MWC Angola visit inspiring, troubling
Parents and children or brothers and sisters?By Ron Rempel Mennonite World Conference
Struggling with poverty and loose connections to the wider Anabaptist world, Mennonites in Angola reached out to their “mother and father” when a recent Mennonite World Conference delegation made a visit.
“Come and visit us,” urged Angolan representatives during the May 2012 MWC General Council meeting in Switzerland. They said they felt isolated and abandoned after the end of Mennonite Central Committee programming a decade ago and after some leadership struggles.
The MWC Africa Caucus, together with MCC, responded to the invitation with a visit April 13-30, followed by another delegation the first week of September. The purpose, according to Deacons Commission secretary Henk Stenvers of the Netherlands, was to listen to and assure members that they are an important part of MWC.
The delegation, which included MWC vice president Janet Plenert of Canada and Enock Shamapani of Zambia, a member of the Deacons Commission, was impressed with the faith and “vision of the leaders, the dedication of the teachers and their focus on what they had, much more than on what they didn’t have,” Plenart said.
At the same time, delegation members felt overwhelmed and troubled by requests for assistance, which seemed to assume the full solution to needs would come from outside the country.
In a worship service early in their visit, delegation members emphasized they came as brothers and sisters, not as a mother or father to the Angolan churches. Later in the week, noted Plenert, “a youth leader publicly stated that in spite of what we had preached on Sunday … we are their mother and father whether we like it or not because Mennonite is [originally] a white European and North American church. He said that we know our history and are responsible to teach it to them and provide for them because we brought them this church.”
Plenert said the comment stung. In response, she referred to the church as “a body of many members, not a hierarchy of historic ownership.” Referring to her own experience of joining the Mennonite church although not raised in a Mennonite home, she added, “We are all adopted in, gentiles who by grace are part of the people of God.”
The delegation met with leaders of four Mennonite conferences. Three are MWC members. The four conferences have more than 200 congregations and about 18,800 baptized members, plus numerous adherents.
One of the challenges facing Angolan churches, reported the delegation, is the marginalization of former refugees (regressados) who fled to Congo and other neighboring countries during Angola’s long civil war from 1975 to 2002 and then decided to go back home. Those who stayed in Angola and survived the war often refused to accept those who had fled and returned.
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