Running after the Holy Spirit
In an interview with Rev’d Helen van Koevering, wife of Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, Mark van Koevering, she relates many stories of how churches were planted at 2% faster than the annual local population growth. Imagine that.
A priest, Fr. Bonifacio, in the northern Mozambican diocese of Niassa, coined the phrase “running after the Holy Spirit” because Anglican churches were being planted so fast and church growth so strong that he was unable to keep up with it.
In Northern Mozambique, the Niassa Diocese went from 12 churches to 100 churches in eight years under Bishop Mark. In fact, in some places he was asked to come and slow down the growth. They just didn’t have enough priests to deal with the growth of church members! This diocese now has 426 churches, 65, 000 congregants and only 55 priests. And is the size of a small American state. Imagine trying to keep up with all this growth!
Due to their extremely rural location, Bishop Mark instituted and approved the training of local “community priests.” These priests then trained catechists who would lead or start new churches. Rev’d Helen describes those churches as being at the “end of every goat track.” She also described some areas as so remote that it was “not the end of the world but you can see it from there.”
So, what to do about this situation? Find ways to identify godly men and women who would become community-elected lay leaders and disciple people and plant new churches. There was a sense in these northern dioceses of a “deep communal spirituality for mission”, which resulted in trained catechists ready to take the gospel forward.
One of the most successful tools used by this diocese was a discipleship programme called Rooted in Jesus (RiJ). RiJ was produced in Africa for Africans and is simple, straightforward and uncomplicated. It communicates the gospel in areas that might lack much education or by people who cannot read. Only one person needs to be able to read. Catechists, such as Ramin, would get trained in the first book (out of four) and not even wait for the rest of them but immediately ventured out and planted multiple Christian communities.
He and others would go into a small village or community and play soccer or engage in local activities and look for a person of peace. They would then train up this person to be a catechist who would first start a discipleship group (usually using RiJ) and then they would grow to a certain number and ask if they might be considered a church.
Often the prayer books and lectionary were only in Portuguese, not the local dialect but catechists would translate RiJ into that dialect. And then one or two would read the Bible passages in the local language.
Evangelism and mission were passed on in the DNA of every new church and discipled person. As people returned to their homeland after 30 years of civil war, there was a sense of the need for growth and healing. This was part of the stimulus for evangelism and church planting and was further amplified by the combined efforts of lay and ordained Anglicans.
Certainly, there was a unique set of circumstances in northern Mozambique but clearly the use of simple evangelism programmes, coupled with the emphasis of using lay leaders and community priests, helped propel phenomenal growth of churches and Anglican members in those far flung dioceses. The priests were truly “running after the Holy Spirit”!