Celebrating Reconnections

Howard B. Goodrich, Jr.

 

About This Article

In early 2011, at age 82, I began a reexamination of our missionary service, i.e., reports, writings, and letters from our years in southern Africa.  We had served on and off from 1988 until 2003.  There was one particular experience that seemed especially unique.  It also was a desperate and hopeful time, a potential transitional time from the wider apartheid oppression affecting many southern African countries.  The incident took place in war-torn Mozambique, in the capital, Maputo, in October, 1991.  In this article I have shared some history and conditions of the time, the incident, and its outcome and possible significance.

Acknowledgements

  1. Rev. Sandra Gourdet, Executive, and Ms. Pat Sanborn, Administrative Assistant, Africa office of Global Ministries: historic resources and encouragement.
  2. Rev. Darlene B. Goodrich: computer person, editing, grammar, advice, counsel, and patience.
  3. Southern Africa church Leaders, Clergy and Laity, from whom we have learned so much about African Christianity, sociology, and African cultures, particularly leadership of the Lesotho Evangelical Church, the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa,  and the African councils of churches (Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, and Mozambique), all partners of Global Ministries.
  4. Staff of Global Ministries: through the years were so supportive of our African assignments.
  5. Ms. Sara Harwell, Vice President, chief archivist, Disciples of Christ Historical Society: providing historic materials.
  6. Rev. Lucas Amosse Tivane, President, UCCM, providing written resources and encouragement.
  7. Missional colleagues sharing experiences, knowledge, and support through the years.
  8. Dr. Dan Hoffman, former Africa Executive, Global Ministries who arranged our introduction to southern Africa through a research leave as well as a special month-long task in Lesotho  in the late 1980’s,  our assignments  in Lesotho 1991-1992, and our assignments in Botswana, 1996-1997.
  9. Rev. Ruth Minter, missionary for UCBWM, Joint Ministry in Africa and Global Ministries through her writings and representative presence in Mozambique and with the UCCM, 1980’s and 1990’s

About the Author

Howard and Darlene Goodrich during their 1991-1992 Lesotho term as missionaries, also received assignments from Global Ministries in the following countries:  Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland, and Mozambique.  They also served in Botswana in 1995-1996.  They were co-interim Africa Executives for Global Ministries in 2001-2002.  Together they were co-interim regional ministers for the Disciples of Christ in Tennessee, North Carolina, and the Northeast Area of Mid-America during the 1990’s.  Dr. Goodrich was the Disciple Regional Minister in the Upper Midwest, 1976-1982, and in Indiana, 1982-1990.  They are Christian Theological Seminary graduates and served as congregational pastors.

Hidden Emergent Church from the Apartheid Era

(A Global Ministries Story)

This is a story of rediscovery of a southern African indigenous, ecumenical church which, in near isolation, courageously and faithfully developed on its own during more than 60 horrendous years of economic and political oppression in the 20th century.  The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), the first mission board of what is today the United Church of Christ, helped give this African denomination its beginning in 1905.  It is a kind of Pentecost story, an inspiration pointing to the mystery and presence of God abiding with a forgotten people.  Its development is a gift and encouragement to the Western church.

This article also includes an account of personal experiences in getting to Mozambique, attending a World Council of Churches meeting in Maputo (the capital city) during a raging foreign-led civil war.  The article relates some of the socio-political realities of southern Africa and Mozambique at a critical transitional time for all of southern Africa.

The year was 1991.  In southern Africa apartheid power and influence still reigned.  Yet Nelson Mandela had been released one year earlier in 1990.  He had spent 27 grim years of imprisonment on Robben Island.  Hope flickered among the victimized, the 80 percent majority of South Africans.  But, one year later, in 1991, apartheid racist rule stubbornly continued.

Neighboring countries to South Africa had long suffered military incursions, initiated civil wars, economic manipulation, and insistent racial oppression against their cherished liberty and sovereignty.  These countries - Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia - also longed for the new day when justice, equality, and democracy might rule all across the southern expanse of the continent.

So 1991 and 1992 were interim years of hope and doubt, dread and anticipation.  Would the mantle of apartheid oppression dominating most of southern Africa cease?  In 1991, even with extensive pressure from the Western democratic powers, apartheid seemed immovable, institutionalized, and unrepentant.  It was in this climate that Darlene and I, as Global Ministries missionaries, arrived in one of those oppressed nations bordering South Africa, Lesotho.  It was the country of our basic missionary assignments.  We had been called as servants and staff by the autonomous African partner church, the Lesotho Evangelical Church. Little did we know, living in the country of Lesotho, that we were about to live through a rather remarkable event and discovery in another of those beleaguered countries.

In early fall 1991, we received and accepted a special assignment from the Global Ministries Africa Office to represent the American church at an upcoming World Council of Churches “Round Table” meeting to be held in Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique.  Mozambique is a country with a nearly 1,500–mile coastline on the Indian Ocean, on the Southeast side of the continent, a country twice as large as California.

The stated purpose of the WCC meeting in Mozambique was to strengthen the leadership of the Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM).  A second underlying purpose was to begin to pull together the churches of the country for a recovery from years of warfare, countryside devastation, and massive suffering that had gone on for so many years. On September 25, 1964, a war began between the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique(FRELIMO) and the colonial power, Portugal, which only ended with independence for Mozambique in 1975.  Within two years, war resumed between FRELIMO and the Resistencia Nacional de Moçambique (RENAMO), a rebel movement backed by Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and, later, South Africa. Mozambique was nearly destroyed by more than 25 years of massive chaos. Yet in 1991 war continued.

In much of southern Africa the churches had been historically, and would again, be called to bring stability, identity, peace, and hope to countries served.  The churches would be expected to help provide a myriad of human services including community redevelopment and rebuilding, education, medical services, agricultural assistance, etc.  In 1991 Mozambique was considered the poorest nation in the world!

Our knowledge of Mozambique was limited to older, partial histories, press releases, newspapers, and stories circulated among friends in southern Africa.  Some of the most reliable information came from the American churches and ecumenical partners such as various councils of churches in southern Africa.  Locally, in Lesotho, we lived in a climate of press censorship and suppression.  Also, information coming from South Africa was largely supportive of a defense of the apartheid racist system, though there were courageous exceptions like The Johannesburg Star, a leading newspaper.

The difficulties of Mozambique in 1991 reflected the troubled history of the country.  Four hundred years of the colonial domination by Portugal ended in 1975 with independence.  During the civil war, South Africa supported RENAMO to destabilize Mozambique. South Africa was determined to preserve and defend the apartheid system, and countries neighboring it lived in a climate of economic captivity and the threat of military incursions. All of this left the nation faced with challenges as a result of systemic exploitation.  From the beginning, Mozambique had a vast potential in natural resources and agriculture with ports for trade serving landlocked African countries to the west and north.  The Christian community suffered even though the Roman Catholic Church had a long, four hundred-year presence as the established church.  In 1991 Mozambique remained one of the least Christianized countries in southern Africa.

Mozambique, October 12-14, 1991!  For months Darlene and I had tried to arrange for visas.  An attempt through the Swaziland consulate failed.  We tried travel agencies in Lesotho and the American Embassy.  I had even called the Christian Council of Mozambique long distance.  My conversation with the man who answered was both hilarious and frustrating.  He could not speak English, nor could I speak Portuguese!  It was a referral service.  Our telephone call ended with the certainty that there was no way except through New York or London to get the entry visas – but why go that far; surely there is a way in southern Africa (?).

After having worked for six weeks on the visa problem, our friend and fellow missionary, Sunny Kuruvilla, found a two–inch ad in the Johannesburg Star advertising a service for getting Mozambican visas.  Some smart businessman had found a niche.  I called.  It was another referral service.  They gave me another number and we were successful in acquiring visas at a “SERVICE COST” of $80.00.  A lot of money in those days.  The visas arrived the Tuesday before our departure – some two months after the visa search had begun.

Darlene kept saying, “Perhaps it was not meant to be.  Maybe we should not go.”  We also had a very difficult time getting the proper malaria medicine – one that was effective against the difficult strain of malaria in Mozambique.  Finally, we arranged for it through our Division of Overseas Ministries office in Indianapolis.  It arrived by special mail the day before we left.

The final difficulty came on the days preceding the flights.  Neither the airline services in Windhoek, Namibia, nor in Johannesburg, South Africa, could confirm the last leg of the trip into Mozambique from Swaziland.  We arrived in Manzini, Swaziland, and  had barely 35 minutes to de-plane, rush to the Swazi Air counter, get boarding passes, clear customs, get our bags off one flight and onto the other, and board for Mozambique.  It happened.  We were seated in the rear row – yes, the last two seats on the flight.  Maybe, just maybe, we were going to make Maputo, Mozambique.

So there were three flights in getting from Maseru, Lesotho, our overseas home, to Maputo, Mozambique.  We were excited with anticipation but had a bit of fear.  We were aware that no place in Mozambique was necessarily safe, but the thought of the special opportunity to serve and learn was exciting all the same.  And, little did we know, we would be experiencing a once in a lifetime discovery – a shock and a joy.

Our arrival in Mozambique was smooth.  We were met by a Christian Council of Mozambique staff person who had held a sign “CCM.”  What a relief.  We had never received any word as to where exactly the World Council of Churches “Round Table” meeting was to be held nor where we were to stay.  The city of Maputo, with surrounding villages, was one of the few relatively safe places in the country at that time.  The RENAMO rebels had conquered large areas.  Attacks took place most everywhere and recently in and around Maputo.   So desperate had the local citizens become about the violence that they had begun to lynch, on the spot, anyone caught committing a crime or charged with being a RENAMO rebel.  “Necklacing” had been one of the terrible means of punishment – setting afire a gasoline-doused rubber tire placed around the victim’s neck.   The frustrations of nearly 30 years of war were apparent everywhere.

It was dusk when we were driven through the city toward our hotel.  Darlene and I were silent.  We were seeing Mozambique for the first time.  In the murky light on poorly-lit streets, people were everywhere.  Children were playing in the gutters, on crumbling sidewalks, and among tumbled-down buildings.  Every block or two a pile of refuse would overwhelm a garbage can or just be heaped along the way.  Buildings in the “concrete” city were crumbling.  Paint had faded from walls.  The grimy look was pervasive.  Shacks, shanties, and “lean-tos” appeared in what were once vacant places or the ruins of other buildings.  Hundreds of thousands of refugees had crammed into Maputo to escape the horrible violence of the countryside.  We could see that this was once a large modern city with dozens of high-rise buildings stretching for several miles along the great bay that fronts onto the Indian Ocean.

The country was in desperate shape.  Three million Mozambique refugees resided in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Swaziland, and other neighboring African countries.  So many people had fled to Maputo, the capital city, and the few other enclaves of relative safety in the country.  We were stunned as we rode in silence to the Rovuma Hotel. “What does this remind you of?” I finally asked.  Darlene immediately replied, “Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).   We had been there in 1987.  We had seen it before, and all those memories flooded in – the utter poverty and desperation of the people.  During the time of President Mobuto, the people had been victims of his corrupt government.  Americans were shocked to learn how the U.S. government poured billions of U. S. tax dollars into the country, most of it wasted or ending up in the pockets of the then president.  Mobuto was reported at that time to be the fifth wealthiest man in the world.  U. S. government support for him always had been defended because Mobutu was “anti-communist,” a dubious distinction, indeed, being one of the worst despots of the 20th century.

Our hotel in Maputo had been a fine facility.  But time and neglect caused by the war and economic ruin had left it a dying place.  Plumbing sometimes worked and often leaked.  Beautiful tiles were stained with rust.  Hot water tanks stood in the bare bathroom corner, lids ajar from repairs – wires protruding from the side that had been quickly wrapped in a hasty repair to keep some water flowing.  In the halls and rooms, 20 or 30 watt bulbs offered a dismal grey light.  Neither pictures nor bed lamps remained.  Two or three times each day the electricity flickered and was gone.  Bed springs protruded unevenly from sway-backed mattresses.  The side cloth covering the broken-down bed springs was faded, frayed, and gone in some places.  The draperies were threadbare and partly torn.  They were blackened by the grime of the years.  Bright colors were faded.  Once beautiful parquet floors were chipped.  Dirt hugged the corners and the cracks.  The elevators were all inoperable but one.  It ran on day one but dropped us at the 12th floor.  We were happy to depart from it but then had to walk down to the tenth floor where our room was located.  The surviving elevator went from floor one to floor twelve, but it did not stop in between. Thereafter we climbed the ten floors (actually twelve) three to four times each day back and forth between the hotel restaurant, the meeting rooms, and our room.  I had arrived in Maputo with a knee injury from basketball played in Lesotho several weeks before.  I feared the step climbing would cause a re-injury – lo and behold it was great therapy, and the knee grew stronger each day; so I could go down the steps with a full flex of my knee.  It had been in going down that I had experienced the real pain.

The Rovuma Hotel still operated as though it were a three- or four-star hotel.  Prices were high, particularly when one considered the conditions.  Four-course meals were served each lunch and dinner hour.  There were no a la carte choices – only an option or two of meat or fish.  We shall not soon forget the baby squid salad – and we came to understand that food was limited and quality a problem even though the trappings of elite service had continued.  After our first hotel meal the bill was brought.  What a shock!  It was 77,000.00 meticais for three of us!  77,000.00!  That amounts to about $42.00.  Inflation was moving along at several hundred percent a year.  The next day we bought a newspaper; it cost us 1,100.00 meticais! We ventured out one noon hour and walked two blocks toward what we thought was a commercial district.  At midday in this part of the city few cars or trucks were seen.  People were scarce on the streets.  It was a bit foreboding – eerie.  We returned to the hotel.

The next evening nine of us ventured down the same road to the Continental Restaurant.  In the evening there were people on the street:  vendors, beggars, street people, and local residents.  We sat at an outdoor table along the street.  A pack of street children, some seven or eight, gathered by the restaurant tables.  These were all boys, seven to twelve years of age.  They would huddle, talk, and exchange glances – all the while watching the seated customers.  When the food was brought, they would come, one at a time, to beg.  We ordered sandwiches and sodas.  Each boy was partially clothed; tattered dirty rags hung on them.  Some had shoes or a foot wrapping of sorts.  They were polite and not overly aggressive.  Needless to say we all gave up much of our food that evening.  As one would get a morsel of food, he would take it and dart to a safe spot and quickly devour it.  He would then return to the pack and watch for the next opportunity and make another approach.  One little boy moved close.  He scanned the tables where we were eating.  Then he bent low and carefully surveyed the floor under our tables.  He spotted a piece of bread someone had dropped.  He darted between two tables, scrambled under Darlene’s chair, retrieved the bread and consumed it all in one motion.  With a million people dead, Mozambique was filled with orphaned, lost, or abandoned children where home was the streets.  They lived by their wits – finding common cause and some safety in groups.  This scene was heart wrenching.  Mozambique, after more than a decade of South African-instigated civil war, was the poorest country in the world – a country rich in resources and agricultural potential – a country rich with people who deserved better and who had suffered beyond description.

We had come to assist the Christian Council of Mozambique with its functional effectiveness and accountability and with its stated mission of ecumenical witness, working for reconciliation and justice, and doing tasks of human development.  This awesome task was to be laid alongside the smallness and incapacity of a suffering church.  Could there be any real capacity to help without a global partnership of Christians and others of goodwill?  And who knows about Mozambique and many other places like it when we, of the West, were so consumed in our own interests, pursuits, and privileges?  Who knows?  God knew!  And God was in the midst of the suffering. Here is where one cries out, “O God, O God, help us, the people of privilege.”  It was here, in Mozambique, and in other such places, that we confronted ourselves – and can affirm that the presence of God was apparent and was among those that suffered. 

As it turned out, much of the “Round Table” meeting dealt with financial mismanagement and some corruption in the Council.  The gathered global partners and CORAT representatives gave courageous attention to the need for transparency, significant change, and attention to the desperate plight of the churches and the country.  CORAT was an ecumenical research advisory trust represented at the meeting.  Their representatives gave strong leadership.

The grass-roots church throughout the country had, nevertheless, continued their witness and service in remarkable ways despite the devastation broadly experienced.  The churches somehow had maintained their critical role as the one continuing institution, seeking order and reconciliation during the long years of civil war.

Of course we were disappointed for the problems of the Christian Council of Mozambique.  At the same time, we were encouraged by the remarkable ability of the grass-roots church to carry on in the midst of years of civil war and countryside chaos and devastation.  At the meeting we met and had a meal with Ruth Minter, a former UCC and Global Ministries’ missionary to Mozambique.  We learned of her 1987 visit to Mozambique at the height of the RENAMO war.  During that visit she had travelled where possible interviewing persons from across the country concerning RENAMO, describing how the families would sleep in the woods at night as they feared RENAMO would slaughter them and burn their villages.  Due to the civil war, more than a million refugees were driven from the country.  There was also a massive population exodus from rural areas to cities like the capital, Maputo, which had some margin of safety. 

The principle lifelines of the country were the railroads and seaports along the thousand-mile coastline.  These were the connectives for commerce for Mozambique’s promise for rich resources and for neighboring landlocked African countries and their trade.  These were repeated principle targets for RENAMO.  With destruction of the country came chaos and death, starvation, unchecked malaria, the spread of HIV-AIDS and cholera along with the absence of health services. 

During the meeting in Maputo, the “Round Table” group attended a personal session with Mozambique’s President Chisano.  The group had a two-hour give and take session gathered around a large oval table at the president’s quarters.  He discussed the Portuguese colonial period ending in 1975 with the country’s independence.  Many of the ruling Portuguese thought they would soon return because “the indigenous black people would be unable to run the country.”  They retained their properties -- even leaving furnishings and clothing in place.  However, in the luxurious hotels they poured concrete down the pipes and other destructive acts in order to make them unusable. 

Ultimately, the civil war ended in 1992, a year following our meeting in Maputo.  Five million Mozambique citizens had been driven into exile and one million killed as a result of the war.  President Chisano informed us, in a gentle way, that the Western powers had given support to RENAMO in the earlier years and bore some responsibility for the tragedy of Mozambique.  The President insisted the RENAMO, in his view, was never meant to be anything other than a violent force that was controlled and supported by South Africa to destabilize and weaken Mozambique’s young independent government.  It was a part of South Africa’s apartheid “survival at all costs” strategy – another arm of the racist inhuman legacy that had caused untold suffering in most of the southern African countries.

President Chisano affirmed the church even while recalling the collusion of the Roman Catholic Church with the Mozambique colonialists before independence.  He mentioned the formative church contacts with Renamo that began the peace negotiating process some years ago.  He mentioned how the bishops of Kenya, Zimbabwe, and church leaders in Italy had greatly assisted the continuing negotiations for peace then being carried on in Rome.  He also spoke of his personal religious life.  He grew up in a family where prayers were said with each meal and before bedtime.  He spoke of the importance of prayer and chided one CCM staff leader, a bishop, who had visited the president’s sick father recently but who failed to pray with him.  He said, “The people always need the prayers.”  He chuckled about telling priests what their jobs were, but we all laughed – and understood.  He was right, of course.  Mozambique needed all the prayers.

If the subject of our prayers is understood to be what we actively live out with others, our commitments to action, then such prayers are leaven for healing, reconciliation, justice, and peace.

President Chisano expressed appreciation for the participation of certain governments in assisting the peace process.  The U.S. acted as facilitator in the ongoing peace process even as the war continued.  He spoke of the frustration in trying to build a society, to encourage individual initiative and small businesses, health and education rehabilitation, and the rebuilding of the country’s entire infrastructure.  With the violence continuing, with new devastation experiences each day, with more refugees and so many deaths, the task is nearly impossible.  Only peace, he said, will allow us the opportunity to rebuild the nation.  The church, he said, is a critical partner to rebuilding.

When the president concluded, we had spent two hours together.  He proved to be a gracious man – patient, hopeful, but greatly burdened.  He and the people of Mozambique needed our prayers and our stewardship of life, and we needed to be found in solidarity and partnership with the suffering multitudes of Mozambique.  On Monday, October 23, 1991, we heard that cease-fire had been agreed on between RENAMO and the Mozambique government.  We prayed that it was so!  Actually, a full cease-fire did not happen until mid-year, 1992, nearly a year later.

Then came that surprising special moment on October 14, 1991.  It occurred in a rush of meeting activity.  We were approached by a gentleman who turned out to be Rev. Jonathanes Simango, President of the United Church of Christ of Mozambique (UCCM).  He asked, “Are you from the United Church of Christ in the USA?”  I said, “Yes,” since we represented both the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) . . . because all of our Global Ministries missionaries had one identity, were one body of servants overseas.  In fact we never had to distinguish our American denominational affiliation.  It was a real pleasure for those of us who really hold to the oneness of Christ’s people as the one Church of Christ.

But we shall never forget that moment!  Rev. Simango indicated with emotion and passion the fervent hope for reconciliation with the “American Board” (which is now Global Ministries) after sixty years of near isolation and broken connections.  He said the “American Board” (American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions) had been their “mother” church or founding church agency in the early years of the 20th century (1905). 

We were surprised, elated, and grateful for that discovery, for that special moment . . . to encounter a Christian people, an autonomous courageous African denomination that longed for a renewed partnership with Global Ministries.  The meeting with Rev. Simango was short, having taken place in a crowded schedule at the “Round Table” meeting.  We were thereafter catching our flight from Maputo to Johannesburg and our return to our missionary home in Lesotho.  It was frustrating not to have several hours together to explore with Rev. Simango all about the UCCM.  We recognized the potential importance of the momentary encounter with Rev. Jonathanes Simango, for the two American churches, and the UCCM, but not its full significance.  As Thomas Long of Candler School of Theology said so well in the January 11, 2012 Christian Century, “No experience or encounter can be fully assessed in the present tense.  Until God gathers up all time, we don’t know the whole value or meaning of an isolated moment . . . life is so textured, so nuanced, so rich with the possibilities for discovery, so full of gift and grace, so mysterious and charged with intimations of the coming reign of God . . .” Of course we hastily reported all this to the Africa Office of Global Ministries.  Soon, thereafter, communications followed and the historic partnership, nearly dormant for 60 years, was reestablished in the 1990’s. 

Brief Histoy of the American Board

The “American Board” church in Mozambique (now the United Church of Christ – Mozambique (UCCM)) had its beginnings in 1905, having been started by the American Congregationalists (now the USA’s United Church of Christ).  The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (the American Board) was the Congregationalist mission agency at the time.  Actually the American Board had made plans and attempts to establish a mission in Mozambique as early as the 1870’s.

Early missionaries from the American Board were sincerely motivated and sought to bring dignity and relief from suffering and oppression imposed by the Portuguese . . . and, of course, they were devoted to the sharing of the Gospel and growth of the church.

In 1905, the Frederick R. Bunker missionary family arrived at Beira, Mozambique.  For the next three decades, Bunker, who only stayed with the mission several years, became the prime advocate and voice for the mission with the American Board in America.  Bunker was devoted in his attempt to persuade the American Board to support the mission with missionaries, funding, and devotion.  His extensive efforts resulted in only meager support, most of which ended with the great depression of the 1930’s.  Of course, the American board was then under severe financial pressure and had to choose which of its many well-established missions globally could be supported.  

As previously mentioned the American Board, with the support of their Zulu mission, already well established by the 1880’s and, also located on the southeast coast of southern Africa, had made plans and attempted to establish missionaries in the Beira area of Mozambique in 1882.  It failed.  Portuguese opposition was the dominant factor.  Portuguese oppression, exploitation, and continued efforts to prevent and discourage Protestant mission formation were the patterns until independence came in 1975. 

Leon P. Spencer in his book, Toward an African Church in Mozambique, describes the UCCM’s beginning location in the seaside Indian Ocean village of Beira as follows:

“There was not much to Beira in the early 1890’s [or when the mission was founded in 1905].  The town was long and rambling, but it consisted only one street, a street lined on both sides with one-storied houses with corrugated iron roofs, some of them residences and some stores and bars.  The town was built directly on the beach, and the street was of deep sand.  In short order one enterprising European would lay narrow tracks along the street, and other whites would purchase rickshaw-style carts to go on them; then the Africans hired to push them would either have to cope with the unmanageable sand or balance adroitly on the tracks.  Beira was not historically an African town – it was on the site of an old Arab settlement – and thus most of the Africans found there in the 1890’s were there to cater to the needs of the small community of Europeans, only 352 in 1893.  Beira looked like, and was, a backwater.  Of course Christian missionaries had been fond of ‘backwaters’ for years; there often seemed to be a correlation between the obscurity of a place and its importance in the eyes of the evangelists.”

The surrounding rural provinces of Sofala and Manica were where the American Board church would develop.  It was an area of significant wet lands along the Buze River, undeveloped tropical bush and heavy with malaria, basically untouched by Christianity.

In 1904 the American Board had opened a mission at Mt. Selinda in what is now Zimbabwe, formerly Gazaland and Rhodesia.  Mount Selinda was close to the western reaches of Mozambique.  It was at Mt. Selinda that several dozen young men and boys, having already experienced severe Portuguese punishments, slipped across the border to receive formative education at the mission school.  In the early years, these were among the few able to experience good training.  Some then became the outstanding leaders in the first decades of the American Board church in Mozambique.  Among the prominent leaders of that era were Kamba Simango, Tapera Nkomo, and Bede Simango. 

In Leon Spencer’s book he identifies Bede Simango’s thoughts about the development of UCCM in the early years, saying that Christianity works and “has been growing all these years until now it draws nourishment from native soil.  These men of Beira are ready to face anything for the ideals and the religion which they have embraced.” 

Along with others, Tapera Nkomo, a citizen of Beira, also trained at Mt. Selinda, served faithfully during the 1930’s.  He also was a prominent leader of that era. 

In the first 36 years after 1905, the founding year, if it hadn’t been for a Portuguese chartered company, “Companhia de Mozambique,” headquartered at the port city of Beira, to which some governing authority was granted, the American Board church may never have developed.  The British acquired some rights with the company, somewhat softening the tough traditional opposition by the colonial government in oppressing the populous.  Companhia de Mozambique also governed the area of Manica and Sofala making it possible for halting growth to take place in the indigenous African church.  “Campanhia” lasted 51 years to 1942. 

Despite the contribution of “Campanhia” by allowing some activity, Portuguese oppression was a pervasive force of cruelty and discouragement for the young church.  The government aggressively opposed Protestant mission development in the Catholic state.  Racism and servitude of the worst kind characterized the time.  An example was forced labor without compensation on a random basis.  This included women and children forced to gather salt at the mouth of the Sabi River, the working of coconut plantations, sugar and cotton estates, and road building.  The costs to life were outrageous.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Swiss Lausanne Mission provided some support for the “American Board” church, as these Mozambique Christians came to call themselves.  Pierre Loze was the prominent Swiss missionary who assisted the UCCM.  Beyond his time the Swiss Mission continued but the support was limited. In any event, the developing Christian community always identified themselves with the American Board, even in the 60-year period of near total isolation from the American church.

In addition there were indigenous sources that assisted the church to develop.  These included the ability to acquire some educated leaders.  The Mt. Selinda connection was the first.  Mozambicans also slipped out of the country for work in the fields and mines in South Africa.  There some sought education.  Many were enriched by South African church experience, thereafter, to return home able to enrich and give leadership to the developing American Board church.  Some leadership was trained at Ricatla United Seminary.

Of course, contact with other Protestant groups in Mozambique became more frequent as the 20th century progressed.  The exchange of ideas, theology, church practice, political and social realities, and mission imperatives all fed UCCM.  In addition, the UCCM had a faithful ecumenical cutting edge to learn, sharing their experiences with sister churches struggling with the same oppression.  This was all enriched with the formation of the Christian Council of Mozambique, a national council of churches founded in 1948.  The American Board church was a founding member, thereafter providing strong leadership through the years. The Council provided that broad forum including some connections with the global church for the exchange of ideas, missional practices, mutual encouragement and cooperation – a unity of faith and unselfish purpose in an oppressed, isolated, poverty society.

It should be recalled that as much of Africa was moving toward independence in the 1960’s, Mozambique remained trapped in its Portuguese oppressive pattern.  As previously mentioned, anti-colonial groups formed, the major of which was FRELIMO.  An armed campaign for liberation began in 1964, which finally ended with independence in 1975.  FRELIMO thereafter fought against the RENAMO foreign-led rebel group, a pro-apartheid South African supported rebellion against a free Mozambique. 

Finally, the reintroduction of the UCCM took place in that surprise encounter on October 14, 1991, in Maputo at the World Council of Churches “Round Table” meeting.  It was there that Rev. Jonathanes Simango approached Howard and Darlene Goodrich, Global Ministries missionaries.  That reconnection today has blossomed into an enduring partnership of mutual enrichment.

As the civil war ended, one of the largest ever repatriations of refugees, one and one half million, was underway by 1994, mostly on foot.  Also, five million internally displaced persons began making their resettlement within the country.

Some UCCM developments from mid-century included the first reference to themselves as the “United Church of Christ in Mozambique” in 1947.  Also, Swiss missionary, Emile Kaltenrieder, served Protestant groups at Beira from 1947 until 1965.  The UCCM benefited.  Her presence can be attributed to the Inter-Missionary Council and the newly-formed Christian Council of Mozambique.  In 1968 the UCCM finally received official standing with the colonial government.  With the cease-fire and peace with RENAMO in 1992, moves to reestablish the partnership with the two American churches, the UCC and the Disciples of Christ, began.

Renewing the Partnership

Contacts between the Joint Ministry in Africa and the UCCM began in 1992.  Rev. Jonathanes Simango, President of the UCCM, wrote asking for a visit to the Mozambican church in the near future.

The United Church Board for World Ministries (UCBWM), successor to the American Board, gathered at Cleveland, Ohio, on July 21, 1992, and voted on a resolution which stated, “The UCBWM rejoices in the rediscovery of our historical relationship with the Church of Christ in Mozambique (Sofala and Manica).  We call upon Rev. Paul Sherry, President of the United Church of Christ, USA, to convey our enthusiasm about rediscovering this relationship and our desire to seek ways to strengthen and nurture our common bonds.”  Ruth Minter, Joint Ministry in Africa, Global Ministries missionary, had the initial presence in November, 1992, at the annual conference of the UCCM in Mozambique and brought greetings from the Joint Ministry in Africa.

That first official visit in over 60 years happened on May 7, 1993.  We might say the “American Board had returned!”  Dr. Dan Hoffman, then the Executive for the Joint Ministry in Africa, met with the UCCM Executive Committee and attended a special worship service “in the big Beira church where we symbolically renewed contact in front of the congregation.”  It included “a public apology that somehow during the many years since the American Board left Beira that the foundational relationship had been forgotten.”  Mutual expressions were given by both parties for their eagerness to renew the historic partnership which lapsed around 1930 under the hardships of the great depression.  In a Hoffman letter of June 23, 1993, he wrote, “We are involved in the process of reestablishing relations with the Mozambican church.” 

In 1994 the UCCM joined the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.  The doors had been opened to the world, including the global ecumenical church.  In that same year, the president of the UCCM, Jonathanes Simango, came to Cleveland, Ohio (January 12, 1994).  He helped renew and seal the restored partnership with the American United Church of Christ and the Joint Ministry in Africa (now Global Ministries), inclusive of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). And so the partnership was renewed with the UCCM and the two American churches, the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The Goodriches traveled without incident back to Lesotho following the Maputo encounter.  They had not fully realized the true significance of this rediscovered Christian community, the United Church of Christ in Mozambique.  Now, more than 20 years later, we have come to appreciate fully the example and significance of the UCCM.  Today the UCCM is one of our cherished partners again.  May all of us related to the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ be moved and challenged by the UCCM story of courage and growth under nearly impossible poverty and socio-cultural conditions.  May we all find the word of God in each other’s stories even as we share our common life in Christ as one People of God, the Church.

Some Assessments: UCCM and the Western Church

What can be said of the UCCM?  In its 20th century struggle it symbolized, in so many ways, the long ordeal on the African continent for human dignity by indigenous peoples.  The UCCM in its struggle against Portuguese oppression mirrored that more-famous, publically-known struggle of South Africa against apartheid.

As the church in South Africa and its border countries gave spirited leadership for change, for an end of racism and the apartheid system, and seeking human dignity and freedom for all, so the UCCM dealt with comparable obstacles but in greater isolation, with only minor outside help or influence. 

In the latter years of apartheid in South Africa, the international community of nations brought great pressure for democratic change and the end of racism.  On the other hand the UCCM was, in many respects, unknown.  The UCCM struggled in near isolation for more than 60 years.  It endured nearly 30 years of both colonial and civil war.  The UCCM’s courage and faithfulness was accompanied by a love for life, a sense of belonging to and for one another.  But even more, it was a faith in the love of God in Jesus Christ which empowered, enriched, and overcame that sense of isolation from a world that had forgotten their existence and humanity.  Surely the global church of Christ can learn from their ordeal, their courage and perseverance, their faith and victory from their burdened 20th century struggle.

It is my assessment that the UCCM, through its indigenous self-development, living apart from Western church influence, is in many respects an African “initiated” church.  It has been far more dependent on its own African spirituality and roots and the influence and diversity of the African Christian community in southern Africa.  Obviously, it also has had a faith alive with courage, joy, hope, and a deep sense of God’s presence in the midst of profound difficulties, persistent oppression, and despairing conditions.  Today the UCCM is rooted in the love of God and is motivated in bringing a progressive religious experience inspired by Jesus Christ through worship, preaching, teaching, the sacraments, and through outreaching mission.

Some critics have said that the African churches caught up in suffering situations have, by default, been pressured to do unselfish outreach.  Yes, the urgency is there.  However, consider that in many ways the poverty church could rationalize its withdrawal by the very severity and threat that exists in community.  Even burdened African churches, as some in the West appear to have done, could justify an insular lifestyle in response to socio-cultural forces or to doctrine and practice or simply to survive.  It would appear to me that the outreaching missional church, wherever it exists, in whatever socio-cultural climate, can be so described because of the faith taken seriously, having heard the primary call to love God and serve others in their needs – the Jesus-centered calling.

The faith, courage, and missional initiatives of the UCCM are characteristic of many partner churches, councils of churches, and other partners globally.  So many of our partners witness in global settings where human services are deficient, where poverty reigns, where education and medical services are wholly inadequate, and where political realities vary from a near absence of governance to situations of overt oppression.

Our partners’ lives and witnesses often are a prophetic word and example to our Western condition.  Their faithfulness exposes our missed potential, our calling in Christ to serve a needful humanity here and across the world through the oneness of the church epitomized in these many partnerships.  Our distraction with Western affluence and materialism, also practiced by the Western church, speaks of a self-centered indulgence that minimizes faithful mission outreach and a sense of our belonging to one human family in God’s creation.  Indeed, through partners like the UCCM we can see ourselves, our missed callings.  In addition, their lives and witness may be God’s gracious invitation for us to better practice faithful mission outreach, oneness, and wholeness in the days to come.

Another reflection, one I had many times following service overseas, is the sense of wonderment, mystery, and thanksgiving that comes in remembrance of these African Christian communities, African colleagues, and friends.  Seemingly, most encounters were filled with the blessings of their refreshingly vibrant faith, the incredible learning received, and a kind of otherworldly wisdom providing new insights to our lives and culture in the West.  This was no less true in the resourcing and writing of this article as I pulled back the “curtain” and again saw 1991 with the United Church of Christ in Mozambique in a new way.

A final reflection has to do with the development of the UCCM along with the explosion of the Christian community in central and southern Africa in the 20th century.  There is a “faithful Word” there for the Western church.  In 2012 there are more Christians in Africa than in all of North America.  In 1900 only about ten percent of Africans were Christian. Today, during worship so many of their meeting places are filled to overflowing.  Most church buildings are very simple, few comforts, limited seating, little air conditioning or heating, periodic lighting if electricity is available, and the African church generally “is not about the building.”  African churches, like the UCCM, bring so many gifts needed by the West:  spiritual energy and faithfulness at outreaching service as a daily lifestyle.  Their diversity and eagerness to work together in ecumenical councils and community development is bothered less by dogma and denominational distinctions or “belief” problems.  Also, there is that devotion to cope with poverty, real basic hardships, debilitating diseases with meager medical capacities, unemployment, hunger, HIV-AIDS, etc.  Their close sense of community as their basic identity trumps the dominant individualism as practiced by Western Christians.  The African churches seem to be much more, in the Biblical sense, as a gathered, witnessing community.

Somehow our partnerships with the UCCM and other African partners need to reflect their gifts to us.  Stubbornly, the popular Western churches still see themselves as “leaders, givers, teachers and parents.”  Those days must end.  Partnerships must today work at the flow of “grace” and “faithful wisdom and practice” in all directions.  And while money still is a critical need to the mission beyond, it is a whole lot less about money flow and more about partnerships that are mutually enriching and transformational.  This is the 21st century!

The UCCM Today

Only since the early 1990’s has the UCCM been able, for the first time since its founding in 1905, to witness in an open and democratic climate.  Peace in the war with RENAMO finally came in 1992.  Today UCCM’s work and service still are centered in the Beira area of central Mozambique, Beira being a principal port city and commercial center on the Indian Ocean.  UCCM congregations and parishes are scattered across the provinces of Sofala and Manica along the Buze River and to the west.

The UCCM has about 56 congregations and 10,000 members.  Rev. Lucas Amosse Tivane is President of the UCCM.  There are 20 ordained ministers and a growing number of trained lay ministers.  The areas served are economically and environmentally challenged with malaria, HIV-AIDS, and other health concerns prominent.  The needs for the churches’ ministries are critical to the future of the areas served.

The UCCM now supports a myriad of ministries of relief and development.  One significant project is the women’s micro-credit project called, “Women’s Savings and Family Development Project.”  By 2009 there already were 60 groups operational with 15-25 women in each.  As described in Global Ministries documents, “All the women have minimum income from selling their garden produce (tomatoes, peanuts, manioc, etc.) fruit from trees in their yards and other items.  They are required to place something from a few cents to a few dollars into the group’s plan.  As women borrow from the fund and repay with interest, the amount invested by each woman grows.  Each group is provided with a safe deposit box with effective anti-theft measures in place.”

These precious savings also are meeting family needs.  In effect they are forming their own savings and loan associations.  The pooling of funds and borrowing for projects is the result.  The funds earn interest and are shared by the group.  The shareholders can decide as a group to invest in community projects such as clothes and shoes for orphans, children’s school supplies and fees, or desperately-needed items for church life.  Such projects benefit community development, agriculture, health, clean water availability, emergency and crisis needs, etc.  Good rules for group cooperation are assisted by strict rules of social conduct beneficial to all.  Group leaders receive training in forming new groups.  Project objectives include small business training, simple concepts of financial management and savings benefits, how to address social problems, benefit church growth, and needs that foster unity.  Global Ministries is providing support for the women’s micro-credit ministries.

Rev. Semente Serenguana, former president of the UCCM and his wife, Christina Fernando, both had a passion for the ministry to empower women, strengthen the community and family.  Women are empowered and given dignity by the pooling and sharing of resources.

Among other projects of the UCCM is the current development of clean water installations for the people and for agriculture at the up-country Gogoi Mission in Mossorize District in the higher, drier western reaches of central Mozambique.  The community will benefit from food production and relief from malnutrition.  In that area, schools and literary education for young and old also are envisioned.  Bible studies and Sunday schools also should receive encouragement to expand.  Also planned agriculturally are cattle-breeding, the growing of fruit trees, and environmental management.  Five thousand rural people are expected to benefit from the UCCM’s Gogoi mission endeavor.

The UCCM is assisting 600 families in the district of Machaze, located 400 kilometers from Beira, with a major water project which alleviates the burden of water-carrying for young girls and women.  Unlike the lowlands where much of the church is located, Machaze is a rural zone with a deep water table that is often burdened by long dry, periods.

The UCCM is a committed partner with the Christian Council of Mozambique and supports the Council’s “Transformation of Arms into Tools” program.  The idea is to gather the armaments from the years of warfare and exchange weapons found for building materials, tools, and implements to improve the lives of the people, to minimize suffering and transform some armaments into creative art.

The 21st century should be a time of growth and development for the UCCM as it shares that God-given spirituality and its passion and calling to serve the expansive needs of the people.  The partnership with the American churches through Global Ministries should help the UCCM expand its creative, faithful approaches to the multiple needs of its citizens . . .  and this can now be done in that new climate of freedom and choices provided by a democratic Mozambique.  The Western churches can take many continuing lessons for transformation, reformation, and renewal from the UCCM.  May God abide with us all in the Christ who makes us one. 

 

Howard B. Goodrich, Jr. 

SOURCES

Articles:

  • Articles and News Releases, Africa Office, Global Ministries, 1995-2012
  • “History of Mozambique,”  Wikipedia, November, 2011
  • Minter, Ruth, “The War in Mozambique, A Testament of Terror,” 1987, The Africa Office,  The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A,  N.Y., N.Y., 1987
  • "Mozambique:  The Victims of Apartheid,”  Southern Africa Research and Documentation Center, Harare, Zimbabwe, 1987
  • Sengulane, Dinis S. and Goncalves, Jaime Pedro, “A Calling for Peace:  Christian Leaders and The Quest for Reconciliation in Mozambique,” a history, Conciliation Resources, London,  United Kingdom, 1998 

Books:

  • Spencer, Leon,  Toward an African Church in Mozambique:  the Protestant Community in  Mainica and Sofala, 1892-1945 (unpublished paper).
  • Thompson, Leonard, A History of South Africa, Yale University Press, 1990
  • Tivane, Rev. Lucas Amosse, My Church American Board (A summary history of the United Church of Christ in Mozambique), a booklet, 1993 

Memorandums, Reports, Etc.

  • Africa Office of Global Ministries and the Disciples of Christ Historical Society: Memorandums, letters, reports, correspondence and Schedules, Joint Ministry in Africa and UCBWM, and with leaders of the UCCM, 1992-1994
  • Report:  “WCC Round Table, Christian Council of Mozambique,”  Maputo, Mozambique, Rovuma Hotel; October 12 – 14, 1991;  also “Minutes of the Christian Council of Mozambique Extended Core Group Meeting,” October 1-2, 1992
  • Goodrich, Howard B., Reports, constituency letters, schedules, travel notes and descriptions from H. B. Goodrich missionary service, particularly 1991-1992 records; also reports and reflections, 1993-2012

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