Editor's note: Click here to view a photo gallery from the Angola mission trip.
Icel Rodriguez never had any doubts that the Holy Spirit was behind the Florida Conference’s mission to rebuild a war-torn corner of East Angola. But recent developments have reinforced her faith.
Little by little, a church, school and dormitories for orphans have been reconstructed and reopened since the Florida Conference partnered with the East Angola Conference in 2003. Missionaries have arrived to work with local pastors and to teach residents how to improve crop yields and feed more people.
|Icel Rodriguez, center foreground, and mission team members seated at the table help organize an outdoor health clinic for people living near Quéssua, Angola.|
Rebuilding the health of the communities surrounding the United Methodist mission in Quéssua was a missing part of the puzzle for Rodriguez, Global Missions director for the Florida Conference and a former missionary to Quéssua. For over a year, she said, she had been thinking that the ordained ministers serving as missionaries to Quéssua, Leo and Cleivy Garcia, who both once practiced medicine in their native Cuba, could fill that gap.
When government officials in Angola opened a small hospital in the vicinity with no physicians to staff it, Rodriguez became even more convinced that it was God’s will for Methodists to fill that need.
“God brings people and resources from all over the world together to coincide,” she said, “and then you see His plan.”
In November, Rodriguez was part of an eight-member mission team from the Florida Conference that traveled to Angola, a part of West Africa still devastated by a war that lasted from 1975 to 2002. The mission included conducting three days of health care clinics and a Celebrate Jesus community outreach event in Quéssua.
“This is a large community of very impoverished people,” Rodriguez said. She estimated more than 100 people a day flocked to the clinics in communities around Quéssua.
“The first thing you saw was sick children coming,” she said.
At the outset, Leo Garcia was on board to consult with people seeking medical assistance, but his wife was reluctant, Rodriguez said. She noted that in Cuba, physicians are prohibited from also serving as clergy.
But Leo Garcia did not specialize in family medicine back in Cuba. He called on Cleivy Garcia to examine the children and, Rodriguez said, the missionary threw herself into the task.
“When Cleivy saw the children, [she said,] ‘I have now the fire to go provide medical services, and I would be delighted if the Lord decides to use me in that capacity.’”
|Mission team members check out a badly damaged building used for church and school that's in need of repair after years of war and neglect took its toll.|
As a result of the clinic outreach, one child was identified as critically ill with malaria and was taken to the hospital, Rodriguez said. Others received prevention information for malaria and other serious illnesses prevalent in Africa.
“As people would come to the doctor in different places, we would pray with them and invite them to the Celebrate Jesus block party,” Rodriguez said.
The party, with games and food, drew about 360 children, she said, and the worship services that followed drew about 500 people.
“The Quéssua church was packed as we had never seen it,” Rodriguez said.
Since then, Cleivy Garcia has been a guest on a local radio show discussing women’s health care and teenage pregnancy issues, Rodriguez reported, and she has been approached about becoming staff physician at the new hospital. She plans to use her medical skill and training in mission work, as well as continue teaching at the theological school.
In addition to offering the clinics, the mission team tutored local children – many of whom were not able to attend school – and built benches that also could serve as tables in local classrooms.
Dr. Simon Osunlana, pastor of St. John’s UMC, Fort Lauderdale, and an ordained elder originally from Nigeria, went on the mission trip and preached at Sunday services and the Celebrate Jesus experience. He said he was touched by the poverty of people in East Angola, even before he set foot in the country. He recalled sharing a picture of a classroom in Angola with people in his church.
“When my daughter [age 15] saw it, she just started crying … from the impact of that picture of horrible conditions,” Osunlana said. “She said, ‘Dad, make sure if you cannot help all of them, at least make some benches.’”
|Dr. Simon Osunlana, a Florida Conference pastor and member of the mission team to Angola, prays with members of the Methodist Church in Quéssua.|
St. John’s members raised about $1,500 toward building materials, as well as clothing and notebooks for schoolchildren in Angola. Osunlana recalled one building in a rural village that serves as a church, school and housing for children and needs a new roof, walls and flooring.
After spending time in Quéssua and three surrounding villages, the pastor said the conditions were even worse than the pictures portrayed.
“I think I have seen a lot of types of need,” Osunlana said. “When we went there, I saw a higher level of need. … I had never been to a place where people had been in a protracted war.”
He said he also was touched by the spirit of the people he met. He said he no sooner arrived at one church, than families streamed forward to welcome him.
“Within a few seconds, they came to sing and worship,” Osunlana recalled. “It was such a very moving experience.”
The pastor said he encourages others in the conference to experience mission trips to impoverished areas like Angola. He predicted they will return filled with gratitude for the conditions they enjoy at home and touched by the gratitude of the people they met.
“There’s a lot of need here in the U.S., and there are needs where several of our churches are located, yet it is nothing compared to what these folks are going through.”
– Susan Green is the Florida Conference managing editor.