Substitutionary Confession

In our staff devotions this morning, we read from Nehemiah 9:26-38. While I was reading, two verses stood out to me. “Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that You gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruits and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. And its rich yield goes to the kings whom You have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please and we are in great distress.” (vs. 36-37) 

A lot has been said about the rampant corruption and violent crime epidemic in South Africa for a while now as well as about the crippling effects of the worst drought in decades. If we take some of the warnings in Scripture seriously, we may conclude that these seemingly separate subjects are actually linked by the collective sins of our people…we are told that peace and prosperity is a byproduct of God’s blessing upon an obedient people…strife and struggle and suffering is a byproduct of the withholding of God’s blessing. And, according to this reading, the rulers we have are those whom God places over us because of our sins…
The chapter as a whole is about confession, contrition, and covenant commitment…in it the Levites recited the nation’s history from creation to their present day to point out a pattern of disobedience that eventually culminated in the nation being defeated and exiled. Now, they had returned to their land after 70 years in Babylon, but still they were not entirely free…indeed, they were never really free again, save for a short period under the Hasmonean Kings. 
But what struck me in the reading of this passage was the willingness of the people to confess the sins of the nation as if they were their own. We see this in Daniel chapter 9 as well, where a man described as faithful to the Lord and His Law even to the point of dangerous civil disobedience, confesses the sins of the nation as if they were his own with “prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes”. “We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from Your commandments and rules. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets…” We…not they.
It is so easy for us to point fingers at others and to blame them for the current state of affairs in South Africa. We can look back in time and blame our ancestors…we can look across the political spectrum and blame each other…but the blame game does not solve anything. It just serves to deepen the gulf that divides us from each other and to perpetuate the resentment and bitterness that robs us of the dream of unity as the rainbow nation. 
But to confess the collective sins of the nation as a whole…to confess the sins of our ancestors and our contemporaries as if they were our own, may help to bring us together at the foot of the cross where the need for forgiveness, grace, and mercy places us all on level ground. And who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from His fierce anger, (Jonah 3:9), and may well hear from heaven and will forgive our sins and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14b).

Mozambique: Day Three

Bang! Bang! Were we the only people in the
guesthouse? Did no one else hear the sound? Bang! Bang! A wind from the ocean,
only 20 km east from here, started blowing during the early hours of the morning
and, as all windows are left open here, doors were being blown open and shut.
Bang! Bang! I heard the voice of Lynn Bouterese of SAMS saying, “Earplugs,
Johann! You need to use earplugs!”
Bang! Bang! Finally, I decided to get up to
close the offending door. But the power had gone off sometime during the night
as well, and it was so dark I could not see my hand in front of my face.
Walking with my arms outstretched, I found our door, walked out into the
courtyard, and towards the banging door. But first things first…I needed to do
what men my age often have to do during the night…but the bathroom was pitch
dark as well. I had to make sure I located the correct receptacle. Bang! Bang!
Blast that door. Having succeeded in my quest, I slowly found my way to the
source of the sound and closed the door. But oh, stuff and fluff! It had no
clip and would not stay closed. The only other option was to open it all the
way to the wall and hope that the wind would keep it there.
After having relocated our bed, I tried in
vain to go back to sleep. After Louise and I had tossed and turned for what
seemed like an eternity, she finally got up to make coffee…they had used
Cassava branches to make the fire, so the water had a distinct sweet fire
flavour. Hmm…Cassava flavoured coffee…
The cooks arrived as I was making our
second cups at 5 AM. “No power?” she said in Portuguese. “No…no power,” I
replied in sign language. Obviously she knew where the problem lay as it came
on soon after. Our hot water for bathing arrived in a kettle…hmm, Cassava…now
we smell like our coffee.
Morning Prayer was at 7 AM…and, praise God,
one clever soul decided that we need to go directly to the conference room
rather than wait for breakfast to arrive. Moving along.
The teaching was difficult today. This is
an unusually large group. 45 participants plus spouses and visitors…some come,
some go. People seemed to be tired and often nodded off. We had to take a lot
more breaks than usual and we did stretching exercises and sang songs in an
attempt to energise folks. Also, there seemed to be a tendency to go off on
rabbit trails…this is quite normal when there are priests in the room (
J), but unfortunately, in this case, it appeared to reveal a lack of
unity and some dissatisfaction within the group itself. Some political
questions came up as well…we tried to dodge them as tactfully as possible,
bringing people back to the manual before them.
I also experienced a first today. One of my
translators was checking his emails while he was translating and answering
questions! Talk about multi-tasking…and he is not even a woman!
It started raining just before lunch…lunch that
was not on time again. Have I said that this training has been very different
and difficult? Not just because of the logistics and the inability to plan
ahead. Not just because of the need for translation. Not just because we have
English manuals and they have Portuguese manuals. Not just because this is
actually a family getaway weekend for clergy families. But everything seemed to
be in slow motion. At one point, during my teaching, I sensed that there was
some spiritual disturbance going on. I looked over to Louise to ask her to pray
and do spiritual warfare. She did and the air cleared. Strange…but real here.
The rain was wreaking havoc with the
electricity throughout the day. On, off…on, off. And then, when lunch arrived
we experienced something of a missionary nightmare. The dish is obviously a
local delicacy, but not something westerners would normally find palatable. An
acquired taste and smell, to be sure…like the Filipino fruit, Durian..or like
Livarot cheese. It appeared to be the stomach of a goat…and you know what they
say…if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…sigh, and we were doing so
well.
The rain brought cooler weather to Maciene.
For us, this was welcome, but for the locals this was catastrophic. Everyone
went searching for woollen scarves and caps and jackets and sweaters. Windows
and doors were closed…which created a bit of a problem with the goat, but
that’s another story.
Then Bishop Carlos arrived together with
Bishop Allen from Pretoria who was accompanied by two Archdeacons and a
non-stipendiary priest…at this point the wheels came off the training bus. They
addressed the group for about two hours. Then we had Evening Prayer and two
choirs. Needless to say, no one was looking forward to another whole session of
training…so we improvised as best we could and shortened it. I took the life of
Peter and condensed it into a story, which, for some or other reason became a
comedy. But through the laughter the penny dropped and I once again heard the
Lord say, “You see? Leave it to Me and I will see that my children understand
the message. I am still the One Who makes Fishers of people out of the most
unlikely people in the most unlikely situations.”
So, yes…ultimately this was a very good
experience…in spite of the many hiccups along the way, the overall message was
comprehended. Bishop Carlos reminded us and everyone else that this was just
the beginning…many people said they could not wait for us to return. Hopefully,
next time, the groups will be smaller.
I gave my old clergy shirts to Padre
Campira, our Growing the Church coordinator, and for one panicky moment I
thought the man was going to kiss me. He told us that he only has one shirt…a
shirt that was given to him when he was ordained many years ago. These priests
and deacons have sacrificed so much to be labourers in God’s Vineyard. This was
a humbling moment for us to be sure.
Their family time continues but our time
has come to an end. Tomorrow we leave for South Africa…

Mozambique: Day Two

What is that awful smell? Something is
clearly rotten in the state of the guesthouse kitchen! I hope it isn’t our
lunch!
Day Two has begun.
Our night had been interrupted periodically
as folks were arriving all hours of the night and morning. Nobody seemed to
have received the “Please be quiet, people sleeping” memo. The birds apparently
had not received it either. Needless to say, our day started in the early hours
of the morning. Thankfully, the kitchen had left hot water in flasks so we
could make coffee. And then that rotten smell invaded the guesthouse…
Thankfully, we had to attend early morning
Eucharist and could escape from the powerful, pungent, pervasive pong that hung
over the whole house. It was a full-on Eucharist with testimonies, prayers for
healing, Choirs, and a possible demonic manifestation included for good
measure. Then there was breakfast, which took a long time. Needless to say, we
started late…but as everything we say has to be translated, we will skip the
Dann Spader videos and make up time that way.
We had to stop at noon for prayers, but
thankfully there were no further unexpected events. Lunch was from one until
two, but as folks had been falling asleep throughout our teaching in the
morning, we were not expecting anything better after lunch! Singing lively
songs and doing stretch exercises did help to revive the group when the heads
drooped too low…but we are still behind our usual schedule.
We had Evening Prayer, followed by two
choir groups…stunning singing, that’s all I can say…even though I wanted
desperately to get on with the teaching! Some times, one just has to chill and
let God be God, no?
We decided to show two of the Dann Spader
videos as we figured out that about two thirds did understand enough English to
follow the message. Everyone seemed to appreciate them and applauded at the end
of both.

Supper and bed…thankfully it is much cooler
and we hope to rest well.

Mozambique: Day One

Voices…I heard voices…loud voices…and it
was as light as day. I jumped out of bed, thinking we had overslept, only to
find that it was 3:45. The city of Maputo never sleeps. From then on I tossed
and turned until it was time to get up. Not a good start to our first day in
Mozambique.
Bishop Carlos, his dear wife, Hortensia,
and his daughter (a medical doctor) Graca, went out of their way to make us
feel welcome. Even though it was so late and we were all very tired, they
presented us with a lavish feast. Maputo is a port city, so fish is a staple
diet…and oh the scrumptious spices!
At 8 AM we went to the Diocesan office and
met up with Padre Campira. He and I met at the Growing the Church coordinators
meetings back in December last year. Deacon Mauricio could not meet us because
he had had a very bad accident just last week…he is fine, but his car is in bad
shape…but, unlike in the US, cars are not written off or totalled here…there
are merely knocked back into shape. As long as they can move, they are back on the
road in no time. He told us that he had stopped skidding a few inches short of
a deep ravine and that he believed the angels were looking out for him that day.
Padre Campira drove with us to show us the
way. We picked up Chico, the J-Life representative, further down the road.
Traffic had prevented him from getting to us on time. Maputo is very much like
Addis without the livestock. Driving here is not for the faint hearted. But it is
hot…not as hot as Gambella, but enough to make you feel uncomfortable. Even the
locals were complaining.
The speed limit along the road varied from
60 km to 80 km and even 100 km in one spot. For the most part we drove 60 as
there are traffic police everywhere and they will apparently stop you on a
whim. Needless to say, it took us a long time to get to our destination!
Maciene is a rather small, rural village
nestled among tall coconut trees and date palms. The Anglican centre has mango
and orange trees as well as manioc fields…all in all, a picturesque place. We
settled into the guesthouse, scouted out the place, had Evening Prayer where we
heard some wonderful singing (cantare!), introduced ourselves to those present,
and had supper. Deacon Mauricio had joined us earlier and we chatted about his
accident. I told them that we had had a sense of a spiritual battle going on in
the heavenly realm regarding this visit. They all agreed. Chico told us that
two nights ago, their gas line mysteriously started leaking while they were
asleep. His wife woke up because of the smell and alerted him to the fact. He
turned it off, but could not find the source of the leak. I told them that we
had many intercessors praying for us and for this training course.

When Satan goes out of his way to hinder
the advance of the Gospel, something great must be waiting down the line. We
are all anticipation. Come, Holy Spirit…come…

An Angel Named João

Today we flew from Cape Town to Lanseria, a smaller, and therefore easily navigable airport close to Johannesburg. From there we drove a rental car to Mozambique…quite a drive, but the landscape is so absolutely stunning that even the four stop and go roadblocks did not phase us.

We had been told all sorts of horror stories about the border crossing, from people waiting in line for 16 hours to people having to pay $500 bribes to get through, and so we were well prepared and well armed. Well prepared in that we had done our homework…we had everything we needed in the car from reflective triangles to reflective vests and ZA stickers for the back of the car. Well armed in that we had asked many to pray for us…and we prayed especially for the Lord’s angels to go before us and to prepare the way.

The crossing on the South African side was confusing, but not a big deal. However, as we crossed over to Mozambique we were swarmed by people all offering to help us through for a price, of course. But as this just started happening, a car came up from behind and drove up next to us indicating that we follow him…which we did. The would be helpers begun to curse and swear at him. Who was he and wha did he think he was doing…robbing them of the joy of robbing these foreigners?

João turned out to be an angel in human form. Not only did he speak the language, but he grew up here and knew every detail of what we need to do. He went out of his way to help us get our visas and car papers and even called the Bishop to ask for directions to where we are staying tonight.

But then…wait for this…he actually took us there, driving in front of us all the way from the border into downtown Maputo…and he paid our Toll fees as well.

Coincidence? I think not. He had gone to South African for a medical check-up and was on his way home when he saw us being swamped…and he stepped in to help.

Hmm…isn’t that what disciple-making Jesus style is all about?

An Encouraging Note…

We just received this very encouraging note from one of our most recent trainees (see below). Part of the requirements for our trainees is that they a) identify at least one person they can disciple, and b) train them to make disciples. In other words, they have to train others as we have trained them, but over a longer period of time…in fact, however long it takes…until they produce a mature disciple who can make more disciples. Also, we leave them with a 60 Chronological Study of the life of Jesus to undergird what we have taught them regarding the method Jesus used to make disciples.


Hi, guys I have started the 60 days devotional and I am finding it deepening my understanding of who Jesus is and who I am in Him. I have also shared with a colleague and he has developed an interest. I am praying about the 2 others that I have identified and trust God as I start gently conversations with them. Warm Regards and God’s light be upon you,on your trip to Maputo.M.