East Angolan students begin year of study, sharing in Florida

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

East Angolan students begin year of study, sharing in Florida

Sept. 29, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
tparham@flumc.org     Orlando {0376}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Alcides Martins (left), conference staff member Icel Rodriguez (center) and Francisco Cautama share a laugh in the Connectional Ministry Team suite at the Florida Conference Center in Lakeland. Martins and Cautama are living and taking classes at Florida Southern College for a year, while working as interns for the conference and extending the partnership between the East Angola and Florida conferences. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #05-247.

LAKELAND — When you first notice Alcides Martins and Francisco Cautama they seem like any other 22-year-old American college students. But take a closer look and listen to them speaking in their lilting Portuguese language, and you will discover these passionate young men are proud of their East Angolan heritage and very eager to share their stories.

The Florida Conference is serving as host to Martins and Cautama for one year while they attend Florida Southern College (FSC) and visit churches around the conference.

The pair arrived in Lakeland in mid-August after traveling for two days from their native East Angola. They have successfully moved into an apartment on the FSC campus, and now their days are filled with taking English classes in the morning and working in various conference offices at the Florida Conference Center down the street from FSC each afternoon. During the second semester they will also audit additional classes, and throughout the year they will be visiting churches to share their stories.

Florida United Methodists have an opportunity to meet the two through a live Web cast Oct 15, 10-11 a.m. Participants may access the Web cast at http://www.flumc.org and click on the Web cast button. Specific questions for Cautama and Martins should be submitted to webcast@flumc.org before and/or during the interview. For those who cannot join in live, the Web cast will be archived for demand streaming Oct. 18.

The men say they are excited to be in the United States and even more eager to be part of the partnership between the East Angola Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Florida Conference. 

The affiliation between the two conferences began after a three-person team from the Florida Conference traveled to East Angola in January 2003 on a fact-finding and relationship-building visit. The trip was sponsored by the Florida Conference's task force on the Council of Bishop's Initiative on Children and Poverty (BICAP) and Hope for the Children of Africa.

The Council of Bishops requested that the Florida Conference begin working in Angola, but the partnership between the conferences was also laid on the foundation of a personal friendship between Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. and Melba Whitaker and East Angola Bishop José and Dr. Laurinda Vidal Quipungo.

The team visited churches, schools, hospitals and villages in the Malange District and spent time talking with the Quipungos and East Angola's district superintendents and conference staff. The goal was to begin building relationships with the people there and discover the needs and priorities of that conference.

Since then, money raised by Florida Conference churches has been used to meet a number of those priorities — helping rebuild the church at Quéssua, the United Methodist spiritual center in Angola that was almost destroyed during the country's civil war, and buying bicycles for Angolan pastors, sewing machines for a women's center and medicine for a clinic.

The offering collected at the 2005 annual conference event will be used to help rebuild the theological school at Quéssua and support a team of three Brazilian Village Health Promoter trainers to train candidates in East Angola. The offering has also helped bring Alcides and Martins to Florida.

The Quipungos were guests at the 2004 Annual Conference Event. Now, Martins and Cautama are continuing the association between the two conferences by living and working here.

The young men are natives of the city of Malange, located in the central part of the country. During Angola's 27-year civil war, which began after its independence in 1975 and ended in 2002, the United Methodist Church suffered when rebels targeted the denomination's establishments, bombing and destroying church buildings, parsonages and schools.

Sensing a time of rebirth, Martins and Cautama said now is an ideal time to journey to the United States, specifically the Florida Conference, and "drink directly from the fountain of living waters." They want to take the knowledge they gain back to Malange and share it with others, particularly their pastor, the Rev. Andrade Gomes.

Gomes leads a blossoming congregation of 400 to 450 people who gather each Sunday morning for worship. Both young men are active in their church, and Cautama is serving as youth director for his conference. He said East Angolan youth face the same challenges American youth face - falling away from the church and God as they grow older. He said the theme for the next quadrennium is "United Methodist Youth: Looking for New Horizons" and strategic gatherings of retreats and workshops have been planned to deepen the Christian walk of the conference's youth.

Cautama said he has faithfully attended church since he was a child, but didn't personally "come to know Jesus Christ as his Savior" until he was 16 years old and going through his confirmation class. As wars raged around him, Cautama said he realized the only way to survive was to have a total dependence on God — the basic necessities for living would be provided by God. He began to focus more on his community, rather than on himself and his personal difficulties.

Today, Cautama said he can see the results of his fervent prayers, and his walk with God has greatly deepened. He said God both answered his prayers and opened the door for him to work with other youth throughout the conference.

Martins' experience was slightly different.

The son of a United Methodist minister, Martins said he went through a rebellious phase where he preferred to spend his Sunday mornings participating in his favorite pastime — soccer. Each Sunday morning he could be found on a nearby soccer field and not in worship until his mother, finally fed up with him and his brothers' disobedience, dragged the boys off the soccer field and into church.

Martins, then 15 years old, said something came over him and he realized God could give him something he could not find on the soccer filed — a better, more fulfilling life. Martins turned his life around that day and eventually became youth treasurer of his conference.

Now, both young men find themselves on a journey for themselves and Angola, a country with an estimated population of a little more than 11 million people. They say they are on a journey for Malange to reclaim its rightful place as a great place in Central Africa after it has been marred by so many years of fighting.

It is a new beginning for the country and, in many ways, for the East Angola Conference.

Martins said this is the time. The United Methodist Church is restarting and will be an even better church.

Cautama said everyone has the same goal in mind — progress. He said what was in the ruins God will take so much further than anyone ever dreamed.

So Martins and Cautama, very much a part of the fabric of rebuilding their country, find themselves in awe of America, saying it is 100 years more advanced than their country. They say what they have seen of America is more beautiful than they imagined and the Christians they have met have opened their hearts to them. They are getting used to American food and, overall, said Lakeland is a very pleasant place to be.

Churches and pastors are encouraged to send them a welcoming note or card in either English or Spanish. Large t-shirts or caps imprinted with church logos are also appreciated. Mail may be sent to Francisco Cautama and Alcides Martins at 936 Mississippi Ave., Apt. 1, Lakeland, FL 33803.

A bulletin insert to inform church members about the Web cast is available at http://flumc2.org/page.asp?PKValue=746


This article relates to the East Angola-Florida Conference Partnership.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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