BURLINGTON, Vt. Teams of Volunteers in Mission frequently go to African nations, helping build churches or homes. Now, for only the second time, a Volunteer in Mission team has come from the African nation of Mozambique to the United States to build relationships, unity and faith.
Eleven men and women both clergy and lay from the United Methodist Churchs Mozambique Area, arrived in Burlington May 4 for a three-week visit. The team attended the Troy Annual Conference session and is spending time with congregations across the conference. The first Mozambique Volunteer in Mission team to the United States visited the Troy Conference in spring 1998.
The Mozambique Area and the Troy Conference have been in relationship for more than a decade. Troy teams have traveled to Mozambique nine times in the 12 years since the African country emerged from civil war. Volunteers from those teams, wishing to build a relationship of ministry and support with their friends in Mozambique, suggested inviting teams to the United States. Local churches raised about $40,000 to bring the team here.
While North Americans tend to think of "doing mission" as a way of offering help and inspiration to a "less developed" part of the world, the church in Mozambique challenges North Americans to consider mission and ministry a two-way experience.
"To have peace in Mozambique, Troy Annual Conference helped our church and our country. We wish to bring peace to the United States, with all the challenges you face," said the Rev. Zaqueu Ranchaze, team leader and Mozambique Area Volunteers in Mission coordinator.
"We are here today because Troy Annual Conference and the Mozambique Area are one church," Ranchaze told the conference assembly.
In response to a question about how the North American church can work in partnership with African brothers and sisters, Ranchaze said, "Come to Mozambique and see what we really need your hearts will tell you what to do." He stressed the importance of direct relationship and mutuality: "We have to share with each other; we have to share experiences." Financial support, he said, is less important than direct relationship.
Team member Naftal Oliveira Naftal agreed. "The money doesnt stay," Naftal said. "(Sending money) doesnt give people an experience that will last."
The message of unity and mutuality was repeated throughout the conference session. "Ours is a message of love rooted in the person of Jesus Christ," said the Rev. Zefanias Augusto Chihulume, a pastor studying at United Methodist-related Africa University in Zimbabwe. "Its our strong belief that we have something in common, and we need to have time together to share what is common" between Africans and North Americans.
To provide for such sharing, Chihulume proposes an ongoing exchange. He would like his church to send two young people to the United States to be in mission for two years, while two young people from the United States would work in his country. This way, he said, his church could "share our spiritual resources" with North Americans. In addition, he wants to see more short-term teams from Mozambique invited to the United States.
Chihulume noted differences between the cultures that could be instructive to North Americans. "Ours is a church of the young," said the 27-year-old, who was ordained an elder four years ago. "And, we find value in life apart from material things."
Even when he has to travel miles by foot to do his work, even when he has to go a day without food, even in times of suffering, he said, "I still know God is there." Wealth in the United States, he suspects, can distract people from their relationship to God. "In Africa," Chihulume said, "everything is done in a spiritual way."
In the United States, he noticed, "people are in a hurry." He took note that "in the U.S., everything seems to have to follow the schedule. If the paper says its time for worship to end, you end, no matter what. We believe that the Spirit will lead."
Team members were eager to speak of the vitality of their churches and their ministries with children, youth and women. Cecelia Jose, who was a member of both VIM teams from Mozambique, spoke of the 25,000 children under age 12 served by the Womens Society in her annual conference.
She challenged Troy Conference Christians to reach out to children and youth. "I felt sorry," she said, "when we went to a church here and some women told me the youth are not very involved. I would like EVERYONE to be involved in getting the young people to church."
The Rev. Telma Arminda Eduardo, a former district superintendent, now serves as womens coordinator for the Mozambique Area. She described the life-giving ministries of seven training centers, an orphanage and a center for the elderly. Even some Muslim women, she said, go to United Methodist training centers to gain self-supporting skills in areas such as sewing, public health, computer work. Some of the women have been cast out of their families for being childless or have been accused of being "witch doctors," but the United Methodist Church gives them skills to survive.
On the final evening of the Troy Conference session, the Mozambicans led the assembly in prayer and songs from their tradition. Team leader Ranchaze offered "thanks for making us feel warm in these cold temperatures" and voiced the hope that the two annual conferences would continue in a relationship of mutuality.
The team presented to the conference a wooden carving of a map of Mozambique. The planning committee from the host conference gave the team a wall hanging portraying mountains, echoing the conference theme "Come to the Mountains," and evoking the mountains of Mozambique, Vermont and northern New York.
As a gift to Bishop Susan M. Morrison, the team wrapped her in a scarf with a map of Mozambique woven into it, and a head wrap, in African fashion. The visitors also presented the bishop with a small tin "to keep treasure in."
"The treasure," the bishop responded, "is the relationship. Every time I am with people from Mozambique, my heart gets fuller, with a sisterhood and brotherhood I didnt know was possible."
Morrison has been to Mozambique twice. In summer 2002, she took part in a Volunteers in Mission team from Troy Conference. During that visit, she joined Bishop Joao Somane Machado in consecrating the Xinhambanine Temple in Maputo, a church that Troy volunteers had helped build. Joaquim Chissano, president of Mozambique, attended the consecration.
By Albert H. Lee