East Angola villagers fighting to survive malaria



Just 10 years ago, the village of Quessua in north central Angola was a bombed-out ruin.

Hope had given way to a grim struggle to survive. Landmines overgrown by weeds lay scattered outside the village. The summer heat was suffocating. The mud huts where villagers lived had no electricity, no running water, no plumbing.

Where there used to be buildings, there was rubble. The only structure still standing after the carnage was the village church. Quessua essentially was a ghost town. Death, disease and hunger were everywhere.

Upon arrival to the village of Quessua, two children were critically ill from malaria. Rev. Armando Rodriquez immediately transported them across the 12 miles of dirt road to the nearest medical center. A child named Beto survived and is shown here being held by Ruthie Schaad, a retired missionary who now lives in Quessua.

It was the butcher’s bill for 27 years of civil war.

It also was the perfect landscape for God’s mercy to work.

And as the husband-wife team of Rev. Armando and Icel Rodriguez learned, there was no turning back. What might have been a one-time drop-in has turned into an annual mission to bring light and a message of redemption into a pocket of devastation.

“My husband said, ‘I feel like God wants me to come back here,’” Icel said. “I actually told him, ‘Good for you because you’re going by yourself.’ I didn’t want any part of it.

“And all of a sudden, I felt the Holy Spirit talking to me. I went to my knees. How could I oppose this? In that moment, I didn’t feel the apprehension I felt before.”

Icel now is the director of Global Missions for the Florida United Methodist Conference. Armando is the pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Bartow.

Through their efforts and with the support of the Florida Conference, the mission of mercy has expanded. New connections with other volunteers have been made. Buildings have been rebuilt. Aid in the form of medicine and supplies has given villagers new hope. Life has returned to Quessua.

“I keep thinking about the Bible verse that says feed my sheep,” said Sandi Goodman, chairperson of the East Angola/Florida partnership. “We are living that Scripture, and I am so honored to be part of this.

“The people treasure knowing that someone cares about them. The Florida Methodist Conference is a hero to them. You realize, wow, how important this is to them. What they don’t know is how important they are to us. I’m a nurse, and I have seen people in a disaster situation, but this was like nothing I had ever seen.”

Icel and Armando have returned every year since that initial visit. Goodman has returned annually since her first trip in 2010. In September, they joined two others for a two-week mission of love.

A mother brings her family to see Dr. Cleivy Garcia, a Cuban missionary serving in East Angola. Her entire family of seven were sick with malaria. The need for basic healthcare here is critical.  

Planning and coordination with government officials and missionaries already in Angola takes several months. They secure antibiotics and pain suppressants through a group in the United States called Blessings International, which provides medicine in parts of the world where the need for basic healthcare is great.

On this trip, the five missionaries took 26 bags loaded with supplies. Air transportation for the bags, weighing about 50 pounds each, costs $200 apiece. They took hygiene kits filled with toothpaste, brushes, shampoo and hand sanitizers. They carried shoes and clothing.

They also brought seeds for planting so villagers could grow their own food. Once there, it became necessary to purchase 500 mosquito nets to help combat widespread malaria.

Two children, ages 3 and 2, were near death from the disease. A hospital was only about 12 miles away, but that might as well have been a million miles to the villagers, who travel mostly on foot.

“It’s basically in the middle of nowhere,” Armando said.

With their vehicle, missionaries transported the children for emergency treatment, and they survived.

“The first time I went there, it was hopeless looking to me,” Goodman said. “What God has done through our little team is incredible, though. I see things being rebuilt. I see lives being changed.

“I saw an elderly man in the street, and he asked me why I was there. When I told him, he said he had prayed for years for the missionaries to come back. He told me, ‘You have given us hope.’”

Hope comes in many forms. It is carried in the bags of supplies. It is shown in the helping hands. It comes in a picture Goodman received from the two children who nearly died from malaria. They were smiling widely.

That’s what happens after people answer, “yes,” when the Spirit speaks.

The Methodist volunteers saw the need.

Villagers can now see the hope.

“It’s amazing,” Icel said. “When we get to a village, the kids come out to greet us. They are singing and dancing. They are so happy. What we have seen in Angola is that they are very open to God. I feel God when I am there.

“It’s hard to picture the suffering those people are going through from here in the United States, but I want to assure everybody that we are making a difference. By sharing the love of Christ, we are impacting eternity. God is invested in what we’re doing in Angola.”

--Joe Henderson is a freelance writer based in Brandon.

Editor's Note: Global Missions of the Florida Conference is launching a new Health Initiative for East Angola to support medical assistance in impoverished communities of this sub-Saharan country. Through Dec. 2017, your contributions to this initiative will be doubled -- up to $20,000! Funds will be used to purchase medicines and other needed medical supplies. For more details, contact Icel Rodriquez at irodriguez@flumc.org or 800-282-8011, ext. 346.


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