LAKEWOOD RANCH – Of the many ways Vaughan Harshman could describe his most recent trip to Angola, perhaps the chicken says it best.
Harshman and a team of seven others from Harvest UMC, Bradenton, spent two weeks in the war-ravaged African country in June. They brought much-needed tools, expertise and Vacation Bible School aids; in return, one of the impoverished villages bestowed upon them a gift of live poultry.
Harshman said his 17-year-old daughter, Delaney, received the gift with as much gracefulness as she could muster and took it to join some other fowl at the home of resident UMC missionaries Leonardo and Cleivy Garcia in Quéssua.
|Harvest UMC mission team members work alongside Angolans to repair a water line that supplies the town of Quessua. (Photos courtesy of Vaughan and Delaney Harshman)|
“She’s not a farm girl,” Harshman said, chuckling.
The mission team was touched by the gift, he said.
“These were folks who, by our standards, have almost nothing, but they were giving what they had to us,” said Harshman, who also led a mission team to Angola in 2008.
The Florida Conference has worked with its East Angolan counterpart since 2003. Much of the country in southern Africa is still struggling to rebuild a decade after 27 years of devastating civil war ended in 2002.
Mission trips from Florida congregations stopped for a time after Armando and Icel Rodriguez, who had been commissioned to work in Quéssua from 2009 to 2011, returned to Florida.
Team visits have resumed this year after the Garcias, clergy from the Methodist Church of Cuba, took up residence there. Their ability to host foreign missionaries makes it easier for Americans to visit, said Icel Rodriguez, Global Missions director for the Florida Conference.
Another trip is being organized later this year by North Naples UMC, and at least three trips are being planned for 2013.
Women in the Harvest group stayed in the Garcias’ home, Harshman said, while the men stayed in a home next door. The UMC complex in Quéssua includes a church, schools and a hospital. Homes in that community generally are concrete block with tin roofs, Harshman said. Outside the town, in some of the poorer villages, people live in single-room mud huts topped with scrap metal or thatched roofs.
In some places, there is no indoor plumbing or running water. Electricity comes from a single generator in a cluster of homes, with extension cords running through people’s windows.
Even in Quéssua, water is not to be taken for granted. One of the Harvest team’s jobs was to repair the community’s water pipeline.
|Harvest UMC mission team members spent a day at Kalandula Falls with new friends from Quessua.|
“In Quéssua, they hopefully have running water,” Harshman said. “They had it when we left.”
When the pipeline fails, the people rely on a centrally located community well, he said.
Other construction projects included repairs to the dormitory roof and a tractor used in farming. Team members also conducted Vacation Bible School with local children.
Harshman said he was inspired to lead the 2008 Harvest mission team after hearing the East Angolan bishop speak at his church. Meeting and working with the people there made him want to return.
“After so many years of war, the people are ready for peace,” Harshman said. “The people are always joyful and very happy to see us. They are warm, welcoming and hospitable.”
During this summer’s trip, the missionaries spent most of their time with the boys living in UMC facilities in Quéssua. The girls live some distance away in the community of Malange. Among mission goals is to remodel a building in Quéssua that will allow boys and girls being sheltered by the UMC to reside in the same community.Harshman said the young people he met were mindful of their personal role in rebuilding their native country.
“They are working so hard to get an education. They understand the importance of that,” he said, adding that many live in Quéssua because schooling is not available in their home villages.
“Some of them are orphans; they don’t have families. Some haven’t seen their family in a couple of years.”
|Delaney Harshman of Harvest UMC helps with Vacation Bible School in Quessua.|
Rev. John Brown, a retired clergy member who attends North Naples UMC, is organizing a mission trip to Angola in October. He said he is looking forward to working with Angolans “to make the harshness of life more comfortable and the light of Christ more visible.”
Harshman said Harvest team members paid about $4,000 each to travel and stay in Angola. In the past, some mission teams and their churches have defrayed costs by staging fundraisers.
The experience is worth the time and money, Harshman said.
“We are in a collaborative ministry on the other side of the world,” he said. “It’s truly an exchange of concerns, prayers and thoughts.
“I find being active within the [Florida-East Angola] partnership to be very rewarding. I feel like I’ve been helped or changed as much as I’ve helped them because I know they care for me and are praying for me.”
Anyone interested in joining or forming a mission team or funding UMC programs in Angola should email Icel Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org.