Saturday, August 6, 2011

Teaching in Waku Kungo, Angola, part 3 –

This is “part 3” of my report about my trip to Waku Kungo, Angola. I want to share some stories about our time there.

First, it was wonderful to get to worship with the Congregational church in Waku Kungo for four Sundays in a row. I have worshiped in I.E.C.A. churches several times before, but, exactly because of the presence of a guest from the U.S., those were always slightly special, unusual services. This time, I got to experience what a “normal” Sunday felt like. Because the population of Angola as a whole is so young, the church is mostly young people. At least half of the people in worship are under age 25. At one service they recognized the “older” members of the congregation – those over 60 – and only seven or eight people (out of about 400) stood, a reflection of the fact that average life expectancy in Angola is about 45. The services normally last 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours, and yes, the children, the small children, including two and three year olds, remain for the entire service. The great majority of the service is singing – singing by different church choirs (children’s choir, youth choir, young adult choir, married adult choir women’s choir), and by the whole congregation. I think the music is best described as a combination of an “African sound” and contemporary American praise music. Because the pastors serve so many churches (maybe eight on average), the service, including prayers and preaching, is almost always led by members of the church.

As I have described after previous visits to Angola, the real center-piece of the whole worship service is the offering. Each week, every member goes forward to a special box in which they place their offering. The music reaches its most joyous and raucous tone, and the people often do a shuffling dance as they go forward, in effect providing, with their feet, the percussion line of the music. At one service while we were there it took 35 minutes to complete the offering! They truly see it as a great privilege to be able to offer something to God, and thus they give with real joy. It is really quite amazing, emotionally and theologically.

Second, while I was there I asked our class of adult students what they thought about the future of Angola. They are very realistic about the challenges they face. They immediately raise the big issues: lack of education, health care and clean water, government corruption, and over reliance on oil money. But they see the poor condition of their country and economy as primarily due to the 27 year civil war: “We are just nine years away from war.” They understand that progress on the basic issues will take time. I asked if they were hopeful about the future, and every one of them said “yes.” Honestly, and oddly, I truly get the impression that they are more hopeful about the future of their country than many people in our country are about the future of the United States. In a sense, they believe they have no where to go but up, and so are hopeful. We have so much that we often think mainly about what we might lose. I believe there is a connection between this difference, and the difference in our giving in worship. Think about it!

Third, I want to say something about two significant needs I talked about with our church partners while I was there. With six classrooms, the school is able to educate about 500 young people who would otherwise receive little or no education. But there is still great need for more classroom space in Waku Kungo – thousands of children do not have access to school. They have already laid the foundation for two classrooms, which would enable them to education about another 200 students. The cost of those two rooms would be about $25,000.

We also talked about the need for a well that would provide clean water. The church (and school) are located in an area of the town they themselves call “the slum.” This is intentional, as “the poor” are the majority of the church, and they want to serve those in greatest need. People in the neighborhood around the church (the neighborhood is called “Cassinda”) do not have easy access to clean water for drinking and other uses. They regularly drink water that makes them sick, especially the children, who get cholera and deadly diarrhea. I don’t know the rate for Waku Kungo, but nationwide, about 20 out of every 100 children die before age five, in part because of the difficulty of obtaining clean water. The neighborhood around the church needs a well to provide clean water. In areas with access to clean water children are much healthier. Their best estimate seems to be that a well would cost about $15,000.

I am going to be talking to the Mission Board of my congregation and others to see if I can help organize some response to these two serious needs.

In late September or early October, I will be making a presentation to my congregation about our trip, complete with pictures and video. And I’ll be happy to talk about it with anyone. Just ask!

Grace and peace,



Karen said...

Mike, this was a fascinating report. What do you think compels so many young people to attend church in Angola, when churches in developed countries have such a hard time attracting them? I hope you share your photos and video on your web site in addition to with your congregation.

Mike Solberg said...

Hi Karen. Well, this is just my speculation, but I would say that the the plethora of young people is due to four things: demographics, social attraction, family dynamics, and the hope of the Christian faith.

Demographics: I think I mentioned in one of the reports that Angola is a young country. Half the population is under age 18! So there are just lots of young people in general, and thus lots of young people in church.

Social attraction: in Angola, the church just doesn't have the "competition" it has in the U.S. and other more economically developed countries. Young people don't have 5000 options of what to outside their school hours, nor have the money to do other things. Church is a way for them to be together in a somewhat, but not overly, organized environment.

Family dynamics: divorce is still rare in Angola, and very rare outside the capital, Luanda. We taught about 50 kids, and I don't think a single one of them had divorced parents. I think it is safe to say that kids with both parents in the home are more likely to participate in church. Plus, kids don't "grow up" (a misnomer for sure) as quickly as they do here. They are more likely to do what their parents say/expect of them when it comes to things like church.

Hope: the church in Angola (at least I.E.C.A., the congregational church) offers a wonderful message of hope to young people, the hope of being loved by God even in the midst of difficulty, and the hope that following a healthy life, a "godly" life, will improve your life practically, and make you better able to contribute to the up building of society. The worship service each week certainly embodies the hope of the gospel, especially in its music, and I think that message really, although somewhat unconsciously, gets through to young people. Besides, the worship service on Sunday is often the "best show in town," and so it is just interesting enough to keep people coming.

At least that's how I see it. I am not sure what the Angolans would say. I think they might emphasize the family thing more than I do?

I hope you are well, Karen! Istanbul still?

Peace, Mike