At the end of June I returned from two rich weeks in Mozambique with my oldest son Isaac—a trip that took us from the cooler South (Maputo) to the more tropical North (Pemba) of the country and across the diverse landscape of the body of Christ.
Isaac and I tasted the banquet awaiting us, sitting at table and ministering together with mainline Christians, Catholics, evangelicals, Pentecostals, villagers, inmates and missionaries. This is the first of several reports on this fascinating and deeply encouraging trip.
I can see clearly that the problems facing Africa require that the body of Christ come together like never before. Looking at some of today’s most tenacious social problems in the light of Scripture can shake the church out of complacent accommodation. Being further empowered and led by the Holy Spirit to step into Jesus’ ministry of healing and deliverance may be the only hope to get us past the impasses of enlightened talk and programs.
This trip began with a course on “Lectura Popular de la Biblia” (street-level Bible reading) at the Seminario Unido de Ricatla in Maputo. Dutch theologians and missionaries Hette and Petra Domburg and recently-elected general secretary of the Mozambican Council of Churches Marcos Macambo coordinated an amazing coming together of 35 pastors from many different mainline and evangelical denominations for five days of stimulating Bible study and fellowship.
Luiz Dietrich and Adeodata Maria dos Anjos came from CEBI (Centro de Estudios Biblicos) from Brazil—offering their wisdom as Catholic theologian activists from out of a movement with a long history of social engagement in the light of Scripture. Adeodata gave a talk on her work establishing water cisterns, promoting sustainable farming and Bible study with Catholic base communities in Northeastern Brazil.
Luiz is a Bible scholar with a passion to see quality exegesis reach the poor. He brought stacks of small booklets in Portuguese that inspired me in a project I’ve been aiming at for years: to prepare bible study and theological reflection materials that draw from quality scholarship that bring the best to the least.
Maria Makgamathe of Ujamaa Centre for Biblical and Theological Community Development and Research in S. Africa led a Bible study on the rape of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:1-24 that exposed contemporary attitudes towards rape in African society. The men were able to see how our attitudes often parallel those of many of the men characters in this Biblical narrative who in various ways contributed to Tamar’s rape and it’s tragic aftermath – Amnon, Jonadab, Absalom, David. Tamar’s resistance and lament were prophetic cries that visibly empowered the women gathered there at the conference.
The following week in Pemba I led 35 of Iris Ministries lead pastors in this Bible study. They lapped it up and wanted more—confirming my belief that the charismatic renewal desperately needs the resources of socially-engaged Bible scholars and popular education movements like Ujamaa and Cebi. See http://www.sorat.ukzn.ac.za/ujamaa/resources.htm for a write up of this Bible study and info on Ujamaa’s Tamar Campaign.
Bongi Zengele of Ujamaa of Ujamaa led a Bible study on the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11, linking the crowds condemning, scapegoating actions to people’s marginalization of people living with HIV/Aids now in Africa. There in Maputo over 25% of the population are HIV positive. Shame and fear of exclusion and condemnation keeps this scourge hidden. Bongi got the group of Mozambican pastors talking more directly and openly than they probably ever had about the most sensitive social issue affecting everyone.
I led the group in a biblio-drama on the same text where we acted out Jesus’ confrontation with the Scribes and Pharisees, which illustrated clearly how Jesus’ writing in the dirt takes the condemning, shaming gaze off the woman. We pondered how Jesus’ challenge “whoever is without sin cast the first stone” turned the accusers’ attention away from the woman and towards their own hearts. His stooping to write on the ground once again keeps Jesus himself from standing over the blamers as accuser, since he came not to condemn but to save (John 3:17).
One afternoon Hette took me and Isaac out to visit a small Presbyterian congregation of some 20 people in the village of Boquisso. While the people were embarrassed by their teetering grass church with its rusting sheet metal roof they formed a tunnel and worshiped as we went between them into the dirt-floored sanctuary. I led them in dramatic reenactment of Jesus’ healing of a woman in the synagogue who was bent over double in Luke 13:10-21.
In response we prayed for people with pain in their backs and stomachs and those suffering from night terrors. After the first woman was healed I showed her how to pray for the second, who experienced dramatic relief from back and stomach pain as we talked her through consciously receiving her healing from Jesus as a free gift. This is a radical idea in a culture where traditional healers charge for their services. As they were praying for the third woman suddenly she began dancing and worshipping, overjoyed to be immediately released from pain. I had all the remaining people pray for themselves, and people were overjoyed by the healing the some 18 of the 20 experienced.
An older woman named Elsa who was the closed actual equivalent to the bent over woman Jesus healed in Luke was not getting relief. Finally after Hette and Isaac hung in there with her and welcoming God’s presence, her stomach pain left. When we left she was not yet straight. Please remember her in your prayers—that Jesus would totally heal her and inspire this congregation to step deeper into God’s Kingdom.
The next day I spoke on jail ministry, leading the group through a Bible study on Jesus’ call of Matthew in Matthew 9:9-17 I’ve done in the jail and with MS-13 gang members in a Guatemalan prison. Some of the pastors were so inspired that I heard the next day that I will likely be invited to return to for a longer national-level training on prison ministry.
The final day was spent discussing the “see, judge, act” or “reality, bible, community” approaches to reading Scripture in the light of pressing community and social problems where we sought to integrate our approaches. We then divided up the group into five groups which each prepare Bible studies that addressed a social problem like HIV/Aids, domestic violence, orphans, water, crime, corruption, etc.
Hette, Luiz, Adeodata, Isaac and I left together that Friday afternoon on the same plane northward. They were off to teach a course to a Catholic community on Revelation and Isaac and I to teach Iris Ministries Mozambican pastors and international Mission’s School participants—which I will write about in my next update. That weeks experiences and conversations sparked thirst in all of us to experience more of Jesus’ Kingdom here and now—to the extent that we ended up praying for more of the Holy Spirit’s anointing right there in the airport before our flight.
Please pray for these news friends and for Mozambican pastors and leaders—that street/reality, bible/word, Spirit and community would come together as Christians come together in unity as Christ’s body in the world. We long to see the word carefully read to illuminate God’s loving presence at work in the darkest places of our hearts and world. At the same time we pray for faith to expect the Spirit would confirm the words with concrete signs of liberation following.