Reflections on Angola
Angola is no place for pantywaists. Angola is a place for tough people ... unselfish people ... and, above all, committed people. Any volunteers? We could use half a dozen missionary couples ... but before you take your two steps forward, think hard. This place calls for toughness.
By tough I don't mean "leathery" tough. I am not talking about uncouth people with thick skins ... or, for that matter, people who merely "stick it out." Though surviving is certainly a part of it.
Neither am I talking about adverse environment... about amenities ... about Western gadgets ... or about "doing without." Those are conditions that soldiers, business people, geologists, explorers, and all kinds of dedicated people accept gladly as part of their assignment. Trivia really, and not worth mentioning.
Speaking of trivia, I just came out of the bathroom ... for the third time in two hours. Diarrhea! Fortunately the first two times there was still water in the five gallon plastic buckets that make up our water supply. City water comes on two or three times a day, but you have to be alert and catch it while it's running. If you are quick, you can fill the bathtub and the buckets and be set for another few hours of bucket flushing. Trivia. But, bordering on traumatic for the one who had the bad fortune of following me. I had used the last water from the last bucket on my last trip!
I did get a shower this morning by getting up early. Someone beat me to it yesterday, so I skipped bathing and went heavy on the underarm stuff and scented powder. No one seemed to notice. But this morning was different. There was a trickle coming out of the shower head, and by gyrating energetically under the drip, I succeeded in getting wet all over. It stopped trickling once just as I was all lathered up, and I had visions of spending the day in foamy underwear. But then the trickle re-trickled and I was able to towel off water instead of soap. Nice trivia!
The one who followed wasn't so lucky. He arrived just after the water gave up for good and had to settle for a "tin-can-of-water-over-the-head" job!
Am I boring you with trivia? There's lots of it around to talk about if that's what you want to spend your time doing.
Bread has been scarce. That would be trivia talk. Actually we've been eating pretty high on the crust... peanut butter ... jam and old margarine washed down with "half-mud" and "half-milk" coffee isn't half bad. Tastes good, actually, only you tend to overdo it. Too much trivia can make you fat!
Enough of trivia! There are 11 of us who have come to Angola to do a tough job.
We are preachers, teachers, architects, constructionists, wives, and kids. We've got a Bible school to build, a general council to preach, potential students to test, and a lot of planning for the partnership of the American and Angolan churches that will mean the evangelization of this great country. A tough task!
Of course, we live with trivia even while doing our tough task. It's all around us. We count a slow 9 before the elevator moves. There are no lights in the elevator ... haven't been for 10 years. There is litter everywhere in the streets. Broken windows in every building. Listless loiterers wander around with little to do. The economy is bankrupt. The only thing prospering is the military.
Every secluded comer smells of urine. But why not? The public facilities haven't worked for years. The cars are old and decrepit. Most of the buildings need painting. Piles of twisted lamp poles lie on vacant lots where they've been thrown after having been knocked over by errant drivers. The carcasses of wrecked cars line the streets and alleys. The garbage containers have long since disappeared beneath uncollected piles of fermenting refuse. A fellow missionary's bed collapsed under him the first night, and his bottom hit the floor when he sat down on it (I refer to the bed, of course, not his bottom). Our containers with our building supplies haven't arrived, and they failed to stamp some of our passports right... but, that's all trivia ... nothing that really matters or counts. We've come to do a job, and we're going to do it!
So, what are we doing that's not trivia? What makes our coming here so all-important?
Well, you softies, close your ears ... you wouldn't be interested in what I am about to say ... but I've got 11 witnesses to the fact that life consisteth not of the abundance of things a man possesseth and that there are deep-seated satisfactions that come when a man or a woman unselfishly gives the Kingdom of heaven his best shot!
For instance, we've got a businessman out of Texas ... and no fly-by-night one either. He owns the corporation. So, what's a corporation owner doing in Angola? I'll tell you what he is doing. He's driven. Driven by a burden to do something significant for God. He is not here for trivia. That's for sure. If he wants trivia there is plenty of it where he came from. I'll bet he has a beautiful house in Texas. I'll bet his faucets work. I'll bet his toilet flushes. I'll bet the grass on his lawn is green with no piles of garbage on it. I'll bet the windows in his house aren't broken. I'll bet the tools in his workshop are of the best quality and are in good working order. And I'll bet he can find anything he needs in a dozen different stores in his Texas town. So what in the wide world makes this businessman come all this way to Angola and swing a pick ax in the hot sun with his only pay a bowl of soup?
Let me tell you again. He is driven ... driven by desire ... driven by the knowledge that he is needed ... driven by an inner urge to do something about what he believes in.
And then there is the area representative to Central Africa ... another driven man.
His kind ought to wear double-breasted suits and bow ties, but not this man. His was the dirtiest and sweatiest shirt of the crew! He is leading the 11 by example ... in one hand a set of plans and in the other a shovel. He has a dream ... a Bible school overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on 65 acres of ground ... and if he has his way, the foundations will be in and the walls up in 10 days' time. Trivia is all around him, but he doesn't see it. What he sees is that Bible school where preachers can be prepared to evangelize Angola.
And I could go on and on. We have two that will teach in the school. They will live in the midst of trivia, but they'll put up with it and do their best to ignore it. Tough people. They'll zero in on the all important and train those who will be the trainers of others.
We have the testing expert. He is examining pastors to find their reading levels so we can develop a curriculum that will fit their need.
Then there is the one "borrowed" from Portugal to give advice and counsel on the layout of the school.
Oh, we have a team all right. Even the kids are in on it. Don't sell them short. I've been watching them. I haven't heard them complain. I don't think they know there is a shortage of water. I don't think they see the litter, the potholes, the broken windows, or the derelict city. All they see is what their parents see ... opportunity ... excitement... God working ... and things happening!
And me? Well, I watch.
I find my eyes watering a bit from time to time with deep joy. I work with my interpreter who makes my ramblings understandable to a marvelous group of ministers ... many of whom walked great distances to attend this general council. Every day I teach them in the morning session, and every day I thank God that we are not talking trivia. We are dealing with eternal issues.
But, it's the Angolans who get to me.
These are the people who live here. These are the people who stand in line to get enough food to survive. These are the people under a Marxist government. These are the people who know the difference between trivia and reality. They are the spiritually tough ones.
Come with me to one of the meetings. Look at their faces. See the joy. See the peace. See the Kingdom qualities in their lives. These Angolans, who have suffered so much, know values our people in affluent America do not know. They know there is more to the kingdom of God than meat and drink. I've heard no "testimonies of torture." I've heard no accounts of "hard times." I’ve heard no appeals for "justice" ... for "liberation" ... or for the "wrath of God" upon their oppressors.
They live righteously in a totalitarian situation. They have peace in the midst of chaos. They have joy unspeakable and full of glory.
The Angolans are my inspiration.
They are the ones who bring tears to my eyes, for they are living proof of what I believe. There is a kingdom of joy and peace that trivia cannot destroy.
Thank you, my brothers and sisters of Angola, for teaching me to let trivia be trivia; and kingdom be kingdom!