There are a number of excellent accounts of earlier missionary work in Angola including T. E. Wilson’s book Angola Beloved and C. Allison’s book, Leaves from an African Jungle, with which many readers are familiar, so I will not give a history of assembly work in Angola.
We first began visiting Angola almost 12 years ago, not long after we were commended to the work of God and lived and served at Chavuma Mission Hospital, Zambia. The nearby border with Angola opened up at that time and I began regular bike trips into the country, helping local Zambian brethren with preaching the gospel, teaching in small village assemblies, and holding monthly mobile clinics. It was not until April 2014 that the Lord opened the way for us to move into Angola to live. A few months later, we made Biula our home.
Biula is the site of an old mission station which last had resident missionaries in the mid 1980s. Due to war, it was abandoned at that time. Troops occupied the mission shortly after, and when the war ended in 2002, the shells of three missionary houses remained as well as a crumbling hospital, a rundown clinic, and an old gospel hall.
When we arrived in Biula, much essential practical work had already been done. There was a generator, a ram water pump, a newly constructed building for the church to meet in, and a basically renovated clinic.
Our vision for medical work in our area is to strengthen and to make self-sufficient the Christian nurses and clinics by working alongside them to improve their diagnostic and treatment skills and to encourage them to use their work as a testimony for Christ to their patients, without creating a large institution dependent on us. Therefore, at the start of each major clinic day in Biula, (or in Luma Cassai), we have a gospel message and health talk as people start to queue early in the morning. We try to take time with each patient, 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, as we are working in a place where we have no laboratory, very limited equipment, and only basic medication, all the while working in Portuguese or Chokwe (the local language) with patients who usually have no knowledge of basic health. 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.
Bible teaching and visiting in nearby villages is a vital part of our ministry as well. Currently, I have a regular weekly teaching meeting with the local assembly in Biula, giving a simple overview of the Bible with handouts and study notes in Chokwe and Portuguese. At times, we have opportunities to visit for meetings in other nearby assemblies. Elizabeth and I regularly visit in the surrounding villages, sometimes to visit the sick, check on a newborn babe, or, as in the month of January, to distribute calendars.
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 presently untenable. We charge a small fee for a consultation and for medications, but this does not cover the cost of medication which we had been trying to source locally, but now have to purchase in Zambia or elsewhere.
We are seeking to let God guide in how we develop the medical work, since the Lord Jesus sent the disciples to preach and heal (Luke 9:2, 6), thus linking the two activities together. In practice, it is easy for the medical work to overwhelm every other facet of service and life, and so we look to God to help us keep the balance between “preaching” and “healing.” We would like to see a work develop which would stand whether or not we are present in Angola, a work maintained by Angolan brothers and sisters, used by the Spirit of God to show the Light of the world in a place where spiritual darkness and medical needs are profound due to past war and present corruption and injustice.
Another major challenge in the medical and spiritual work is language and illiteracy. Being comfortable in Portuguese is not adequate, as so many Angolans in the rural areas around us only speak Chokwe, so much of my time is still dedicated to language study. We are faced with the prospect of having to start literacy classes as well. How can we preach personal devotion to the Lord or expect growing spiritual maturity when the believers cannot read the Scriptures for themselves?
Angola is a dark place spiritually, but God is working, and evidence of His faithfulness and calling to us is on every hand. At the start of 2017, we saw a beloved senior missionary colleague, Ruth Hadley, suddenly forced home for an indefinite period for health reasons, at a point when the needs and opportunities for God’s service in Angola are increasing and missionaries are few. The assemblies face many challenges, including pressure to move away from basic Biblical assembly principles, division between assemblies, fear of witchcraft, an unclear gospel message, and poorly taught elders.
Yet, the overwhelming needs make Angola a thrilling place to serve. To see God at work, in spite of our weakness and the crushing spiritual and physical needs on every side, is akin to being in Peter’s shoes when he saw Christ walking in the darkness on the stormy sea and heard His call to join Him, “Come!” Let us each keep our eyes fixed on Christ and go to Him!