A journey of understanding

It was with great anticipation that I went to attend a Brethren In Christ Church (BICC) conference in Mozambique, in July 2016. This was my first trip as a regional representative for Mennonite World Conference. It was held in a small town called Milange, in the northern part of Mozambique bordering Malawi. 

Unfortunately, I did not know any of the languages of Mozambique, official or local. I tried to communicate with sign language till the people understood what I was asking for: to be shown where the meeting place was.  

A man with a motorbike beckoned that I sit behind him. I had never ridden on a motorbike. I went astride but did not know where to place my feet or my hands. So, I held onto this man’s back for dear life. Thank God it was dark; no one could witness the spectacle.  

As this man rode deeper into the dark, panic set in. Would I get to the meeting place? A hundred and one unpalatable thoughts flashed through my mind.  

All of a sudden, he stopped. There were two vehicles in darkness and people milling about.  

While I was in a turmoil, I was greeted by Rev Laston Bissani, a missionary in Mozambique from Malawi. I had met him once in Zimbabwe. I was led to sit down on a chair, where there was a missionary from Zimbabwe with his wife. Sweet relief. 

The conference was held in a makeshift place, open ground, with grass thatch bordering one side. Women sat on the ground on pieces of material. It was a chilly evening, but many women and children did not have warm clothing. 

As the whole situation dawned on me, I was so humbled. This is what it took for some people to seek their living God in abject poverty.  

Yet, did the men, women and children sing: with vim and gusto!  

I was a changed person by the end of that worship service. I came out of that conference with more appreciation of differences in place and style of worship. We are all God’s children, born and bred in different environments. 

BICC Mozambique convention in Milange in 2016.  
Photo: Barbara Nkala

When you have not belonged to a bigger, international institution, your perspective of other denominations is stunted. You are bound in your small viewpoint with all sorts of negative perspectives of others. I see how perpetuating misunderstandings among Christian believers is a trick of the devil who thrives on dividing.  

MWC has made me mature concerning different faith practices. The efforts to bridge the global church differences have touched me greatly. Indeed, unity in diversity is possible if we all try. 

From MWC, I have learned how enriching it is to hear shared experiences. I greatly appreciate the concept of consensus when there is need to agree on a resolution. This shows respect to the people who have dissenting views, and they rest knowing their view is appreciative. That is love in action. It is the Jesus way. 

The Assembly in Indonesia made me see that it is possible to adapt to the situation and adopt new ways. It is possible to meet internationally on a virtual platform and make decisions. Important meetings do not have to wait for person-to-person physical meetings. 

As I look to the next five years, I see more connectedness of the Christian church, more appreciation of differing viewpoints, and more understanding toward one another. I see MWC continuing to engage denominations. I see a time when the global church will decide to hold a big celebration together, in unity of the spirit.  

My prayer: 

  • That MWC may continue to be a meaningful voice for social justice world over. 
  • That MWC may not waver in its quest to engage with denominations for better understanding and good relationships. 
  • That God will continue to provide adequate funding for all the activities planned. 

—Barbara Nkala was MWC regional representative for Southern Africa (2016-2022). A teacher and speaker, she is currently on the General Conference Board for BICC Zimbabwe. She is the founder of a literary trust to grow, develop and preserve the Ndebele language for the next generation. She also compiles and writes articles, stories and devotions in the Ndebele language.  

Click here to read reflections from Francisca Ibanda


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