Mission Reflection: Van Koeverings’ return visit to Mozambique highlights depth of relationships in longerm mission service

Lexington Bishop Mark Van Koevering and Canon Dr. Helen Van Koevering, a married couple, are in the midst of a visit with friends and colleagues in Mozambique, where they served as missionaries for 28 years, from 1987 to 2015.  Mark’s letter below to members of the Diocese of Lexington about the trip illustrates the depth and breadth of relationships that are formed during longterm mission service.  Note also that the Van Koeverings are exploring how their background there could facilitate a future relationship between the church in Mozambique and the Diocese of Lexington.

7 August 2023

Dear Friends,

In a somewhat surprising development, Helen and I have an opportunity to visit Mozambique. So I wanted to tell you a little about the trip and keep you informed during our visit. We will set off for Mozambique tomorrow evening, August 8th, and spend two weeks traveling (9 flights) to and from and around the country. We return to Lexington on August 24. Our purpose is to re-establish contact with the Anglican Church in Mozambique and explore a future relationship

You will recall that Helen and I lived in Mozambique from 1987 until the end of 2015. We held several different positions during that time, but from 2003 to 2015, I served as the Bishop of the Diocese of Niassa and Helen as its Director of Ministry. We experienced tremendous church growth and spiritual renewal during those years, and this has continued in our absence. Since our departure, the Diocese of Niassa has multiplied into four dioceses: Niassa, Nampula, Zambezia, and Tete; the southern Diocese of Lebombos has also multiplied into four: Lebombo, Inhambane, Pungue River, and Maciene. In 2021, along with the four dioceses of Angola, they formed the 42nd and newest province of the Anglican Communion, Igreja Anglicana de Moçambique e Angola (IAMA).

We will begin our trip in the capital, Maputo, with a visit to the presiding bishop of IAMA, the Most Rev. Carlos Matsinhe; he is a dear friend and was the parish priest who conducted our wedding in 1990. We then travel 1,200 miles north to Lichinga to spend five days in the Diocese of Niassa with Bishop Lucas Mchema. It is here that the first Anglican churches in Mozambique were planted. In 1857, after returning from Africa, Dr. David Livingston gave talks at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge that profoundly moved many young people to action. Soon thereafter, the University Missions to Central Africa (UMCA) was birthed (it later included Dublin and Durham universities) with the dual purpose of planting churches and ending the slave trade in central Africa.

In 1861, Charles Frederik McKenzie was consecrated the first missionary bishop in the Anglican Communion and was sent to Central Africa (present-day Malawi and Mozambique). He had no clergy, churches, or parishioners, but was entrusted to plant the Anglican Church in that remote and dangerous part of the world. He is said to have walked with his crozier in one hand and a rifle in the other. Indeed, all the first Christian converts were freed slaves. The Oxford Movement, inspired by Bishops John Henry Newman and Edward Pussey, had a profound impact on the expression of Anglicanism in Mozambique. This Anglo-Catholic heritage, assorted evangelical revivals, and an African charism has given the Mozambican church a unique and wonderful vitality.

We then fly 400 miles east to the Diocese of Nampula where we will be hosted by Bishop Manuel Ernesto. Nampula includes the provinces of Cabo Delgado and Nampula and is experiencing significant violence caused by a combination of enormous international investment in offshore gas reserves, income inequality, and Islamic insurgency. The majority of residents in the three northern provinces of Mozambique (Niassa, Nampula, and Cabo Delgado) are Muslims (60%). Bishop Manuel has been involved in reconciliation work with Muslim leaders and is an important voice concerning the environment in Mozambique and the wider Communion. We will spend four days with them.

We will then drive 250 miles south to the Diocese of Zambezia, where we will be hosted by Bishop Vicente Msosa. Bishop Vicente followed me in Niassa but was then translated to Zambezia in 2021 to lead this missionary diocese. We only have three days with the folks of Zambezia before we fly 1,000 miles south to Johannesburg, South Africa.

I have a mixture of feelings, good and uneasy. We have so many wonderful memories, and I look forward to seeing the three bishops I ordained deacon and priest. But many dear friends and colleagues have died, and much has changed. Nonetheless, I thank God for this opportunity, and I look forward to sharing our journey with you as we travel.

In Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Mark Van Koevering, VIII Bishop of Lexington

Link for a biographical paragraph about Bp. Mark Van Koevering. 

Link for a biographical paragraph about Canon Helen Van Koevering, rector of St. Raphael’s Church in Lexington.  Helen is a member of the GEMN Board and is co-convener of GEMN’s Mission Formation Program.   

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