We arrived in Angola in April, 2014. A few months later, we made Biula our home. It is the site of an old mission station that last had resident missionaries in the mid-1980s and due to war, was abandoned. George and Ena Wiseman (UK), Marjorie Beckwith (Canada), Ruth Hadley (UK), Peter and Louise Daley (USA), and Doris Pitman (Canada) left their home here to return to their own countries or Luanda. Troops occupied the mission shortly after, and when the war ended in 2002, the shells of the three missionary houses remained, as well as a crumbling hospital, a run-down clinic, and an old church building. A young Angolan man, Corintios Messane, was left to dispense tuberculosis medicines, and in the intervening years, he gained some basic nursing training. Corintios has continued to faithfully serve the community in this role to the present time, and is a respected elder in the local church.
When the war ended, Ruth Hadley, who was based in Saurimo, about 160 kilometres north of Biula, started making visits with a view to preserving the surviving structures, as they were some of the few standing buildings in the area. Local elders were asked to live on the station or in the houses while basic repairs were made. The clinic was renovated with assistance from the government. A small school was built on the mission, Emmaus work started, and a godly older nurse and his wife from Saurimo moved down to help in the clinic and assembly work. They had to leave a few years later due to health reasons and the houses were left empty. Jonathan Singleton built a new building to replace the older structure, which was collapsing. A ram pump for water and a generator were put in. When we arrived in Biula, much essential work had already been done. Jonathan gave us a couple of months of his time to modify the old Wiseman house to construct a third bedroom and put in running water. It was still a tight squeeze for our family of seven, so we have constructed a major addition which is nearing completion.
I began work in the clinic with Corintos shortly after arriving and found that he had already established a good reputation for the clinic. He treated people fairly, with compassion, and within the scope of his skillset. Almost all babies are born in mud huts and most children lack basic vaccinations. Prenatal care is minimal, and is given by a lady who is hardly literate, with little concept of hygiene. Yet she is likely far more skilled than the average birth attendant, as her teacher was someone trained by Marjorie Beckwith. Our vision for medical work in this area is to strengthen and make self-sufficient Christian nurses and clinics by working alongside them to improve their skills, and to encourage them to use their work as a testimony to win their patients to Christ. Therefore, on each clinic day in Biula, (or in Luma Cassai), we have a gospel message and health talk at the start of the day, as people start to queue from four or ﬁve in the morning.
Triaging is a challenge, as current Angolan culture dictates that anyone in uniform (police, military, or government) can literally interrupt someone else’s consultation and expect immediate attention, with men being next, and then women and children. We try to take time with each patient, often pausing to pray with those with serious illness or an uncertain diagnosis. This is not merely trying to be a “good testimony,” but stems from a real sense of dependence on God to guide and heal. We often refer patients to the “Great Physician.” We have seen God preserve life and heal in remarkable ways, and as a result, our faith is also strengthened.
We have begun a monthly clinic in Luma Cassai, another mission station, about 60 kilometres from Biula. It is right in the bush, and the clinics can be very large. There is a Christian nurse who has served the people for some years despite the local chief having the nurse’s father (an elder in the local church) murdered on charges of witchcraft. Often patients see witchdoctors ﬁrst, as basic medical care is not available, or they have little faith in it (for good reason).
We are also supporting a medical work in a much more distant location in Chilombo, about 100 kilometers from Chavuma, Zambia. A Zambian missionary family serves there and when we lived in Chavuma, I trained Mutondo Masaha to give basic medical care, which he has done for more than 10 years. There is a promising young Christian man from Biula who we are supporting through nurse’s training with the expectation that he will come and work in the clinic when he completes his studies in two years. Bible teaching and visiting in the village is a vital part of our ministry as well. Currently, I have a regular weekly teaching meeting with the local church in Biula, giving a simple overview of the Bible, with handouts and study notes in Chokwe and Portuguese. I have also started teaching in Luma and took part in a week-long Bible conference in Chilombo in August. We face a number of challenges. Angola is in the midst of an economic crisis and almost all government help with medication has ceased. Most clinics have only one nurse left, and they have not been paid for many months. Our idea of making the clinics self-supporting is untenable. We charge a small fee for a consultation and for medications, but this does not cover the cost of medication, which we try to source locally.
Another major challenge is language. We are ﬂuent in Portuguese, but so many Angolans around us speak only Chokwe, so much time is still dedicated to language study. Other challenges include the limited availability of educated people to train, lack of vaccines for illnesses like measles and polio, no accessible location to refer the severely ill or those who need surgery, and the challenge of daily life for our family. Finding food in the nearby city is becoming increasingly difficult. We are seeking God to guide in how we develop the medical work, because the Lord Jesus sent the disciples to preach and heal (Luke 9:2, 6).
After working for some years in a mission hospital in Zambia, it is so easy for the medical work to overwhelm every other facet of life, and so we look to God to help us keep the balance between “preaching” and “healing.” We would like to see a work which would stand whether we are present in Angola or not; a work that is not dependent on our medical skills or our resources for sourcing/supplying medications.
Please pray that God will guide. While we can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the needs and opportunities around us, we have seen God at work here in Biula, for which we feel so privileged.