Igreja Reformada em Moçambique (IRM) – Mozambique

Magodane Congregation Thumbine Synod

The story of the Igreja Reformada em Moçambique (IRM) or the Reformed Church in Mozambique is indeed extraordinary; it was established in the middle of much resistance and struggle. The Church could benefit from support from abroad and the Reformed missionaries and evangelists sent to them only for 14 years, that is, from 1908 to 1922, when their missionary work was banned by the Portuguese government and Protestant believers were persecuted. The small flock of young believers, about 342 communicants, had to take care of themselves and were left without ministers. Fifty years later, when ministers from Malawi gained access to them again, the flock had grown to about 4 000 people. That is why the scholar in the mission history of the DRC Family, Dr J. M. Cronjé, referred to this remarkable phenomenon with the words: “a church born is cared for by the Lord.”

Mozambique

Mozambique, the country with the longest stretch of coastline on the Indian Ocean, gained independence from Portugal in 1975, but it still suffers from the effects of a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992. Today, tensions between the ruling Frelimo (Mozambique Liberation Front) party and the former opposition movement, Renamo (Mozambican National Resistance), have not been fully resolved. Corruption has become a major concern in the country. The discovery of gas fields off the Mozambican coast in 2011 has brought hope for economic transformation. The population comes to about 24 million people. The official language is Portuguese while there are also several indigenous languages, including Chichewa in the north-western corner that borders on Malawi and Zambia. The country is mainly Christian, with the Roman Catholic Church in the majority, but also with growing Pentecostal groups. About 17% of the population is Muslim and a rather large percentage adheres to traditional beliefs or do not have any religion.

Difficult beginnings

The early missionary work of the Dutch Reformed Church in Malawi would naturally flow over to the same Chichewa-speaking people living in Portuguese Angoniland just across the border in Mozambique. The Malawian mission station of Mlanda, where Rev. A. G. Murray served, is only two kilometres from this border. Already in 1902, he crossed the border by bicycle and this made him aware of the need to bring the gospel to Mozambique. Mozambique was then a Portuguese colony and the Roman Catholic Church did not want a Protestant mission in the country, even though there was no mission activity at all in the vast Angonia area with its population of more than 200 000 people.

Rev. A. G. Murray received no reply to his request to start working there. So, in 1907 he went to Tête to meet personally with the Portuguese governor who gave him permission to start with mission work in the area. There would be certain conditions, however. The mission could not be closer than 20 miles from any existing or newly founded Roman Catholic mission station, Portuguese should be the language of instruction in the mission schools and missionaries and teachers all had to acquire a certain level of proficiency in Portuguese.

Nevertheless, in June 1908, Rev. A. G. Murray got the necessary permission and on 19 May 1909, he arrived on the banks of the Chibvomozi River in Tête Province. Here he established the first mission station called Mphatso, which means ‘gift’ to testify to God’s gift after many unsuccessful attempts to gain access to the people in this region. The work progressed slowly. Local evangelists from Malawi also came to help with the evangelisation of the people and in 1910 the first adults were baptised.

The same missionary approach that was followed in Malawi was also used in this new missionary endeavour. A school, focusing on reading the Word, was started, as well as a catechumen class in which two young men enrolled (they were the first two converts in 1910), outstations and schools were established and elementary medical aid was provided. Some other missionaries followed and more mission stations were established, viz., Fulankhungo in 1912, Chiputu in 1914 and Bengu also in 1914. The Congregation of Mphatso was officially formed on 28 March 1915, with 95 communicant members and 249 catechumens. It was also decided that the mission work would be supported by the Dutch Reformed Church Transvaal, whose Women’s Missionary Guild played a major role.

But from 1914 the mission started experiencing resistance again, not only from the side of the Roman Catholic Church but also from political authorities. In 1914 the First World War broke out and this caused tension in the region as the links of the DRC missionaries with political leaders in South Africa were mistrusted. The DRC mission also did not strictly enforce the rule of Portuguese as the only language of instruction, but often preferred the local Chichewa language. One after the other mission station had to be closed due to these tensions and eventually, the entire DRC mission was banned from Mozambique in 1922. Thus the young church in Mozambique was left to fend for itself. The faithful crossed the borders from time to time to receive the sacraments at nearby Malawian congregations and the elders took pastoral care of the flock.

New beginnings: An autonomous church is established

After the independence of Mozambique in 1975, the Malawian church sent Revs. P. B. Botha and N. A. Katunda to visit the whatever remained of the Mozambican church and they found it alive and well; it had grown to about 4 000 members! But the communist Frelimo Party who came into power nationalised church schools and church hospitals. Churches were closed and Christians persecuted. During this period thousands of Christians crossed the border into Malawi for Bible teaching and catechism.

During this time the elders in Mozambique were supported by letters from Rev. Pieter Botha from South Africa, and they were encouraged to start their own church. After much prayer, the Igreja Reformada em Moçambique was founded in 1977. Three congregants, David Chikakuda, Fanuel Kasamba and Joshua Mlinde were sent by the ‘Group of Nine’ and the ‘Group of Ten’ (who, in the absence of pastors, took over leadership) to Zambia – on foot – to be trained as pastors. They were ordained in 1980 to commence with their work in Angonia.

The history of the IRM in the South of Mozambique started with a vision for establishing a Shangaan ministry in the South of Mozambique by the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa. Rev. Pedro D. Tembe was sent out and supported by the DRC in Africa in 1971 to start this work. Rev. Tembe was also an integral part of the registration of the IRM in 1977. He served alone until Rev. Cuamba was ordained in 1984 to share the workload, with Revs. Jossitala and Filipe Luis continuing the work in the 1990s.

The Novo Synod was formed in Maputo on the 19th of September 1996 and consisted of the work in the provinces of Maputo, Gaza, Sofala, Manhica, Zambezia, Niassa and Cabo Delgado. That included the continuation of the historic work as well as a new drive to reach the unreached people groups of Mozambique.

A theological school was started by Rev. Pieter Botha in Rikatla and Rev. L. Muhlunga was the first student from there to be ordained.

But early in the 1980s, the effects of the Mozambican Civil War were so severe that the rural areas depopulated and the three IRM pastors of the time had to flee to refugee camps in Malawi wile Pastor Tembo went to Maputo.

The DRC family returns as partners

Since the 1980s Mozambique has started rising from the ashes of 28 years of war; they had first lived through a liberation war and then a civil war. The church played a vital role in the process of restoring Mozambique right from the start. In the late 1980s, the doors opened for missionaries again when President Samora Machel called on churches to assist the government in rebuilding Mozambique. In 1986 Rev. Pieter Botha and Mrs Jeanette Botha, his wife, were appointed as lecturers at the interdenominational seminary in Ricatla near Maputo. Rev. Kobus Minnaar joined the Bothas, and in 1990 he established a congregation at Vila Ulónguè. A new church was built there in July 1991 by the Presbytery of Tulbagh and Rev. Willie Gouws and Mrs Griet Gouws, his wife, were called to serve there.

During Cyclone Idai DRC partners came to support Novo Synod. Back: Revs. Albert Venter, Llewellyn Oliver, Marcelino Sande, Carl Louwrens. Front: Revs. Joao Sande, Gabrielle Chibota, Alberto Fane and Jacob Chassanda. Front: Rev. Castro Ragibo

When peace was declared in 1992, this country was officially the poorest country in the world. More than a million people had died and about 20 000 children had been orphaned. Agriculture and the economy had come to a halt. From the ruined country came a desperate cry: anyone, also Christians, was welcome to come and help. And so the DRC family in South Africa took hands with this young sister church in Mozambique and became involved in an almost unreached mission field.

By the grace of the Lord the IRM today consists of three synods:  Novo in the south, Tumbine in the north-east and Mphatso in the north-west, together forming one General Synod with almost 80 000 members, 75 congregations and 86 pastors.

Women play a vital role in the church. The spiritual and physical needs in Mozambique are still huge. Even today the tension between Frelimo and Renamo is impacting greatly on the functioning of the church.

The Church is, however, blessed to have pastors who serve diligently despite the political conflict. Both the Turbine and Mphatso synods are also involved in mission projects and are reaching out to new areas.

The Joint Mission Commission of Mozambique ensures good cooperation between the churches of the DRC Family that are involved with the three IRM synods:

  • The DRC congregations in the eastern and northern synods of the DRC maintain good relationships with IRM congregations and pastors of the Novo Synod. This synod works in the region south of the Zambezi River and consists of 22 congregations. The DRC congregations that are involved with the Novo Synod form part of the Novo Partnership and Rev. Carl Louwrens of the DRC Kruger National Park manages the relations.
  • The ‘Handevat’ (joining of hands) ministry of Rev. Danie Murray and the DRC Proteahoogte in Cape Town focuses on maintaining healthy relationships between DRC and IRM congregations in the Tumbine Synod in the north-eastern parts of Mozambique and falls within the Ruvuma Partnership.
  • Dr Kobus Odendaal, Witness Ministry of the DRC Family Cape Region’s task team manager Africa Ecumene, facilitates the maintenance of good relationships with the Mphatso and Tumbine Synods.

    HEFSIBA with students and their wives in front of the main building, Mphatso Synod.

  • The Hefsiba Institute for Christian Higher Education at Vila Ulónguè has university status and also offers accredited certificate, diploma and degree courses in Theology, Psychology and Business Studies. They recently opened two satellite campuses at Mocuba and Milanje. Dr Kruger du Preez (now retired) played a significant role in developing this institution.
  • Several projects in the field of medicine, education and agriculture in the Tumbine Synod are sustained by means of the Ruvuma Partnership by supporters in South Africa.
  • The Community Health Project at Vila Ulónguè makes use of a mobile unit that visits ten clinics in two districts every month. They focus on family planning, prenatal care and healthcare for children under 5. These are the only medical services available in these remote areas.

Challenges

Some of the biggest challenges are the declining of spiritual growth of members and youth, resulting in drifting away from the church. Long distances from one prayer house to another is also a big challenge. The lack of means of transport for pastors to be able to maintain their pastoral duties is a big stumble stone. It also applies to the ministries among the children, youth and women. It is also difficult for a number of congregations to be able to support their pastors financially. Fundraising is also not an option for most of these congregations.

Contact:

IRM Novo Synod
Rev. Gariel Marata Chibota
m.almeidachibota@gmail.com

IRM Mphatso Synod
Rev. Miguel Nobre
nobrevila@gmail.com

IRM Tumbine Synod
Rev. João Herbath Kachemue
pastor.herbath@gmail.com