In mid-August, Icel Rodriguez, along with six members of her Florida United Methodist Conference mission team, delivered more than 800 pounds of medicine and supplies to the small hospital at Quéssua Methodist Mission in East Angola, Africa.
It was a moment she won’t soon forget.
“It was so powerful when we arrived at the pharmacy—their shelves were empty!” Rodriguez recalled. “They had run out of medicines. It was heartbreaking.”
|On the left are the empty pharmacy shelves in a small hospital; on the right are those shelves well-stocked by the Florida Conference mission team. -Photo by Rev. Armando Rodriguez|
As director of global missions for the Florida Conference, she had known the facility, which is located on the outskirts of Malanje, was in crisis. But seeing the shortage in person and realizing what it meant for the surrounding villages was still a shock.
But the mood immediately turned joyous when the hospital director realized what the team had brought from America—antibiotics, antimalarials and antiparasitics, as well as drugs to manage high blood pressure and a host of other maladies.
“She was in tears,” Rodriguez said. “She just could not get herself together. She kept saying, ‘You just don’t know how many lives this will save!’”
For the mission team, which included Icel’s husband, Rev. Armando Rodriguez, Jecssie Arman-Santiago, Luz Ortiz, Rev. Gary Garay and his wife, Rev. Amparo Garay, and Rev. Gustavo Vazquez, the successful delivery of the medicines was the major reason for making the long trip to East Angola.
“It’s literally life and death,” said Armando, who serves as the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Bartow. “There are people dying for lack of medicine. It would be a sin not to help.”
The medicine and supplies were made possible through the prayers and donations of hundreds of individuals and churches across the Florida Conference.
|Over 400 children are fed every Sunday at the Quessau United Methodist Church. -Photo by Rev. Gustavo Vazquez|
“These are the kinds of things we can accomplish when the church works together,” Armando said. “We can make a difference.”
The group was especially excited to be the Conference’s first all-Latino mission team to Africa and delighted to find common ground, linguistically, with the Angolans, whose official language is Portuguese.
“Communicating was very easy because they speak Portuguese,” Armando said. “It gives you a sense of how connected we all are.”
The team typically awoke early, around 6 a.m., and drove or walked to one of the six surrounding villages where most families live in adobe huts. Sometimes the team would worship with the villagers, which was always a treat, Armando said.
“The worship is very engaging because it’s very participatory,” he said. “There are many different choirs, and there is lots of dancing. It is an energy that can only come from God, and it is contagious!”
Arman-Santiago, an auto mechanic and member at First, Lakeland, was humbled by the Angolans’ hope, joy and faith in the face of their extreme poverty.
“I thought I grew up poor in Puerto Rico, but going to Africa, (I realized) I didn’t grow up as poor as I thought,” he said. “It was an emotional trip.”
|Rev. Armando Rodriguez is with Francisca Bessa Cunha and four others.|
Because it was the end of the dry season, the weather in Quéssua was sunny and mild, and every day a different village group arrived at the mission to work.
“It was all of us, everybody working, and we were so joyful!” Icel said.
One big project was the renovation of a dorm and dining hall that will be used to feed and educate more than 400 children every Sunday.
Alongside the Angolans, Icel and the rest of the team cleaned and painted, and it was in those moments that she was reminded of God’s faithfulness in building the partnership between the Conference and Quéssua Mission.
“Not for one day have I doubted that this was divinely inspired,” she said. “When this relationship started, it was at the end of the (war), and there were land mines everywhere. The compound had been completely destroyed.”
|Despite the oil-rich economy in Angola, many East Angolans live in poverty, and their needs are great.|
Since 2004, the Conference has worked with the Angolan government to help rebuild Quéssua Mission, which now includes two Cuban missionaries supported by the Conference, dorms, a hospital, church and schools. The Rodriguezes spent a year serving in Quéssua in 2009 and have returned every year since.
“It has been a complete transformation,” Icel said. “It’s just a story of rebirth. It never ceases to inspire us.”
Icel and Armando said every member of the mission team is eager to return next year, and they are hopeful more members of the Conference will join the effort.
“I know there is more we can do,” Arman-Santiago said. “We serve a God who is so big. He hasn’t forgotten about anybody, especially the people of Angola.”
--Kari Barlow is a freelance writer based in Pensacola