My daughter, Daniela, returned from a visit to Mozambique last week. She reported vibrant market places, hardworking entrepreneurs and friendly people delighted to receive Gospel literature in their language. It is astounding the changes we have witnessed in Mozambique over the past 34 years since my first Mission to Mozambique!
The Lord brought Mozambique to my mind and heart through Operation World. It was while praying through the 1978 edition of Operation World at all-night prayer meetings in the Army, that the Lord guided me into my first cross-border mission work to Mozambique. When I read that Mozambique was the least evangelised country in the Southern Hemisphere and that there was less than one Bible for every thousand people, in this longsuffering, war-torn, Marxist state, the Lord galvanised me into launching Frontline Fellowship into Mozambique.
In 1975, after being an overseas province of Portugal for 470 years, Mozambique was abandoned by the Portuguese. Its independence was declared on 25 June 1975. Despite the existence of several political parties and numerous requests for a referendum or elections, the country was abandoned to the Marxist revolutionaries, FRELIMO. There was no referendum, or opportunity for elections.
Samora Machel imposed a harsh Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat upon Mozambique. All educational institutions, hospitals, businesses, industries, agriculture and commerce were nationalised. All property was confiscated. A mass exodus of skilled Portuguese settlers resulted. Within a year of independence, less than 20 medical doctors remained in the country.
The Marxist Revolution in Mozambique also brought the thriving tourism industry to an abrupt halt. FRELIMO closed the border with neighbouring Rhodesia, committing virtual economic suicide. The closure of the border with Rhodesia deprived Mozambique of more than US$500 million a year of hard currency. This caused even further unemployment and brought the Port of Beira to a virtual standstill. Formerly, 500,000 South African and Rhodesian tourists had visited Mozambique each year. After the Revolution, they were no longer welcome. Not that there was much in the shops, or many functioning restaurants, or hotels, that could have accommodated them anyway.
With the aid of the Soviet KGB, and the East German Stasi, Mozambique's own security organisation, SNASP was established. SNASP set up re-education centres called Centres for Mental De-colonialisation. On Samora Machel's first state visit to the Soviet Union, he pledged to transform Mozambique into the first truly Marxist state in Africa!
A New Colonialism
Military agreements were signed between the USSR and the People's Republic of Mozambique. Soviet, Hungarian, Bulgarian, East German, Vietnamese, and Cuban military advisors flooded into Mozambique.
From the beginning the Marxist FRELIMO government was vitriolically anti-Christian. One of the very first acts of the FRELIMO terrorist campaign, was the murder of a minister in August 1964. The freedom fighters chopped off a priest's head and mockingly placed his head on the altar, then desecrated the church. Samora Machel was involved in the ritual eating of human flesh during a witchcraft ceremony, where he pledged his soul to satan, if he would be given control of FRELIMO. During this cannibalistic episode, Machel vowed the destruction of the Church in Mozambique.
War Against God
With Mozambique delivered into his blood-soaked hands, the new president of the Popular Republic of Mozambique declared war on the Church. At mass rallies, in the now nationalised press and over the FRELIMO controlled radio, Machel called priests: parrots and monkeys. He lashed out at the Church accusing it of being a remnant of colonialism, a tool of fascism and an instrument of division. Thousands of churches in Mozambique were closed, confiscated, nationalised, chained and padlocked, boarded up, or burned down. Missionaries were expelled. Some were imprisoned first. Evangelism was forbidden. Bibles were ceremonially burned and tens-of-thousands of Christians, including many pastors and elders were shipped off to concentration camps - most were never seen again.
The Time of Terror
At least 300,000 people were incarcerated in re-education camps and 75,000 publically executed as reactionaries, black marketers, and counter revolutionaries.
Mission to Mozambique
From 1982, I undertook numerous, regular and extensive field outreaches to Mozambique. Frequently riding by off-road motorbike laden with thousands of Gospels, New Testaments and Bibles in Portuguese and Shangaan, and a four reel copy of the Jesus film in 16mm, I proclaimed the Gospel in Maputo, Beira and throughout Manica, Sofala, Zambezia and Tete provinces.
I calculated that there was less than one Bible for every 250 Christians in many areas and some areas barely had one Bible for every 1,000 church goers. Many of the people were thin and hungry. Many were eating insects, roots and boiled grass. Most were malnourished and many were sick.
In the Killing Fields
I travelled by motorbike, dugout canoe and by foot in remote areas of Tete and Zambezia provinces. During one extensive Mission, in 1986, I documented over 42 villages which had been burned to the ground, 74 churches which had been destroyed and over 60 incidences of Bibles being burned, and 28 incidences of FRELIMO, or Zimbabwe troops, having massacred whole villages. I regularly saw burned out villages, burned out fields and unburied corpses. I was shown the scars of bayonet and bullet wounds of several church leaders. I listened to many testimonies of Christians who had suffered trauma and torture at the hands of the communists. I ministered to people who had lost all their possessions, and many who had had their loved ones taken away to Rua Rua (one of 16 concentration camps in Mozambique). Many of the eye-witness testimonies gathered on these Mission trips were published: In the Killing Fields of Mozambique.
By 1995, after three decades of civil war, first against the Portuguese, and then against its own people, Mozambique was a shattered nation. Operation World reported that Mozambique was the world’s poorest country at that time. At the height of the war, in 1992, more than 40% of the population were refugees, including 4 million internally displaced and 1.8 million external refugees in neighbouring countries. Deaths from the civil war and man-made famine were estimated at well over one million.
In 1989, while leading a medical team in Northern Mozambique, we were captured by FRELIMO soldiers and flown by Russian pilots in Mi-8 HIP helicopters to Tete, were we were interrogated. When we circled Tete airport, I pointed to the bombed out remains of the control tower, two devastated hangers and some burned out aircraft. "What happened?" I asked.
"The Rhodesians bombed Tete airport in 1979", the Russian explained. Nothing seemed to have been repaired in the 10 years since.
Later Russian pilots transported us in Antonov-26 transport aircraft to Maputo where we were imprisoned in the notorious Machava Security Prison. During the flight in the helicopter, I asked the Soviet pilot: "Why are all the villages and crops burned down? Who is responsible for this?"
"The FRELIMO government burns it down to starve out the Resistance," declared one Russian in a matter-of-fact way. Another one explained: "We are draining the sea to catch the fish!" Referring to the RENAMO resistance movement.
In Maputo, each of us were separated and placed in pitch darkness, in solitary confinement. My concrete cell was 2 x 2.5 meters. There was no bed. Cockroaches scurried around and persistent mosquitos attacked me in swarms throughout the nights. Rats squeezed under the door to try and nibble on my limbs. The walls of our cells were covered in Christian graffiti: Please God help me; Jesus is my Lord and Saviour; I have not eaten for 38 days; God is my refuge; many verses, some crosses and fish symbols. We were evidently not the first Christian prisoners in these cells, nor were we the last.
For interrogations, I was ushered down a dark and dirty corridor into a sorry little office where everything was broken and dirty.
"I am the devil", declared the SNASP investigator, by way of introduction. "Not only am I a Leninist, I am a Stalinist. I studied 3 years in Czechoslovakia!"
"Well, I am a Christian", was my reply.
"I hate Christians!" he declared.
I was then subjected to a long monologue abut how God didn’t exist, how Jesus was the first communist, how all Christians must become liberation theologians and how the function of the church should be to advance the Revolution!
"I cannot agree with that." In reply I gave a lengthy discourse on the Renaissance, the Humanist philosophies of Voltaire and Roussouw and the resultant French Revolution. My SNASP interrogator then launched into a bitter attack on capitalism and gave a defence of socialism. He rambled on about mythology and ended up attacking Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies.
Amazed at how incompetent and inefficient this member of SNASP was, I proceeded to give a lecture on the Reformation. He then got very enthusiastic about Marxism, declared the interrogation over, and sent me back to my cell!
Campaign for Freedom
While we were enduring imprisonment and interrogations, our Mission was busy campaigning for our release. Mozambique embassies in Europe and America were being deluged with phone calls and faxes protesting our arrest and demanding our release.
Sensational newspaper headlines declared: RENAMO – sponsoring Clergyman Captured; Baptist Minister is FRELIMO's Top Captive; Missionaries linked to RENAMO; Baptist Minister is Most Important RENAMO Backer.
After a week of abuse at the hands of the FRELIMO Secret Police, international pressure succeeded in securing our release. We were driven through the squalor and filth of the dilapidated capital, in its sea of squatter camps, to SNASP HQ in Maputo. Without explanation, or apology, we were unceremoniously handed over to our respective embassy officials. An immaculately dressed tall blonde woman asked: "Well, who are the Americans?" The six medical workers raised their hands and were embraced with shrieks and sounds of joy and excitement. With arms around them, the American Consulate official led them out the door saying: "Well, let's get you over to the American Embassy, for a shower and some hamburgers!"
As they disappeared down the hallway, I turned and saw a man in a suite who asked very quietly: "And who is the British gentleman?"
I was the only person left in the room, not wearing camouflage and carrying an AK-47, but I raised my hand. The Consulate official shook my hand and asked: "Had a spot of bother have you? Well let's get you over to the British Embassy for a cup of tea."
That incident seemed to epitomise the difference between the Americans and the British.
By God's grace, and in answer to prayer and international pressure, in 1994, the FRELIMO government renounced Marxism, opened up the economy and accepted a multi-party democracy. Church buildings and lands were returned to the congregations that they had been confiscated from. Firearms that had been confiscated were returned to those still alive. The borders were opened. Missionaries were welcomed back into the country and religious freedom was announced.
Conditions in most of the country remains harsh, but Mozambique is wide open to the Gospel and spiritually responsive. After being devastated by decades of communist oppression and civil war, Mozambique remains one of the world's poorest countries. Cyclones, floods and other natural disasters have dramatically disrupted development and destroyed infrastructure. Mozambique remains heavily reliant on outside aid and a huge public debt burdens the country. Many people struggle from day to day to survive. Life expectancy has risen to 48 years. Over 16% of the population have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Over 5 million cases of malaria occur each year. Corruption is endemic. Decades of Marxist indoctrination created a society that was morally bankrupt and where life was cheap, violent and short.
However, there are many positive developments. As Lenora and I drove and walked around Maputo recently, we could see free enterprise being practised by many people with busy shops, sidewalk markets and entrepreneurs of all kinds plying their trade on the streets. Many new churches have opened and the number of Evangelicals has quadrupled. In 1975, barely 3% of the population were Evangelical. By 2005, this had grown to 12%. Today that figure has more than doubled again.
Challenges for the Future
However, along with the massive church growth, syncretism and legalism have grown. While Christians in Mozambique are eager to learn, Leadership training has been inadequate and there is widespread ignorance of Biblical teaching and standards. As many as 80% of the pastors have little, or no, formal training. Many are functionally illiterate.
Unreached People Groups
There are still unreached people groups in Mozambique including the Makhuwa, who are mostly Animist, and partly Muslim, in the far North. The Yao people of Niassa Province are over 96% Muslim. The weather is hot and humid, and the infrastructure is inadequate. Mozambique is still a hard Mission field, but it is light years from the death and destruction that predominated in the 70s and 80s. Much progress has been made and the potential for growth is promising.
Unfortunately many churches see foreign Missions as a cash cow to finance their every need and greed. Money being so scarce, has the potential to be very divisive and destructive. Foreign missionaries need to be very sensitive, wise and discerning in how they go about their leadership training work in Mozambique.
It was traumatic to travel and minister in the killing fields of Mozambique in those terrible years of persecution in the 1980s, but it was in the killing fields of Mozambique that the Mission of Frontline Fellowship was truly formed. God used our missions to Mozambique as the training ground which forced us to spend much time praying the Psalms and studying the Scriptures to find answers to the compelling questions which assailed us:
Why do bad things happen to good people?
How did communism come to take over in Mozambique?
How can we share the love of God with people who have suffered so much cruelty and violence?
What constitutes legitimate government?
What can we learn from the persecuted Church?
These and so many other difficult and disturbing questions forced me to re-evaluate my Faith, my Doctrine and our Missionary strategy.
Learn More About Mozambique
Let us continue to pray for the fulfilment of the Great Commission in Mozambique.
Dr. Peter Hammond
P O Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa