of heaven, and I want to stay and mingle my prayers with theirs.

Ask any pastor in Mozambique why God is bringing great revival, and the answer will be the same: prayer. All-night prayer meetings, weeks of 24-hour-a-day prayer, and biweekly prayer gatherings are standard in churches here.

“The strength of the church in Mozambique is not some strategy; it is prayer,” Lance says. “What you are seeing here is common. In fact, the crowd is bigger at night because fewer people are working.”

The current revival in Mozambique attests to the power of prayer. A church of 200 during the war years has 38,000 members today. A church planted in northern Mozambique by Pedro Muianga, AG assistant superintendent and director of the Fellowship’s Bible school, has birthed 100 churches.

Lance tells me these are just two examples of the revival taking place. Church leaders are convinced that this revival is rooted in the prayer and discipleship that took place 20 years ago.

Such great growth has prompted great challenges. Few trained pastors are available, so new churches are led by lay leaders or whoever in the congregation has known Christ longest. Though dedicated, these designated leaders have little or no Bible training. A single page from the Gospel of John is the only textbook many lay leaders have. The more fortunate have a handwritten copy of the Bible.

Church leaders are concerned that lack of training could result in doctrinal division and even the loss of a Pentecostal identity.

“Training pastors is the key to preserving growth,” one leader told me.

As I visit churches and hear the passionate prayers of believers, the promise of the church and the urgent need to train leaders become increasingly evident. I hear the passion in Pastor Bata’s voice as he grabs my arm and pleads, “Bryan, don’t forget to tell the church in America about our need. Please don’t forget!”

A complete Bible curriculum is available in Portuguese through Global University, and Life Publishers has translated the FireBible into Portuguese. The church in Mozambique needs thousands of these resources as well as missionaries willing to invest their lives in raising up a generation of leaders. Trained leaders is the primary way to conserve the amazing growth taking place and equip believers to reach those who have yet to hear the gospel.

Despite the great revival in Mozambique, more than half a million people from several language groups have little or no access to the gospel. No gospel literature or Bible is available to them, and no church is actively working in their communities. No one who speaks their language can tell them of Christ.

One of these groups, the Mwani, lives on the island of Ibo off Mozambique’s eastern coast. Each morning as dawn breaks, rosy red light washes over Ibo, yet the Mwani remain in spiritual darkness. The only church built on the island burned and now stands in ruins.

Trained, spiritually mature believers are the key to reaching Ibo Island and other areas untouched by the gospel. Without them, the Mwani continue to wait. Their plight reminds me of Pastor Bata’s earlier plea: “Don’t forget about our need. Please don’t forget.”


BRYAN WEBB is a missionary to Vanuatu who travels occasionally on behalf of AGWM Communications.

 

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