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United Methodists witness life after war in Angola

3/31/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

NOTE: Photographs are available.

By Jeneane Jones*

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: A construction worker walks through Maianga United Methodist Church in Luanda, Angola. The church was begun five years ago, but construction moves slowly. Church members raise $50 dollars a month for building supplies. A UMNS photo by Jeneane Jones. Photo number 03-118, Accompanies UMNS #185, 3/31/03


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: Contrasting views of Luanda, Angola, reveal the historical remnants of its past and the stark reality of its present. Volunteers from the United Methodist Church s California-Nevada Annual Conference visited Western Angola to mark the beginning of a new partnership between Cal-Nevada and the West Angola Conference. A UMNS photo by Jeneane Jones. Photo number 03-114, Accompanies UMNS #185, 3/31/03


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Members of a Volunteers in Mission team from the United Methodist Church s California-Nevada Annual Conference provide children in Porto Quipiri, Angola, with scores of bubble blowing kits, along with some how-to tips. The volunteers brought medical supplies and expertise to a community of about 5,000. Most of the townspeople have not seen a doctor in several years. A UMNS photo by Jeneane Jones. Photo number 03-113, Accompanies UMNS #185, 3/31/03


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A young Angolan girl peers through a window at a delegation from the United Methodist Church s California-Nevada Annual Conference to Western Angola. The visit marked the beginning of a new partnership between Cal-Nevada and the West Angola Conference. A UMNS photo by Jeneane Jones. Photo number 03-112, Accompanies UMNS #185, 3/31/03


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A child runs through the village of Porto Quipiri, Angola, where a team of United Methodist volunteers brought medical supplies and expertise to the community of about 5,000. Most of the townspeople have not seen a doctor in several years. A UMNS photo by Jeneane Jones. Photo number 03-116, Accompanies UMNS #185, 3/31/03


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Children in Porto Quipiri, Angola, face a variety of health problems including malaria, and malnutrition. A team of United Methodist volunteers brought medical supplies and expertise to the community of about 5,000. Most of the townspeople have not seen a doctor in several years. A UMNS photo by Jeneane Jones. Photo number 03-117, Accompanies UMNS #185, 3/31/03


LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Dr. Roger Boe (left), a pediatrician and head of the United Methodist Fellowship of Health Care Volunteers, sees patients in a temporary pediatric clinic at Porto Quipiri, Angola. United Methodist volunteers brought medical supplies and expertise to a community of about 5,000. Most of the townspeople have not seen a doctor in several years. A UMNS photo by Jeneane Jones. Photo number 03-115, Accompanies UMNS #185, 3/31/03
LUANDA, Angola (UMNS) - "We want you to be witnesses, and go back and share the reality here in Angola."

That directive from United Methodist Bishop Gaspar Domingos set the tone for a recent 12-day visit by 17 volunteers from the denomination's California-Nevada Annual Conference to Western Angola. The visit marked the beginning of a new partnership between Cal-Nevada and the West Angola Conference. Bishop Beverly Shamana leads the Cal-Nevada Conference.

J.P. McGuire, the Cal-Nevada Volunteers In Mission coordinator who spearheaded the February visit, said he "felt overwhelmed to see the needs facing this country."

Luanda, once a picturesque port city on the western coast of Africa, lies nearly in ruins today. The devastation is due to the country's long civil war, though the fighting never reached the city's interior.

For the past 26 years, rebel and government soldiers battled in the provinces surrounding the city. "Everyone in the country lost someone to the war," said Sebastian Mzamba, a young teacher at the San Tiago United Methodist Church school in Luanda.

Mzamba himself lost mother, father, brother, uncle and aunt. Now, at age 26, he has spent his entire life under the cloak of a war that has devastated not only the city's infrastructure, but the internal spirit of Angolans.

In the 1970s, Luanda's population was 700,000, but during the war, that number exploded to 4 million as people from the countryside fled their homes. The city has literally buckled under the weight of the number. Streets are pockmarked and rutted. Garbage festers, in some places piled five and six feet high. Sewers are overburdened or inoperable, and the rank smell of rotting garbage mixes with the fumes of gasoline in the heated summer air.

Electricity is spotty or non-existent in the tightly packed communities of mud and tin-roofed shacks. Families of 12 and 16 members share one or two rooms together. Children mill in the streets or play in dusty gutters. Few have shoes. Luanda's evening television news includes stories that family abuse is on the rise. Post-traumatic stress disorder is said to be one of the growing causes of death.

The West Angola Conference has taken as its task rebuilding both the region's physical and spiritual body. The conference comprises 11 districts and 250 churches covering about one-third of the country.

The conference's 267 pastors have been working without salaries since last September. Conference Treasurer Tomas Philippe said that is due to budget problems facing the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, which canceled its commitment to West Angola for all salary support in 2003. Pastors and church workers, including Mzamba, are reluctant to quit and seek other employment because there is nothing else. Unemployment in Luanda stands at 70 percent.

Joao Matteus United Methodist Church is in Luanda's Maianga neighborhood. Getting there requires walking about a quarter-mile off the main street through a puzzle of paths tucked among houses. A stream follows alongside the dirt path, the murky waters testifying to the lack of proper sewage treatment for the inner city. When the narrow path finally opens into a courtyard, a startlingly white building comes into view, and the voices of children, reciting in unison, can be heard.

Matteus offers schooling to the neighborhood children. Some parents find a way to pay the small fee for uniforms. Church funds help those who can neither afford the clothes nor the books. On Sundays, the community fills the church to overflowing. Children go to different houses along the street for Sunday school. "We want to enlarge our space," said Joaquin Dias, the youth director.

Across town at another United Methodist church, the sanctuary has been turned into three classrooms. Children, 40 to a group, huddle 10 to a bench. Others crouch on the floor, using their knees as a desk. Besides the altar, the only other furnishing in the sanctuary is three blackboards.

Most of the West Angolan churches provide a variety of ministries to the community they serve, such as food and clothing for widows and orphans, schooling, and vocational and adult literacy classes. The conference has also started community health care programs, operating from eight centers in the city. The care they provide is limited, since U.S. funds for medicines have dried up.

Most of Luanda's churches are in need of repair. Sundays brings overflow crowds to many churches, while others are filled to near capacity. "We hope to start seven more churches," noted Luanda District Superintendent Adriano dos Santos.

On a hillside north of Luanda is the town of Porto Quipiri, where the California-Nevada volunteers brought medical supplies and expertise to a community of about 5,000. Most of the townspeople have not seen a doctor in several years.

Team members also carried in toys for the children. "Over the past 26 years … our children have been born in the midst of great conflict," said Isabella Augostinho, who oversees the evangelistic ministry of the West Angola Conference. "Everyone is still shell-shocked, and smiles don't come easily to children. A large part of the task is to heal (these types) of wounds of war. (Many children) have never played with toys; they saw only pistols. Now, we must teach them to play again."

"I didn't expect that what we could do here would change a lot of lives," said Laura Kennedy, a nurse from San Jose, "but we can show that we care."

For three days, Los Altos United Methodist Church members Lynne McCoy and Paula Krumm joined their colleague Kennedy and six others to transform a small community's main street into a medical hub. Nurses Cat Barclay and Liz Ryder, along with Dr. Roger Boe, a pediatrician, Dr. Don Rudy, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist and former missionary, Barbara Rogers, a midwife, and Bonnie Bollwinkel, a social worker, rounded out the team.

"If we can sow seeds of love," Rudy said, "that's the best we can give. It's not about the aspirin or the medicine; it's about Christian love in action."

The local United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Mateus Chaves, worked with lay leaders to help the team see more than 500 men, women and children in three days. Thatched-roof shelters became triage areas and clinics for pediatrics, women's health and men's health. The team's transportation, a white 16-seat bus, doubled as a rolling pharmacy.

"The most critical problem for these families is malaria," Boe explained. Aside from seeing young patients, Boe's role was to provide analysis of the region's medical needs. As head of the United Methodist Fellowship of Health Care Volunteers, he wants to determine how the organization can help volunteers respond to West Angola's medical needs.

Malaria, cholera, typhoid fever and malnutrition are the major health problems. Not even the crisis of HIV-AIDS rates as high as malaria. But health officials warned Boe that could change now that war has ended. Families are beginning to move back to their homes in the provinces. Their return, officials fear, will bring an increase in HIV-AIDS.
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*Jones is communications director of the United Methodist California-Nevada Annual Conference and accompanied the volunteer team to Angola.

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