Beauty, despair mingle to make Mozambique unforgettable

March 16, 2005

NOTE: This story begins 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*

CHICUQUE, Mozambique (UMNS)—Chicuque, on the shore of the Indian Ocean, is breathtaking. Early in the morning, men are on the beach throwing out and dragging in heavy nets of fat, shiny fish. Coconut trees sway in the warm breeze, laughing children stream past on their way to school.

Directly across from the beach is Chicuque Rural Hospital. People suffering and dying from AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and a high infant and maternal mortality rate flood through the front doors and spill out into the yard of this hospital every day.

It is the contrast between the beautiful and the ugly that makes Mozambique a place you can’t forget. And it is the genuine hospitality and passion of the people that make it a place you fall in love with. United Methodists from other countries who have experienced the spirit of Mozambique are responding with life-saving gifts and are being rewarded with lifelong friendships.

"The hospitality, the warmth, the passion, the faith, the joy of seeing the extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary, perseverance in the midst of unbelievable circumstances touched my heart," says Bishop Ann Sherer, former episcopal leader of the Missouri Conference, describing her first encounter with Mozambique in 1995.

Sherer and Mozambique Bishop Joao S. Machado have become close friends over the years. The Missouri Annual (regional) Conference of the United Methodist Church has spent more than $1 million in ministries with Mozambique.

The denomination’s Volunteers in Mission from the United States are often the "angels" bringing much-needed supplies to Chicuque Rural Hospital. "The Volunteers In Missions have been very resourceful for us; they bring suitcases with supplies," says Jeremias Franca, hospital administrator. "Sometimes we run out of supplies like sutures, and we dig into a bag dropped off by a VIM team and we find what we need. These are the things that enable Chicuque Rural Hospital to be the miracle that it is."

In a country dying from the HIV/AIDS crisis, words from United Methodist pulpits often bring comfort.

"The word of pastors in Mozambique is more respected than the word of politicians because of what we did bringing peace in Mozambique," Machado says. "They know the message of the church is true."

Teaching the people to love those who are infected with AIDS and ways to prevent the disease from spreading is the role of the church, he says.

"In the pulpit we can say these things. We can appeal to the people. Those living with HIV/AIDS are still in our family—they need our love and support. This is the message we need to tell people."

By buying equipment and training people to drill wells, the United Methodist Church is bringing a life-giving resource to a country deeply in need of clean water.

"Most people take it for granted that water comes from a tap, (but) the reality is very different for most in Mozambique," says Benedita Penicela, director of the Living Water Society in Mozambique, a program supported by the United Methodist Church.

"In some cases, the nearest water is 10 kilometers away," she says. "It is mostly a job for women and girls. Many cannot attend school because they have to travel all day to get water." Because so many girls are spending their days fetching water for their families, a whole generation is being affected, she says.

Machado became bishop of Mozambique in 1988 while the country was in a bloody civil war. The war left behind a legacy of poverty and a countryside littered with landmines.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is working in partnership with Accelerated Demining Program, and since 2003, more than 3 million meters of land have been cleared.

Seeing former death traps turn into places of hope is "magic," says Jacky D’Almeida, director of the program to clear the landmines.

The church is the only group doing this work, without any government involvement, and is crucial to the success of this program, D’Almeida says.

Seeing Mozambique and meeting the people changes your perspective, Sherer says.

"I visited with a pastor whose child had brown, not black, hair," she says. "His hair was brown because of malnutrition. As I looked at those little kids with their distended bellies and their brown hair, I realized he was a United Methodist pastor just like my United Methodist pastors back in Missouri. And I thought, he and his children deserve the same consideration that our pastors in Missouri deserve. We’re all United Methodist pastors."

Upon returning home from that trip, she told the story to churches in Missouri. During the next year and a half, every church in Mozambique developed a covenant relationship with a church in Missouri.

"Persons in Missouri began to see the world through a developing country’s eyes, to know that more people live like the folk in Mozambique than live like the people in Missouri, which shifts how you see the world," Sherer says. "It gave us a perspective that changed us."

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

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

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