Serving the church in Angola
Written by Matt Reed
February 5, 2005
I served in Luanda, the capital of Angola, assisting in the offices Director of the Social, Educational, and Project Department (DASEP) and the General Secretary of IECA. I helped get a scanner working and helped write a short article on my work in Lobito for the Council of Churches in Angola (CICA) newsletter.I left Lobito on Sunday afternoon but did not get to Luanda until Monday, because our flight from Benguela to Luanda was canceled. My colleague made a huge and ultimately successful effort to convince the airline representative and his boss in Luanda that the airline should pay for our hotel room, not standard practice here though common elsewhere in the world, as he knows from his travels and studies in several countries. Although I did not stay in Lobito as long as I expected, I did get a good start on setting up a small computer lab for the Canata Training Center there. They have a good team there who took notes on how I set things up and will continue the work. The team includes a Canadian who is working as an administrator for the center, one of the more advanced students from the English classes, whose dream is to have a career in Information Technology, and a Portuguese computer technician who lives and works in Lobito and has given a lot of assistance to the IECA personnel in Lobito. We had to work around a number of problems including “luz flaca” or “weak lights” meaning the voltage at the center, during the rare times when the electricity was on, was only 130 V instead of the 220 V it should be. Also, the phone company is taking their time finishing the installation of the phone line at the center, to be used for the office and the computer lab, necessitating several visits to their office to find out the status of this job. Computer equipment is very expensive in Lobito, since it is all imported and there are very few computer stores there. I did find what I needed to set things up, though, and I trust that the team in Lobito will be able to start computer classes during the next school term this winter. The computer I brought from Chicago, and one purchased in South Africa by Rev. Chipenda are up and running, and another older one is being repaired by the technician. On the advice of Rev. Chipenda, I will wait until the end of my trip and leave some of the funds I have left for future purchases of computers, which will probably be made outside of Angola to save money. Meanwhile, I had a great time seeing Lobito, which is still a beautiful city on the coast, in spite of the lack of maintenance and infrastructure and the influx of refugees that has swelled the population in neighborhoods of makeshift shacks. It is hard to imagine how difficult life is for those who live in these neighborhoods day in and day out, lacking clean water, reliable electricity, proper facilities for disposing of sewage and garbage, or adequate opportunities for education and work. Most streets were last repaved before independence in 1975, and the most recent maps date from then as well. On the other hand, it is inspiring to see how Angolans from all walks of life adapt to their circumstances with creativity, with many people making money through selling all manner of goods in open-air markets and children making toys out of anything that resembles a ball or a wheel. Blue and white Toyota minivan taxis race up and down the dusty streets on fixed routes, serving as the basic transit system. Motorbike taxis will take you from the taxi terminals right to your door. Young people with ambition to know more about the world beyond where they live save up a little money to go to the Internet cafes and get online or take computer classes, but the cost is beyond the reach of many. Those with more resources install generators and water tanks and satellite dishes at their houses, but also install bars, gates, car alarms, and hire guards, leading people to quip that one third of Lobito hires another one third of the population to protect them from the last third of the population. I also enjoyed talking to the Chipendas, who are drawing on their wealth of experience to specific programs as well as a grand vision of how the church should best participate in rebuilding the society. Just in Lobito, IECA needs resources to solidify their presence by developing valuable land they have acquired and developing programs to serve the needs of their constituency, particularly young people. Rev. Chipenda quips that IECA is not a church, it is a government, meaning that at present, it lacks physical and institutional structures, but has people who create churches wherever they can, and who have ideas for the future but not the means to implement them. The Chipendas have visited five of the six continents, lived on three of them, and worked for church groups at many levels for many years. Though more or less retired, they work a full schedule overseeing and participating directly in the work at the training center and maintaining connections with colleagues near and far. At his request, I taught Rev. Chipenda how to use Yahoo Messenger, and he was impressed with this capability I had to talk with my fiancée back in Chicago in real time. I gave a webcam to the Canadian administrator, who managed to get real-time video as well as messages back and forth with her grandchildren, a great start to using this tool to connect those working and studying in Canata with their friends and supporters elsewhere in the world. The Cultural Arts program at Canata, as well as the newly planted trees, provide an oasis for children of the area, away from the grime and difficulties of everyday life. The children enthusiastically participated in games, arts and crafts, singing and dancing, and a few in recorder lessons. They sing a Portuguese version of Frere Jacques—I’ve heard it in English, Spanish, and French, so it shouldn’t surprise me that it is sung in Portuguese as well! They were glad to see all of the materials I brought, but the jump-ropes and soccer and playground balls were the biggest hit. The playground ball immediately became a basketball, and the boys assured me that yes, they were familiar with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and other stars of the NBA. After soccer, basketball seems to be the next most popular organized sport. Unexpectedly, my postcards of Chicago, bought at the last minute before I left, were so popular I made color copies for some of the children and young people. I have saved some of the recorders, soccer balls, and arts materials for Huambo and other places I will be visiting later. The water distiller is here in the office in Luanda, and will be sent out to Mavinga in Kuando-Kubango province.
I attended services at two churches in Lobito where I was presented to the congregation and spoke briefly, bringing greetings from University Church and my family. I particularly enjoyed the singing—both choirs and congregational, as well as a small group of young people with an electric bass and guitar. The churches I have visited have a roof but no walls and depend on a generator if they want to use a sound system. I also spoke to a youth gathering in Benguela. Many older people here still remember or have heard of the work of my grandparents and great-grandparents here and are very glad to see me. Two young pastors expressed the sentiment that I am an honorary Angolan because of this family history, which I said was a great honor to me.
I hope everyone is doing well in Chicago! It has been hotter there than here, owing to the fact that it is the middle of winter (dry season) here, and actually very comfortable—no rain, temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s. I continue to appreciate your support and your messages. I will be going by car to the province of Kuanza Sul this weekend, then flying to Huambo at some point next week. While in Huambo, I will travel by car to visit various sites. It may be a little colder in the interior, where the altitude is higher. Beyond that I am not sure what my itinerary will be. I should have occasional Internet access, but not as frequently as while I was in Lobito.
Matt Reed served as a short-term volunteer from August 15 through September 15, 2004, while he served with the Evangelical Congregational Church in Angola in Luanda, Angola. He worked with information technologies and helped set up computer systems at church.