We arrive late afternoon at an important depot for Bibles deep in the bush of Mozambique’s central province.
The dirt road is difficult to travel on and the area is classified by the local village as a hot spot in the recent violence that flared up in early 2016 between Frelimo forces of the government and Renamo – the official opposition party. The family where we base when distributing Bibles deep in the bush to newly planted churches look bewildered when we arrive. The lady asks me with a worried look: “Francisco how did you get here? Where you not stopped by the convoy?”
“No,” I answered, “we have seen no soldiers or convoys.” I try not to look worried or alarm the team from Harvesters that is travelling with me. They received the Bibles we'd carried for more than 1500 kilometres.
“You must run before the sun sets.” The lady says worryingly. I was amazed at how worried she was, as I had picked up no strange signs of any volatile movements in the area. I decide to rush out as she shares horror stories of children killed in the area as they are caught up in the crossfire of young government soldiers.
Bibles are crucial for our newly planted churches and the new pastor students. Through the Harvesters program of church planting, every new church is supported for 3 years to make sure they become a sustainable church with the purpose of planting new churches themselves. As the Harvesters team, we go more than the extra mile in difficult situations to make sure new churches are supported.
It was only after we returned to Chimoio that fresh reports reached us that the road we’d travelled on was closed and operated by soldiers with convoys. We would have been trapped for 24 hours. Communities reported how they hid in the bush during sunset to avoid being attacked by soldiers or caught in crossfire. We realized very soon that God opened the road for a few hours so that we could distribute scarce Bibles. Training continued without much interference, but some of our pastors was captured and put in jail as many others had to flee and could not attend all the training. Despite these circumstances and war raging in central and northern Mozambique, the church literally exploded as 318 new churches was planted in very volatile areas. “The Church is the HOPE of the World”, I hear often. In Mozambique during these very difficult times this seems to be the only HOPE communities cling on to.
Looking more deeply into the situation in Mozambique, it is clear that the situation is getting much worse at the moment: Mozambique’s arterial north-south highway has earned the moniker of “ghost road”, with former rebels staging regular raids ahead of a threatened power grab in the country’s centre this month.
“We registered eight attacks by Renamo gunmen last week, which caused a total of three deaths — including a three-year-old — and 23 injured,” police spokesman Inacio Dina told a news conference in the capital Maputo on Tuesday.
Renamo, which waged a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992, has refused to accept the results of 2014 elections when it was beaten once more by the Frelimo party, in power since independence 40 years ago. They alleged fraud and sporadic fighting broke out in June last year. In December, party leader Afonso Dhlakama warned that Renamo planned to seize control of six provinces of central and northern Mozambique, where he won a majority in the presidential elections. There are a total of 11 provinces in Mozambique. Dhlakama said that Renamo would take control of at least some districts by the end of this month.
Attacks have increased since February 2016, with daily clashes between government forces and Renamo reported on social media and by the independent press, particularly in the centre of the country. On the main north-south highway, civilian vehicles travel through the worst areas in convoys under military protection and many foreign embassies now advise their nationals to avoid the route.
“The army is positioned to ensure the safety of travelers and tourists who circulate in this region,” police spokesman Dina told AFP. “Mozambique is not at war.”
But not all Mozambicans agree. “Though clashes only take place in some areas, people are dying, refugees are fleeing,” Fernanda Lobato of the civil society organisation Olho do Cidadao told AFP. “We have to face reality. Here in Maputo, in the south, we feel nothing, but there is no doubt that the country is at war.” According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 11,500 Mozambicans have sought refuge in neighbouring Malawi, with 250 people arriving daily.