September 07, 2017
By Craig Stevenson
Mozambique and Missouri’s partnership began in the 1980’s and was formally created through the Mozambique Initiative in 1998. For 12 years now, our two conferences have had a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), working toward mutual understanding, learning, and growth among our congregations and individuals within our annual conferences. The Mozambique Initiative has grown from a ministry that began only facilitating church relationships. Today, MI’s ministry includes safe water and sustainability projects, seminary sponsorships, and construction of primary school buildings.
The episcopal team traveled more than 875 miles up the Mozambican coast, from Maputo through Inhambane to Beira, throughout the eight-day journey, visiting the United Methodist historical mission stations of Cambine and Chicuque; both the north and south conference offices, and numerous local churches along the way. The team included eleven people: two district superintendents (Cindy Buhman and Londia Granger Wright), three conference directors (Nate Berneking, Tina Harris, Kim Jenne), Amy Thompson (Conference lay leader), Craig Stevenson (MI coordinator), Yvi Martin (MI Team Chair), Lauren Miers (communication specialist)and Bishop Robert Farr and his wife Susan.
The episcopal team’s trip included learning, celebrating, and observing the ministry of the Mozambican church leaders. One of the celebrations was at Nhachengue United Methodist Church. Since 2009, Bishop and Susan Farr have had a covenant church partnership with Nhachengue, where they have previously provided a well, pastoral support, and prayers for this poor, rural worshipping community.
When the team arrived at Nhachengue, the congregation approached the vehicles in song and dance, and were touched by the presence of their partners, our Missouri episcopal leader. Throughout the visit, church women would not allow the team’s feet to touch the sandy ground – literally running their mats from the end of our group to the front as we processed to the church building. In Mozambican culture, they do not stand or even sit on their own mats with shoes on, knowing that would wear down the mat more quickly. For their guests, they insisted that we walk only on them. It was only one of several acts of humility for Bishop Farr and the team during the visit.
Bishop Farr presented a motorbike to the pastor, to ease her commute between her multi-point charge –churches which are more than 10 miles from each other. During the worship service, Bishop Farr also presented Bibles and hymnals to the congregation to further their discipleship studies.
The Nhachengue community provided Bishop Farr with a gift of a goat and a chicken, in a final act of hospitality.
After a beautiful ceremony and worship experience, as good Methodists, we shared meal with the congregation.
The Nhachengue congregation welcomed the episcopal team in indescribable and discrete ways during the visit, too. From Bishop and Susan receiving flower leis to each member of the team receiving gifts of capulanas and satchels, the Nhachengue community welcomed us in ways that can best be described as gracious, honored and generous.
The Nhachengue visit set the tone for being received. The episcopal team continually commented on how grateful each person was for the preparation and work that went into receiving the team at each individual visit. Church visits, celebrations of the Missouri/Mozambique partnerships, well visits, and mission station visits always included refreshments, for it is Mozambican culture to share a meal together to showcase hospitality and gratitude for the visit of their guests.
Mozambican warmth took place everywhere, even during the final negotiations and signing of the MOU between bishops. After final wordsmithing took place, Bishops Farr and Nhanala signed a new MOU, the third one signed between Missouri and Mozambique. Compared to past MOUs, the new MOU adds a section on mutual ministry, seeking ways to grow together and continue to move from a transactional to a relational ministry where we can mutually learn and grow alongside one another in making disciples for the transformation of the world.
Previous MOUs placed an emphasis on communication needed from the Mozambican perspective, but this MOU adds a component where Missouri will provide statistical and relational information directly to superintendents in Mozambique. For MI to be a relational ministry, communication and our partnership must grow in how Missouri’s congregations can learn from our Mozambican counterparts in areas such as new church plants, discipleship and evangelism.
Bishop Farr experienced the importance of discipleship and evangelism in the Mozambican church by attending the graduation of the Gondola Training Center’s second class of students. GTC opened in 2014 to train and better serve the lay leaders and local pastors in rural northern Mozambique where these individuals have the equivalent of a fourth to seventh grade public education.
The worship celebration lasted more than three hours and included Bishop Farr providing a message on the importance of Great Commandment and Great Commission. Toward the end of the ceremony, Bishop Farr spontaneously noted the three women GTC students, who will graduate next year, and called them forward with Bishop Nhanala in what was one of the most touching moments of the entire trip. Bishop Farr proceeded to encourage the women in their seeking of a better understanding of scripture and leadership and prayed over them. Bishop Farr noted that Bishop Nhanala is the first African female bishop in the United Methodist Church and that they, too, could become a Bishop.
Each day, the episcopal team took time to reflect upon what they were experiencing. Themes that consistently were mentioned included the humanity of each individual, undeterred nature of the Christ followers which the team interacted with and even mutual exhaustion after a long day that was observed. Missouri and Mozambique shares as many similarities as they do differences. Lack of resources and Cyclone Dineo damages that we observed have forced congregations to worship under tree cover; Infrastructure needs may appear like stumbling blocks toward growing Christ’s kingdom.
However, Mozambicans have a desire to love God and neighbor, just like Missourians. We share in similar struggles. We are better together. MI is working in action together with the direction of Mozambican church leaders to address societal, church, and discipleship challenges.
Working in action together is the definition of partnership, and MI is looking forward to a renewed connection with the Mozambican church. The episcopal team, including Bishop Farr and myself, came back with an increased passion, love, and mutual understanding of our brothers and sisters in Mozambique. We hope we can share a piece of that with each of you in the coming years of our partnership.