by Heather Phillips
What can open doors for the gospel across religious, economic and social divides? In Mozambique, the Lord was touching the hearts of His people to see the desperate need of people with disabilities. Helping Hands started with humble beginnings, visiting homes and hearing stories of suffering and rejection. An awareness of the practical needs grew and assistance was offered. A little workshop was started at the local church and, where possible, broken wheelchairs were mended. As word spread, needs grew and people from Northern Ireland started to become involved by collecting used wheelchairs and crutches, which could be sent out to Mozambique. When tangible needs of those with disability were met, people of all backgrounds were open to listen to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
C describes herself as a Muslim. She has never been able to walk and moves around on her hands and knees. She was a skilled leather worker, making bags of all kinds that were exported for sale. However, after her wheelchair broke she turned her hand to baking little pastries for her grandchildren to sell on the street. She was interested to talk about God so we began a conversation. She told us that one of her sons regularly attends the mosque, another son attends a church and yet another is engaged in ‘traditional medicines’. We praise the Lord for the opportunity to talk to her openly about Jesus who is ‘the way, the truth and the life’.
When we returned with a new wheelchair for her, she was delighted. She saw we kept our word and again we had the opportunity to revisit Jesus’ words, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (Jn 14:6). Her world view is not unusual in southern Mozambique with many people happy to add what they hear about Jesus to the mix of many other beliefs. We thank the Lord for the openness of the ministry of Helping Hands, which allows us to share the gospel and to pray that the Holy Spirit will open eyes to the exclusive claims of Jesus.
Serving & Growing
The ministry of Helping Hands has always had an important two-pronged vision: to disciple believers in the local church and reach out into the community with the gospel to those living with disability and their families. As we serve the community together, we grow together and many can testify to how serving with Helping Hands has brought growth in their own walk with the Lord.
Afonso, who became a Christian as a young adult, started serving with Helping Hands in 2013. He showed great enthusiasm for the work and compassion for people with disabilities and for their families. As the word spread he became aware of more and more people with disability needing support, it became increasingly difficult to manage the visits alongside his work. Through the Lord’s provision Helping Hands were able to offer Afonso a small salary to work full time with the ministry.
Around the same time, a company that needed the skills Afonso had, offered him a job in a different part of the country. It was an attractive offer but he turned it down. The company then came back to him with a raise in the proposed salary but he turned it down again. Pressure grew from his wider family to accept the job and yet again the company raised their offer. Convinced of the Lord’s call on his life, Afonso did what seemed mad in the eyes of the world and yet again rejected their offer and followed the Lord’s leading. Afonso shares this as a testimony to God’s faithfulness: ‘When the Lord says, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt. 6:33), He can be trusted.’
In November 2019 God blessed Afonso with his lovely wife Regina who also has a desire to serve people with disabilities and plans to study physiotherapy. In May 2021, she left her job to work alongside me for six months. It was my joy to teach her some occupational therapy skills in working with disabilities as she in turn taught me more about the local culture. Together, we studied the letter of 1 John, thinking about what God’s Word says about loving others.
Support & Sustainability
There is an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together.’ It is our desire that Mozambicans are trained and equipped to share the gospel and continue to demonstrate the love of God in practical care of those with disabilities, even after the missionaries have left.
This past year we have been able to run two wheelchair repair and maintenance training courses, the first of which was with our Helping Hands team from the local church. This was a great opportunity for mutual learning and encouragement as we remembered together the vision of the ministry. We then ran a second course following a request by a local medical doctor whose own son has been helped with equipment through Helping Hands. Recognising the important role the local church was playing in a society that does not value people with disability, he gathered together some key contacts for the training session. This was a great opportunity to share how Helping Hands seeks to address not just physical needs but spiritual needs too.
Further support and training were provided by Jillian, a physiotherapist from Northern Ireland, during her visit to Mozambique last year. As an occupational therapist, I very much appreciated the support in this area. One young boy we visited was 7-year-old A who we suspect suffers from diplegia. Following assessment, Jillian was able to offer advice to develop his walking. He received a standing frame, which has benefited his health and improved his confidence. A and his mum were part of the first parent support group a number of years ago. This initiative gathers together parents of children with disabilities, once a month, for mutual support and encouragement and has been a key opportunity to share the gospel. We praise God for the first group, which recommenced in December following closures due to Covid-19.
We Need to Pray
We need to pray that the gospel would be the motivation in all we do and would be proclaimed boldly in word and deed, challenging the lies of syncretism. In the early days, wrestling with the language was slow and frustrating. I thank the Lord for N who helped me learn the local language. However, it has been so worth it to see the huge difference it has made in my relationships with local people in understanding the culture and enabling me to work effectively in speaking the gospel and offering practical support.
We need to pray for our Mozambican brothers and sisters to stand firm and seek first the Kingdom of God. We give thanks for the testimony of Afonso and Regina and pray that the Lord will raise up others to serve alongside them in this ministry, looking to Him to provide all their needs. I am thankful for the friendship with Regina that developed during my time in Mozambique and for the gospel which binds us together as sisters in Christ.
We need to pray for sustainable gospel partnerships and that wherever we are, whether near or far, we will faithfully support the family of God around the world. We do this as we anticipate the day when we will stand before the throne in front of the Lamb with people from every nation, tribe and tongue and cry out together, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (Rev. 7:10).