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Florida UMC missionaries help provide eye-opening care in Angola

Florida UMC missionaries help provide eye-opening care in Angola

Missions and Outreach

The United Methodist Church has been active for years in its outreach to help the people of Angola mitigate such issues as long-term drought and a malaria outbreak that has killed thousands.

But while those battles continue, fought with urgent supplies of food and medicine, another issue has emerged that hasn't received as much notice. Farmers and workers in the unrelenting Angola sun often don't have basic eye protection, such as sunglasses with UV coating. Over time, cataracts develop which can leave an individual nearly blind.

To learn more about the exciting work that God is doing through The Florida Conference in East Angola, visit our website.

"It's like when you put an egg into a frying pan. It's clear at first but then turns dark in the heat," missionary Russ Montgomery said. "That's kind of what the sun does to your eye."

To combat that, Montgomery, who runs a nonprofit in Tampa called Living In Faith, worked with The Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church and others to arrange for surgical teams to go to Angola. They offer free cataract surgery for the locals, and other treatments.

"It was amazing last year to see young people receive their sight. The shouts of joy throughout the hospital were amazing. The stories are compelling," Conference Director of Global Missions Icel Rodriguez said.

The Conference and other relief agencies have long offered glasses for those whose vision needed improvement. Cataracts are different, though. They can cause a person's vision to deteriorate, so even glasses won't help. That can cripple an individual's chances of working productively. 

"On one trip, a gentleman thought we were talking about more than glasses," Rodriguez said. "He was 90 years old and had walked a long way to get to us. We were heartbroken to tell the gentleman there was nothing more we could do for him.

"But little did I know that God would connect us with Russ Montgomery and what that would lead to."

A fortunate meeting

Montgomery has devoted much of his life to the mission fields. He met Rodriguez on a trip to Cuba to help install water purification systems in local churches. Finding clean water in Cuba can be a problem, so installing the systems in houses of worship brings people to the buildings and allows members to invite them to services.

"Think of the water systems as an evangelistic outreach," Montgomery said. "Icel asked me if I knew what was happening in Angola. I said I didn't know."

Childhood malnourishment remains a major problem in Angola (photos provided by Icel Rodriguez)

He accompanied her on a trip to East Angola and was struck by the severe drought and malaria pandemic.

Malaria is the sixth-leading cause of death in Angela, and even though mitigation efforts since 2010 have lowered the number of cases and deaths somewhat, The National Library of Medicine still calls it "a major public health concern and poses the biggest health threat to pregnant women and children under five in malaria-endemic countries such as Angola."

"In Quessua, all the missionaries have been sick with malaria. They also have screens on their doors, repellants, and sprays," Rodriguez said. "Can you imagine what it's like for the farmers in the field?"

That would be an incredible challenge for aid workers if that were the only challenge Angolans face.

It is not.

Climate change triggered a drought that decimated Angola's farming industry. The resulting famine struck children under five years old the hardest. In 2022, Rodriguez returned to the Angolan village of Quessua and found that of 250 children, only 18 had gained a healthy weight in a year.

"In complete honesty," she said, "I was shocked by what I saw."

An answer in that crisis might be plumpy nuts.

Developed a little more than ten years ago by a French doctor, the plumpy nut has dramatically impacted severely malnourished children. It is peanut butter, dried milk, oil and sugar, vitamins, and minerals. The product can be turned into ready-to-use food that can be mass-produced locally in Angola.

Volunteers are working with local farmers to produce more peanuts. The first harvest over seven acres yielded promising results. 

It's a badly needed victory.

But while the twin wars against malaria and famine continued, Montgomery helped address the problem that had largely escaped notice—cataracts.

Arranged for volunteers

Montgomery found volunteer optometrists in Tampa willing to travel to Angola and perform free cataract removals for as many as they could. That process began last fall, with another aid trip planned for April.

He also helped arrange dentists willing to offer free treatment to the locals. 

A volunteer administers an eye exam that can discover if a person needs cataract surgery.

Montgomery helped with the pre-surgical work, such as measuring the eyes of those who needed surgery. He is self-taught.

"Talked to doctors. Looked over their shoulders, and I learned. When it came time for surgery, the doctor knew what we needed," he said. "I do the workup, the biometrics, and it helps the doctors concentrate on removing the cataract without having to do the other things."

While that goes on next month, Rodriguez and her team of about a dozen workers will spend several days training, assessing, and searching for solutions to a seemingly overwhelming problem—but nothing is impossible with God.

"What the United Methodists in Florida have done is really fantastic. Icel is such a wonderful person, always open for suggestions, always looking to help," Montgomery said. "It's been very encouraging. It can be a battle when you're doing mission work because not many people get that excited about it, but Icel does.

"There's quite a legacy there for Methodists. I've realized that when you focus on something, great things can happen.
How many people in Florida know about that partnership that we have? The Florida Conference is focusing on that area, and it's tremendous what's happening; it really is."

Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor for

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