Whitakers experience life, church in Angola (Dec. 22, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Whitakers experience life, church in Angola

Dec. 22, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
mwacht@flumc.org     Orlando  {0211}

n Bishop Timothy and Melba Whitaker see conference dollars at work in Angola.

An e-Review Feature
By John M. De Marco**

MALANGE, Angola — Children at the orphanage here received gifts from the Florida Conference staff that were delivered by Bishop Timothy and Melba Whitaker. Photo by Melba Whitaker, Photo #04-0123.
LAKELAND — Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker and his wife, Melba, recently saw firsthand the powerful faith of an East Angolan people ravaged by civil war, but united by their love for Christ and one another.

In November, the Whitakers traveled to East Angola to attend the rededication of Quéssua United Methodist Church, located at the heart of Methodism in that country and rebuilt with funds from the Florida Conference. The Whitakers also delivered toys, clothing and supplies for an orphanage located behind the United Methodist building in Malange, East Angola. For Mrs. Whitaker, the trip marked a return to a place she and others had visited two years ago on a fact-gathering mission.

The Whitakers made the trip to strengthen the partnership between the Eastern Angola Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Florida Conference, which began under the umbrella of the Hope
MALANGE, Angola — The choir sang during the dedication of Quéssua United Methodist Church here. Florida Conference funds are helping refurbish the church, which was damaged during Angola's civil war. The funds helped pay for a new roof and ceiling tiles, doorways, windows, structural and exterior work, and other repairs. Photo by Melba Whitaker, Photo #04-0124.
for the Children of Africa initiative and involves Mozambique, as well. The conference has already constructed a school in Mozambique, named in honor of the late Florida Bishop Cornelius L. Henderson and his wife, Dorothye.

The Eastern Angola Conference sports six districts and about 65 pastors. Once a colony of Portugal, East Angola was torn apart by civil war for three decades. While war subsided a few years ago, the rebuilding process is ongoing.

"Bishop João Somane Machado of Mozambique [Area of the United Methodist Church] thought I should come at some time, to use the occasion for the rebuilding [of the church]. It was important to me personally to
go," Bishop Whitaker said. "It's important for me to know firsthand what we're doing. I have to be the main interpreter for that, and you never have a real grasp until you go yourself."

"There's a long history of Methodism there," Mrs. Whitaker added. "The church in East Angola is being revived after 30 years of devastation from civil war. It's interesting to see the growth from the past two years from the first time I went and to see the spiritual commitment of the laypeople and the clergy."

MALANGE, Angola — Quéssua United Methodist Church before repairs began. Photo by Michael Wacht, Photo #04-0125.
Pastors in East Angola receive no salary, and because many churches have been destroyed by bombs, congregations are forced to meet in mud huts. "There's a great spiritual depth, and a joyous worship," despite that, Mrs. Whitaker said.  "The music is just outstanding in all the services. They have great theological depth. They take time training their youth and children in the ways of the church almost from birth."

Many who fled East Angola are starting to return, leading to tremendous growth in the United Methodist Church there. "They've grown from about 50,000 members in 2001 to about 120,000 now. Most of the members are very young. At least 50 percent are children and youth," Bishop Whitaker said. 

The Florida Conference distributed about $60,000 to East Angola in 2002, which was used to purchase bicycles for every pastor and sewing machines for women to train each other and orphan girls in order to have a livelihood. The money has also purchased a microscope for a medical school and provided resources for an area doctor.

Through Florida Conference support, United Methodists are also building a theological school and dormitories to train pastors and laity. And at the next Florida Annual Conference Event, 80 percent of the offering will go toward funding that will support the theological school, as well as bring two young Angolan men to reside in Florida for the 2005-06 school year. The two will live at Florida Southern College, study English and work at the conference center in Lakeland. They are currently employed by the Eastern Angola Conference. Francisco Cautama is the conference's youth director, and Alcides Martins is youth director of the conference's Malange District.  Plans call for them to visit Florida Conference churches during two weekends each month.

The new funding will also support community-based health care programs in East Angola. A group from Portuguese-speaking Brazil will train local men and women from small villages to take care of health concerns in areas that do not have clinics and hospitals. Their efforts will focus on nutrition and rehydration for infants battling diarrhea, which has proven deadly in East Angola, along with malaria, heart problems and diabetes. 

MALANGE, Angola — Dr. Laurinda Quipungo works with patients at the clinic she runs at Quéssua Hospital. The clinic has two, rooms, six cots and a diagnostic room. The only medicine is in the cabinet. Photo by Melba Whitaker, Photo #04-0126.

"They'll teach them very basic things we take for granted in health care," Mrs. Whitaker said.

"Bishop José Quipungo's preaching [2004 Florida Annual Conference Event] really brought to life the needs of the East Angola Conference," Bishop Whitaker said. Quipungo is bishop of the conference.

"I think there is more awareness than there has been," Whitaker added. "It takes a while for people to catch on. You have to keep emphasizing that the partnership exists and educating people on what we're doing there."

The village of Quéssua, located outside Malange, has historically been the center of the Eastern Angola Conference and an important part of the United Methodist Church there. The bodies of missionaries who served in Angola are buried there. After the Quéssua church is completed, the focus will shift to the theological school, then to an agricultural school and orphanage.

MALANGE, Angola — Several missionaries who died while serving in Angola are buried at the Quéssua complex. Photo by Melba Whitaker, Photo #04-0127.
The conference center is as large as a college campus, the Whitakers said, and is located on a hill beneath a mountain topped with a cross and mango trees. During their 10-day journey, the Whitakers also visited Kalandula Falls, a beautiful, natural area, and the Kwanza River, where a large bridge was blown up during the civil war.

Bishop Whitaker said he hopes to see some laypersons from the Florida Conference visit East Angola. He wants the partnership to move beyond fund raising to seeing laypersons offer certain knowledge and skills to the Angolan people on a firsthand basis.

"I'm sure there is work that can be done by people with medical expertise. We also would like to help them develop their conference treasurer's office and other administrative tasks. There is training of people to do the work of evangelism and Christian education and youth ministry," he said. 

Bishop Whitaker said Christianity is growing the fastest in the world's Southern hemisphere, and the Florida Conference's involvement in East Angola comes at a key point in history. "The country is at peace. The need for leadership development is great. It's a really good place for us to be involved."

The United Methodist Church is growing the fastest in Africa, the Philippines and Europe and beginning to take root in Asia, Bishop Whitaker said. "I think the United Methodist Church needs to invest more than it is in the development of the church in other places in the world. In Latin America, there are Methodists who used to be a part of our church, but were encouraged to be autonomous in the 1960s."


This article relates to Missions and Outreach.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.

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