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Memorizing Scripture in Mozambique

Category Articles
Date November 14, 2008

I have been a missionary doctor in Mozambique for many years, and an unusual way to spread the knowledge of the Christian faith has developed here, that of a Scripture memory catechism class. There are 21 men from various churches and backgrounds who meet together on Saturdays to check out on Scripture memory they have done during the week. Though all of them appreciate the passages they have committed to memory, perhaps few would have put so many hours into the effort without the material remuneration that was the reason we began the programme over ten years ago.

Living in a land of ubiquitous poverty, we are beseeched continually by beggars wanting alms, by more sophisticated strangers pleading for large bursaries for study programmes or house building, and by our own brothers and sisters in Christ facing pressing financial needs to continue school or obtain medical care. Driving a car and owning a computer while surrounded by so much poverty is one of the disadvantages of living in a place like Mozambique. In our early years I sometimes wished I could return to the States for a few moments so I could enjoy an occasional candy bar without feeling guilty. Over time one does become inured to such things, but then he must lament what has happened to his soul in the process.

Mindful of Christ’s instruction to give to everyone who asks, yet not wanting to promote a welfare mentality, we always tried to find some job people could do to earn the money they wanted. However, some people requested a whole month’s salary ($77 here), many handicapped people couldn’t work at all, and the time it took to help all the supplicants earn their money soon made the first approach unwieldy. Finally we stumbled upon the idea of paying people to memorize Scripture. We offered everyone requesting money a day’s wage for every eight verses they learned. That way they could get as much money as they really wanted at the rate they needed it. We soon found that most people didn’t need the money that much, but over the years perhaps a hundred have been diligent to earn significant sums of money this way. Single mothers with little ones to feed, students with school fees to pay, and even young children trying to lighten the family’s financial load have memorized Scripture.

A few ambitious single fellows even constructed excellent huts and paid all their bills just from their memory work. The total assistance for all participants seldom exceeds $60 a week, yet it makes a significant difference for those who take advantage of it.

The preceding explanation is offered to lessen on the one hand the gall that some would perceive on the part of someone paying people to memorize Scripture, and to avoid on the other the unwarranted pleasure of thinking the memory work was being done solely for its own sake. One pleasant assertion we CAN make without qualification is this: the family sponsoring the Scripture catechism project does love the Word of God and would gladly lay out much more to see that Word penetrate the minds and hearts of even more Mozambicans.

The Scripture verses are arranged like a catechism, with 323 questions relating to both doctrine and Christian living. Each response is a short passage of Scripture, usually one to four verses in length, which answers in a pithy, distinct fashion the question set forth. The first two pages of the catechism are given out for free, but after that the participants buy each of the 40 succeeding pages. Anyone who does not own a Bible puts half of his first earnings into purchasing one at a cost of $3.00 (eight verses). Each Saturday the participants check off on their verses, but before they receive credit for new ones they must successfully pass a short review of previously learned passages. That way they keep their memory work fresh through constant review at home.

Of the 21 people now in the programme, eight have learned the entire 323 passages and serve as proctors for the other students. The proctors can earn up to $6.00 (about two days’wages) each Saturday by passing a review of 30 previously learned passages. In this way they cycle through the entire catechism every 11 weeks.

Though the original reason for the programme was to help with the financial needs of people who were motivated to help themselves, we have seen satisfying spiritual results, especially in the case of our church members.

One man years ago went through a period of trial at home that caused him to cease attending services for a month. When he returned he testified to the congregation that during this time a verse he had memorized in the programem, 1 John 2:19, kept repeating itself in his mind, ‘They went out from us, but they were not really of us, for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.’ The thought that this verse could possibly apply to him was so disturbing that he roused himself from his lethargy and returned to the Way, and continued faithful right up to the time of his death.

Another young woman strayed into sin and was chastened severely but lovingly from the Lord. Rather than growing bitter, she saw a host of verses she had memorized on chastening being played out in her own life and was full of wonder that God would love her so much as to compel her to abandon the path she was pursuing. Of her own volition she confessed her sin to the church and gave a moving testimony from one of the verses she had learned in the Scripture catechism, Proverbs 3:11-12, ‘My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of his correction, for whom the Lord loveth he correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.’ Since that time she has grown consistently from strength to strength, walking close to the Lord and loving him.

There are other encouraging stories related to the Scripture catechism programme. Thank God with us for the fruitfulness of his Word, and pray that we might see more of its transforming power in our ministry.

Dr Charles Woodrow and his wife Julie serve in Nampula, Mozambique, with Grace Missions Mozambique. The above is taken from their October 2008 Newsletter. The Woodrows are members of Faith Community Church in Oxnard, California.

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