The Third Mozambique Preachers’ Conference
Many of the pastors felt the conference ended too soon, and some asked us to lengthen it to four or even five days in the future.
by Charles Woodrow
Our third annual Fiel conference for pastors and church leaders was held in Nampula 28-30 August. Many of you were praying and those prayers, and the efforts that went into planning and carrying out the conference, were not in vain. I am convinced more than ever that God is singularly blessing the Fiel (faithful) ministry in Mozambique. The previous two conferences have been the high points of our twelve years of service here, and this year’s conference was even better in content, organization, and participation.
One hundred fifty-two pastors, church leaders, and wives attended the conference. They came from eight of Mozambique’s ten provinces and represented forty different denominations and church organizations. This was nearly double the number of participants from the previous two years. This year we lengthened the conference to seventeen sessions over three full days. Our two main speakers did a wonderful job of presenting the themes that had been worked out by them and Karl Peterson, a missionary colleague from Maputo who heads up the Fiel ministry in Mozambique. Josafa Vasconcelos, a Presbyterian pastor from Brazil, preached with unction in Portuguese, enjoying the benefit of not having to use an interpreter. Ronald Kalifungwa from Zambia (now pastoring a Baptist church in South Africa) provided excellent messages and had the advantage of speaking to the men as a fellow African.
The topics they covered were genuine conversion, genuine repentance, the marks of an authentic church, Biblical evangelism, evangelism and election, the doctrines of grace, and the theology of the Reformation. These are often areas of weakness and confusion in local churches. Hearing these important issues clearly and eloquently presented to men from all branches of the Mozambican church was cause for great rejoicing. There was also a session on the theology of the Reformation and another devoted to biographical sketches of men God used in reforming the church. Other sessions were on issues such as music in the church and the pastor’s home. There were question and answer times when the men could interact directly with the speakers, and twelve elective classes were offered during three of the sessions so that the men could meet in smaller groups to discuss the subjects with each other and with the speakers. As with the previous two conferences, I was impressed that participation did not fall off as the meetings wore on. The men warmly received the teaching they got from Scripture, and the speakers could address only a small portion of the many questions submitted for the question/answer sessions. Many of the pastors felt the conference ended too soon, and some asked us to lengthen it to four or even five days in the future.
For those who have not received reports of the previous Fiel conferences, these are meetings held in conjunction with Editora Fiel, a Brazilian publishing house started by American missionary Richard Denham. Editora Fiel translates excellent Reformed evangelical literature into Portuguese and then distributes these titles throughout the Portuguese speaking world. They also produce a high quality periodical distributed free to pastors. They offer a free book program where Christians in wealthier countries can sign up to sponsor a pastor for three years. During this time the pastor receives one free book a month, and each year his way is paid to attend a Fiel conference intended to encourage his spiritual walk and to sharpen his pastoral ministry. Here in Mozambique, an important part of the conference is the bookshop. Editora Fiel sends thousands of dollars worth of excellent literature that we offer for one-third the publisher’s cost. This enables the pastors to build up a theological library, something which otherwise is nearly impossible to do here where there is little money and no Christian bookstores. Richard Chiorino runs the conference bookshop. This year the 150 participants bought 839 books, 500 pamphlets, and 75 Geneva Study Bibles. Two hundred twenty-eight other Bibles were sold or given away, along with two thousand evangelistic tracts.
For years I was the main contact for Editora Fiel in Mozambique since I ordered the books for sale to our church members and to local pastors. When Richard Denham contacted me about extending their program into Mozambique, I referred him to Karl Peterson, a Brethren missionary in Maputo who has effectively carried on that ministry for four years now. From the first, participation was strongest in the Nampula area, perhaps because of the contacts previously set up with some of the local pastors. Nampula has therefore been the site of the annual conferences, and so I have had the privilege of being closely involved in organizing them.
One of the features of these conferences is the five-minute book reports given by pastors on the Fiel book distribution program. Besides helping the other pastors decide which books they would like to buy, the reports help us gauge how well the men understand the material they are getting and whether it is having an effect on their work. Both from the book reports and the discussions in the elective sessions I was impressed that men are beginning to grasp the important scriptural truths these books convey. When the conferences began, I thought that over fifteen or twenty years they would produce significant changes in the Mozambique church. However, after only three years we already see signs that pastors on the book program are realigning their ministries according to what they are learning. Some are endeavoring to alter the syncretistic, works-based views of salvation and Christian experience common in local churches. Many expressed concern for a more spiritual and Biblical emphasis at the leadership level in their denominations, where a political-traditional agenda often prevails. May God grant them the convictions and the grace to influence their churches in the directions they themselves are moving.
One of several indications of God’s help in the conferences has been the financing He has provided. This year’s conference cost $17,000 to host, after deducting registration fees and money earned through the bookshop. That is a large sum to be borne by three missionaries, but for the third year in a row God provided everything needed to carry on this vital ministry through our respective supporters.
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