Bishop played important role in bringing peace to Mozambique

March 16, 2005

NOTE: This story is part of a six-week Close Up series, "Mozambique: A Land of Contrasts." Related reports, photographs and audio will be available at http://umns.umc.org as the series progresses.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

MAPUTO, Mozambique (UMNS)—Joao S. Machado has a burden on his heart. He has just returned from visiting a village where he witnessed women and children drinking "muddy, brown water" from a ditch.

As he tells the story, he can hardly breathe or talk. He wipes tears from his eyes as he remembers the image.

"It was brown, brown water, but they are drinking it," he says, his voice rising. "I want to tell you I was trying to be strong enough not to collapse there. I don’t know how these people are alive with water like that, but God is always good. They are living by the grace of God."

The United Methodist bishop of Mozambique is a man deeply in love with his people.

Machado is overcome with grief at the country’s poverty, the HIV/AIDs epidemic and other problems, but he is equally filled with joy for the work of the United Methodist Church in his homeland.

Elected bishop in 1988 during a bloody civil war, he risked his life for the cause of peace during the early years of his episcopacy.

In a small office in his home, he fondly holds up a peace award he received from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries for his efforts. He was one of the religious leaders in Mozambique’s National Council of Churches who approached both sides in the war to negotiate for peace.

He remembers the day his relationship with President Joaquim Chissano became a friendship.

On that day, he compared the people of Mozambique to hungry children. "I said, ‘My president, when you come home from work, your kids come running to you and hug you and say, ‘Dad I want meat,’" he says, recounting the meeting. "‘Maybe you don’t have any money to buy meat, there is no meat at home, but the kids want meat to eat. We come here not to tell you how you can give us peace; we are your kids, and we want peace.’"

Chissano told Machado and the other religious leaders if they made an effort to talk to the head of the "bandits," then he would be open to a discussion.

That task took Machado on a long and dangerous trip that ended with an agreement from rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama to meet with the president.

"I have a long story about the last time we went to Kenya," Machado says.

He and two other religious leaders, one Anglican and one Catholic, set off for Kenya to find Dhlakama. When they arrived, they were told he had left and gone to Malawi. With no money for another plane ticket, food or hotel rooms, the three prayed for help. Help came from a friend Machado knew from the All Africa Conference, who bought them plane tickets to Malawi.

The three flew to Malawi and were told the rebel leader had left and gone to Tanzania. Once again, a friend from the All Africa Conference helped them get plane tickets to Tanzania. They arrived in Tanzania only to find once again the man had left and returned to Kenya.

By this time the three bishops had shared their last dime, ordered one chicken dinner and divided it among themselves and waited until midnight to sneak back into one hotel room. They knew they could only stay in Kenya one more day. The rebel leader kept them waiting for hours. "I was so angry," Machado remembers. "I said, ‘Let me begin.’"

He opened his Bible and the page that it fell open to was Matthew 5:9: "Blessed [are] the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

He told Dhlakama, "We are here not because the government asked us to be, we are here not because we want to receive something. We are only here because of the millions of people who are suffering. Can you take the first step? If you do that, you will be blessed."

Dhlakama agreed.

After that meeting, Dhlakama asked Machado for a copy of the Bible verse he had read. "I said, no, I can’t give you the passage, I want to give you the whole Bible. To this day, that man has my Bible."

Machado says because of the efforts to bring about peace, the United Methodist Church has a great reputation in Mozambique today.

After the peace agreement was signed in 1992, the United Methodist Church began growing rapidly, he says. In 1988, the church had 33,000 members in Mozambique; today, it has more than 180,000.

"This is really a growing church," Machado says. "Our challenge now is how to sustain this growth with pastors and schools and health care. We don’t want to only evangelize spiritually, but we want to also teach the people how to live well."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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