Reflection Archive

Reading Bible Stories to Neighborhood Children

Most children in Angola are free to wander during the days, especially the boys, since girls have the responsibility to look after younger siblings. During the school holidays, I saw five boys walking on homemade stilts outside of our yard and I invited them in to read a Bible story. A month later I’m still reading stories and singing to eager faces. They’ve brought friends and family and onlookers have come and gone. I never know how many I’ll have each day, but I know I can count on the smiles of Mano, Nucho, Chico, Podi, and Lano. I don’t know where God will take these stories, but I pray for these boys and girls every day.

Making Friends in the Marketplace

Most of my personal interaction with Angolans has been in the marketplace and neighborhood. For the first few months, I tried to use my time in the market to at least have a small interaction with a few people. I must admit, when I was tired I just went and did my shopping. Very quickly I met Ana, and slowly I began to recognize a few more people – like Amelia who is one of the few fruit sellers at my market. Ana introduced me to Rita one day when I was looking for eggplants, and Rita recognized me several weeks later to begin our friendship. Then I picked out Maria to buy tomatoes from, and she gives me extra every visit, starting from the first day I introduced myself. I discovered on my second visit that her Portuguese is limited to the basic phrases she needs for work, but we still count each other as friends. I am beginning now to move a little deeper, to ask them more about their lives and to share more of mine. It is quite a journey.

An Arduous Journey Is Worth the Effort

In 2006 and 2008, the Angola Team (in its configuration at those times) visited a new church of Christians in Luena, Angola, most of whom recently returned from refugee camps in eastern Zambia. This congregation had a variety of difficulties in trying to gather each Sunday for worship, including the government’s requirement that they affiliate with a registered church denomination. (The registration of new church denominations has been closed since the late 1990s.) A third visit to these Christians had been high on our priority list since we arrived in Angola in July, and we finally found an opportunity in February. A number of the leaders of the group from 2006 and 2008 now worship with a new ICA church plant in Luena (the Angolan church that has invited our team to work alongside them). So with the help of the local ICA church leaders, we organized a week of teaching for the church there. Danny, Nathan, Jordan and I (Robert) set out from Huambo in the Reeses’ and Nathan’s vehicles.

We had heard the roads were bad, and the route was confusing, so we decided to travel in convoy with an experienced taxi driver (also traveling in a Land Cruiser). Our good friend Charles and several of his family traveled with us on their way to the funeral of a family member. We were also joined by our Angolan brother Bamba, who traveled by bus from Luanda in order to join us on the journey. On the evening before we traveled, we drove to Kuito (2 hours east of Huambo) and spent the night in a guestroom at the home of our friend, Marianne, a German Baptist missionary. The following morning, we rose early, had a light breakfast, and arrived at the taxi stop at 7 AM.

We left Kuito at 10 AM (some of the travelers in the taxi arrived late) and arrived in Luena at 11 AM the following day, after a hard journey. About 17 hours were spent traversing the 400 km, including many stops to pull the lead vehicle (our guide) out of the deep mud that covered a long stretch of road. From 10 PM until 4 AM we slept on the side of the road, deciding to rest a few hours. We finally arrived on Tuesday, 12 hours later than we had planned, exhausted and amazed.

The best $10 ever spent - a recover strap

The best $10 ever spent - a recover strap

Our host, Pastor Kazenga, gave us the remainder of the day to rest. We were accommodated well, in a rented house with several bedrooms, a large living room, and a small kitchen. We slept and reorganized our teaching plan to fit in the remaining four days of the schedule. Jordan – the strongest of the lot of us – managed the strength to fix supper, as she did each day while the trio of men rested (the three of us all felt a bit ill) or prepared for the next day’s teaching. Angolan friends joined us for many of the meals.

On Wednesday, we visited the provincial head of the Ministry of Culture and the provincial headquarters of Immigration – two obligatory visits on any trip outside of Huambo or Luanda. That afternoon, Danny introduced our topic to the gathered church leaders – about 25 men and women and a dozen young adults (ages 16-25) who sing with the church choir. We would spend the week teaching about the church and challenging the congregation to grow more and more like the New Testament church of Jesus’ first followers. We delivered each lesson in Portuguese and someone translated into Chokwe or Luvale. Our teaching program:

Danny teaches the gathered church leaders

Danny teaches the gathered church leaders

Wed. PM: To whom belongs the church? (Danny)
Thur. AM: The temple of God & the New Testament on church buildings. (Robert)
Thur. PM: What is our identity? (Nathan)
Fri. AM: Who is consecrated? All Christians are set apart to serve. (Danny)
Fri. PM: Every member of the body has a gift to contribute. (Robert)
Sat. AM: Who leads the local church? Study on elders. (Danny)
Sat. PM: Conclusion – Search the Scriptures. (Nathan) & Questions and Answers (Danny and Robert)

On Sunday morning, Charles taught Bible class and Danny preached on “the mission of God.” Sunday afternoon, Jordan met with the women of the church while Danny, Nathan and I met with a smaller group of men to discuss the relationship between our friends from 2006/2008 and the new ICA congregation.

Jordan and two ICA "Mamas"

On Monday, we returned to Huambo with (thankfully!) better weather and dryer roads. The journey lasted just over 10 hours.

The journey was well worth the struggle. We were encouraged by our time with the congregation. Many leaders asked thoughtful questions and wrestled with the Scriptures we shared. They showed genuine interest and desire to understand God’s Word concerning the church. This young congregation has already (before our visit) assisted in the planting of three other churches in the area. We will return to visit these other church plants in June with several leaders from Luanda. The Luena congregation is a vibrant group of believers and we look forward to future visits and opportunities to study God’s Word alongside them.

Click here to see more pictures of the trip.

Cross-Cultural Travels, part 2

This 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. congregations in Uige province.

Click here to see pictures of the whole trip

Day Four: Rural Shift

We left Uige and headed north, passing through Negage and pausing to pick up Pastor Domingos. Once outside of Negage, any signs of urban life disappeared. Crop fields surrounded us on all sides and we encountered many herds of goats or pigs crossing the road.

We stopped first in the small village of Bungo and visited the congregation composed of about 15 adults. Banda delivered his sermon and then invited the members to share their perspective on the health of the congregation in Bungo. Afterward, Banda had a private meeting with the pastor, Manuel Dombas, while the rest of us explored the vast plot of land that the government had given to the church in that community. Papa Luavo – our agricultural specialist – began to dream of what the church could do with a small start-up fund and some teamwork. For the remainder of the trip, we talked often about his ideas for agricultural development among the I.C.A. congregations of Uige. Once Banda and Pastor Dombas concluded their chat, we shared a meal of the usual fare and venison [read: bush meat] – by far the tastiest meat we ate on the trip.

The Bungo church

Some of our hosts outside Pastor Dombas's home

We said goodbye and traveled a short distance up the road to the next congregation in Quipanzo Mucanza. A group of about 50 men and women were waiting enthusiastically outside the building, singing loudly to welcome us. We joined them for a lively worship service, culminating in Banda’s sermon once more, and a period of time for the members to share their concerns about the church. We had a meal with Pastor Bernardo and other leaders of the congregation and then rushed off for our final destination, now running several hours behind schedule.

After several hours on the road, we arrived in Damba, which would serve as our base of operations for the next few days. Due to the late hour of our arrival, our planned meeting with the congregation’s leaders was cancelled, but many of the members had remained at the building to greet us. We were all tired from the days’ journey and asked for a light meal so we could retire soon. (They were prepared to offer us another feast, which would have been our third large meal of the day.) We prepared to sleep on the soft dirt floor of the church building, lined with straw mats on which we placed our sleeping bags. The American travelers later agreed that this was the most comfortable bed we had on the trip. As we drifted off to sleep, we realized that the church members were not leaving. They had all brought their own mats and blankets and joined us on the church floor for a large slumber party in our honor.


Day Five: Damba

In the morning, we woke and each delegate carried out his morning ritual. A number of the I.C.A. leaders “run” on most mornings, which for them means that they select two points about three meters apart and jog between them ten times. The rest of us got our exercise by walking about two kilometers to the river for a bath. We returned for our breakfast and then left for our appointments with the Damba pastor, Afonso Bula.

We went directly to the office of the municipal administrator. While we waited outside her office, we encountered a new traveling companion, Jonas, who had traveled from Luanda to meet up with us and replace one of the other delegates who had been unable to come. Jonas added a lively personality to the group. He enjoys travel and had Nathan take a special photo of him at each of the congregations we visited.

Our traveling companion, Jonas

Our traveling companion, Jonas

After a short meeting with the municipal administrator (comprised of the usual greetings and formalities), we met also with the local Ministry of Culture official. Then we made a special visit to the local office of the M.P.L.A. (ruling government party) to visit an old colleague of Banda’s, but unfortunately he was no longer stationed in that office. We proceeded to the National Radio station, took the tour, and Banda recorded another brief interview.

On the way back to the church building we paused at the local market. Nathan discovered several women selling handfuls of small caterpillars and asked the nearest I.C.A. delegate if they were sold for eating. That question sealed our fate, and cooked caterpillars featured on our menu later that evening. I walked around the market with Pastor Bula and was impressed by the interactions he had with various venders, whom he obviously knew well. Before leaving the market, Nathan and I each bought apples for $1 apiece in hopes of easing our digestion.

At the church building we worshiped with the Damba congregation, including all the usual components (Banda’s sermon on Nehemiah 1, etc.). They welcomed the delegation warmly and afterwards we all shared a meal. Each American was coaxed into trying one caterpillar. I wish I could say they tasted like chicken … After dinner we had some time to relax and chat before laying out our mats and falling asleep.


Day Six: Barnyard Bounty

The day’s itinerary consisted of visits to four congregations stretched out across the road running east of town. We saw few other vehicles on the road and passed through a number of small settlements with their mud huts set amongst fields of crops.

Our first stop was in one of these villages, Kinkadi, where we met Pastor Pindi António and another enthusiastic group of about 15 believers. They sang and cheered as we pulled up next to the church. We entered the building and Banda led our usual service. After our ceremonial exit of the building (the visitors exit first while the congregation sings, and then stop just outside the door to shake everyone’s hand in procession), a boy emerged from the village leading a goat by a rope. Pastor Pindi presented the goat to us as a gift. As we would pass through this village on our return journey that day, we decided to leave the goat with them until the evening.

Kinkadi Church

Celebrating our arrival

Pastor Pindi joined us for the rest of our visits that day. The next congregation, in Kissaco, had created an arch of branches and flowers at the entrance and exit to the village as part of their welcome to us. Danny drove the Land Cruiser slowly through the arch. The vehicle just managed to clear the portal and we reached our arms outside the windows to steady the braches as we passed through. The congregation received us with enthusiasm. We had a slightly abbreviated version of our program followed by a meal prepared in our honor at the home of Pastor Pedro Kaleia. We departed with nearly as much fanfare as when we arrived.

At the midway point between this village and the next, we stopped at an old fort, high on a hill, to meet with the Community Administrator who oversees the villages in the region. Shortly before we reached the fort, we passed a man driving a motorcycle with a female passenger. As we passed, they turned around to follow us. The passenger was our next appointment, and – as we were running late – she had been on her way home for lunch. She was the Assistant Administrator, Vinda Mavembo, (the Administrator was on holiday) and she received us with the customary greetings. A handful of other lesser officials joined the meeting, as our arrival was likely the most interesting of the week’s events. After introductions and explaining the purpose of our visit, we were off again.

By this point in our day – as with most days – we were running several hours behind schedule. We only briefly stopped at the next church building (in the village of Kula), where we learned that the members had already gone on ahead of us to our fourth and final stop. We piled back into the vehicles and drove to Kangani, where we found all the church members, Pastor Kinyenga (of Kula), and Pastor Fadula (of Kangani) gathered to receive us. After another worship service and a large meal, we gathered again around the cars and said goodbye. The church members presented us with a second goat, a bunch of bananas, and a 50-lb sack of cassava. Danny loaded the goat onto his roof rack, Nathan stuffed the sack of cassava into the back of his car with a few of the extra passengers who were hitching a ride, and we began the return journey.

Danny loads a goat on the roof

Danny loads a goat on the roof

The goat did not enjoy the ride. He bleated and kicked with each bump. After just a short distance and a particularly hard bump, the goat’s hind legs broke free of their bonds and swung down to hand directly in front of the rear passenger window. The passengers heard a loud bleat, a thud, and then saw the underbelly of a goat blocking our view of the countryside. I laughed loudly for several minutes. Danny immediately stopped and climbed onto the roof rack to tie the goat more securely. After we were underway again, I explained to the other passengers that events that seem only somewhat unusual to them often strike us as completely beyond our imagination. I had never pictured myself traveling through the Angolan countryside with a goat strapped to the roof. They all laughed with me.

After passing the government fort, we saw the Education Secretary (whom we had met earlier) walking home. We stopped, offered him a ride, and had some interesting conversation about life as a government official in rural areas. We stopped to let him off at his home in the next town. In Kissaco, several passengers remained and we picked up a new family, a second sack of cassava, and a chicken. Danny loaded the goat with the first on the roof and I set the chicken on top of some luggage in the back of the car. The remainder of the trip was a cacophony of bleats, clucks, and my quiet laughter.

goat and chicken

In Kinkadi, we added the second goat and a third sack of cassava. We said goodbye to Pastor Pindi. We arrived back in Damba after dark. The goats were led off to pasture and someone took the sacks of cassava to be ground into powder. We would pick up our bounty again on our way back to Luanda.

Coming tomorrow: Days Seven through Ten, including a visit to the first I.C.A. church in Angola and “gift shopping” for our wives.

Building my RAFT

Recently, while at my parents’ house, I picked up a copy of the book The Third Culture Kid Experience: Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollack and Ruth E. Van Reken (Intercultural Press, 1999). It is a wonderful book, which I highly recommend to anyone who is a TCK* or is raising a TCK. One of the authors, Dave Pollack, came to Kenya when I was a senior in high school to do a weekend Reentry Seminar with all the graduating seniors at Rosslyn Academy. It was something he did every year at the time, trying to give all of us who were getting ready to leave Kenya and head off to college the tools both to leave well and to enter the new phase of our lives well.

There is one tool that has stuck with me through the years, through all of the many transitions I have faced, and that is the idea of building a “RAFT.” To quote from the book:

The easiest way to remember what’s needed for healthy closure is to imagine building a raft. By lashing four basic “logs” together, we will be able to keep the raft afloat and get safely to the other side.

R – Reconciliation

A – Affirmation

F – Farewell

T – Thinking Ahead (Pollack and Van Reken, p. 200)

It struck me as I was reading through the entire section on RAFT-building that this is what I need to do with the Angola Team. Although we never actually lived in Angola, we invested four years of our lives in preparing to go there and closure is needed. We spent a month traveling all over Angola on a survey trip; we logged countless miles traveling to team meetings and MRN training seminars; we fundraised; we spent months trying to master Portuguese, commonly acknowledged as the most difficult of the Romantic languages. But beyond the time and the money we invested in preparing for service in Angola, we invested in relationships with our teammates. And this is what grieves me most about our separation from the team, what grieves me most about any transition – the loss of relationships. Or, more specifically, the loss of the “daily-ness” inherent in those relationships. We are still friends, but our friendships are now the long-distance kind. We aren’t intimately involved in each other’s everyday lives anymore.

This, then, is my attempt at RAFT-building, such as it is. I like to consider myself a writer; at the very least, I am a person who finds it easiest to express myself through the written word. It has taken me months to get to a place where I felt like I could even attempt to give voice to my jumbled thoughts, and I am so thankful for the words of Pollack’s book that finally gave me the needed framework on which to pin them. It isn’t perfect by any means. But I needed to write it before I get on a plane for Ecuador next week.

R – Reconciliation

“Reconciliation includes both the need to forgive and to be forgiven.” (Pollack and Van Reken, p. 201)

I am so very thankful that, as we’ve walked this road, the Angola Team has supported and affirmed us every step of the way. In my mind, they have walked that very fine line between expressing sadness to see us go and at the same time encouraging us in our new direction. Disappointment without pressure to reconsider; support with sincerity, not poorly concealed bitterness and anger. This isn’t always the way, and I have watched from afar as other teams have fractured, split apart, friendships soured and the Christian witness severely compromised. I am so very thankful that this is not our story, and it is my hope that the way we have all handled this process has been an example to many of how these types of situations can be handled in a way that still honors and glorifies God. Angola Team: Thank you, from the very depths of our hearts. Please forgive us for any hurt, disappointment, discouragement we have caused you by this decision. Believe me when I say that my own heart breaks when I consider that so many of the dreams we shared of working and raising our families alongside one another will not now be realized.

A – Affirmation

“Part of good closure is acknowledging our blessings – both to rejoice in them and to properly mourn their passing.” (Pollack and Van Reken, p. 201)

Over the last few months, I’ve struggled to make sense of the last four years in light of our complete change in direction. It’s very easy to see it all as a waste… a waste of time, of money, of effort. And yet when I consider all that we’ve gained from our association with the Angola Team, I can only be enormously grateful. Our years together have been such an important part of Rusty’s and my formation for service and ministry, and we will carry with us many of the ideas, strategies, and processes that we worked to craft together over the last few years into our new ministry in Ecuador. And beyond that, we have gained friends whom we now count among our closest and dearest in the world, and of course made many wonderful memories together that I will always cherish. Angola Team: We are grateful for the part you have played and continue to play in our lives and our children’s lives. As we walked the sometimes rocky path of team formation, of preparation for ministry, and finally of separation, you gave us the rare gift of knowing our struggles, our failings, our weaknesses, yet loving and supporting us anyway. Thank you for this.

F – Farewell

“Farewells to significant people in our lives are crucial.” (Pollack and Van Reken, p. 202)

I’ll be honest – this is the step that I am having the most difficulty with right now. Goodbyes to people who matter so much to you should be said in person, not on paper (or in an email or a blog post). When the team left for Angola last July, the Ecuador opportunity had yet to present itself to us. We saw them off at the airport in a “see you in a few months” kind of way, not a “goodbye and have a nice life” kind of way. It’s like an emotional loose end is still dangling out there, and I’m not quite sure how to tie it up. While part of me would like nothing better than to jump on a plane and fly to Angola for a few days just so I could hug all their necks and say all these things in person, another part of me recognizes the logistical and financial impracticality of such a trip. I think this is a big part of the reason why I needed to write this – to say the farewell I didn’t get to say nine months ago.  Angola Team: Goodbye for now. I fully expect that we will see each other again, and I hope that our paths will cross frequently despite being an ocean apart! Until then, we will follow your adventures from afar as I’m sure you will ours. We miss you so much and pray God’s richest blessings on each one of you. I don’t think I will ever play Settlers of Catan, celebrate the holidays, sing “I Am a Sheep,” go camping, make a pot of chai, or remember our time in Portugal without thinking of all of you. We love you!

T – Thinking Ahead

“Even as we are saying the good-byes and processing the sad reality of those good-byes, we need to think realistically about our destination.” (Pollack and Van Reken, p. 204)

And now finally, we reach the point in the process where we are to turn our thoughts toward our new destination. It sounds simple enough, and I suppose for some people it is. However, for me, this time, it has been anything but simple. I struggled for a long time to really visualize what life in Angola would look like for our family. Actually, just as I was starting to feel like I was doing better about “thinking ahead” in regards to Angola, we were in the process of deciding to go to Ecuador instead! The last few months have required a huge mental shift for me as I try to “think ahead” now to a new continent, new country, new people, new language, new work, new teammates, and the list goes on. This passage from Isaiah has become one of my mainstays when I’m tempted to dwell on the past, to wonder about all the “what if’s”:

This is what God says,
the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
who carves a path through pounding waves…
“Forget about what’s happened;
don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
rivers in the badlands. (Isaiah 43: 16, 18-19, MSG)

Angola Team: There is so much more that I could say! You are all so very dear to us, and you will always carry a part of our hearts with you. In one week, I will board a plane bound for Ecuador in South America. I am doing my best to “be present” and “think ahead,” but as that plane takes off, I think a small part of me will still be wishing that we were flying to Angola instead.

*TCK – Third Culture Kid, a person who is spending or has spent a significant portion of their childhood living abroad, in countries or cultures other than their own

Cross-Cultural Travels, part 1

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


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



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)

Our Unexpected Expected Approval

Friday June 10th was Portugal Day, a national holiday. Sunday June 12th was a religious holiday that many Portuguese celebrate by staying up all night eating sardines. Each year the church here in Lisbon spends this extended weekend by holding a sort of prayer vigil. This year the prayer meeting lasted through Thursday and Friday nights. For about 36 hours we took turns praying in shifts and praying together as a church. (It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Portugal long enough to have participated in this event twice now.) Among the things that we prayed about was that our team would receive our visas for Angola. Our team intended to arrive in Angola in January, but it seems that neither the Angolan government nor God had the same timing in mind. So we have remained here in Portugal improving our language skills, working with the church, and preparing for our arrival in Angola so we can hit the ground running.

Last night I was exhausted after a long weekend of praying and very little sleep, yet I somehow found myself in downtown Lisbon with friends from church. We were surrounded by thousands of people, the smell of sardines cooking on the grill, and the sound of traditional Fado music blasting. Talk about sensory overload! As I was picking tiny little bones out of my teeth, my teammate Robert called. He said that our friend Júlia from the Consulate in Houston had called on Friday (note: this was during the prayer vigil), but he and his family had been in the Algarve in Southern Portugal so he did not get the message until they returned home late last night. Júlia had called to tell him that all of our visas were ready, except for his, and that his visa would be ready later this week.

With the news from Robert I didn’t really even know what to say. I’m still in a bit of a state of shock and I still smell like sardines. (The smell seems to last forever.) I have been so eager to get to Angola for so long now, but have constantly run into one obstacle after another. Progress has been one baby-step at a time. But now the clock is ticking. I have until a certain date to arrive in Angola or my visa will expire. The door is wide open all of a sudden and I honestly don’t know what to think or how I feel. God is starting a new chapter in my life which is both exciting and frightening at the same time. It also means another chapter in my life is about to close. My time in Portugal has been one of the most blessed times of my life and I will always remember it fondly. On top of that, every time I smell a sardine cooking I will remember how God is faithful and answers prayer.


Robert Reflects on Public Speaking in a New Language

I am intimidated by public speaking, though few people know it. I have come a long way in my “pulpit presence.” I remember well the first devotional I gave. I was eighteen years old and was asked to deliver a five minute biblical message at our monthly youth devotional for our youth group of about fifteen teens. I had a whole week to prepare. I chose my passage, wrote out my thoughts, and rehearsed them in front of a mirror every day. At the devotional, when it was time for me to deliver my message, I stood up, panicked, read my passage in a quiet, timid voice, managed to blurt out a one sentence interpretation of the text, and sat down. In the moment, I could not recall any of the thoughts that I had rehearsed.

I have always been drawn to the thought of preaching and teaching. I enjoy sharing a Scripture and expounding on its application to our lives. But the actual act of preaching and teaching has always been another matter. In my first semester at Harding, I took “Speech” – a required course. I skipped both days I had a speech due and hid in my room, quivering with nervous anxiety. I had to deliver both speeches on the following class day – or fail the course – and, ironically, I received an excellent grade on both orations (which was then discounted a letter grade, of course, for being turned in late). Two years later, in my first preaching course, I would practice my sermons in front of my roommates to prepare me for the presentation before the whole class. After one of these sermons, I watched the video recording with Teague.  As I rewound the tape she remarked, “You’re moving your arms so much in the same motion that you look like a hummingbird!” I had a lot of nervous energy. In my senior year, I was invited to lead singing in chapel in front of 3,000 people. During the first song, my right leg began to quiver so violently that it must have looked to those seated on stage behind me as if I was stomping the beat. I was worried they would throw me off the stage for feeling too much of “the Spirit!”

After 9 years of ministry, more than 50 sermons for audiences between 15 and 500, and hundreds of Bible classes taught, I still get nervous when I speak to a crowd. The real difference is that I’ve become much better at hiding it (no more quaking legs and arms taking flight). I’m thankful for those that encouraged me by saying my fear of public speaking should not dissuade me from pursuing ministry. With practice and a good amount of coaching from various mentors, God helped me overcome this obstacle. I enjoy teaching and preaching now, in most cases, and I believe God has given me some strengths well-suited to these acts of ministry.

A new language introduces a new emotional dynamic to the act of public speaking. Each of us on the team worries about our pronunciation, whether we are using the most appropriate words to describe what we mean, or if our attempts at humor will translate well into Portuguese. My nervousness toward preaching has taken a new shape. I’ve had about twenty opportunities over the last year to deliver a message – of varying lengths – to a Portuguese audience. I address my worries about public speaking in a new language by writing out, word for word, exactly what I will say and reading through the script with our language teacher and usually one other Portuguese friend. It’s a great blessing to have a patient teacher and friends!

With each presentation, I grow a little more comfortable with this new challenge. In my first dozen or so speaking opportunities, I read from the page and my eye contact with the audience was sparse. I also tend to talk faster when I am nervous. I read through my first sermon – which lasted 13 minutes when I rehearsed it – in just under nine minutes before the congregation. But as I’ve grown confident in the language, I have gradually used my script less and become more comfortable paraphrasing or inserting unrehearsed comments. I have slowed down to be sure I emphasize the points I wish to make, which in turn helps with pronunciation. I also realize that a mispronounced word or two can actually enhance the delivery of a message. People see that we are human, that we make mistakes, and we are trying hard to communicate in their own language. In fact, I’ve received my best feedback after the messages where I used my notes less and made more errors.

It’s insightful and fun to look back at “how far I’ve come” in my development as a preacher. I see God’s guiding hand throughout the process and I look forward to where he leads me in the future. It’s an intimidating road at times, but I find confidence in the knowledge that God uses us, his “jars of clay, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (1 Corinthians 4:7).