“Remember…your Creator in the days of your youth, before difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” Ecclesiastes 12:1
Between August and September our Frontline Fellowship team had many wonderful ministry opportunities in southern and central Africa. Our Team continued with a program of Biblical Worldview Seminars in Zambia and Malawi, including a special program for Christian lawyers. We also had the privilege of ministering to the needs of Angolan refugees now inhabiting camps in Western Zambia.
Zambia, a nation surrounded by conflict. Wars continue to rage in countries bordering Zambia, particularly Congo and Angola. As a result, Zambia is now host to more than 220,0 00 refugees! Occasionally, the fighting spills into Zambia. Throughout this year news reports of Angolan forces making brief incursions into Western Zambia were not uncommon. Since December 1999, more than 25,000 Angolans seeking protection from the MPLA Angolan military forces have fled into Zambia.
Why is there such suffering and misery? It was after World War I, that a philosopher of that day asked, “After so much death and suffering, how can we trust God any longer?” The sad thing is that the worldly philosopher was asking the wrong question. Rather the wise man should ask, “After so much death and suffering, how can we continue trusting in man?” This question is relevant to the people of Angola today.
En route to a refugee camp located in Western Zambia, we prayed that we might locate Pastor Armando (not his real name), a Christian leader from Angola, with whom I had ministered from 1994-1996. The road to the camp was very sandy. Four-wheel drive was essential. The camp is laid out in blocks. As more refugees arrive, they are assigned small plots of land to build their new dwellings. Refugees typically live in grass houses with roofs made from a blue UNHCR tarpaulin. A number of international agencies (such as CARE International) are working in the camp, providing basic necessities such as food and water.
Our arrival coincided with a meeting of the Angolan refugee leadership. After they had finished with their main business, they requested that I address them. They searched for interpreter, and after one was found, he came and sat opposite me, staring at me with a big grin. He looked familiar. At his first opportunity, he introduced himself to me and he reminded me that in 1996 that I had been his Bible teacher in Angola. During a brief message, I challenged the refugee leadership that in their present circumstances, they should recognize the folly of trusting “man” and rather putting their faith in the Lord. “Cursed is a man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the LORD…But…Blessed is a man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD.” (Jeremiah 17:5,7).
Subsequently we were overjoyed to learn that Pastor Armando was at the camp. When we met him at his house he was so surprised to see us that he staggered. Pastor Armando said that three days earlier, he and other church leaders had been reminiscing about the Frontline Fellowship missionaries who used to visit them in Angola. He said, “Little did we realized that God was at that very moment sending you to us…With God all things are possible…All those who trust in God are blessed.” God’s mercy in deliverance from destruction. To fall into the hands of MPLA government soldiers is not something that you would wish upon anyone. They are known to execute anyone they suspect of supporting UNITA and forcibly conscripting anyone else into their own service. It was surely God’s grace that brought Pastor Armando to the safety of the refugee camp. After the MPLA soldiers invaded, Pastor Armando hid in the bush from December 1999 to June 2000.
He said “We suffered because of the December rains, but without the rain we could not have survived.” Many people yet remain in eastern Angola, and Pastor Armando said that their suffering is very great. He also said that, with exception of one man who is unaccounted for, all members of his congregation from Angola are now in the refugee camp. Pastor Armando says that he always remembers Angola in prayer.
Women's Choir practice. Most woman were without hymnals.The Evangelical Church meets under the trees and for “pews” they use fallen logs. Nearby the women’s choir was practicing. Only a few of the women had hymnals. The hymnals that were available were generally well-worn. The rest of the women had notebooks into which they had copied their favorite hymns. We joined them for hymn number 227 in the Umbundu hymnal, “Ombonge yetu Yehova” otherwise known as “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” In the months ahead Frontline Fellowship will be working towards reprinting the Portuguese-Umbundu Hymnal which was last printed in 1982.
Need for education and training. As I was encouraging the pastors from Jude 3 and 2 Timothy 2:2 they expressed their concern that they need training for their future leaders. Formal training has not been available in southern Angola since 1976, when the war drove many Angolans from the towns. The pastors, who are now in their sixties and seventies, have done their best to train some of the young men, yet they would hope that further training could be made available to the church’s future leaders. We discussed the establishment of an Angolan Christian Student Scholarship Fund to enable some young men to obtain theological training.
Sunday Service at the refugee camp. More than a thousand people, possibly more, met for the morning service. The collection of the offering was an amazing sight. Over the period of about 20 minutes, first children, then everyone else came forward and deposited amounts of dried full kernel corn (maize) into a sack. In their difficult circumstances, the refugees might be tempted to reason that they have nothing to give, yet they tithe from the food allowance given to them by the various international agencies. This provides the church with the necessary means to conduct ministry.
At the service I was given an opportunity to preach a message entitled “Why Does God Allow Suffering and Hardship?” We specifically looked at the life of Joseph and what he suffered on account of his brothers’ jealousies (Gen. 37:11-36, 39:1-3, 7-13, 20). Through no fault of his own he became a slave in Egypt, he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, was falsely accused and subsequently imprisoned, but in all this God’s purposes were eventually accomplished. Joseph, a man who walked with God, understood this very well (Gen. 50:20). We also looked at some other passages regarding trials and temptations: 1 Pet 1:3-9, 1 Cor 6:18. The Angolan refugees could readily draw a number of comparisons between Joseph’s circumstances and their own. Circumstances beyond their control, caused by their brothers’ greed and hatred, have resulted in their having to flee into Zambia for their very survival.
More than 1000 Angolan refugees attended the Sunday Service.In Zambia they face many new temptations: strong drink is more readily available, witchcraft is more prevalent in the Zambian bush than in Angola, and some have been tempted in the area of marriage fidelity. They were encouraged to keep their eyes upon the Lord and to persevere through their trials and to overcome temptations. At the end of the message, Pastor Armando asked the congregation whether anyone had anything questions concerning the message. After a moment of silence, the oldest member of the congregation, a 104-year-old man, stood up and said with much determination, “We have heard this message preached by our pastor. Now we have heard it from the missionary who has come from the outside. There should be no doubt that the message is true.”
We were able to assist the Evangelical Church with Bibles, study booklets, Gospel Recordings Messengers, tracts, “love boxes” and second hand clothing.
Pastor Armando was particularly pleased to receive the booklet entitled “O que e o casamento cristao?” (“Questions about Christian Marriage.” A few days earlier while he had been with some youth, the topic of marriage had come up. It is worth pointing out that, in the midst of their hardship, even single refugees contemplate marriage.
It was sad to leave our friends after such a short visit, but we look forward to future opportunities to assist them in their time of great need. Please do pray for the Angolan Christians in their trials and suffering.
“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also.” Hebrews 13: 3
Report compiled by Rob
27 October 2000
Pray and mobilize your congregation to pray for Angola.
Pray that true, lasting peace – with justice and freedom – will come to Angola.
Pray that the suffering Angolan Christians will be refined and revived by God’s grace.
Voice your protests against the devastation and atrocities caused by the Marxist MPLA government in Angola. Complain to the Angolan Embassy nearest you – by fax, e-mail, phone or post.
If you can help us finance a reprinting of the Umbundu Hymnbooks, sponsor Bibles for Angola or if you want to contribute to the Angolan Christian Student Scholarship Fund please send a cheque to Frontline Fellowship and indicate the designation you want to support