Following their return from Mozambique, Meg Robb wrote the following report on behalf of the four visitors. As well as sharing their thoughts here, all four would welcome invitations to meet and talk with churches and church groups.
NORTHERN SYNOD’S PARTNERSHIP WITH IGREJA PRESBITERIANA DE MOÇAMBIQUE
Thoughts on the developing partnership after a visit in April, 2015
Meg’s Portuguese was no better than it was in 2011 when she last visited I.P.M. but, since many of the people in Mozambique have sufficient English and good translators are usually on hand, people from Northern Synod would rarely find the opportunity to practise any real Portuguese even if any of us could actually speak it! Yet maybe we British, who so often become lazy when it comes to learning other languages due to so many English speakers, should really attempt some basic Portuguese. But lack of language skills can never hide the real warmth of welcome received by the people of I.P.M. whenever and wherever we visit. Over the years the welcome has developed into good and lasting friendships of individuals from local churches and also between the two Synods.
Northern Synod’s partnership with I.P.M. began about twelve years ago, a time period during which both Synods have seen changes. Revd. Lis Mullen, our third Synod Moderator since the beginning of the partnership, visited I.P.M. in April of 2015 when she and her husband, John, Helen Hogg, our Finance Officer and Revd. Meg Robb, a minister in the Synod, spent seven days in Maputo and two in Xai Xai. Staying in a hotel close to the offices at Khovo whilst in Maputo meant we were ideally situated to meet with officers and staff there and almost immediately after our arrival we found ourselves with a programme for our stay. Helen had come to work alongside staff in the Finance Office and Revd. Reinaldo Sive, who is I.P.M.’s treasurer. It is recognised that advice on a good software programme along with a good procedures in place would help with their accounting process. Helen made some good headway into moving this forward and also made good friendships with the staff in the office.
Northern Synod’s contribution to the partnership over the years has often been in offering financial and material support although over the years advice and moral support have also been sought and given in various ways by various individuals. At the start of this trip it became clear that that there is a willingness for less emphasis on financial and material support and the sharing of much more in order to enrich our partnership. Khovo has seen recent change in that Revd. Obede Baloi is now the General Secretary, voted in at their last Synod. He is a man with a vision who sees the need for change and a tightening up of procedure and policies, something which many across the church having been wanting for some time.
Sometimes during our partnership, visitors from Northern Synod have become frustrated at times because of what we have always seen as the African approach in that nothing happens on time or is followed through with any speed. However we learned how both the country and the Church did not experience an easy transition once independence came in the mid-1970s. As the country and the Church develop there is sense that a new phase cannot begin without a change in attitude but it seems that there are people whose thinking is paving a way for such change. Whilst Obede is promoting clearer structures within I.P.M., Amos, our first translator at Khovo’s consistório (church meeting), explained his own frustration as a business man when people are not on time for meetings. His daughter, Etelvina, whom we met when we had lunch with her, also spoke of the need for change both in the Church and in Government. They are not alone since many within the land and the Church have long expressed a hope for better time keeping a well as more transparency and a more efficient way of working. With the amalgamation of the African understanding of time and being left to run the country and the Church alone it has taken time for people to recognise the need for a more business-like approach.
As a Portuguese colony, Mozambique had no experienced politicians from their own nation, since the Portuguese did not set up any process to include and equip any of the indigenous population nor did they stay around to settle in a Mozambican government. Independence has come not only at the price of unrest and war, including many years of civil war, but also it is taking time for the indigenous people to find their feet in the political backdrop of the world. As a developing country it has to some extent relied on outside investment, and at present that is coming from the Chinese, an interest which may not in the longer term be as beneficial as is hoped. Some would say that in many ways there has been little moving on towards true independence over almost 40 years since few people had the experience to govern well and to set up the industry and structures that this country needs in order to become truly self-sufficient. Yet there are also those who have governed well and among them members of I.P.M., a former President being one of those members. Some may not take great pride in the way in which Mozambique, unlike other African countries, has found its own feet, offering political stability in spite of the civil war and ensuring fair election procedures. However it does seem that there is much for Mozambicans to actually be proud of in the way they have coped after independence where other nations have not.
The withdrawal of the Swiss Mission from I.P.M. was also difficult. Becoming an independent Church was not an easy transition since none of the Mozambicans had been trained to take on the various roles of leadership needed to ensure a smooth hand over. Perhaps it needs to be said that the Swiss Mission did not foresee the need for their withdrawal and so had not planned to equip an African leadership. Nor, of course, have there been the finances to resources the Church over the years. So in many ways it has been hard for both the country and I.P.M. to move into a new era.
Now, where I.P.M. is concerned, is perhaps the time for Northern Synod to give more advice and assistance in setting up good policies and procedures. Not that this has not been offered in the past, for it has, but it seems that now I.P.M. is ready to receive which means that Northern Synod can build upon the strong foundations laid over the last 10 years or so, by those who have visited in the past. Developing lasting friendships and trust over time seems to have been a key factor so maybe now is the right opportunity to give much more than friendship and financial help. It is often said that change doesn’t always happen overnight. Now, however, more than ten years into our partnership, both Synods could begin to reap even greater rewards as we develop our bond in new ways.
Apart from a keenness for adopting and implementing new policies and procedures, etc., Lis and Meg discovered a willingness from church members at Khovo to interact in bible studies rather than writing down whatever they were told. Even with the hindrance of needing a translator the students became excited by being given the opportunity to think for themselves and to consider bible passages in new ways, so much so that they asked us come again… which we did! One lady saw how she could take at least one of our methods into teaching the children within the church which really excited us!
Our programme involved a visit for Lis and Meg to visit both the Christian Council of Mozambique and also the Bible Society in Maputo. At the Christian Council we learned how the Churches are struggling due to missionaries from Brazil, another Portuguese speaking nation; these new comers often bring a Pentecostalism which attracts many members to the idea of a prosperity gospel and away from the other Denominations. Brazilian and Chinese immigrants also seem to have brought a great deal of corruption into Mozambique. The Council is also aware that the country has suffered much due to the colonisation of Africa and that many African nations, including Mozambique, are poor. Justice and peace are high on the Council`s agenda with over 800,000 guns now collected and made into sculptures in light of the scripture regarding turning weapons into ploughshares. Dialogue has begun between the council and the government regarding several issues, especially in light of the corruption which comes with immigrants and also the xenophobia which is rife in some parts of the country. Whilst we were there South Africa was suffering from xenophobic attacks and as we left alerts were in place regarding the threat of such attacks about to happen in Maputo. It was good to see that the Church, through the Council, was able to speak out on this issue. We were also pleased to hear about some projects which the Council has begun, one of which helps young girls aged between 6 and 15, orphaned and on the streets, giving them accommodation and training them in life skills. A similar project for boys is to begin soon. Funding for this comes mainly from Canadian Churches but Churches throughout Mozambique also contribute to all the work of the Council. There is recognition of the need to work with women as well as young people, especially in the area of maternity care. We also discovered that whilst I.P.M., like the U.R.C., may be a small denomination, but the General Secretary of the Christian Council is a Presbyterian.
Another Presbyterian, Lazaro, who visited Northern Synod in 2004, now works for the Bible Society. He met with Lis and Meg. The Bible Society in Mozambique has existed for 29 years. Its work is varied and in the main is engaged in the translation of the bible into the native languages. Changana, Macina and Ronga are the main languages in Mozambique originating from the districts in which they were spoken. However some languages cross the current national boundaries since they were around before colonisation so these, too, are being translated. The bible written in local, native languages helps to promote the Church since mostly worship is in the native language. The Society also has a literacy programme since many people have not learned to read especially in the remote places of the poorer north. Proclaimers, a type of radio, are used so that people can access the Word by hearing and this project is entitled ‘Faith comes by Hearing’; it is a project which has seen many actually come to faith and 300,000 proclaimers were issued from 2010 t0 2014. The radios are designed to use mains or solar power and can also be wound up in places where there is no source of electricity. Other projects with which the Society is involved include shops selling bibles in Maputo and other towns in the country, work with H.I.V. and AIDS, victims of flooding and drought, and dialogue with Muslims who are predominantly in the north of the country. Many church people become members of the Society and they support the work financially as well as in other ways but mostly they give one bible per month to someone who cannot afford the price. The Bible Society also holds a Bible Day to help churches know the value of the bible. There is also some connection and working with other Bible Societies in other African countries.
The dusty heat and pollution of Maputo was left behind when we were driven to Xai Xai, where Meg had stayed with Pastora Rosa Zavala, her husband, Pastor Americo Zavale and their four daughters on her last visit. It was good for her to catch up with the family again and for the rest of the party to meet most of them. Whilst in Xai Xai we were accommodated by members of Bethlehem parish which is Rosa’s responsibility. Lis and John stayed with old friends of Northern Synod, Inacio and Estrela, while Helen and Meg were welcomed by new friends, Susanna and her husband. In the life of Bethlehem parish it was seen how two of Rosa’s churches have building projects since their numbers are expanding and the need is for larger premises; we had seen this elsewhere at Pulana and Maxaquene, too, the previous weekend. Building in Mozambique can be very expensive and therefore extremely slow. Rosa and Americo, now into their seventh year living in the pastoral house at Bethel, which is Americo’s parish, still await the completion of the new house to replace the poor conditions of their present one. It has doubled in height since Meg`s visit in 2011 but is nowhere near providing good accommodation in the near future. The new church at Bethlehem is showing great signs, although there, too, it will take time before it can replace the old building which leaks during the rainy season.
Revd Carlos Banze, Deputy General Secretary, who took us to Xai Xai, told us that work began on his house in Xai Xai, where he teaches during the week, 10 years ago and that it is likely to take another 10 years to finish. Xai Xai offered cleaner air and also a trip to the beach as well as to the churches of Bethlehem, Bethel and Mazengane parishes and also to that of Chicumbane, which is just outside Xai Xai. Each church offered warm welcomes with joyful singing, dancing and the giving of gifts. We were well fed and lost count of how often we had eaten during our full day in Xai Xai, rounded off by a meal at Bart Lange’s home in Chicumbane. Bart preceded Reinaldo at Khovo and also visited Northern Synod in 2013 so it was good to see him and to meet his family. Sadly we had to leave Xai Xai after only a short visit since we were due to attend the choir competition at Ricatla on the way home. Ricatla is where the pastors train but on this occasion hosted the venue for choirs of children and young people to sing in Changana which is the language which is mostly used in worship. Youngsters are encouraged to learn how to sing in their native tongue and also how to do so in harmony and without accompaniment. Each choir from the southern region around Maputo sang the same song. Judges gave their marks and it must have been difficult to choose a winning choir. Singing seems to attract youngsters and we were always delighted to see the number of youngsters at worship or rehearsing in a choir. Our questions are: how do we attract children and young people and how do we capture the joy with which adults and youngsters in I.P.M. worship God?
Our visit seemed too short to make any real inroads and yet Helen, in particular, has made good connections with the finance department at Maputo. Lis, as Synod Moderator, is now much more than a name to officers at Khovo and beyond. She has had an informal invitation to attend their Synod in 2016 but she was reticent since she retires at the end of July that year. However it may be good for her to go with her replacement and introduce him or her to I.P.M. In our debriefing meeting it was felt that the visit had been beneficial strengthening our partnership. As already indicated there was talk about new procedures and policies being put in place and it was agreed to send examples of church accounts and some of our policies as guidelines for I.P.M.’s use. Training and education of ministry and laity was also broached and we agreed to send some resources for membership training and a copy of our Worship Book. Communication was seen as something which needs to improve in I.P.M. with a clearer approach which will help build trust and confidence and accountability across the Synod. We shared information about our e-news and Reform magazine and offered to send these too. The idea of a manse policy was taken on board since we had seen extremes in the conditions of accommodation provided for pastors. Partnering congregations was also discussed as was the use of technology, e-mail and skype, in order to maintain contact with each other. And, of course, although there is a shift of emphasis away from financial support being the main item, we recognised that the car provided some years ago by Northern Synod needs a new engine and await a price for this; we also asked that they consider another project for when Vasco has finished his studies in Brazil since Northern Synod is funding his travel.
As Northern Synod we have a great deal to learn from I.P.M. and from life in a developing country. Our current situation in our Synod is often one of closing churches and disposing of buildings whilst in some of I.P.M.’s parishes there is need to extend or construct new buildings. In these days of decline in our church membership and loss of community spirit in society much is missing in our quality of life. We may experience a much higher standard of living than the vast majority of the population in Mozambique but our lack as part of the developed world may be that our faith has transferred more to being in wealth and materialism than in God. How can we, with our experience and advice help to avoid leading I.P.M. this way and how can we learn how to prioritise our church life so that we capture something of their joy and desire to learn more about God and our faith?