Angola’s recent history is marred by the quest for absolute power, which cost the lives of so many and set the country on a downward spiral which is proving to be massively difficult to arrest, despite six years of peace. The legacy of communism lingers on in the hearts of many and also in the mindset of those in power. A nominal democracy exists at best, which militates against the attempts of those who want to open Angola up to tourism and the changes that would demand. We have been actively involved in the work of the Lord here for twenty-four years, and the frustrations of the people have not changed in that time; no hope of employment for the majority, even with a university education. There is a day-to-day fight for survival, a literal hand-to-mouth existence eked out in a culture marked by jealousy and the demands of the extended family, and certainly no help from the state. No water and no electricity is the lot of the vast majority and, what’s more, no hope of ever having these facilities in their homes. We count it a privilege to share with the people what their life in Angola is like, and, even though we clearly have so much more than they have, it is humbling to hear believers weekly in the prayer meeting thank the Lord for calling us and that we are prepared to share their lives with them in the heat and hardship of life here.
Those who wish to know how the work of the gospel began in this so-called ‘Beloved Strip’ must read Angola Beloved, 1 but dwelling on past triumphs of the gospel really can produce a romantic impression of missionary work and be quite misleading in present-day Angola. We live in the little village of Camundambala consisting of perhaps 200 homes, just six miles from the town of Saurimo. The village sprang up as a result of the mission station that was started here in 1938, and it was much larger in the 1950s, but the wars of 1975-2002 changed that.
The local assembly at Camundambala, with which we have been in fellowship since 1997, is growing numerically and a good number of believers are developing spiritually. We have several local men who are clearly gifted in preaching and teaching the word of God. Progress has been made, but it has been slow and we can trace that slowness back to the inability to read and to comprehend what is read. The ability to read is a great blessing which, perhaps, we take for granted in the West, but here, locally, we have had to prepare the ground and create the conditions to enable children to be taught to read. Reading informs, instructs, communicates, and motivates and when someone is saved by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit indwells them, the scriptures are a very real revelation to the hungry soul.
In 2005, just a couple of years after the end of the war, the elders of the assembly at that time had the vision to recommence a primary school that had existed before the war, but, in their poverty, they could never have started the work. So, we built our first classrooms with mud bricks. The locals did what they could and we, as missionaries, did our part. Ruth Hadley laboured tirelessly to get the school established and now, fifteen years later, we have modern classrooms, over 600 pupils and some really committed Christian teachers. But more importantly, we have a new generation of young people who can read, and many of these are now in assembly fellowship and reaching out in evangelism in the surrounding villages. We are thankful for the small band of committed teachers that we have, many of whom are believers from the local assemblies in Saurimo. Our role is purely supportive and the day-to-day running of the school is in the hands of nationals who follow the Angolan state curriculum. We simply seek to supply the needs of the school, from furniture and exercise books to paying the wages of those who are not covered by the government. It is a rewarding task, especially seeing many of the young people from school attend the assembly gatherings.
The main need in Angola today remains the same: a consistent public presentation of Bible truth, coupled with the patience needed to work with smaller groups of men who are able to study the Bible, helping them to grasp its truths and to encourage them to teach others. This is essential for the work to develop healthily, rather than be dependent on missionaries. It is slow, but we are thrilled to see it work here locally and praise the Lord for the privilege of seeing New Testament principles work in our generation.
We have been able to maintain six separate Bible studies each week: on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7pm with believers from the assembly here at Camundambala; Saturdays at 9am and 2pm with young men from two assemblies from Saurimo; and then Sundays at 5pm with another group of young men from Camundambala assembly. There are many more that want to start studies in Saurimo, but, at present, time does not permit. We are thankful though, that two brothers from Camundambala assembly are taking on responsibilities and leading two Bible study groups with local young people, which is a great help.
Literature is a massive part of our commitment here in Angola, and we are so very thankful for the work of the Angolan Literature Fund, which, through the generosity of the Lord’s people, goes a long way to meeting the enormous literature needs in the country. With more young people having an opportunity to go to school and learn to read, there is an increasing need for literature. The big challenge we face is the distribution of literature to areas beyond, approximately 100 km from our points of distribution, but, together with a few committed national believers, we do what we can. Generally, it takes about two years for us to get through 15,000 Portuguese Bibles and there is a constant call for Bibles in national languages too. Through the work of the Literature Fund we have been able to maintain a good supply of Bible study aids, a variety of good commentaries and daily reading books.
We run a small printing work in the capital and in Saurimo, where, using high speed duplicators, we can meet the demand for Emmaus courses and small Bible commentary study books. This is entirely operated by two national believers with only minimal supervision by us. Again, this is a work supported by the Angolan Literature Fund and meets a great need.
We also try and help supply medicines to a small medical post which is run by nationals with minimum training, but, in the absence of anything else, we have to use what we have. Malaria treatment, paracetamol, and basic antibiotics are needed mostly, and, by the Lord’s goodness, we are able to meet the needs of the immediate population and those who travel from town looking for medicines.
When we arrived in Angola in 1995, we never envisaged that we would be covering such a wide and varied service for the Lord, but living amongst folk in such deep poverty we cannot ignore the enormous needs that we see daily. Each day we feel we could have done more to help if we had the time and energy. So, along with vehicle and generator maintenance and just trying to live in the heat and stress of Angola, life is full, busy and tiring.
We would earnestly covet the prayers of the Lord’s people as we live for Him in Angola. There are big challenges that only the Lord can resolve in assembly testimony nationally. Departure from biblical truths is increasing and the autonomy of the local assembly is now being openly challenged. Spiritual battles are hard, often made personal, and, at the time of writing, Paul’s words are very apt for us and those who are standing alongside us, ‘We were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears’, 2 Cor. 7. 5. But we are deeply thankful for the local, faithful and loving believers who are our fellow labourers and stand with us in prayer.
Debbie and Brian Howden
1 T. E. Wilson, Angola Beloved, Gospel Folio Press, 2007.