Angola – An enthusiastic and joyous welcome and long lists of needs greeted a Mennonite World Conference (MWC) delegation during a visit to member churches in Angola the first week of September 2013 – a follow up to an earlier delegation in April. (See related article about the April visit.)
The purpose, according to Henk Stenvers of the Netherlands, secretary of the Deacons Commission, was to listen to, encourage and assure church members that they are an important part of the global communion that MWC strives to be.
Others in the delegation included Janet Plenert of Canada, vice president of MWC, and Enock Shamapani of Zambia, a member of the Deacons Commission, who led a seminar on the role of deacons. Others who were slated to join the group – Samuel Martínez Leal from El Salvador and Shant Kunjam from India – were denied visas.
A number of leaders and a choir from Mennonites churches greeted the visitors at the Luanda airport. The song and dance intensified the next morning at a lengthy Sunday worship service as five choirs emerged from the congregation and sang their way to the front.
“There were many meetings that were inspirational,” noted Stenvers. “I was inspired by the members of local churches – the obvious joy they get from their faith and the way they keep going although they are clearly very poor. Inspiring was the story of the bible school student who gets up every morning at 4:00 am to sell soap, wash cloths, toothpaste, etc near the bus station to earn money to pay for school.”
After meeting some of the church leaders, Plenert noted, “We were impressed with the vision of the leaders, the dedication of the teachers and their focus on what they had, much more than on what they didn’t have.”
At the same time, delegation members felt overwhelmed and troubled by some requests for assistance which seemed to assume that the full solution to needs would come from outside of the country.
In a worship service early in their visit, delegation members emphasized that they came as brothers and sisters, not as a mother or father to the Angolan churches. Later in the week, noted Plenert, “a youth leader publically stated that in spite of what we had preached on Sunday…we are their mother and father whether we like it or not because Mennonite is (originally) a white European and North American church. He said that we know our history and are responsible to teach it to them, and provide for them because we brought them this church.”
The comment stung, noted Plenert. In response, she referred to the church as “a body of many members, not a hierarchy of historic ownership.” Referring to her own experience of joining the Mennonite church although not raised in a Mennonite home, she added, “We are all adopted in, gentiles who by grace are part of the people of God.”
The delegation met with leaders of the same groups visited by the earlier delegation in April 2013. In addition, Stenvers, Plenert and Shamapani also had opportunity to meet with the disaffected leader of the Igreja Evangélica Menonita em Angola (IEMA) and to encourage re-establishment of fellowship with other Mennonite groups.
News release by Ron Rempel