A visit to Angola (Dec. 3, 2004)



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

A visit to Angola

Dec. 3, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140   
mwacht@flumc.org     Orlando  {0202}

NOTE:  A headshot of Whitaker is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.
 



An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**
 



In November Melba and I traveled to Angola at the invitation of Bishop José Quipungo and his wife, Dr. Laurinda Quipungo. I went to strengthen the partnership between the Eastern Angola Conference and the Florida Conference. This partnership originated as an initiative of the Council of Bishops called Hope For the Children of Africa. The Florida Conference raises money for projects in the Eastern Angola Conference with its Annual Conference Offering each year.

MALANGE, Angola — Children at an orphanage here received toys and clothing given by Florida Conference Center staff members and delivered by the Whitakers. Photo by Melba Whitaker, Photo #04-0117.

We spent our time in Angola in the provincial capitol of Malange. It is a beautiful province of vast plains surrounded by low mountains on the horizon in every direction. The climate is similar to that of Florida, but with lower humidity. Through it flows the famous Kwanza River. There are magnificent falls on this river and on other rivers in the province. It is an exceedingly rich agricultural area, although very little farming is occurring now. Gardens are grown next to the villages of adobe houses with thatch roofs that dot the countryside. The rest of Angola includes the coastal plain on the Atlantic Ocean where the capitol of Luanda is situated, tropical rain forests and mountains in the north near the border with the Congo, and arid country in the south near the border with Namibia. Angola is rich in most natural resources, including diamonds and oil.

This is a country just beginning to recover from 30 years of civil war following its independence from Portugal. The people are sick of war. When the leader of the insurgents, Joseph Savimbi, was killed in February 2002, soldiers in his army threw away their weapons wherever they were and ran home. Everywhere we traveled we saw the results of the war-ruined roads and bridges, destroyed buildings, and armored vehicles abandoned where they were bombed. There are many orphans and closed schools.

Yet, in two short years the democratic government in Angola is working hard to recover from the war and rebuild and develop the country. While we were in Malange we met twice with the provincial governor, Cristóvão D.F. da Cunha, an active United Methodist and a longtime friend of Bishop Quipungo who knew da Cunha during his military service and during the eight years Bishop Quipungo was a full-time member of the Parliament of Angola. The governor is one of the most impressive individuals I have met. When I asked him about his plans to rebuild the roads, he replied: "I have children who are dying every day. We have 40,000 children with no schools. We need hospitals and medical care for our people." He went on to describe the overwhelming tasks of the government to meet basic human needs first and then its plans to improve roads and communications for the eventual development of the country.

The government works closely in partnership with all the churches to build schools, orphanages, hospitals and other institutions. While there is freedom of religion in Angola there is no prohibition against government funding of distinctively Christian institutions. In fact, support of church services to the people is sought by the government as a way to meet the needs of the people. Many of the leaders in government are United Methodists like the governor of Malange. There seems to be a generation of leaders in Angola who are competent and highly committed to be servants of the people. Bishop Quipungo, a former teacher, military officer and member of Parliament, is a member of this generation who knows how to network with others in building the United Methodist Church in East Angola.

The United Methodist Church in Eastern Angola is growing rapidly. Since Bishop Quipungo was consecrated in 2000, the membership has grown from 50,000 to 121,000 (based upon a census from recent travels to every district in the East Angola Conference). It is a young membership consisting of many young adults, youth and children. Everywhere there is hunger for the Word of God with its promise of the presence of Jesus Christ to transform lives. The Eastern Angola Conference faces enormous tasks in building the church. Most of the pastors are not paid, which is a serious problem in funding pastors with families to serve a growing conference. Leadership development of clergy and laity is a daunting challenge. We were shown the manual for training the youth, which includes instruction in not only doctrine and Christian living, but also responsibilities in church leadership. Incidentally, one of the most inspiring moments of our visit was watching little children ages 4 and 5 from the orphanage in Malange recite the Nicene Creed and sing hymns from memory in our daily worship with the Eastern Angola Conference staff.

Bishop Quipungo is an able administrator with clear goals for the Eastern Angola Conference. He has opened several schools, including the Hope For the Children of Africa School in Malange, a school we

MALANGE, Angola — During the Whitakers' visit, students at the Hope for the Children of Africa School received school kits provided by members of Florida Conference churches and assembled during the 2003 Florida Annual Conference Event. The kits finally arrived after many months of going through the shipping process. Photo by Melba Whitaker, Photo #04-0118.

helped build with the 2002 Annual Conference Offering. While we were there we delivered the schools kits assembled during our 2003 Annual Conference (they had only just arrived!), and we met the school staff. His main objective is to rebuild Quéssua, a village near Malange. Quéssua is the spiritual center of the East Angola Conference. When it is rebuilt, much of the training of leadership needed in East Angola will occur. Quéssua was destroyed during the civil war. At our 2004 Annual Conference we raised money to rebuild the church in Quéssua. I preached at the first service of the newly rebuilt church while I was there. Construction is still going on, and the church will be completed soon. Next, Bishop Quipungo hopes to rebuild the theological school with dormitories. We shall assist with our 2005 Annual Conference Offering. In the future there are plans to rebuild the school for children, an orphanage and a hospital at Quéssua. During our visit with the governor he announced plans to reopen the large agricultural school in Quéssua in 2005 in cooperation with The United Methodist Church. The complex was originally built by missionaries who are buried in cemeteries on the grounds. One can sense the holiness of the place. On the Sunday we were there the people were excited about the future of their conference with the prospects of the rebuilding of Quéssua.

At the Eastern Angola Conference Center in Malange are the bishop's residence, conference offices, a Women's Training Center for teaching sewing and home economics, a church and an orphanage with 29 children. The children live in cramped and sparse spaces, but they have food, basic clothing and love. One of our joys was to present toys and some clothes to the orphans donated by the staff of the Florida Conference. The Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone conferences provide some support for the orphanage, which needs $700 a month just to feed the children whose parents were killed or displaced during the years of war.
 
There is also a clinic at the conference center operated by Dr. Laurinda Quipungo, a pediatrician. She receives payments from clients and uses the money to buy medicine and help operate the orphanage. She hopes to renovate a nearby house as a new clinic to serve the many people who come daily. She also works at the city hospital, which we toured. The hospital is depressing. It is overcrowded with not enough medicine, equipment or even cleaning supplies. Dr. Quipungo is very appreciative of the gifts of medicine she has gotten from Floridians for her clinic and the hospital.

While we were in Angola we met two young men who are coming to Florida next year to study at Florida Southern College. Some of the 2005 Annual Conference Offering will enable them to do this. Francisco Cautama and Alcides Martins are two of the finest young Christian leaders I have ever met. They are excited about coming to Florida, and they will be speaking in local churches every two weeks.

MALANGE, Angola — Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker (front) helps lay the cornerstone for Sango United Methodist Church while Bishop José (center) and Dr. Laurinda (right) Quipungo look on. Photo by Melba Whitaker, Photo #04-0119.

I was honored to represent the Florida Conference in my visit to Angola. When I greeted the people at Quessua in your name, they exploded in applause in their gratitude for the help of United Methodists in Florida. Melba and I had a rich time of fellowship with José and Laurinda, who have become close friends. Each day I shall remember all of the handsome people we met in Angola, and I pray for the guidance of the Spirit in ways we can strengthen our partnership with them. We have an opportunity at a historic moment to contribute to the cause of Jesus Christ in the growth and development of his church in this beautiful part of the Southern Hemisphere.

At the 2005 Florida Annual Conference 80 percent of our Annual Conference Offering will be given to the Eastern Angola Conference and 20 percent will be given as a Children's Harvest Offering to be administered by the committee on the Bishop's Initiative on Children and Poverty. I ask every congregation to begin planning to receive this offering. It will be an investment in the cause of Christ and hope for the new, young United Methodist Church in East Angola. Thank you for your past contributions and love for Christ's people.

For news and updates on the progress of the partnership with the Eastern Angola Conference go to http://www.flumc.org/index1.htm.

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This commentary relates to Missions and Outreach.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.




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