Cross-Cultural Travels, part 1

An Anecdote of Our Journey Through the Province of Uige with a Delegation of Angolan Church Leaders

Prologue:

In September, Danny, Nathan, and I spent 10 days traveling throughout one of Angola’s provinces with a handful of Angolan church leaders to visit 14 church congregations. We learned an immense amount about Angolan culture, about the origins of this church movement, and about our traveling companions. This account describes our journey in some detail, with the intention of sharing a bit of Angolan culture and opening a window to the life of an Angolan missionary.

 

Day One: The Journey Begins

We set forth from Luanda a few hours after our scheduled departure time. First, we met at the home of Pastor André Banda, the president of I.C.A. (Igreja de Cristo em Angola), where we awaited the arrival of the other delegates and subsequently took our breakfast. We had been told to expect nine traveling companions, but for this leg of our journey we traveled with three: Banda, Papa N’Dambulula (National Director of Protocol), and Papa Luavo (recently appointed National Director of Social Assistance). The other delegates would join us at different points in our journey through Uige.

Danny and I rode in his rugged Land Cruiser with Papa Luavo while Nathan chauffeured Banda and Papa N’Dambulula in the comfort of his Toyota Prado. The journey to Uige (the capital of Uige Province) lasted about 7 hours. Danny and I enjoyed getting to know our traveling companion, Papa Luavo, who was born in Uige and worked in the province during the war with the Angolan Ministry of Agriculture. As we passed various landmarks he explained their significance during the war and narrated personal accounts of many events. Immigration officials stopped us at the provincial border in order to record our passports. The Angolan Immigration Department began this practice during the civil war as a way to track the movement of suspect foreigners throughout the country. In many Angolan provinces, it is still a common practice. As Uige lies on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the officials are sterner, with a stronger mandate from the government.

Arriving in Uige, we proceeded directly to the church. The ICA youth band of flutists and drummers had arrived a day ahead of us and were warming up for their evening performance. The local minister, Pastor André Landu, and a handful of other church leaders received us in the church office. Darkness was falling, so we unloaded the generator to provide light for our discussion and the dinner they had prepared for us. While we waited for someone to fetch more fuel for the generator we visited for a few minutes to review the itinerary for the trip. Then Banda dismissed the delegates while he remained to discuss the state of the church in Uige with the local leaders.

The band warms up for their parade

During this time, I went for a walk through the neighborhood. The young flutists and drummers were now parading through the streets, playing a lively march with a mob of dozens of children following them, laughing and dancing. The procession made a large loop and returned to the church after about 30 minutes. Then the children gradually dispersed and the musicians retired to their lodging for the evening. Nathan, Danny and I visited with the band directors and others while we waited for Banda to conclude. After Banda finished, dinner was prepared for the delegation. Together we shared our first of many meals that included “funge,” the Angolan staple made from ground cassava that is reconstituted into a doughy paste and is often accompanied by some kind of meat in a sauce (chicken, fish, goat, pork, or beef) or a leafy vegetable sauce. Once we had eaten our fill, we were escorted to our accommodation for the evening.

A church member had arranged three rooms for us at an inn near the church. Danny, Nathan, Papa Luavo, and I stood outside the first room and divided our group into pairs – one Angolan with one American. I bunked with Papa Luavo, Danny with Papa N’Dambulula, and Nathan with Banda. The rooms each had a double bed, a television, and a wall that was three-quarters the length of the room and open at the end. This wall provided privacy for the toilet and a drain in the floor over which we could bathe using water from a large trash can in the corner. Upon entering, Papa Luavo offered me the bed and volunteered to sleep on the floor. I responded, saying that I would only need one half of the bed and that he was welcome to use the other half. He smiled, asked if I was certain I didn’t want the whole bed, and then spread out his blankets next to my sleeping bag. We were tired from our travels. Papa Luavo bathed behind the privacy wall while I sat on the bed and read some from David Maranz’s African Friends and Money Matters, a well-timed selection that provided fodder for my conversation with our fellow travelers throughout the trip. I fell asleep quickly.

My bunk mate, Papá Luavo

Day Two: The Lord’s Day

We woke with the sunrise. I bathed, dressed, and disappeared to read a bit in Danny’s truck while Papa Luavo carried about his morning routine. When I returned, Papa Luavo observed that I had not ironed my shirt or trousers and insisted that I let him iron them for me. After some resistance, I complied. I later learned that he had walked back to the church to find someone who would lend him an iron. A well-pressed outfit is an important part of one’s Sunday morning attire. While he ironed our clothes, he informed me that he had requested a new room. Shortly after I had redressed, we left for the church. A typical Angolan breakfast was prepared for us in the church office – bread, avocado, boiled cassava, and peanuts, served with tea and weak coffee. Breakfast quickly became our favorite meal of the day. Nathan began spreading peanuts on his bread like a peanut butter sandwich. Danny enjoyed the boiled cassava and I was thankful for coffee.

Worship would begin shortly and Papa N’Dambulula led each of us to our seats (his responsibility as Director of Protocol). The delegation sat on stage facing the congregation. Banda sat center-stage where the pastor customarily sits. The other pastors sat on either side of Banda. Papa N’Dambulula, Papa Luavo, and the missionaries filled in the outer ranks. The service was lively. After some congregational singing and the performances of several choral groups, Banda addressed the audience concerning the purpose of our visit. He gave the missionaries an opportunity to say a few words. We each spoke briefly, expressing our excitement about our partnership with ICA and introducing our own purpose for moving our families to Angola. (In future presentations we decided to take turns speaking in order to abbreviate our comments.) Then the local minister, Pastor Landu, shared his own enthusiasm with the congregation and presented us with a letter that he had someone translate into English for the occasion. Landu then introduced the morning’s preacher – Banda again – and we listened to the first iteration of many of his sermon on Nehemiah 1. Banda had four points: The church needs love, courage, prayer, and unity. The sermon and subsequent announcements were all translated from Portuguese to Kikongo (the local language) and many of the songs were Kikongo hymns. After service, we filed out and the delegation stood at the door and shook hands with all the attendees as they exited, in procession, singing the closing song. More than 200 men, women, and children had been present.

The communion service followed the regular worship service. ICA leaders give the upmost significance and reverence to the Lord’s Supper and each observance is accompanied by a second, shorter worship service with several hymns, prayers, and a sermonette. In ICA tradition, the communion service is only celebrated by baptized believers, so the majority of those who attended worship disappeared and the delegation reentered the building with the local church leaders. After we were all seated, the doors were closed and the service began. (Banda later explained that many ICA members do not understand the Lord’s Supper well and do not return for this second service.) Those who returned sat around a table and Banda presided, standing behind the table. After about twenty minutes, we concluded a second time.

Lunch followed worship. Then Banda offered a 90-minute lecture on the Tabernacle to the ministers and deacons of the congregation (material that he presented several times over our travels to enrich church leaders). During this time the other delegates visited outside the church. We met Papa Luavo’s son, Gomes Paulo, a school teacher in Uige. He was the first of many young men whom we met on our trip that suggested we might help him attend university in the United States – a dream of many young Angolans. We also learned more about Luavo’s past experiences with the Ministry of Agriculture. Another meeting followed Banda’s teaching, then supper, and afterward we returned to the inn.

Papa Luavo went directly to the room and turned on the television. It was time for Angola Encanta (“Angola Enchants”), the Angolan spin on the American phenomenon American Idol. Four contestants remained and one of them was Papa Luavo’s future daughter-in-law. Papa N’Dambulula came over and we watched the show together. The show ended with a cliffhanger, but we felt good about our contestant’s performance. The following Sunday we learned – via a phone call – that she would progress to the next round. (In the end, she took second place.) The evening’s excitement concluded and we prepared to sleep, each in our own fashion. Papa Luavo bathed and I read a few more pages in my book.

 

Day Three: Visiting Dignitaries

We had a full schedule of meetings planned for the day. Pastor Landu and Pastor Domingos António (from nearby Negage) joined us for the day’s events and the rest of our travels. As we waited in the courtyard for the other delegates to emerge, I chatted more with Papa Luavo. He had taken to calling me “Chara” (pronounced sha-ra) instead of using my proper name, so I used the free time to ask why. He explained that when someone shares the same name, you may call that person “Chara.” It means something like “namesake.” I replied, “But your name is Al-berto and my name is Ro-berto,” to which he responded, “Yes. They have the same root.” I decided to leave the matter at that and accept my pseudonym.

Once gathered together, we drove to downtown Uige where our first appointment was scheduled with the governor of the province, a former colleague of Banda. We climbed the marble staircase in the government building under the gaze of Angola President José Eduardo Dos Santos’s portrait. Upon entering the first chamber of the governor’s office, his secretary offered us seats. This gesture is an important symbol of respect in Angolan culture. A traditional story tells of an Angolan Queen during the early years of colonization who was not offered a chair when visiting the Portuguese governor. To preserve her dignity, she ordered one of her servants to get down on the ground and she then sat on the servant’s back. After we were seated, the secretary politely informed us that the governor was traveling and would not return to his office for a week. Banda was disappointed, but after a moment of discussion we thanked the secretary and left.

Outside the building we discussed whether or not to go on to our next appointment early. At the provincial border, the officials who recorded our passports reminded us that the government requires us (the missionaries) to check in with the local immigration office upon arrival. We suggested to Banda that this would be a good use of the sudden opening in our schedule. The office was located in a building with a narrow, open-air corridor connected to a waiting room and several small offices. Our delegation, which now consisted of eight people, did not fit in the first small office we entered and we were directed to the waiting room. After a few minutes an official asked for the leader of our party and Banda followed him out of the room with our documents. The rest of us sat quietly and watched a Brazilian soap opera on a television set mounted on the wall.

Banda returned and we left to continue with our itinerary. We next visited the provincial office of the Ministry of Culture, a sub-department of which is the Ministry of Religious Affairs that oversees the relationship between churches and the state. The minister was on holiday, but we met with the Assistant Director after the office staff managed to round up enough chairs for the delegation. Banda inquired about the relationship between ICA and the Ministry and the Assistant Director replied truthfully that he really had no knowledge of ICA specifically, as this was not his usual post. He elaborated on the importance of an open relationship between the church and the Ministry and thanked us for coming. We left with Banda’s questions unanswered, but had paid our respects by making an appearance.

Next we stopped at the provincial headquarters for the Angolan National Radio station (R.N.A.). During our tour of the facility with the director, Banda inquired about religious programming and asked if R.N.A. gave interviews to religious figures. The director caught on quickly and offered to record a brief interview with Banda about the nature of our visit to Uige. Banda enthusiastically accepted and the delegation waited outside the recording room and listened to Banda’s thoughtfully worded responses. Five minutes later, we thanked the radio staff and returned to the Uige church office for lunch.

After a typical Angolan meal, we left Uige to visit the congregation in Negage. The journey lasted 45 minutes on a smooth asphalt road. We first arrived at the administrative offices for a scheduled appointment with the Municipal Administrator. It was payday and dozens of government employees were crowded around a door in the hallway, waiting to receive their paychecks. We were led to an office at the end of the hall where we were enthusiastically received by the Assistant Director, Jonas João. He apologized that the Chief Administrator was on holiday and thanked us sincerely for the visit. Jonas is a member of the Baptist church in Negage and a true ally of the church. After a warm, friendly visit we shook hands and departed.

We met the Negage congregation at the church building for a time of worship. About 50 men, women, and children received us welcomed us with lively singing. Banda delivered his message on Nehemiah 1, one of the missionaries briefly addressed the crowd, and Banda gave the congregation a period of time to share any needs or concerns they had regarding the church. Afterward, we shared a meal prepared by Pastor Domingos António’s wife and enjoyed some casual fellowship with our fellow delegates. Then we said goodbye to Domingos (until the morning) and returned to Uige for our last night in the inn.

Posing for a photo with the Negage Church

 

COMING SOON …

What do caterpillars taste like? (Day Five)

How did we end up with a sheep, three goats, and a chicken for the return trip and what did we do with them? (Day Six)

What gifts do Angolans bring home to their wives after traveling? (Day Ten)

2 Responses to Cross-Cultural Travels, part 1

  1. Great to read about. Thanks!

  2. […] is the long-awaited continuation of our story, begun in this blog post in November. It is an account of our travels with Angolan church leaders to visit the I.C.A. […]

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