A Frontline Mission team recently returned from a successful 3 month mission trip to war-torn Angola. At one point their boat sprang a leak and nearly sank in the river. They then had to carry all their equipment through waist high swamp - infested by snakes and crocodiles - for nearly a kilometre.
On other occasions our workers had to shoot poisonous snakes to safeguard other team members. By dug-out canoe, rubber dingy, truck and by foot they travelled from village to village proclaiming the Gospel.
They encouraged the Christians and distributed Bibles, Gospel literature, some relief aid, school materials and medical supplies to desperately needy churches, schools and hospitals in remote areas of that vast country. They report:
As we crossed the river by dugout canoes most of the village had assembled to welcome us with singing. Word had spread of our arrival and all the 6 churches in the district united for the Sunday service. In the roofless church building George's message was translated through three interpreters into Portuguese, Chokwe and Luchazi. Later all the pastors and elders of the district gathered for discussions and planning with us.
One of the pastors expressed their appreciation in these words: "We have heard over the radio that Christians are praying for us here in Angola, but today we meet Christians who are concerned enough to come and see what our problems are. Thank you. It is a great day for us."
The people in these remote areas are cut-off and isolated from any assistance. Their needs are endless. The towns are devastated and in ruins. Building after building has no roof. Many of the lands have no crops. The shops are empty. The clinics have no medicines. The schools have no books.
In the hospitals we found many patients crippled, whose limbs had been blown off by landmines. One man with severe brain damage had been in the same hospital since 1986. He was a survivor of a Soviet chemical warfare attack.
As we travelled across one river our rubber dingy sprang a leak and began to sink. Frantically we bailed out water as we attempted to make an emergency landing - but there was no land, only swamps! We just had to jump off into the swamp and carry as much of our belongings and literature as possible. The water was waist deep and the long reeds cut sharply into our legs.
At that time of the year the crocodiles tend to stay more in the swamps amidst the reeds so we were very alert throughout our one kilometre marsh marathon. The swamp was also snake infested so that inspired our prayer lives to new heights. Once safely out of the swamp there still remained a 3 hour walk to our camp. It was an appropriate introduction to Angola for our new team members, Robert and Fanie, who had just joined us.
The schools received our teams with much enthusiasm. They were delighted to receive our gifts of books, pens, pencils, rulers and chalk. The Bible lessons presented by our team were eagerly received. Gospel Recordings tapes and flipcharts also made a great impact. Most of the teachers also attended our lessons and were just as eager to learn. When we tested the children we were pleased to find that even the youngest were usually able to repeat the basic principles. Often we would hear the children singing the Gospel songs which we had taught them in these lessons.
Sometimes when we needed to cross rivers our boatsman was missing. Delays were normal. Buzzing and biting mosquitoes were everywhere. Before we crossed the rivers some boatsmen would fire a shot into the river to scare away the hippos and crocodiles. Some river crossings had to be made at midnight. These crossings were invariably followed by long hikes through stinking mud and mosquito ridden marshes. The days often began with hours of walking through thick sand to reach the next village for school meetings or church services.
At one village we were received by the queen of the tribe and the leaders of the local Roman Catholic congregation. After the traditional rituals, George was invited to present the message. George preached on John 14:6 - that Jesus Christ is the only Way, the Truth and the Life. One lady was particularly upset and angrily presented her baptism and membership cards to "prove" her salvation.
The queen presented our team with a goat and a chicken as a token of their gratitude for the visit. On the long trek in the mid-day heat back to base the goat passed out and Fanie ended up carrying the tired goat on his shoulders for most of the journey. After further ministry to this area, word quickly spread about the 4 Protestant missionaries who were prepared to walk to the different churches and not wait for transport like the Catholics!
The next Lord's Day we travelled by rubber dingy to minister at an Evangelical Church. The Pastor there had been wounded and crippled by Cubans who had shot him during a church service. Yet despite his handicap, Pastor Daniel was radiant with joy and his whole conduct and attitude was one of commitment and zeal.
At the church services the offerings always consisted of food. As money was very scarce most offerings consisted of mealies (maize). This food was then kept for widows and orphans in the community. It was something of a full-time job to keep the ducks and chickens from consuming the offerings!
Some of our meetings required a half day's walk in the thick sand to reach them. One day we walked 6 hours to minister in a village. Due to the often poor interpreting, I had pain-stakingly translated Robert's sermon into Portuguese to assist the interpreter. The interpreter then eagerly read out all of Robert's written message to the congregation. Then he announced: "And now Pastor Rob will preach!"
The joy with which the Angolans received Bibles and Gospel literature was overwhelming. Pastors would often make great ceremony over each member coming forward, one by one, to receive their own copy of a tract - one at a time.
After one particularly blessed service we returned with 6 women bearing gifts of chickens, pumpkins, watermelons and sugar cane on their heads. They insisted on escorting us singing all the way "home". Sometimes whole congregations walked for hours to join us.
Although the circumstances were extremely primitive, we were amazed at the resolute way in which the people continued their lives despite these difficulties. Within the different communities a sense of unity, loyalty, discipline and order was evident as everybody tried to work together in maintaining stability - as far as possible, under the circumstances. We found schools, clinics, hospitals, orphanages and churches functioning with the minimum facilities and materials available. Yet, they continued their work with a strong will to serve. We were touched by the striking words of a hospital superintendent: "We lack medicine, we lack food, we lack diesel, but we continue because we have the will to help our people."
This was the general attitude which we found amongst the Angolans especially in UNITA controlled "Free Angola". The teachers continue teaching with, or without, buildings and writing materials. The hospitals and clinics care for patients with, or without, medicine and diesel to make their equipment function. The women's organisations continue to run orphanages and programmes to help orphans, widows, disabled soldiers and the needy with, or without, the necessary material and facilities. The pastors continue to minister even without buildings, Bibles or hymnbooks.
Everybody seemed to be fully committed to the struggle for freedom. Everyone has his contribution to make. As one Angolan put it: "We are all involved in the war. Everybody has his weapon: The soldier has his gun; the teacher - his books; the doctors and nurses - their medicine; the pastor - his Bible."
Despite this positive attitude the people in the Unita-controlled areas are in tremendous need. They are terribly isolated as international sanctions have been imposed on them after the elections. The needs are endless. Hospitals and clinics have to function with limited facilities and almost no medicine. Sicknesses, such as malaria, have become epidemic and little can be done to keep the people from dying as a result of it. If their crops fail, they are unable to obtain other supplies. Teaching in schools is often done without materials or any other equipment. The little relief aid we gave was received with great joy: "Although it looks little to you, for us who have nothing, it is much," they said.
Despite the overwhelming physical needs, the first need that was constantly put before us, was that of Bibles and hymnbooks. As one pastor described this need: "You could fill this room with Bibles and literature and it would still not be enough."
If you would like to channel gifts towards the suffering Christians in Angola please designate your support for Angola to Frontline Fellowship. We are trusting the Lord for enough to fill two trucks with Bibles, hymnbooks, Gospel literature, medicines, relief aid, school materials and Boxes with Love - when our team returns to that needy country.