The church I attended on Sunday morning in Manga meets in a tiny wood-and-straw structure built on sand – yes, it brings to mind both the story of the Three Little Pigs and the song about the foolish man building his house upon the sand. In this case, the church had no choice. Out of nothing, they were able to build something. And the pastor remains strong in the face of ridicule from other pastors who have larger churches.
A few years ago the pastor and his wife were sent by the denomination to a remote district to start a church. The plan was for the denomination to build them a house in Manga, rent it out, and use the money to support them in their remote location. Unfortunately, the house was never built, and the church they were serving was unable to support them, so they were left with literally nothing.
In the meantime the church building in Manga was burnt down by arsonists.
After a time of continuous struggle, the pastor and his wife returned to Manga – from nothing, to nothing. They had no possessions, they had no church building to return to, and the congregation had dwindled to one person. But they remained strong, and little by little they regained necessary possessions, such as pots and pans and cooking utensils. More people joined them in rebuilding the church that they now have. There is also now half a cement structure beside the current structure – the beginnings of a more secure church building.
What’s more exciting than a new church building is the growth of the congregation in two years. On Sunday, it was pouring rain (and I only saw two small leaks in the thatch roof!), so there were only about 20 people there sitting on thin wooden benches. But, wow, when those 20 finished singing in harmony and clapping, my ears were ringing. On a dry day, the congregation would have been at least twice as big.
What encouraged me most was how the church clearly cares for their community. At the beginning of the service people mentioned that a member, Juana, was home with malaria. She was mentioned again during the service, and afterwards we all walked to her house to pray for her. Twenty of us crammed into a kitchen/dining room/living room about the size of an American’s closet (with about as much ventilation as a closet) and clapped and sang while someone prayed for Juana who sat on a mat on the floor. I’m not sure I’d want that kind of attention if I was sick at home with a fever, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the care that the congregation showed. When was the last time I visited a sick church member to pray for him/her? Have I ever visited a sick church member or friend to pray for him/her?
People here are impressed with our big church buildings in America, our well-trained pastors, the numbers of people sitting in our churches on a Sunday morning. But how much do we have to be impressed with a group of people in a village in Mozambique who worship with their whole beings and pray for and comfort those in need? A group who two years ago were nothing and had nothing.