One of our nurses (our nursing staff consists of 4 men and this woman) accompanied me this week to our clinic in Cambole, a rough three hour drive from Cavango. It was a pleasure to have that time with her to learn about her life and her experiences as we bounced around on the trail. She is about my age, but what a different life she has led! I’m always interested in hearing the story of people’s lives, so she told me her story and an incredible part of it follows: In 1976, during the 30+ year civil war in Angola, the government forces destroyed the hospital and community of Cavango and ushered more than 250 lepers into a locked building, and burned them. The people of this region escaped and lived hiding in the “jungle”, moving around and avoiding the conflict and the government and rebel forces for 24 years. It was a hard life (a whole generation raised in the jungles), even for this very tough people, with many dying of malaria and other maladies. Everyone I know here lost several children to malaria during these years. Then, in 2000, with this part of the country still in the thick of the conflict, a large group of people from this region decided to migrate to Zambia (there must have been some incredible leadership among them!). Five thousand men, women and children walked together for 5 months, 6-8 hrs per day, to be welcomed into refugee camps in Zambia where they were protected and provided for. After hearing of their success, two other large groups of people (similar numbers) from this region followed the same course and were slaughtered. This first group stayed in Zambia until the war ended and returned to their “home” in Cavango three years later.
Last Sunday, Jeremias, the pastor of our little rural Cavango church, spoke on the value of women in God’s Kingdom. He chastised the men (generally in this rural culture, women here do virtually everything and most men very little) as he gave an example from his community that illustrated their need to be challenged. He said that a family walked up to his house and the woman had an infant strapped to her back and was carrying a toddler on her breast with one arm and dragging by the hand another (screaming) toddler. She also had a large container “resting” on her head and was giving firm instructions to yet another crying child walking beside her. While Jeremias and his wife were greeting and unburdening this woman, the husband came sauntering in empty-handed without a care. This illustrates one part of Angolan culture (and most cultures) apart from the influence of God’s Kingdom, and Jeremias had great courage in addressing it as He did (He spoke the truth and spoke it directly, with wisdom, and with love). The physically stronger rule over the physically weaker and treat them as slaves and property to be used for the benefit of the strong. As we know, this has been the historic norm historically everywhere in the world that has not been infiltrated by the Kingdom. Jesus’ teaching on the equality and respect of women was revolutionary and radical when He spoke and demonstrated it and has been one of the beautiful and primary cultural transformations everywhere the heart of God has been embraced by men.
Official marriage in the Angolan interior is rare and many men have multiple wives, most with more than eight children. The women and children eat and work together and live in huts next to each other. The women typically get along well and the sense of community is stronger than any sense of jealousy. The self-esteem of these women is typically wrapped up in their motherhood and caring for their children, which most do quite well with very little. I often see women in our clinics that haven’t been pregnant for a year and are quite concerned. STD’s are rampant (several wives aren’t enough!) and we have a young, healthy man in our hospital currently who almost died from disseminated, severe gonorrhea. The women are typically faithful to their one man and the men to their several women often are not.
One day recently, a man secretively approached me during a pause in a busy and very rural clinic. He was holding small something wrapped in a cloth and asked me if I knew of the value of this very unique jewel he found buried in his village (see pictures). It was a common, glass marble, value perhaps a penny. He and those in his village had never seen a rock so beautiful and assumed it must be of great value…
Our work can be so sad and so satisfying. People currently recovering at our little, rural hospital (after arriving nearly dead) include a teen with cerebral malaria, an infant with severe pneumonia, a woman with severe heart failure, and an infant with severe respiratory distress from bronchiolitis. All will go home soon after receiving very basic treatment and a plea to our Father to touch them. The woman with heart failure arrived in severe respiratory distress and is now (after losing 7kg of fluid in 48hr) walking and resting with no difficulty breathing and greets me each morning with a huge smile (in picture on the scale). Smiles can be such a tool of encouragement, warmth and light in an environment so often quite dark and cold.
Living all of life outdoors has its consequences (this rural population does virtually nothing inside their small stick-and-grass huts). A large majority of people over the age of 50 have some degree of cataract formation and many actually lose their sight due to this opacification of the lenses of their eyes. We are ordering about 200 pairs of sunglasses (at $0.50/pair) to distribute to the people around Cavango and hope this is just a start. We need to get beneficial and inexpensive first world technology into Angola for these folks. Our dear friend and missionary colleague, Steve Collins, a 75 year old physician, does thousands of cataract surgeries every year, especially focusing on the rural people.
One of the coolest things we do is sell reading glasses cheaply to older folks (they sell in Angola for more than $20/pair) and they are absolutely thrilled when they realize they can read or see things up close again. We have found reading glasses in the US for the same price as the sunglasses!
Our church service of about 70 people begins with a march. Most of the kids begin about 50 paces from the building, singing at the top of their lungs, and marching ever so slowly into the building, using the shuffle of their steps for percussion. There are loose seating arrangements during the service, as men and women are seated separately in their own sections in our little adobe building, and young children can sit with either mom or dad. The teens sit in one section, as do the pre-teens. The offering is almost exclusively a cup or two of hardened corn kernels, representing about the only exchangeable item of value in this largely cashless society. The church service is literally a community gathering/meeting and community affairs are discussed, sometimes at length, during and after the two hour service, of which the sermon takes about 15 minutes. The rest is almost all congregational singing or singing by the various “choir” groups (men, women, youth, young adults, children). Sitting on wooden benches without backs weekly for 2-3hr, seeing the offering, listening to the songs and message in Ganguela, all remind me weekly just how far I am from home.
Every Sunday afternoon, a group of about 10 young girls comes to our house to collect our used cans. They absolutely love them, trade them and play with them for hours in the village.
It costs $300 to obtain a motorcycle driver’s license in Angola. Comparing the minimal wage in the US ($7.25/hr) to Angola’s common labor wage ($2.50/day), that is the equivalent of it costing the “average worker” $7000 for the same permit in the US… To make matters worse, motorcycles (and all products) are significantly more expensive in Angola than in the US. To obtain a driver’s license to drive a car costs over $800 for our interior men! I won’t do the math for the equivalent price in the US.
Our nurses read very little and cannot multiply or divide, so all drug dosages must be calculated for them. I’m completing a very simple booklet of about 20 pages, containing a brief description of most of the illnesses that we see in the clinic and the medications that we use to treat them, broken down by weight, so they can treat people here appropriately in my absence. If we don’t teach and empower, what the community gains in our presence will be lost when we leave!
In addition to our monthly MAF flight clinics, we have now begun new “mobile” clinics (we bring meds, equipment, people, etc) in four villages within a three hour drive off-road from Cavango (now seven monthly clinics). Every village has been hugely receptive to our work and our presence. Each person pays our required $5.00 for the consultation (used solely to purchase meds) with pleasure and with no complaint whatsoever. Their humble gratitude is tangible and they place no expectation on a good outcome. My own attitude as to expectations is challenged every day that I work among them. I open each clinic day with an interactive, 15-20 minute message on improving our physical and spiritual health (translated from Portuguese into their local language – either Mbundo or Ganguela, depending on the village). The people are quite engaged and it seems like pretty much the whole village turns out for the early morning message (often more than 100 people/village). As to spiritual health, I normally speak on the character of God, because these rural folks are like the Greeks of Paul’s journeys who worshipped the “unknown god”. The people of these villages were displaced during the war (as above) and lived with virtually no cultural infrastructure, including churches, clinics, hospitals, etc. Though the Angolan people had some “christian” exposure before the wars began (about 1970), most, especially those living rurally, have no idea who God is and what He is like.
I have the incredible privilege (and responsibility) of describing our Father accurately to them, demonstrating His love through my life, and sharing with them how they can know Him. This work keeps me clinging to Jesus, and depending on Him to lead me as I introduce them to Him, as I (or my teaching) can change and transform no one, but our Father’s Spirit can do His work through me as I yield to Him (my role is to remain surrendered and available, and He will do the work). I walk into the clinic after each message thanking Jesus for putting unplanned words in my mouth (I prayerfully prepare a passage, but no specific teaching) and for guiding the discussion and my message (He is always faithful). So often someone asks a question that leads to better discussion than I could have planned! His Spirit confirms His presence at every one of these gatherings, leaving me humbled and grateful every time.
After our community meeting on Saturday, when we presented our clinic’s new solar lighting to the community leaders, they went around flipping on and off every light switch in the building (none of them have lights in their home). It was so much fun to behold their “Wows” and child-like fascination with our new system, purchased by our home Vineyard church in Sunbury.
I recently made a beautiful trip, through some incredible mountains, to Namibe, a city on the west coast of Angola, to obtain the governor’s blessing for our MAF work in two of his rural communities. This coastal part of Angola is all desert, and after meeting with the appropriate people (and receiving enthusiastic verbal blessing and gratitude for our work), I was hot and hungry, so I stopped for lunch at what appeared to be a nice, outdoor restaurant. I asked for a menu and the waiter said they only served one dish (common in restaurants here) so I agreed to it and downed two refreshing, cold glasses of orange juice while I waited (tasted strange, but I was thirsty). When the food arrived, it was about 15 chunks of a pale, rubbery something mixed with a little beans and rice. I figured that, since I was on the ocean, it must be some kind of snail or seafood that I hadn’t had before (and I was quite hungry and didn’t care). About halfway through the meal (it was pretty awful and I used a lot of hot sauce to make it tolerable), I decided to ask what kind of seafood I was eating, as it began to taste like something familiar and not so healthy for my already-clogged heart vessels. The waiter smiled and said it was chunks of cow fat and was so proud of it and asked me with a grin if I didn’t love it. I lied. So there is a very popular restaurant in the capital of an Angolan province (perhaps the nicest in town with a great location on the shore) that appears to be a thriving business, serving this one dish… I wasn’t feeling so good as I left and I asked him for more OJ and he brought out the bottle. It was “hard” OJ! I left for my 2-3hr drive home thirsty, hot and still hungry… and I didn’t care!
Tim, the value of your ministry is evident not just in what and how you write, but because I know it’s authentic, unembellished. I’m proud to be your colleague here in Angola.