The church in Mozambique continues to grow

By Madeline White

  The Rev. Glenn Rowley in Mozambique.

The Rev. Glenn Rowley, conference director for the Center of Justice and Missional Excellence, traveled to Mozambique in mid-November to meet with the bishop of the Mozambique Conference and explore new options for multiple conferences to continue in partnership with the country.

During Rowley’s visit with Bishop Joaquina Filipe Nhanala, he and three persons from the Missouri Conference met the bishop’s staff and members of the 2020 General Conference Mozambique delegation. They also discussed ideas for a model for multiple conferences to work together in new partnership with the United Methodist Church in that country and to learn how U.S. partners can be supportive of the Mozambique delegates and the partnership with Mozambique. 

The time spent talking about partnership made Rowley reflective on his own connection to the conference and the Virginia Conference’s ongoing connection to it.

“I couldn’t help but reflect upon the many years I’ve been connected to that place, having served there as a missionary in the late 1980s and being blessed by what God has been doing in that church and in that country,” said Rowley. “Many times over the years, as we served as missionaries and in more recent years through my connection here in Virginia with the Initiatives of Hope teams, I struggled with the fact that a mutual partnership was more an idea than a reality, as many of our “partnerships” have been. Working toward mutuality in mission partnerships is very difficult.”

Rowley shared that Mozambique has been what he termed, a classic picture of vulnerability from colonial times through the war for independence from Portugal, through a civil war that took more than a million lives to their current state. Rowley said the church has grown at astounding rates and they now stand at 24 districts with more than 50,000 members.

It still remains the church in Mozambique is poor in one of the poorest countries in the world. Many churches can’t pay their pastors a salary to support their families so bi-vocational ministry is a familiar reality.

Nhanala shared a presentation outlining their conference’s vision and mission. As she and their conference look to the future, the top item of her vision is for the conference to become self-sustaining.

In her presentation, Nhanala shared the pain in the midst of these optimistic plans is the looming outcome of General Conference 2020 and the United Methodist denomination. She also shared the difficulty in leading all three of her conferences (she is the bishop for Mozambique, Madagascar and South Africa) with the uncertainty of what the future is for the denomination.

She shared with Rowley and others in the meeting that the Mozambique church would be defined by others as traditionalist but that they would not always align themselves with the Traditional Plan.

Nhanala said she believes that the church is one with many different theological ideas and she would not return from General Conference 2020 and tell her members that they are no longer United Methodists. She shared that the Mozambique church would continue to be the Methodist Church in this country as they have been for over 125 years.

For Rowley, the vulnerability of The United Methodist Church in Mozambique has been lived out in some fashion for about 40 years now.

“It has witnessed out its vulnerability, grown and continued to do so through extreme vulnerability of colonialism, poverty, war, exploitation and now its beloved church being threatened to pull apart, from factions they have little control over and yet they are a living, loving, body of Christ making a difference in the world,” Rowley said. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to lose that connection. We in the U.S. don’t want to lose that connection. Mozambique, like so many central conferences, still needs our support. If our church divides they may lose that support and they know that. But if our division wounds or breaks that connection we will most certainly lose as well.”

Partnerships of Hope

The Rev. Clarence Brown, member of Initiatives of Hope (IOH) now Partnerships of Hope (POH), shared that it was in 2011 when he was first introduced to the conference’s IOH (Initiatives of Hope) partnership with The United Methodist Church in Mozambique and he fell in love with the church all over again.

“It is a mutually life giving and affirming relationship in which we partner with the local church, other annual conferences in the United States, and with the United Methodist Church in Germany,” Brown said.

The work of Methodism in Mozambique started in 1890 when the Rev. Dr. Erwin Richards began a Methodist mission at Chicuque in Inhambane Province. A Igreja Metodista Unida em Moçambique (the UMC in Mozambique) observed the 100th anniversary of Methodist presence in Mozambique in 1990. The United Methodist Church has tripled in size in Mozambique in the last 13 years. There are now more than 150,000 members in more than 180 congregations of the 24 districts. New pastors are ordained each year. New churches are chartered each year in each annual conference.

For the Virginia Conference, the work in Mozambique is relational with a recognition that churches in the country are community centers for the people around them.

“Our work together in Mozambique has been to walk alongside our sisters and brothers there in rebuilding the social fabric and restoring property that supports the lives of Mozambicans which have been devastated by decades of war and natural disasters,” Brown said. “It is the church that presents dependability and security in the lives of people. The church is linked to hospitals, schools, trade schools, homeless shelters, orphanages and international aid throughout the country. Church-related humanitarian institutions in Mozambique include Chicuque Rural Hospital and Cambine Mission Station (the flagships for which the UMC is known). Volunteers in Mission have participated in the growth of these ministries by contributing construction labor, building materials and training.”

Traveling by foot to attend church, the people of Mozambique take their faith seriously from worship services to discipleship small groups.

“My great joy is in the relationships that have been nurtured since that first encounter: teaching students at the seminary, installing solar hot water heaters for the children at the orphanage; watching local farmers learn planting techniques for sustainable crops; washing the feet of the widows of Massinga; these and so many others imbue me with pride that Virginia United Methodists continue to support this great partnership. I invite you to fall in love – again -  with our Partnerships of Hope,” Brown said.

--Madeline White is the Virginai Conference Director of Communications


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