LAKELAND – If your New Year’s resolution is to finish the things you’ve started, you can probably appreciate the wish list of Revs. Leo and Cleivy Garcia.
The missionary couple from Cuba have been shepherding the United Methodist mission in Quéssua, East Angola, for more than two years. They are eager to finish restoration of a war-ravaged boarding house that would make room for more boys and girls who are orphaned or impoverished and in need of education and pastoral care.
|Rev. Cleivy Garcia, left, Icel Rodriguez, center, and Rev. Leo Garcia discuss the trials and rewards of mission work in East Angola during a presentation at the Florida United Methodist Center. Photo by Dave Walter.|
This week, the Garcias, with the help of Icel Rodriguez, Global Missions director for the Florida Conference, discussed their ministry and its needs with staff at the Florida United Methodist Center. The couple will be itinerating at churches across the conference during early 2014, seeking prayers and financial support for the East Angola mission that has been supported by the Florida Conference for more than 10 years.
When the Florida Conference formed a partnership with the East Angola Conference in 2004, the African country was trying to recover from 40 years of devastating civil war, Rodriguez said. The Methodist mission at Quéssua, including a church, schools and residential buildings, was in ruins.
One by one, the buildings have been restored, starting with the church. Also restored so far are the School of Theology and the high school.
“Now 1,100 students come to study every day in the high school,” Leo Garcia said in Spanish, with Rodriguez interpreting.
A boarding house and dining hall able to accommodate 25 boys also is open. Orphans and disadvantaged youths who could not get an education in their home communities are cared for there.
Substantially completed is a much larger dormitory, able to house up to 200. But it still requires windows and doors, paint, bunk beds and other finishing materials, estimated to cost about $46,000.
The Garcias are inviting local churches to chip in funds to pay for a window ($250) or a door ($300-$500) in order to hasten completion of the dormitory. Once the dorm is completed, the mission will be able to move the young men there and invite young women to stay and study in the existing boarding house.
Volunteers from Florida have worked side by side with students at the mission and local residents to restore buildings, cultivate crops and provide a clean water source.
|Mission teams and local residents of Quéssua have worked to rebuild this student dormitory, but it lacks windows, doors, beds and other finishing products. Photo from Leo and Cleivy Garcia.|
Rodriguez and the Garcias said they were particularly touched when a Florida mission team trekked nearly 4 miles through African brush to connect Quéssua to a mountain spring via a pipeline.
“There are many cobras there,” Cleivy Garcia said.
Rodriguez said having a host missionary presence is critical to making mission team visits possible. She and her husband, Rev. Armando Rodriguez, served in that role in 2010, but progress stalled in early 2011, when no replacements were forthcoming from Global Ministries.
“The Holy Spirit brought a thought to our minds and hearts: What about Cubans?” Rodriguez recalled.
With strict government rules about emigration out of Cuba, the challenges seemed overwhelming, she said, but she asked anyway. She found out about the Garcias, both trained physicians who heard the call to ministry and were originally assigned to Honduras. Those plans fell through, and then the couple began learning Portuguese – the language spoken in Angola – because they thought they would be going to Mozambique.
The bishop of the Methodist Church of Cuba agreed to send the couple to Angola, but Rodriguez feared the plan would fizzle in the face of government rules that physicians must have stopped practicing for 10 years before they would be granted permission to leave.
Even now, she marvels that the Garcias were able to take up the work where she and her husband left off.
“This is nothing that would ever happen if the Holy Spirit didn’t intervene,” she said.
Leo Garcia told the audience he and his wife had been married for 21 years when they heard the call to ministry. They remained childless – until they went to Quéssua and began teaching, ministering and caring for orphans.
"When we arrived in Angola, lo and behold, we got 50 children,” he said. “We believe that God has called us … to serve the needs of these people.”
Rodriguez said mission teams are forming to travel to East Angola this year. For information on the Angola mission, click here. To make a donation, click here. To learn about mission team participation, click here, or email Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection.