Martinho Campos Waphala was a key leader in the transition from mission-centered evangelism to a thriving church movement among Lomwe and Makhuwa-speaking peoples in northern Mozambique. Quiet, but firm, he led what became the northern branch of the Igreja União Baptista (Union Baptist Church) during decades of persecution and civil war following the closure in 1959 of Mihekani, the pioneering Protestant mission in northern Mozambique, and the expulsion of the missionaries. During the twenty-five years of his leadership, numbers in the evangelical movement multiplied some twenty-five times, from under five thousand to over 125 thousand people.
Work at Mihekani, in the hilly Nauela area of Zambésia province, began in 1913 and followed the classic mission station pattern. From a school, a church, and a clinic on the station, outlying congregations began to grow. The New Testament was translated and published in 1931. This pattern continued despite change during the 1930s from Church of Scotland–Blantyre Mission responsibility to that of the interdenominational South Africa General Mission (SAGM, later AEF, now SIM–Serving in Mission). Opposition from the Catholic-dominated Portuguese colonial government was constant.
Campos grew up near Mihekani but made a clear commitment to Christ after two incidents of healing. His first two children were born with deformed legs, but with prayer and treatment at the mission clinic his third was healthy. Then he himself was healed there after a long, debilitating illness. He became very active in the church, attending the Bible school and teaching in the mission primary school.
Chosen to lead the group of elders at Mihekani, instead of others with more seniority, he was soon plunged into turmoil. A revival marked by powerful manifestations of the Spirit was derailed when one preacher killed a child at the mission clinic, claiming to have power to raise the dead. The colonial authorities shut down the mission station and expelled the missionaries. New Testaments were confiscated and publicly burned. Some church buildings were torched. Meetings of more than a dozen people were banned.
Under Campos’ courageous leadership, the Christians adapted, splitting into two groups wherever more than ten or so began to gather, sharing one copy of the New Testament in Lomwe among three or four or even more gatherings of believers, and seeing massive growth.
Campos’ leadership was also contested. By the end of the 1960s, three major denominations had emerged out of the mission work at Mihekani including the Igreja de Cristo and the Igreja Evangélica de Cristo. Campos was firmly in charge of the largest, the northern branch of the Igreja União Baptista.
In the early 1970s persecution began to wane and it was possible to collect bricks from the shattered buildings at Mihekani and build a church and Bible school a few kilometers away, near Campos’ home at Eleve. But independence in 1975 under a Marxist government was followed in the 1980s by civil war.
Under renewed crisis conditions, Campos, now aging, provided steady leadership for a movement without access to formal biblical training. He renewed links with SIM, seeking missionaries to help with Bible teaching.
In 1986 he was captured by rebels and forced, along with other church leaders, to march over 200 km, at one point being left in the bush to die when his feet would not let him walk. But he lived. His stature in the community was such that both rebels and government came to protect him and seek his support. Later, he was flown out of rebel territory by government helicopter.
Broken in health, he spent his last months in the provincial capital of Quelimane. He died in April 1990 and was buried in Alto Molocué.
Stuart J. Foster
Thompson, Phyllis. Life Out of Death in Mozambique. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1989.
Campos, José Frederico. Interview, September 15, 2009.
Sambo, Chico. Interview, September 10, 2009.
This article, received in 2009, was researched and written by Dr. Stuart Foster, DTh (Stellenbosch, SA), SIM missionary in Mozambique since 1986, and consultant and exegete in Bible translation (UBS), and submitted by liaison coordinator Rev. Dr. André Jonas Angelica of the Fraternidade Teologica Africana (ATF Lusophone Network).