Visitors and visited are changed after mission trip to Angola

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Visitors and visited are changed after mission trip to Angola

May 20, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0489}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Ties between the Florida and East Angola conferences became even stronger after a team of six from the Florida Conference traveled to Angola March 27-April 10. They shared both the tangible and intangible with the goal of being partners in ministry with United Methodists there.

Nearly three years ago the two conferences officially formed the East Angola/Florida Partnership. Since then United Methodists from both have been working together to share their experiences. The trip was an extension of those efforts.

MALANGE, Angola — Team member Nancy Berzins (center) receives an overwhelming welcome by Branca Manuel Jacinto, the mother of Alcides Martins, one of the Angolan students studying at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, and the women who participated in a workshop Berzins led. In preparation for the workshop the women spent long hours rehearsing their songs, according to team member Icel Rodriguez. "Christian music is a heavenly sound in Angola," she said. "Those songs transport you right to Heaven. Only when the music stops do you realize you are still on earth." Photo by the Rev. Armando Rodriguez, Photo #06-356.

“They were receiving us like (we were) kings and queens … knowing we were there to help them,” said Nancy Berzins, a member of Shepherd’s Community United Methodist Church in Lakeland.

Berzins has previously worked with students Francisco Cautama and Alcides Martins from Angola, helping them learn English and more about American culture while they are in the United States for a year as part of the partnership. On this trip Berzins served as the team translator, speaking Portuguese, the official language in Angola, and led a group in discussion about women’s ministry.

“I was very excited to go and … it was God’s call for me,” Berzins said. “ … I felt the confirmation of so many things … that God will be able to use my gifts to further his kingdom.”

Regarding the future of Angola, Berzins believes the church is the key to rebuilding a country torn apart by 30 years of civil war.
“Right now we are really helping to restore a country,” Berzins said. “When you are restoring the church, you are consequently restoring the country.”

MALANGE, Angola — (Left to right) Team members Icel Rodriguez and Nancy Berzins and one of the workers at the Methodist clinic in Malange look on as Dr. Laurinda Quipungo, wife of the East Angola Conference's Bishop José Quipungo, opens the bags of medications the team brought and which were donated by churches in Florida. The clinic offers out-patient care for everybody and in-patient treatment mainly to patients with respiratory conditions. Photo by the Rev. Armando Rodriguez, Photo #06-357.

Among the ways the team assisted in the rebuilding process included taking medicine, clothing, toys and commercial radio equipment with them.

“When you see their smiles and you meet them and they welcome you with smiles and hugs, you get overwhelmed at how God works through adversity,” Berzins said. “They really display a joy that only God can give because there is no other explanation.”

In all the team toted 15 pieces of luggage — each weighing at least 70 pounds — to transport their supplies. Along with Berzins the team included Ed Chappell of Lakewood United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, the Rev. Tom Norton of Christ United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg the Rev. Steve Price of Harvest United Methodist Church in Bradenton, the Rev. Armando Rodriguez of Alturas United Methodist Church in Alturas, and Icel Rodriguez, staff liaison for the East Angola/Florida Partnership and coordinator of the trip.

The team first arrived in Luanda, the capital of Angola, where they spent several days meeting and talking with residents, and preparing their training program for the next stop, the city of Malange.

Traveling within and between the two cities is very different from traveling in the United States.

“There are five million people in Luanda and very few stoplights and traffic signals,” Norton said. “(There were) lots of roundabouts. It was interesting seeing how people would merge in traffic and drive.”

Price logged his impressions of the trip in his online blog, published on the e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service Web site. He accessed cybercafés in Angola to write the blog.

“Tomorrow will be our last day here in the capital city before departing for Malange,” Price wrote March 30. “This is a beautiful country filled with beautiful, gracious and hospitable people. There are tremendous opportunities for the future here, and we pray that our work might assist the church of Angola in bringing the hope and peace of Christ into their hearts, their lives and their communities.”

Prepared to travel on to Malange, the team found itself delayed by one day in Luanda after their flight was canceled and road travel was not possible. But the team arrived in Malange early April 2, Palm Sunday. In his blog, Price described their timely arrival as “a miracle.” The team joined in worship at Central United Methodist Church, located adjacent to the East Angola Conference headquarters.

MALANGE, Angola — Children at Dona Melba United Methodist Church welcome the team. “Dona” means Mrs. in Portuguese. The church was named in honor of Melba Whitaker, Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker's wife, who, with Dr. Laurinda Quipungo, launched the partnership between the East Angola and Florida conferences. Photo by the Rev. Armando Rodriguez, Photo #06-358.

“We joined the church in progress, and we had a reception that would have been reserved for the Queen of England,” Norton said. “They treated us royally, and they were some of the most loving people I’ve ever met in my life.”

Price felt God’s presence in many places on the trip, but said the worship was particularly poignant. “I would say that was where I was most moved — in that first worship experience,” Price said.

Berzins described the church as completely full, with worshippers spilling out beyond the walls of the church. “When they were singing, I got goose bumps all over, and it took me back to the Bible verse that (says) God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22),” Berzins said.

While in Malange, the team provided training sessions for pastors and church members, including teaching on finance and administration, women’s ministry, evangelism and pastoral leadership, and children’s ministry and activities.

“The people here are very grateful for our presence,” Price wrote in his blog April 5. “As we work with them in our seminars and have conversations throughout the day, we are learning much from them about the wonderful history of The United Methodist Church in Angola, the current needs here and the bright hope they have for the future.”

MALANGE, Angola — The Rev. Manuel Mufica (left), superintendent of the Malange District, and young men from Central Malange United Methodist Church learn how to use the radio communication equipment brought by the team. Although the license for the frequency had not yet been granted when the team visited Angola, everything was in place so the equipment could be used as soon as the government granted its permission. Photo by the Rev. Armando Rodriguez, Photo #06-359.

Malange was also the location for the set up of new, commercial-grade radio equipment brought by the team for the East Angola Conference.

“All 10 radios and antennas got through the shipping process in excellent condition,” Norton said. “ … Everything we wanted to take got there and got there in good order.”

Norton, a licensed radio operator, set up the system for East Angola Bishop José Quipungo and his district superintendents. Norton also taught several district superintendents how to use the radios, which were paid for by the Florida Conference through offerings given by Florida United Methodists at the past several annual conference events.

“It was … like a child at Christmas with a new, exciting toy when they began to grasp what the radios could do,” Norton said.

The system capabilities include AM radio, upper and lower sideband, and data communications, such as facsimile. These are needed services in a country that has limited telephone service and experiences daily disruptions in electricity, Norton said. The radios are all battery operated and easily charged.

“They grabbed the idea that these were real tools — these are heavy duty,” Norton said. “ … I had one gentleman who took to it so well that I let him teach the others.”

The system is set up so the district superintendents and Quipungo can easily communicate with each other. “They (superintendents) can radio the Methodist building, and it would call the Bishop’s cell phone,” Norton said.

Though much work remains, taking small steps to help the people of Angola is a good beginning, Norton said.

“Just because (we) are overwhelmed with the magnitude, it should not stop us from doing something … ,” Norton said. “What we’ve done seems to us so little, but for them seems so much, and I’m humbled in that process.”

Price’s complete blog, as well as detailed information about the East Angola/Florida Partnership, can be found at


This article relates to East Angola/Florida Partnership.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Viera, Fla.

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