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Conference missioners make final preparations for trip to Angola

Conference missioners make final preparations for trip to Angola

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference missioners make final preparations for trip to Angola

By Jenna De Marco | July 16, 2009 {1047}

The Rev. Dr. Armando and Icel Rodríguez hope to cross a critical milestone soon — approval of their work visas to serve as Florida Conference missioners to the East Angola Conference.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker offers a prayer and blessing for the Rev. Dr. Armando and Icel Rodríguez during the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1245.

“It is the last hurdle,” Icel said.

The work visas will authorize the couple to reside and serve in Quéssua, Angola, for one year as part of the East Angola/Florida Partnership that began in 2003.

Armando is an ordained elder in the Florida Conference; Icel is director of the conference’s Global Mission office. In 2007, Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker commissioned them as missioners to East Angola for 2009-2010. Pending approval of their visas from the Angolan Consulate, the Rodríguez’s, along with their daughter, Amanda, are set to depart the first week of August.

“These two people are responding to God’s deep call upon their lives,” Whitaker said at a recent dedication service for the couple during the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event.

“Icel and Armando, in the name of the Florida Conference, I commend you to this work and pledge to you our prayers, encouragement and support,” he said.

Reminders of Angola’s 27-year civil war dot the countryside. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez Jr. Photo #09-1246.

A focus of the conference's six-year partnership efforts has been helping the East Angola Conference rebuild Quéssua, an area that was once a thriving missionary and spiritual center of The United Methodist Church in Angola, located near the city of Malange in East Angola. Many of the area’s buildings were destroyed during the country’s 27-year civil war. Quéssua currently functions as a center for education and agricultural and theological training in East Angola.

One hundred percent of the offering taken during the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event will go toward the East Angola/Florida Partnership. As of July 1, the offering total stands at $86,275, conference controller Craig Smelser said. The money will be allocated across the conference year to meet various expenses, such as support for the Rodríguezes.

Education remains a priority

Armando, who holds a doctorate in New Testament studies and early Christianity, will teach three or four courses each semester as part of the faculty of the Quéssua School of Theology. The school trains United Methodist pastors for the East Angola Conference.

“I have to go to the classroom right away because their school year begins very early,” Armando said. “They will actually be waiting for me when I get there, and we are preparing the classes already.”

Armando will be delivering his lessons in Portuguese, the official language of Angola. He and Icel already speak fluent English and Spanish; they have been practicing Portuguese with the help of a Brazilian friend. Armando expects a smooth transition to the language.

“I will begin teaching in ‘Portuñol’ (a hybrid of Spanish and Portuguese), and then my ‘Portuñol’ will transition to Portuguese as time passes,” he joked.

East Angolan children make their way to school. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez Jr. File photo #06-353. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0488, 05/19/06.

On a more serious note, Armando believes Angola is placing a lot of emphasis on educating its young citizens.

“That’s where we come in to help them,” he said. “The help they are asking for is not food or transportation, but for repairing the facilities, providing the teachers and for scholarships for students. They are investing in their future rather than spending the money only on the present needs. They are trying to secure the future.”

During Armando’s 2006 trip to East Angola, he says he noticed that students were so interested in learning that they would pay for computer and Internet access at “cyber-cafes” in order to study.

“They are very intelligent,” Armando says of his prospective students. “They are eager to study, and they are not wasting time.”

Rebuilding moves forward

Educational and living conditions within the Quéssua complex have improved, Armando said, since his 2006 visit. At that time, the only structure that was completely rebuilt and functioning was Quéssua United Methodist Church. Theological courses can now be taken at the reconstructed seminary building instead of Quéssua High School.

Before: In March 2006 when a team from the Florida Conference visited Angola, reconstruction had not yet begun on the School of Theology at Quéssua, left little more than a shell by the country's civil war. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez Jr. File photo #07-0569. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0659, 04/19/07.

Other improvements, such as the installation of a well, upgrades to the East Angola Conference’s communications and the purchase of a generator, bicycles for pastors, sewing machines for women’s training centers and medicine for a clinic, have been possible through contributions from the East Angola/Florida Partnership funds.

Icel said she is looking forward to seeing the progress in person and taking photos of the changes that have occurred across the past few years.

After: The School of Theology is well on its way to being reconstructed. Photo by Tim Crawford. Photo #09-1247.

“It’s just amazing the life that is coming back to that place,” she said. “It’s amazing that in just three years what’s been going on. There’s so much life

back in Quéssua, and it’s just a huge witness for the people of Angola to see that the church is interested in making an investment in education.”

Mission focus continues

While in Quéssua, Icel will maintain her Florida Conference responsibilities as director of Global Mission. Communication with her will take place via e-mail and the Internet. The Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, former director of the conference’s Global Mission and Justice Ministries, will continue as a part-time staff liaison for the conference on matters related to the conference’s partnerships with The Methodist Church in Cuba and Haiti. Rankin was appointed pastor at Bayshore United Methodist Church in Tampa, effective July 1.

Icel will continue working on Global Mission and Justice Ministries’ “Salt and Light” e-newsletter and Web site and other conference resources, such as the general church and conference Advances. Beyond that, she will spend most of her time promoting church-to-church relationships between churches in Florida and Angola and begin preparing the way for teams from Florida churches to visit the East Angola Conference. One partnership goal is to establish a dozen sister-church relationships between churches in each of the two conferences, Icel said.

Memorial United Methodist Church in Fernandina Beach, Lakewood United Methodist Church in Jacksonville and Harvest United Methodist Church in Bradenton are already planning to send teams in the coming year. Deer Lake United Methodist Church in Tallahassee and First United Methodist Church in Orlando have expressed interest, as well, Icel said.

Quéssua was a thriving spiritual and missionary center before the country’s civil war, but it also provided education for many Angolans. Many of Angola’s leaders are considered “sons of Quéssua” because they were educated at the United Methodist schools. The country’s first president, Dr. Agostinho Neto, was a United Methodist and son of a pastor. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez Jr. File photo #07-0571. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0659, 04/19/07.

Harvest United Methodist Church, which is targeting February 2010 for its trip, has as many as nine individuals interested in serving on its six-person team, according to Vaughan Harshman, a lay member of the church. Harshman serves on the church’s mission committee and is the point person for their East Angola/ Florida teams. He visited Angola in January 2008.

“It’s given me an awareness of folks in another part of the world who are committed Christians who love the Lord like I do, but who have a different culture and different situation in which they live and so forth,” Harshman said. “And yet we’ve been able to share this common bond together and do it personally by traveling there.”

Although there are economic needs in Angola, Harshman said it was “very inspiring” to see the type of assistance many residents were seeking.

“From the church as an organization or institution and from individuals, they didn’t want us to come and give them a bunch of money,” he said. “They wanted us to help them with projects that they can then carry out and continue.”

The East Angola/Florida Partnership likely will provide some grant money for individuals interested in traveling with a mission team to Angola, Icel said. The financial assistance could be used to defray trip expenses; the amount will be determined based upon available partnership funds.

Daughter joins mission

The Rodríguezes’ 21-year-old daughter, Amanda, will accompany them to Angola. The family will reside in one of three reconstructed homes for missionaries and school faculty.
Amanda is taking the year off from college to serve as an individual United Methodist Volunteer in Mission, teaching English at the high school and mentoring children at the East Angola Conference Orphanage.

After Icel and Armando returned from their 2006 trip to Angola, Amanda heard numerous stories about their experience. Although initially doubtful that she would want to travel to Angola, Amanda says she had an experience that changed her mind.

“My mom talked a lot about it because she was really excited,” Amanda said. “All of a sudden, I felt this really warm feeling out of nowhere. It was like there was a fire inside of me, and I just felt … that I had to go.”

After hearing so much about the people and the church, Amanda said she is excited about meeting members of the Quéssua community.

Members worship at Central United Methodist Church in Malange, East Angola. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez Jr. Photo #09-1248.

“I am looking forward to a lot of things — mainly the experience of being in their church,” she said. “From the stories that my parents have told me and the videos that I have seen, it brings this huge emotion in me, and I want to feel that happiness and be with them.”

A lot of effort, including fund-raising events, went into planning the one-year trip, Amanda said. The Florida Conference’s Global Mission committee granted $3,000 toward her expenses, which are budgeted at about $7,700 for the year. The East Angola/Florida Partnership is funding Amanda’s airfare, Icel said.

Other trip details included taking steps to reduce the chance of illness from such diseases as malaria. Staying well will be one of their biggest challenges, Armando said. The family will take as many health precautions as possible prior to and during their stay, they said, including the use of insect repellents for skin and clothing, hand sanitizing solutions and water purification.

“I think we are in good shape as far as our commitment to stay healthy between ourselves and as far as medications and prevention,” Icel said.

Individuals interested in contributing to the East Angola/Florida Partnership fund may write a check payable to “Florida Conference Treasurer” and designated “East Angola/Florida Partnership.” Checks may be given at local United Methodist churches for delivery to the Florida Conference office or sent directly to the Florida Conference at 1140 McDonald Street, Lakeland, FL 33801.

Individuals or churches interested in more information about sending teams can send an e-mail to Icel at irodrí Information about grants can be obtained by contacting the Rev. Steve Price, chairman of the Florida/East Angola Partnership and pastor of Harvest United Methodist Church, at

More information about the partnership and the Advance categories related to the East Angola Conference are available at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

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