The opening of the 9th General Assembly of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC)included an address by the Mozambique President Armando Emilio Guebuza. Once a freedom fighter, he spoke about overcoming oppression and at the same time of the pervasive conditions of poverty in Africa. He spoke of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. The churches, he said, are partners in solutions. Intervention is needed in education, health, water, agriculture, income producing activities. He called upon the assembly to make churches major actors in defeating poverty.
I sat at dinner next to a second generation Presbyterian Church of Mozambique pastor and leader in the Mozambique Council of Churches. He described a program of the church to collect weapons from people. 600,000 weapons have been collected and will be made into a monument with the Isaiah passage: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks," (Isaiah 2:4). Asked why the Mozambique flag still has an AK 47 on it, he displayed discomfort, saying that has been the subject of much discussion. The AK 47 is a symbol of freedom, of overthrowing oppression he explained, and the people are not ready to take that off of the flag. “Someday we will,” he said.
We don’t quite have the transportation figured out. After a long day and big dinner hosted by the President, with no bus in sight we took up the hearty invitation of His Eminence Seraphim Kykkotis Archbishop of Johannesburg and Pretoria of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa. He had enlisted the aid of a Mozambique pastor with a pick up truck to drive the 15 minutes back to our hotel. While he climbed in the front seat, we climbed in the back, along with a pastor from Zimbabwe. A bumpy, crouched down ride it was, but fascinating – and distressing – to hear about Zimbabwe.
The pastor said “life is just impossible, but somehow by the grace of God we still live.” Schools have been closed all year. Hospitals, too, are closed. Nurses on strike. The church has supplemented the pay of doctors and nurses to keep them working. Disease spreads, as does hunger. Especially cholera, with water supplies tainted. What is needed, he says is food aid and medicine. “Do you think of leaving the country?” we asked. “No, I represent the church, the source of hope. I can’t leave. I don’t even consider it,” he replied.