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Melba's Mission Journal (July 30, 2004)

Melba's Mission Journal (July 30, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Melba's Mission Journal

July 30, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0126}

NOTE:  A headshot of Whitaker is available at

n  What does the Lord require of me? To seek justice…Isaiah 1:17.

An e-Review Commentary
By Melba Whitaker**

Through the bishops' initiative Hope for the Children of Africa conferences across the United States have been linked with conferences on the continent of Africa. These relationships have been going on for quite a few years. It was through this initiative that the Florida Conference raised money to build a school in Mozambique. Now, we are in a relationship with the Eastern Angola Conference.

Why the Eastern Angola Conference? For years the people and churches of eastern Angola have needed help, but a 30-year civil war made it unsafe to send people and very difficult to make improvements on buildings or programs. People have been scattered and buildings have been routinely destroyed. Things have now changed for Angola, and it is worthwhile for us in Florida to know a bit about their history. In order to become involved in mission work it is vital to understand the situation of the country in which we plan to work.

On one of the mission trips I took to South America we were privileged to have a discussion with a group of ministers. One of the ministers posed a question that has led me to a new way of thinking when it comes to missions in other countries. The question was, "When are the United Methodists in the United States going to take moral responsibility for the actions of their government leaders that affect the lives of Methodists around the world?"

My first reaction was to get defensive. How could we know all that our government is involved in? Don't we just elect our leaders and trust them to do their jobs with honor? That question kept haunting me through the following months. I came to the understanding that, in our democracy, we are responsible for the leaders we elect and their policies. In our age of instant information we have the abilities to find out what our government is involved in all over the world. If we are not responsible, who is? The first part of this responsibility is becoming aware of what our country is doing and has done in second and third world countries around the globe.
Fast forward to January 2003, to a visit to Angola to establish a missional relationship with the Eastern Angola Conference. What is the situation of Angola and what has been our country's policy in regard to Angola and what does this have to do with Methodists?

This is a capsule of the history of Angola. In 1975 the Portuguese colonial rule of Angola ended. At this time Angola was plunged into a 30-year civil war between the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (PMLA), which was the new independent Angolan government, and UNITA, a multiethnic movement led by Jonas Savimbi. The PMLA received arms from the USSR and troops from Cuba. Remember, this was during the Cold War and whoever controlled Angola controlled the second largest oil fields in Africa and diamond mines. UNITA received internal support from the Ovimbundu people in southern Angola and financial and military aid from the United States and the apartheid government of South Africa. There was a long and tortuous war. After communism failed in Europe the funds from USSR and Cuba dried up, but Savimbi continued his terrorist activities. It wasn't until Savimbi was killed in early 2002 that Angola could, for the first time, be free from colonial rule and civil war.
What was the result of Savimbi's activities? Savimbi's rebel group became a powerful terrorist operation. Because the new president of Angola was United Methodist, Savimbi targeted United Methodist churches, schools and clinics. United Methodist pastors were kidnapped and killed. There are empty shells of church buildings all over the Eastern Angola Conference that were destroyed by Savimbi's rebels.

EASTERN ANGOLA, Africa — Funds from the Florida Conference will help rebuild bombed out buildings like these on the Quessua campus. Quessua is the missionary compound that included the theological seminary, a college, a large church, a hospital and an agricultural school and was destroyed. Photo by Melba Whitaker, Photo #04-0051.

Quessua, the missionary compound that included the theological seminary, a college, a large church, a hospital and an agricultural school, was destroyed. People fled the towns and villages, going into the bush to escape the war and keep their children from being kidnapped and forced into Savimbi's army. It became very difficult to have "a church," as members were scattered throughout the rural bush or migrated to the capital of Luanda. These are our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, whose lives were destroyed or interrupted because of Savimbi's organization.
Our response, now that we know, should be one of overwhelming generosity in helping the United Methodist Church of the Eastern Angola Conference get back on its feet. Churches need to be rebuilt, the theological school needs to be built so pastors can be educated, schools need to be built so children that were denied an education during the civil war can now receive what is their right, and hospitals need to be rebuilt to save the lives of our neighbors. I rejoice when I travel and see the good that our church and even our government does around the world, but I also have a strong sense of responsibility to do what is right and just; to clean up the messes we cause, even if we were not totally aware of them as they occurred. The song "What Does the Lord Require of Me," sung at Annual Conference, spoke directly to my heart. Yes, the Lord does require us to seek justice for all of God's children.

If you would like to contribute to the reconstruction of the infrastructure of the United Methodist Church of Eastern Angola, please make a check out to your local church with the designation of Advance Special # 810, Eastern Angola. 
To learn more about Savimbi and the history of Angola visit these links:


This commentary relates to Missions.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker coordinates the Florida Conference's Children's Harvest ministry and leads conference clergy spouses in mission trips around the world as part of an initiative by spouses of United Methodist bishops to promote and support mission activities.