Two Disciples from Georgia Experience Christianity in a Southern Africa Context
A broad-shouldered border guard stepped away from his post and walked purposefully toward me. I had just stepped out of the car and was preparing to present my passport to enter Mozambique. My brother, David, my 19-year-old son, Henry, and I had been in Swaziland for three days, and we were returning to the capital city Maputo, where David and his wife live and serve international nonprofit agencies. As the border guard neared me, David – who speaks Portuguese — left his space on the visa application line in order to run interference in case there was a problem. The guard drew near, smiled, and said, “Pastor James!”
David was taken aback. How was it possible that someone knew his brother, almost 9,000 miles away from his home, and called him by title and name at an isolated border crossing in Southern Africa? After a millisecond of thought I recognized the guard; we had worshipped God together the previous Sunday at Malhangalene Parish in Maputo. “I remember you,” I said to the border guard. “You served as a deacon and wore a sharp blue suit. Please tell me your name, and what are you doing over a hundred kilometers from Maputo?” Urias Temotes Simango said that he patrols the border during the week and stays in the city on the weekends, where he is a member of the United Church of Christ congregation.
Travelling across Southern Africa for three weeks in July opened my eyes and faith to many new wonders. I discovered anew how beautiful God’s people, lands, and church are and can be. Urias Simango remembered me and Henry because we shared a love for Jesus Christ and His Church. His pastor, the Rev. Lucas Amosse of the Malhangalene Parish in the United Church of Christ in Mozambique, invited me to preach the Gospel on Sunday, July 4, 2010. The service would be in a local dialect called Changana, Portuguese, and English. When we got to church that morning Henry was placed with the youth choir. Isabel, a bright 17-year-old, served as his interpreter, patiently explaining what was being said as well as their customs. Henry happily joined in with the teenagers, standing head and shoulders taller yet one in the Spirit, singing phonetically out of the Changana hymnbook. The tunes were ones we’ve known all our lives; the language was different yet the Spirit gave us the gift of understanding. “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.” After the sermon it was time for the offering, which the congregation called thanksgiving. And thanksgiving it was. Folks sang, danced and rejoiced as they came forward to place their hard-earned tithes into the offering plates. What a blessing it is to give thanks for God’s gifts and to be able to share tithes with joy. Little did I know that in the context of worship a relationship was forming that would be renewed a few days later on a lonely border crossing. This is what ministry is all about, my friends: the building and fostering of relationships, with the grace of God.
Henry is majoring in International Relations at Lynchburg College. I am blessed to serve as Senior Pastor of a significant downtown Disciples congregation. We went to Southern Africa to visit family in Mozambique, watch a World Cup game in Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, and witness what our Global Mission partners are experiencing. I am delighted to report that we visited nine churches in Maputo and Cape Town; a bible college in Mozambique called Ricatla United Seminary; and Ons Plek, a social action agency ministering to runaway girls in South Africa. Each of these ministries is connected to you and me through Global Ministries; each one is serving God in powerful and wonderful ways. Before we left Atlanta in June, we were curious about how our mission dollars and energies are being utilized. Now that I have seen with my own eyes the good we are doing by extension of money and prayer and missionaries, I am more open than ever to learning how to deepen relationships built and fostered in excursions across new borders of land and faith.
The Rev. Dr. James L. Brewer-Calvert
Senior Pastor, First Christian Church of Decatur, Georgia