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Teams visiting Angola build more than structures

Teams visiting Angola build more than structures

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Teams visiting Angola build more than structures

By John Michael De Marco | May 24, 2010 {1174} 

A number of short-term missionary teams have visited Angola this year as part of the conference’s commitment to the East Angola/Florida partnership, but the future impact of the Florida Conference in the war-torn country has yet to be determined.

The Rev. Dr. Armando and Icel Rodriguez (center) and students from the boys boarding school at Quéssua sit at the base of a cross that tops a mountain overlooking Quéssua and Malange. The crew hiked to the spot for worship and Bible study. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodriguez Jr. Photo #10-1443. View in photo gallery with longer description.

One thing is certain, however: the conference’s commitment to relationship building with church leaders and the Angolan people.

The East Angola Conference of The United Methodist Church has held a partnership with the Florida Conference since 2003. Recent efforts have focused on the city of Quéssua, a key theological center and the temporary home since September of the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodriguez Jr., a Florida Conference pastor, and his wife, Icel, on staff with the conference’s global mission ministry. The couple’s 21-year-old daughter, Amanda, is with them through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, and the family will stay in the country for a full year.

The headquarters of the East Angola Conference are in the city of Malange, about 300 miles east of Luanda, capital of Angola. Among the Rodriguez family’s many duties, Icel has been establishing a home base for future visits from Florida Conference mission teams, as well as continuing as conference director of global mission. Armando teaches at the School of Theology in Quéssua, and Amanda mentors orphans and teaches English to secondary school students.

Before three decades of civil war decimated much of East Angola, Quéssua was an educational, missionary and spiritual hub of The United Methodist Church. Missionary efforts during the past few years have included road paving, along with rebuilding Quéssua United Methodist Church and several schools and homes.

By June, five different missionary teams will have spent time in Quéssua this year, improving not only area ministry structures, but building relationships and gleaning ideas for future ministry.

Missionaries’ return is ‘answered prayer’

“It’s a beautiful country, but clearly they are still rebuilding all of their infrastructure after being at war for so long,” said the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, who was part of the first team traveling to Angola, in January.

Adilson, a student at the boys boarding school, recuperates after being hospitalized for malaria under a mosquito net provided by members of the Florida Conference team. Team members hope the new nets they gave Adilson and the other boys will help them stay healthy for the remainder of their time at the boarding school. Photo by Rev. Dr. Armando Rodriguez Jr. Photo #10-1444. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Fogle-Miller is director of Florida Conference Connectional Ministries. She and the team focused on improving dining facilities at Quéssua Boarding School. Greg Harford, a staff member with the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry, led the five-member group.

“(The country) is still not entirely settled down, I would say,” Fogle-Miller said. “There’s just amazing poverty. I noticed the irony of us arriving with a bunch of mosquito nets and seeing that there aren’t enough beds to put them over. Most of the boys in the orphanage, or boarding school, have individual beds. They sleep on mats on the floor.”

Reconstructing the buildings after the war has proved easier than “rebuilding all of the human community,” Fogle-Miller added.

“You had a couple generations of kids who were raised only during wartime and, in some cases, raised by parents who were raised during war,” she said. “Folks were eager for those schools to be rebuilt and re-established because education is so important.”

Quéssua was destroyed, Fogle-Miller said, “because of distrust of the Methodists.”

“They planted dreams of education and freedom. The first president after they ousted the Portuguese was a Methodist, and the factions that launched the civil war found the Methodists quite threatening because they had taught so many leaders and officials,” Fogle-Miller said. “Now, we’re seen as potential allies in the whole rebuilding process.”

Members of a mission team from Harvest United Methodist Church in Bradenton toured Quéssua and saw firsthand the damage caused by three decades of civil war in the remains of what was a middle school, chapel, home for missionaries and other ruins. Photo by Barrie Wilke. Photo #10-1445. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Some of the rebuilt roads are lined with mango trees planted 75 to 100 years ago by Methodist missionaries that are “still bearing wonderful fruit … providing food to those who never knew the missionaries,” she said.

“There was a tree in front of Icel and Armando’s house; it looked like it should have been dead, with a good-sized hole and burn marks and branches that had been ripped off in storms,” Fogle-Miller added. “But if you looked at the top of it, it still had green growth. That was an accurate metaphor for the durability of those who are rebuilding the country and rebuilding the church.”

Armando blogs regularly about his family’s experiences at In a post describing the recent visits, he said the team in January painted and renovated the boys boarding house at Quéssua and delivered more than 200 pairs of reading glasses to neighbors of Quéssua and Malange.

He said a highlight of the trip was a visit to the village of Mangas, where Quéssua United Methodist Church oversees a mission in a very poor neighborhood. He says Harford gave an “inspiring message” to an audience comprised of a variety of ages, and Fogle-Miller preached at Malange Central United Methodist Church.

“Most importantly, the team strengthened our ties of friendship with members of the East Angola UMC,” Armando wrote.

In an e-mail interview with e-Review, Icel said one of the most moving experiences occurred during a visit to a Wesleyan class at the Quéssua church. She said “Senhor (Portuguese for Señor) Salvador,” a longtime Christian and employee of the Quéssua mission before it was destroyed, attended the service.

Members of Harvest United Methodist Church in Bradenton caulk windows at a girls boarding school adjacent to Malange Central United Methodist Church. Photo by Barrie Wilke. Photo #10-1446. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“Salvador worked alongside missionaries from the U.S. and Canada for many, many years,” Icel said. “When those missionaries were forced to leave Angola during the years of the independence war, Salvador, like many others, suffered greatly. The morning that we visited, Salvador (94 years old) was there to praise God for missionaries returning to Angola. With tears in his eyes, he hugged all in the group as he said, ‘I’ve prayed for years that God would send missionaries back to Angola. He has heard my cry!’ ”

At home

The Rev. Catherine Fluck-Price, co-pastor at Harvest United Methodist Church in Bradenton, led a second group, a seven-member team, to Angola Feb. 10-20. It was the first time a mission trip to Angola has been fully represented by members from just one congregation.

The church has a partnership with Malange Central United Methodist Church, and the Rev. Steve Price, co-pastor of the Bradenton church, chairs the East Angola-Florida Partnership task team. The Florida missionaries spent most of their time at the church in Malange and at a girls boarding house adjacent to the church.

In a blog entry, Armando said the group did “outstanding work” on the boarding house — painting its interior, repairing its roof, covering the expenses of redoing its electric lines and hiring someone to install bars on the windows. The group also bought new bunk beds, mattresses and mosquito nets for the girls’ and boys’ dormitories.

On Feb. 13, team members conducted a vacation Bible school for the children at Malange Central, Armando said, and “gave a generous offering to this church, which includes money to purchase a motorcycle for the local pastor.” 

Children at Malange Central United Methodist Church draw and color during vacation Bible school. The Rev. Catherine Fluck-Price said many had never used crayons before then. Photo by Barrie Wilke. Photo #10-1447. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“They had a blast on their last day in Malange because they took the girls to the Falls of Kalandula, near Malange,” Armando added.

“First and foremost, the greatest experience for all of us was getting to know the people and their generous spirit, their faithful lives, and gracious hospitality that we experienced,” Fluck-Price said. “Many of the boarding school girls were on break because it was between school sessions, but there were about 14 there, including five who are orphans. We had a great time teaching them.”

Fluck-Price said about 100 children attended the three-hour vacation Bible school, whose theme was built on Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Sheep and incorporated the prodigal son story.

“The majority of the children were not familiar with this,” she said. “When we explained how the prodigal’s father ran out with open arms to embrace him, some of the girls said, ‘Oh! The father wasn’t mad?’ There was a shock that the father wasn’t mad, and we explained that’s how God’s love works.” 

The program also included drawing with crayons and making crafts. Fluck-Price said most of the children had never used crayons before then.

Fluck-Price’s daughter, Shelby, was the only youth to participate in the trip. She and two boys, Salvador and Gomes, from the boarding school led singing during vacation Bible school. Shelby learned songs in Portuguese, and the boys learned English choruses, such as the “Yes, Lord; Yes, Lord,” refrain from the worship hit, “Trading My Sorrows.” Shelby also helped teach the boarding school girls about basic hygiene and told “The Star-Belled Sneetches” story by Dr. Seuss as a way to address some of the cliques that had developed among the girls and encourage them to care for and love one another.

“It was just amazing to me how different they are from the teenagers here,” Shelby told e-Review after returning home. “I’ve never seen such a stark contrast between people. Faith is the absolute center of everything they do. There are so many distractions here in America. I guess they don’t have anything to distract them over there. Here, we go to church, but in no way is it the center of our life like it should be. “

Shelby Price gets to know 5-year-old Gabi while working with other members of her church at the Internato Feminina — the girls boarding school. Gabi lives there with his 15-year-old sister, Quinha, and 22 other girls. “His love for everyone and his huge smile are clearly evident to all,” said the Rev. Catherine Fluck-Price, Shelby’s mom and fellow team member. “We all fell in love with him.” Photo by Barrie Wilke. Photo #10-1448. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“They have more than us, though,” she added, “because they have a joy that I’ve never seen before.”

A living reminder of her trip is the 104-page journal Shelby wrote in each day while in Angola. The journal has been making its rounds among her friends, enabling them to delve into Shelby’s experiences in a deeper way than simply hearing about the trip.

“I’ve tried to bring back the joy that they have in Angola to here,” she said. “I went over there thinking I was going to come back feeling so grateful for everything we have in America. And I do feel that; we have basic necessities. But more than feeling grateful, I longed to have what they have — the joy of Angola in America.”

On the final night of the team’s stay, while having dinner with East Angola Bishop José Quipungo, Shelby said he asked, “What can we give you?”

“It was so hard to explain to him that they’d already given us so much — that I’d already received more than I’ve given,” she said. “I guess they don’t realize how wonderful they really are.

“It didn’t really hit me until the first plane took off from Angola that we were really leaving, and that I didn’t want to be leaving. I felt that Angola was home. People back home didn’t understand that. They think about the comforts of here and how could you not want to leave a Third World country.”

Future ministry

Looking beyond the trips and this summer’s eventual return of the Rodriguez family to the United States, the Florida Conference’s opportunities to further serve East Angola are uncertain.

“We’re at a point of revaluating and redefining what it will mean to be in this partnership with the East Angolan UMC,” Fogle-Miller said. “We’ve about built the buildings we’re going to build. … After this (the year’s mission trips), we’ll be able to redefine the next part of it.”

Fogle-Miller said focusing on education and providing scholarships might be an option, now that the high school is back in operation. “There are young people who could really benefit from going to college, but they do not have the resources to do that,” she said.

Investing in leadership is also “going to be critical,” she said. “They’ve got to raise up a whole new generation of people who can lead.”

A group of students from Santiago United Methodist Church in Luanda, Angola, takes pictures of their friends and members of the Harvest United Methodist Church mission team. The students were visiting Quéssua — the base of operations for the mission team — for a retreat and hike to the cross on the mountain. “They sang to welcome us, and then they took photos of us, ‘the missionaries from America,’ ” said Mike Kennedy, a member of the mission team. “It was wonderful and heartwarming, actually overwhelming.” Photo by Barrie Wilke. Photo #10-1449. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“The sheer physical logistics of traveling there, and then traveling once you are there, are going to make it really hard to send teams with the kind of frequency we’re able to do once Icel and Armando return this summer,” Fogle-Miller added.

In the meantime, there are things Florida Conference clergy and laity can do to make an impact, Fogle-Miller said, including learning about Angola and partnering with a church there — praying for and with them and corresponding beyond e-mail.

“Their sense of being affirmed and supported by Christians elsewhere, particularly by Methodists elsewhere, is so key,” she said. “They were so touched that we came to see them and do projects that made a huge difference for them.”

Fluck-Price agrees. “Simply going over there and building relationships is so foundational,” she said. “It means more, in our experience, to the people we met, that we were there, than anything we accomplished. In their eyes, the gift was actually making the trip and the desire to build relationships, to learn to speak Portuguese with them and teach them English so we could understand each other — the desire to understand what their lifestyle was like … to understand their faith journey.”

Fluck-Price says she hopes technologies like Skype (a free service that enables people to make voice and video calls through the Internet), e-mail and others as they become more available to East Angola can help build those relationships. “We can’t even mail letters to the people we met over there. There’s no mail delivered to Quéssua,” she said. “I would hope we might be able to set up some kind of account through Quéssua that is specifically for the girls and boys in the boarding school.”

Fluck-Price shared pictures taken during the trip and the team’s experience with members of her church March 12.

With the end of 30 years of civil war and the rebuilding of the country, hope is returning to Quéssua and Angola. Photo by Barrie Wilke. Photo #10-1450. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

“The congregation is very, very excited about our partnership,” she said. “There are folks who have said, ‘I want to go on the next trip.’ ” The key, she said, is making sure there is someone on the ground in Angola who can help teams with travel and other logistics.

“We’re open to bringing more students over here from Angola, some young adults that have just finished high school, so they can learn English and some leadership skills and learn more about ministry and go back to Angola with that,” she said. “It would also be interesting to bring a pastor over from Angola.”

Eight college students with ACCESS 218 comprised the third group traveling to East Angola, visiting in March. A video message from team members about their work is available at; blog entries describing the trip are also available at by clicking on the March 2010 link under archives. ACCESS218 is the college and young adult ministry at CrossRoads United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, a student club at the University of North Florida and a campus ministry at Jacksonville University.

A fourth group from Lakewood United Methodist Church in Jacksonville traveled to Angola April 24, and a final group from Deer Lake United Methodist Church in Tallahassee will make the trip May 25.

More information, including past e-Review stories, about the East Angola/Florida Partnership is available on the Florida Conference website 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 commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant based in Nashville, Tenn.