Mozambique. The name, for some, conjures images of exotic wildlife, lush green vegetation, or white-sand beaches. More likely, it will send the average person scrambling for a map to discover its location in southeast Africa. But for Maria da Conceição, it means home. And thanks to the efforts of members in the Inhamízua Branch and a few missionaries, Maria now has a place in Mozambique to call her own.
Maria is a tiny woman with a gigantic spirit. Abandoned by her husband and oldest daughter, she was left to rear two small children on her own. Crippled by a debilitating disease she has had since birth, Maria struggled to pay the rent each month. In a country that has high unemployment, work and money are nearly impossible to come by. Yet Maria managed to make a meager living and do the best she could.
I was a full-time missionary in Mozambique. When I first met Maria, I was impressed by her positive attitude and zest for life. She worked relentlessly in her machamba (large garden) to provide for two children and herself and to pay rent on a small mud house.
Church members helped by providing food and medical care. Tragically, Maria’s two children died within three weeks of each other due to disease and no access to the right medical facilities. Death and suffering are common in Mozambique.
Serving as the branch president for our tiny branch, I was extremely concerned for Maria. Both the youth and adult members of our isolated branch did everything they could to help Maria. Some worked in the machamba, others offered food, and a few even helped pay the rent; but she needed a permanent answer.
Late one night, while I was pondering and searching for an answer, inspiration came to me in the form of an idea for an ambitious youth project: building a home for Maria. My companion, Elder Bis-Neto, and I proposed our idea to the younger members of the branch, and they jumped at the chance to help build Maria a house. There was little money and a great deal of work to be done, but with many willing hands and a vision of a traditional African mud-and-stick house, a plan took shape, and the youth went to work.
Everyone got down to business immediately. First job: get wood.
A trip into the African jungle to gather wood for building a home is not a job for the fainthearted. The youth and missionaries made many two-hour trips through thick, swampy savannas, endless rice fields, dense overgrown jungles, and waist-deep mud to find the perfect trees with which to build Maria’s house. Using machetes, we hacked down the slender trees and then organized them into bundles for the journey back. Some of the youth used tall wild grass to quickly weave hats to help protect their heads from the rough logs.
The most difficult leg of the journey now began. Carrying a heavy load on our heads, scratching our way through the dense undergrowth, and battling the scorching African sun, we hauled our loads back. As we walked, the youth sang hymns of Zion, with smiles on their faces.
Alves Elídio Eguimane Razão, 18, says, “It was a lot of hard work, and we loved every minute of it!”
The wooden frame went up stick by stick, with care given to ensure a sturdy and lasting structure. Many generous hands constructed the roof by laying down strips of plastic, which were secured with mats of woven weeds. This roof would need to repel the violent storms of the annual rainy season.
From mud walls to mud floors to mud pies, mud was the menu for most building days. Barrel after barrel of rich brown dirt was hauled in and then drenched in water. Dozens of youth and other branch members turned out to help hand mix the mud and cover the frame house. The exterior was done first, followed by the interior walls and partition. After we had packed the walls with several inches of strong, dried mud, the house started to take shape. To jazz up the interior, a special layer of mud was carefully applied to create the floor and solid water-resistant surfaces.
These days were full of hard work, but the atmosphere abounded in good humor and many smiles, not to mention the surprised eyes of the neighbors as they watched missionaries and youth carrying large bundles of sticks and gallons upon gallons of water and slinging handfuls of mud.
Finally the door was hung, a lock installed, and the house was done. After more than 1,000 service hours, given by more than 40 members and a number of missionaries, Maria da Conceição had a beautiful home of her own.
In addition to completing Maria’s home, a number of other good things happened as a result of the project.
Helder Manuel Tomo, 19, helped build the home before he was a member of the Church. He says, “Building Maria’s house was great! I first went to church with Jonqueiro, a great friend of mine who was about to serve a mission. I really enjoyed church, yet I felt like the ‘new guy.’”
Spending time building the house helped Helder get to know the youth in the branch. “This new feeling of belonging and having so many friends is what sealed my decision to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was baptized by Jonqueiro. I am so grateful that he invited me to church and helped me ‘belong’ through this great service project.”
Jonqueiro Alai Malaica, 22, says, “It was a great service project for all of the members. It wasn’t easy, but it was most certainly worth it.” He says it brought the whole branch together.
“I’m also grateful for the youth and the friendship they showed to Helder,” says Jonqueiro. Helder is now working hard as a branch missionary and plans to go on a mission.
On a tiny plot of land, in a remote village of Mozambique, Maria da Conceição’s home stands as a testament of love and obedience to the principles of the gospel. Maria and the members of the Inhamízua Branch have learned that, amid the harsh trials of life, there is hope to be found when Church members work together to make good things happen.
Editors’ note: The members of the Inhamízua Branch did not stop with Maria’s house. The volunteers and missionaries have since rebuilt two other houses.
On the coast of southeastern Africa, Mozambique has a population of nearly 19 million, about 3,000 of whom are Church members. The Mozambique Maputo Mission, the 339th mission in the Church, was formed in January 2005 and has around 30 full-time missionaries.