God put a mission on her heart and then made a way to make it happenMissions and Outreach
Icel Rodriguez has made multiple trips to Angola in her capacity as the Director of Global Missions for The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church. Many Angolans struggle with poverty, food insecurity, substandard living conditions, and—perhaps most of all—the lack of any hope to make it better.
After nearly 20 years of seeing the conditions first-hand, Rodriguez became convinced that education was the only way things could improve.
Teachers are in short supply there, aren’t paid well (if at all), and the Angolan government set up a system that primarily benefits only the wealthy and connected. It required government-issued ID cards before a child could enter school, and it cost the equivalent of $60 U.S. That may not sound like much, but it’s not unusual for Angolan families to subsist on about $1 per day.
Plus, there are additional costs for nearly everything associated with regular schools—photos, notebooks, pens, paper, and even exams.
That priced the majority of children and families out of the market. There is a requirement that students wear closed-toe shoes. Many children have only flip-flops.
Even the few scholarships Rodriguez has been able to obtain for students come only after exasperating delays.
“The only answer is to provide tutoring away from the regular schools,” she said.
Easier said than done, right?
Many children in the Angola villages are orphans. Those whose parents are living often have little or no formal education, so they don’t consider it a priority. Instead of spending time in a classroom, mothers want their girls to go to the gardens.
The girls are needed for domestic chores like cooking, washing clothes, looking after babies, and carrying water.
“The need for young adults in the mission field is huge,” her husband, Rev. Armando Rodriguez, said. “When there are missionaries, what we have found is that it gives the people encouragement and hope.”
Over the last few years, the Florida Conference, with support from other partners, has built chapels used as classrooms in most of the villages around the Quéssua mission station. Teenage mentors go to the chapels twice a week to offer literacy classes. It is not enough, though.
But after years of frustration at trying to find young adult volunteers who would devote a year to teaching, well, let her say what happened.
“God opened the door wide open,” she said.
It came in a most unlikely place—the General Conference of the Methodist Church in Cuba last March in Havana. She was talking with a Brazilian missionary about her frustration to get the program going when he said he might know some people in Brazil who would be willing to volunteer.
|Danilo and Fernanda Figueira will spend a year as volunteer teachers in Angola (photo courtesy of Icel Rodriguez)|
And now, after a little back-and-forth, five Brazilian volunteers committed to spend a year in Angola to provide free education for children from grades one through twelve.
They will teach the basics—literacy, reading, writing, math, and science. Rodriguez will travel back to Angola in early 2024 to help two of the volunteers—Danilo and Fernanda Figueira—set up the program, and the other three will soon follow.
They’ll use chapels in various villages as their classrooms, avoiding the need for a government ID.
From this seed, Rodriguez hopes more volunteers will raise their hands to be Christ’s messenger in a country of extreme need.
“Education is the only way out of poverty,” she said. “But getting there is very time-consuming and frustrating. That’s why
I’m so excited about our partnership with the Brazilian missionaries.”
It’s only a start, and many obstacles remain, but it’s also a response to a need God placed on Icel’s heart all those years ago. This might seem like just a mustard seed against the backdrop of all the issues in Angola, but the Bible says that faith, even that tiny, can move mountains.
And Icel has no doubt where this break came from.
“It’s God,” she said. “It’s God alone.”
Joe Henderson is the News Content Editor for FLUMC.org
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