This letter comes one year after the last update many of you have had from Nampula. Much has happened for which we rejoice – the arrival of two missionary interns from Malawi who have helped and encouraged us since last October, the coming of the Chiorino’s in February to assist in the church ministry, a team of 15 Master’s College students who worked and witnessed amongst us during May and June, many new faces God has brought into our congregation through the combined efforts of all these people, continued progress with the construction projects, and the second annual “Conferencia Fiel” which was enthusiastically attended in July by 80 pastors and church leaders from seven of Mozambique’s ten provinces.
However, there has been unprecedented disappointment as well, with the evil one rending the flock of God and viciously attacking Arnaldo and myself. For a while it appeared his intent was to have me altogether expelled from the country. God has been gracious in bringing us to the end of that trying time. Some in the church have grown stronger, but others have stumbled. We know that God will cause even this to work to His glory eventually, but more prayer is needed before we can say that outcome has been achieved.
First the disheartening news. A year ago one of our principal leaders began spreading false, scandalous stories about Arnaldo in the church. By the time I discovered it much damage had been done to Arnaldo’s reputation. I met several times with the offender who expressed surprise and remorse over the way his remarks had been so misunderstood, distorted, and then spread abroad by others. He promised to bridle his tongue and at the next meeting of the church board he apologized to Arnaldo for the damage he had caused. For several weeks he made public gestures in the church to show his support and respect for Arnaldo, and it appeared his repentance was genuine.
Unfortunately, I was deceived. After my meetings with him, the offender not only accelerated his campaign against Arnaldo, but began maligning me as well. In the local church this had the same enervating effect on my ministry as I had already witnessed in Arnaldo’s case. The stories circulated about Arnaldo were that he had a mistress, was given to drunken debauchery, and that his son was guilty of lewd conduct. For my part, Grace Missions had sent vehicles, clothing, bicycles, literature, and thousands of dollars intended for the church and its members, but I diverted it for personal use.
I had realized in Arnaldo’s case that little could be done to remove the stigma that adhered to him in the minds of those who wanted to believe such stories. Since one of our goals was to start a second work in downtown Nampula, I thought the time had come for the church to set Arnaldo apart for that task. That would free him to work amongst people unaffected by the stories sown in the first congregation. I would divide my time helping each of the two congregations. When I learned of the campaign the same offender had now mounted against me, it was apparent any hope of unity in the first congregation was forever gone. So I joined Arnaldo in opening a second work and we let each person decide for himself which leaders he would follow.
Unfortunately, the trouble did not confine itself to the church. The offender had a plan by which he promised to obtain the vehicles, literature, money, real estate, and other material possessions that had been intended for the church but diverted by me. That involved having me ejected from the country and then appropriating Grace Mission’s estate for those that alligned themselves with him. Letters and phone calls and visits were made to the governor, who has authority to summarily expel foreigners if he deems it expedient, and the provincial and national directors of Religious Affairs who normally have authority over my residency permit. The support of other church leaders was solicited by inventing still more stories that might inflame them. Though I was maligned far and wide, thankfully no one added his weight to the effort. A secret petition circulated against me failed when people refused to sign it despite the stories they were told. Finally, by order from the governor, the provincial director of religious affairs summoned me to account for my offenses. That was the first inkling I had that anything was underfoot. Thankfully, the stories were so far-fetched that I had no difficulty disproving many of them on the spot. My utter amazement at hearing such allegations from one whom I trusted completely may have helped to convince the director. Nevertheless, the last vestiges of doubt were disspelled only after Grace Missions sent a representative three months later to confirm that the mission had never sent material aid to the church. And of course, while the governor and National and Provincial Directors were informed of the truth, the false stories spread far and wide through the Christian community can never be tracked down and discredited.
One can imagine what a time of soul searching this was. Though the brief summary above might suggest the problem came and went quickly, it drag itself out across many months, and there was a period of several weeks when our future in Mozambique was much in doubt. Though my detractor could doubtless have found plenty of just criticisms to level against me, it was a gracious provision of God that he based his whole campaign on outlandish inventions. Thus I could at least take refuge in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you FALSELY for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad…for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
Along the way the Lord provided occasional indications of His protection for which I heartily thank Him. About three weeks after I first learned of the campaign being waged against me, when my spirits were at their lowest ebb and I didn’t know from what quarter I was going to be threatened next, I was summoned to the city tribunal. I was under investigation for withholding pay from all the workers employed at a local Christian school. The workers had not received their paychecks for one entire year, the explanation being that the proceeds from the school were turned over to me, and I refused to allocate funds to the headmaster so that he could pay the salaries due. When the workers asked to plead their cause with me personally, the headmaster assured them I was a difficult man and if they did not let him handle me, they would never see their money. So they waited for an entire year before finally taking their case to the courts. What a thunderbolt it was to hear I was accused of taking these men’s salaries! I was incredulous and quickly produced my records showing that far from taking any money from the school, I had supported it with hundreds of dollars of my own and during the year had signed over $3000 designated for the school by supporters of Grace Missions. That is a huge sum of money in Mozambique, enough to cover the full annual salary of eight teachers. When the requisitions were scrutinized by the plaintiff teachers, it was their turn to be amazed. None of the items for which the money was requested had ever been purchased or seen at the school!
As you may suspect, the headmaster of the school who had consumed the salaries of all his workers as well as my own and Grace Missions’ contributions was the trusted associate who vigorously accused me of embezzling imaginary aid sent by Grace Missions to the church.
I was certain this was God’s wonderful deliverance and that soon all those who had followed the deceiver would see the error of their ways. It did not turn out that way. Suddenly the investigation was dropped despite the ongoing complaints of the teachers who were never paid. An attorney who works in the department where the matter was under investigation tells me the outcome was surely settled by a gift to the lawyers charged with deciding whether the case should go to court. Consequently, the matter was never made public, and those who followed the deceiver in the first congregation have never learned of this episode.
Arnaldo and I decided at the first that we would neither respond to the stories leveled against us, nor rake up muck to fling back at our accuser. We did not want to create an even greater spectacle for the Christian community and unregenerate masses to talk about. We felt this was a time of winnowing for the church and our strategy should be simply to continue preaching the scriptures, leaving it to each participant to decide whom he would follow based on what he personally heard from each one’s teaching and saw in each one’s conduct. Most of the participants stayed with our adversary. Some who formerly were denied membership for lack of a credible Christian testimony are now serving as elders and church officers. But Arnaldo and I have been allowed to make a fresh start with people who are 100% committed to the gospel we teach. Though the pruning has been painful, it has freed us from the nominalism that we ineffectively battled for years in the first congregation.
As mentioned above, this event did not transpire without much soul searching. Every personal fault that could hinder people from coming to the cross of Christ was magnified in my own eyes as I beheld people for whose salvation I have prayed and labored esteem a veritable criminal more highly than myself. It occurred to me that the Jews once preferred a murderer over the Lord’s own Son. Unfortunately the analogy quickly broke down as Christ was truly guiltless and the fault lay entirely with those who rejected Him. In my case, the hope of material gain and advancement in the church doubtless influenced many, but I would have to be oblivious to my own failings to rest assured those were the only factors at work.
While Satan was sifting us like wheat, God was graciously preparing for future advancement. In February, Faith Community Church in Oxnard, California sent Richard and Debby Chiorino with their four children to assist in the church work. At the time it was far from certain that I would be allowed to remain in Mozambique. The Department of Religious Affairs had previously said they could not promise my residency papers would be renewed next year. So it was an ominous sign when the Chiorino’s were denied residency on their first application. We thank God that in July they were granted the authorization they needed to stay on. At the same time I was granted permanent residency status. This means our family can remain in Mozambique by our own right, having lived here ten years already, without needing the approval of a Mozambique organization. It also makes it more difficult for us to be summarily expelled.
We are delighted with the Chiorinos. It is hard to imagine there could be a more compatible family to serve as our co-workers. I asked Richard to lead a weekly worship time in English for our two families and the interns from Malawi. We have had some wonderful fellowship with excellent studies. Richard spends much time in the scriptures, is exceptionally well read, and is meticulously careful about tending his own spiritual walk and that of his family. I am amazed and grateful that so far he, Arnaldo, and I seem to agree so completely even in the most vexing issues we have wrestled with in the church these past years. Richard is the logical one to assume oversight of the church until God fully qualifies one of the Mozambicans to take the post. For the present, however, he is continuing the language study that was begun during their six months in Brazil.
Baptista Boa, the talented 24 year old Mozambican we have mentioned periodically in these letters, is on the verge of completing four years of study at Tyler Hopkins’ seminary in South Africa. He has decided to join our team in December after graduation. His outreach will target the younger, educated folk living in the concrete part of the city. God has provided an excellent base of operations for him. We are renting an apartment immediately above one of the banks in the center of town to serve as a Christian library/bookstore. Until now there has been no Christian bookstore in Nampula, nor in the entire province as far as anyone knows. The library/bookstore is an outgrowth of the Conferencia Fiel ministry that I will report on in the next newsletter. Baptista will live in an apartment immediately adjacent to the library/bookstore and after hours will be able to use those facilities for meetings as his ministry develops. We are grateful for these indications that God intends to increase His work amongst us, when only a few months ago we wondered if it was all coming to an end!
In the course of a year, you can imagine far more has taken place than I have been able to include in these few pages. In the next newsletter I will report on the interns from Malawi, the visiting students from Master’s College, the Fiel Conference, the present church ministry, some personal outreaches, the status of the house and hospital projects, and family news.
Once more we close our newsletter grateful for those who so faithfully stand by us. We thank God for the steadfast financial support we have enjoyed, even in the absence of newsletters over so long an interval. You clearly do not need reminders to give, and apparently you do not need reminders to pray, though we realize it is impossible to pray specifically without hearing from us. How blessed we are in those who keep us on the field through the warfare waged on our behalf in prayer. The battle is hot and heavy in Mozambique. This we have seen over and over again during our eleven years here. Without your prayers we could never have lasted this long. Please continue praying for us and for the Lord’s work in this land.
By His grace:
Charles and Julie
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