Africa needs disciples, not converts
BOM JESUS, Angola — Churches of Christ in Accra, Ghana,…
BOM JESUS, Angola — Usually, the men ponder the weightier matters of Scripture while the women cook.
That’s how it goes at most meetings among Churches of Christ in Portuguese-speaking Africa, ministers from Angola and Mozambique told The Christian Chronicle.
But that’s not how it went at the first Luso-Africa Global Mission Gathering. Women studied alongside men, learning about church planting and discipleship. The women paused only occasionally — not to cook, but to dive into God’s Word in breakout sessions conducted by Iron Rose Sister Ministries.
Related: Africa needs disciples, not converts
The nonprofit, based in Searcy, Ark., seeks to equip, encourage and empower women to connect to God and to one another in English, Spanish and, most recently, Portuguese.
Beliza Patrícia had been on the job just a few weeks as Iron Rose Sisters’ Portuguese coordinator when she was invited to travel from her home in João Pessoa, Brazil, to Angola to teach and translate at the Gathering. Joining her were Jordan Yarbrough, a nurse who serves on a mission team in Huambo, Angola, and Tabitha Barnes, a teacher, a member of the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston and a member of Iron Rose Sister Ministries’ board.
One of the first things the Western Christians learned about their African sisters was that, whenever they read a Bible passage, they began by announcing, “This is what the Lord says.”
“They see power in the Word, the majesty of the Lord,” Barnes said. “They clap. They shout. When we read the Lord’s Prayer they were freaking out. I can’t remember the last time we reacted that way.”
Patrícia added, “And they know the passage, but it’s still amazing to them. When we read the verse about the veil in the temple tearing, they went crazy. We said, ‘Jesus paid the price’ and the room went wild.”
During one session, instructors asked the African women to write down what they love about God.
Many wrote, “He is good.”
That seems simple, Yarbrough said, but it’s a profound statement from those who have experienced a lot of bad people and hardship. In addition to enduring decades of civil war, many of the women come from families that practice animism and traditional beliefs. Breaking from those practices can be extremely difficult.
Patrícia can relate.
Her family in Brazil practiced Candomblé, a religion that mixes traditional African beliefs with elements of Catholicism and Pentecostal faiths. Her grandmother presided over ceremonies as family members sacrificed chickens and bulls. They offered the blood on altars and danced before them to appease the spirits.
“I was holding my grandma’s hand when they did this,” Patrícia said. She was to become the family’s next yalorixá, a word from the Yoruba language used to describe priestesses.
But Patrícia’s interest in other faiths — and basketball — led her to the meeting place of the João Pessoa Church of Christ, where she would shoot hoops after school. Patiently, the members invited her to Bible studies. Eventually, she was baptized.
She dreaded telling her grandmother, who had threatened to “sell everything and run away” if Patrícia converted. But, eventually, she came to accept her granddaughter’s faith — especially after Patrícia’s mother died, leaving the new Christian to look after her younger brother.
“The church took such good care of me,” Patrícia said. Members paid her rent and bought medicine.
For a while, “the only day I could have a real meal was Sunday,” she said, fighting back tears. “Jesus rescued me from a life that … I cannot even imagine it.”
Related: Churches of Christ in Luso-Africa
Patrícia shared her faith with the African women as they studied the Bible. On the final day of the Gathering, the ladies lined up and, one-by-one, offered words of thanks.
“One of the best moments for me was to be able to show some of the letters that I brought from Brazil to them,” Patrícia said. “They felt so connected, even though they know that they are across the ocean.”
The African women wrote responses to send with Patrícia to Brazil.
“Some of them took quite a while to write those letters,” she said. “They are ready to connect, ready to share with other sisters everything that they’ve learned.”
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