Thursday, October 18, 2012

"We Are Not Islands Unto Ourselves"

Bishop’s Malaria Log – 5

October 17 No new mosquito bites today!
9 pm Luanda Pill #9

Traveling Mercies

Wednesday morning we said good-bye to our friends from United Methodist Communications:  Rev. Gary Henderson, Shari Altland and Mike Dubose.  Gary lives in Nashville, where he heads up the Imagine No Malaria campaign at UMCOM.  Shari lives in in Golden, Colorado, and is working with leaders in Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone and other Annual Conferences as they plan to help The United Methodist Church raise $75 million to continue to fight Malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.  Mike was the group photographer.  We all snapped pictures, but he is the artist that captured the spirit and the flavor of our mission. 

We pray safe travel for them as they head home to their families.  We can all say that it was pure joy to get to know them and that we count them as friends.  Our whole church, and each of our churches is blessed by their faithfulness and their professionalism. 

Slave Museum

South of Luanda on the peaceful coast of Angola a white stucco building with red tile roof perches on a rock bluff above the Atlantic Ocean.  It was a Catholic church once; a gathering place for people who were snatched from their homes and villages, to be exported as slaves to the new world.  In the chapel of the building priests forcibly baptized these captives before sending them into slavery, or worse, death on the dangerous passage. 

Baptismal Font
On the walls of the museum were copies of period lithographs depicting the physical abuse of these captives. 

Our group includes people who represent White Americans, African Americans and Africans.  Our very relationships with one another are rooted in this tragic history. 

After soberly viewing the images and the artifacts in the museum, we shared precious moments of prayer and song.

Kyrie Eleison.  Lord have mercy.

Christ the Lord is risen today.

Burl and the President
Former basketball coach and player

The bishop’s assistant picked up Burl Kreps this morning at 6:30 am before picking up Bishop Domingos for their meeting with Angolan President Santos.  When Burl returned at the end of the day he led us moment by moment through the drama of their day. 
·     Security check points at the former Governor’s Palace. 
·     Guards at attention. 
·     Waiting in a reception room. 
·     Finally, led through an inner room, up a set of stairs, where a TV crew is waiting.
·     A door opens. 
·     The president comes out and greets them.

And then he described his conversation with the President. 

Burl to President Santos:  One more time.
President to Burl:  Yes, it’s good to see you again.
Burl to President:  One reason I hoped to see you is I have some pictures.  I’m pretty sure this is you.
President:  I think so, too.
Burl to us:  Somebody said it would be nice if I signed it.  So I wrote, “To my favorite student of basketball.” And I signed it “Coach.” Then we recalled that when the black boys played against the white boys, we – the black team – were winning.  We had some pretty good players.
President to Burl:  Yah, we had a pretty good coach, too.

Burl and Bishop Domingos were able to tell President Santos about Imagine No Malaria and the net distribution and about the new United Methodist Radio Station. 

At dinner in the hotel restaurant this evening, Bishop Brown blurted, “There’s Burl on TV.”   There, on government TV was Burl and Bishop Domingos with the President and then in an interview afterward.  The broadcast was in Portuguese, so we don’t know what they said, but we were so very glad this door between the church and the government was opened today.  So grateful that Burl got his visa and was able to come on the trip.  So grateful that God led Burl to Angola 57 years ago.  No-one could have seen then what would come of those relationships.

Got on my traveling shoes. . .

In the morning we’ll pack up, eat breakfast, take a quick walk on the beach and get dropped at the airport for the long journey home.  Luanda –> Brussels –> Washington Dulles –> Denver.  And on to Durango and Great Falls for Robin and Margaret.   A journey from Thursday to Friday.  We’ll fall into the embrace of our loved ones.  And they will wonder what has happened to us.  Like youth coming home from camp.

We left American.  But we’ll return at least a little Angolan.

That’s the wonder of life in the household of God.  We are not islands unto ourselves.  We are not rugged individualists.  We are relational.  We are touched and changed by every relationship.  At our best, we soak up the best of what we encounter and carry it with us into the rest of our lives.  In Jesus Christ we have learned that we don’t have to be just one thing.  We can be many things.  We can be American and Angolan and Russian and Tongan and Nigerian and Brazilian and old and young and serious and playful and poetic and precise.  We can bridge distances through love and grace.  When we do, it is God at work in us and through us, transforming the world by making disciples of us.  A wonder to behold.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

You Arrive American; You Leave Angolan

Registering for nets under baobab tree
Robin Ball reflections

What good can come from our travels to the West Angola Conference of the United Methodist Church?  Why spend the money and the time?  Would it be better to just send the money?

For me the most important outcome is the sharing of culture, world views, church issues and faith journeys.  A clear affirmation of our connectedness as United Methodists.  How we address family, economic and work issues may be dependent on our culture but the issues are the same.

Exchanges like these provide the framework for discussion of church issues – stewardship, participation, organization, theology.  So, stimulating to look at your faith journey while talking with another member of the faith who may have a bit different view.

As we build our global church, these experiences help us understand each other and move forward together.  Listening to each other.

Bishop Elaine J. W. Stanvsky reflections

Worship at Bethel United Methodist Church

Sunday I was invited to preach at Bethel United Methodist Church, where Rev. Bernardo Neto is the senior pastor.  About 1,000 people gathered in a bright sanctuary with two levels of balcony.  Four choirs blessed worship.  Everyone who had celebrated a birthday in September came forward to bring a special thank offering and to receive a blessing from retired Bishop Fernandes from East Angola.  The recently elected Ministry of Higher Education for Angola and his wife were also brought forward for prayers of blessing. 

When I was introduced and gave a brief greeting, I was ushered down below the altar to receive greetings from leaders of the congregation.  After two lay leaders offered greetings the women’s choir, seated in front of me rose up like a wave from the ocean to overwhelm me and lift me up with unbounded joy, to strip off my jacket and vest me in traditional garb:  wrapped and tied skirt and head dress and long tunic – OVER my long black skirt and clergy shirt -- at the beginning of a 3 hour worship service!  Before we came Bishop Domigos said that we would arrive American, but leave Angolan.  The transformation has occurred.

I preached on John 10: 10.  I came so that they might live and live life fully!

What a challenge to join Jesus’ great good work of making it possible for every child born to grow in the grace and love of God to become all God intends them to be.   Kingdom of God.  Transformation of the World.  This is the purpose of the church; the call of each disciple.

Margaret Novak reflections

In Luanda – The American Church Lady
Forgive me, God of this garden
  • For the plastic bags in the baobab trees
  • For the soda cans in the field
  • And the teeth lost to the sugar we refined
  • For the scarred hillside left by the mining bulldozer
  • And the marshes  drained and mis-placed by the crops we introduced for our harvest
Oh, God, I am so sorry.
Thank you, God of us ALL
  • For children, delighting in the school we helped to furnish
  • For the folks in the sanctuary, queued up, waiting eagerly to give
  • For the goodness of rice and beans and goat stew
  • For the generous spirits – health worker activistas in their own communities
  • For the women dressing me, making me Angolan
  • For the ones who have never seen this place who give, for that’s what we’re made for
  • For this church and its Simple Rules
Oh, God, you are SO good.

"Come and See. Go and Tell."

Bishop’s Malaria Log – 3

October 16      Mosquito bite #8 on back of left hand
                        9 pm Luanda   Pill #8

Burl Kreps visits President Santos

Tuesday we received word that the President of Angola, José Santos, has invited Rocky Mountain retired pastor, and former missionary to Angola (1955-1957), Rev. Burl Kreps to visit him in the capital tomorrow.  Rev. Kreps will accompany Bishop Gaspar Domingos of the West Angola Annual Conference on this visit to the President.  It is a great honor for Burl, and a great opportunity to share the goals of Imagine No Malaria with the president.  As a young missionary, Burl coached a basketball team Mr. Santos played on – another example of how missionaries form relationships that open doors for decades after the service end.

Rev. Burl Kreps

Radio Kairos, 98.4 FM, Luanda

The West Angola Annual Conference partnered with United Methodist Communications (UMCOM) to open a United Methodist run radio station in Luanda in September.  With the latest technology, it broadcasts some general news and sports, as well as general Christian content and some specifically United Methodist information.  The station recently broadcast Bishop Brown’s sermon at the West Angolan Annual Conference session last week.  Bishop Stanovsky and Gary Henderson from UMCOM were interviewed about the net distribution in Bom Jesus.  Burl gave an interview about his history in Angola.

Where is your brother?

Bishop Domingos has challenged churches in the capital, Luanda, to partner with churches in the remote provinces.  “The city church becomes like a God parent to the smaller church,” the bishop says.  For example, Central UMC in Luanda, helped build a new church building in Soyo.  Part of the purpose is to ensure that the United Methodist gives a robust and attractive impression in every community.  One provincial governor who is not a member of the church gave $150,000 to build a United Methodist Church in his province because he knows of our beneficial work.  This building has become an important ecumenical center for the region.   Rev. Adilsson Neto, senior pastor of Central UMC reports that they have postponed improvements to Central’s sanctuaries because they are committed to their partner churches through “Where is your brother?”

Angola volunteers

Bishop Domingos’ message to American United Methodists

Come and See.  Go and Tell.

In a final meeting with American visitors Bishop Domingos explained that this delegation is very rare in Angola.  Unlike many countries in Africa, and other parts of the world, very few American United Methodists have come to Angola.  Eleven Americans from the Mountain Sky Area, the General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Communications/Imagine No Malaria have brought great hope to Angolan United Methodists, Bishop Domingos said.  “You have come and seen our people and their needs.  Now go and tell.  And come back.” 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Malaria: Invisible Disease

Bishop’s Malaria Log – 2

October 15      Mosquito bite #5 on right temple       
10 pm Luanda Pill #7

October 16      Mosquito bites #6 and #7 on left forearm

Make a joyful noise!

The district women’s choir in the Bom Jesus and Benga District sang at the opening ceremonies for the net distribution.   You have to imagine the scene.  New church building ½ built of concrete surrounded by aging, decrepit buildings that serve as parsonage, current church, and outbuildings. 

Toilets are open pit or broken plumbing.  Prop the door open an inch for light and flush with a plastic pitcher of water.  The ceremony is held in a wide, low round open air building of concrete welded beams and corrugated roof, overlooking the broad and verdant Kwanza River valley.  Life continues all around uninterrupted by our ceremony.  Pigs routing for food.  Women cooking and doing laundry.  Boys with a hoop and a stick.  In the valley below, a pick up game of basketball.

All around, in every draw and on every hillside perch neighborhoods of varying degrees of poverty.  Some are built of cement block. Really poor homes are built of sugar cane bags stretched over sticks.

As our driver drove us into the church yard, the road was lined on both sides by the district women’s choir, singing a joyous welcome.

One song was written for the occasion:

God is feeling fine because Bom Jesus is getting nets and a clinic!

Malaria – invisible disease

I believe the reports that someone dies of Malaria every 60 seconds.  And that it is first cause of death among the people of Bom Jesus.  But I can’t see it.  I don’t see people dying of the disease.  I don’t see people suffering from fevers or limp with exhaustion.  I don’t even see the mosquitos that bite me quietly in the night.  They are tiny.  They don’t buzz in my ears.  They are not like the mighty Montana mosquitos that keep you awake at night with their threatening hum. 

In the poorest neighborhood I saw, Margaret Novak and I learned from our interpreter, Rita, that many of the people don’t even recognize the early signs of Malaria.  They have a different name for the disease that causes cold symptoms.  They only call it Malaria when the fevers and sweats kick in.  Since they don’t recognize it as Malaria in the early stages, they don’t go for treatment until the disease is far advanced.  So, patiently, Rita explained to one woman how when a mosquito bites you, a parasite enters your blood and grows there.  At first it causes cold symptoms.  Later it causes more severe symptoms.  If you go to the doctor when the first symptoms appear, you have a better chance of curing it before it gets too bad.

Certificate Flags

When the activists were presented with certificates of their training, they held them up in both hands and waved them back and forth in time with joyful music. 

Burl Kreps

Burl served as a missionary in Angola for two years in the mid 1950s.  He is our guide for the Mountain Sky team.  Burl never looks so young as he does in Angola.  Somehow the long-limbed basketball coach of his youth shines through his 80-something body.  Everywhere we go Burl meets another old best friend.  He is truly beloved in the church here, even after 50 years.

Africa University

For decades I have heard that during the collapse of colonial governments in Africa and the rise of African self-rule, many of the African leaders that emerged in the 1960s and 70s were educated as Crusade Scholars funded by The Methodist Church.  Since arriving here I have come to suspect that the United Methodist Church is continuing to educate a new generation of African leaders through Africa University.  Time and again we have met bright, articulate, multi-lingual young leaders in Angola who are graduates of Africa University.  Slowly the picture emerges of an international network of leaders who shared a powerful university experience together and are now disbursed across the continent with a passion and a vision to transform their countries. 

One of them, Rev. Andre, Assistant to West Angolan Bishop Domingos, said today, “It is exactly God who appointed you [The United Methodist Church in the USA] to build Africa University. 

Sunday I preached at Bethel United Methodist Church in Luanda.  My interpreter was Angolan associate pastor, Rev. Ndalamba, mother of 3½ year old, Emmanuel.  Being Angolan, Rev. Ndalamba speaks Portuguese.  Her husband is from the Democratic learned English.  He now teaches theology at the Angola United Methodist University.  Emmanuel is growing up as a world citizen, speaking several languages, with a horizon as wide as God’s kingdom. 

360° Discipleship

Lately I’ve been musing that discipleship is a holistic process for people.  It isn’t fractured into pieces the way our programming in the church is.  Prayer and service, advocacy and worship are not separated in the lives of real disciples.  But too often the resources and training opportunities for disciples in these various areas are separate and can be even conflicting.

Today I met an integrated, holistic disciple of Jesus Christ.  Her name is Sara Neto.  She is known as Sister Sara.  She is a nurse, retired from the maternity hospital.  Now she volunteers in the tiny one-room clinic at the West Angola Annual Conference.  She volunteers because she wants to be useful.  We took pictures of her years old, well-worn and loved Portuguese issues of the Upper Room devotional guide.  She believes that every church should have a small room dedicated as a clinic and that medical professionals should offer services there to people in the community.  It should be a form of evangelism.

Is she an evangelist?
A pietist?
A social activist?

“Sara,” I said, “you make Jesus happy!”  And we shared a broad smile and heartfelt hug.

Angola Methodist University

Five years ago under the leadership of Bishop Gaspar Domingos the West Angola Annual Conference opened a professional university in Luanda in buildings and on land owned by the United Methodist Church.  Today 8,000 students are enrolled in 18 courses of study on two campuses.  Started as a partnership between the church and Universidade de Évora in Portugal, it recently graduated its first class of 25 students. 

Tuition?  $3,000 per year!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Spreading the News

Here are links to other places on the web where you can find information about this trip:

Rev. Dr. Michael Dent is maintaining his own blog.

United Methodist Communications has written a great article about the work of United Methodists fighting malaria in Angola.

If you would like to look at more pictures from the trip, UMNS photographer Mike DuBose has taken some wonderful photos. He will continue to post more photos in this album.

Update from Bishop Elaine


After 24 hours of travel, your 6 Mountain Sky travelers arrived in Luanda, Angola on the evening of October 11, ate dinner, slept a good night and awoke to breakfast at 7 and departure at 7:30 am for Bom Jesus.  We’d been told that Bom Jesus is a town of 10,000 outside Luanda.  I was thinking suburb.  But that’s not the picture.  The road to Bom Jesus took us past a brand spanking new high rise apartment community outside Luanda that’s mostly vacant now.  It was built by the Chinese, who are heavily invested in Angola.  These might properly be called suburbs, but the apartments are too expensive for most people to afford and it is a long, slow drive to the city.  So they stand vacant.  A ghost city, they call it.

Bom Jesus is not a suburb.  It is a region of scattered neighborhoods, loosely clustered around a few small convenience shops.  It sits on a hillside overlooking the Kwanza River, source of the fertile soil deposited in periodic floods, plentiful fish, sand and limestone for a Chinese cement factory, and water for Coca Cola, a water bottling plant, and a brewery.  The crumbling remains of a colonial sugar processing plant are still visible. 

The River and its marshes are also the breeding ground for mosquitoes that spread Malaria, and it is the source of water born diseases.  River of life.  River of death.

More substantial homes in Bom Jesus are made of cement block and corrugated tin, swept neat with clean laundry hung to dry.  Truly poor families live in homes made of mud or old sugar cane bags stretched on stick frames.  And up above the city are a very few very wealthy homes behind security gates.


Malaria is the first cause of death in Bom Jesus.  And it is PREVENTABLE; TREATABLE; AND BEATABLE.  Our mission:  to help eradicate Malaria as a killer in Bom Jesus.

Before we ever arrived, Africare had trained young adults from the United Methodist Church as health workers, called Activists.  They learned about Malaria:  how it is carried, how it can be prevented, how its symptoms develop over time, how people can be vaccinated, or treated if they contract the disease.  They learned how to register neighbors to receive anti-Malaria bed nets to protect family members from mosquitoes while they sleep.  They learned how to teach people to protect themselves.  On October 12 at the kick-off ceremony for the Imagine No Malaria bed net distribution in Bom Jesus, we presented certificates to the Activists who had completed their training.  And we went out into neighborhoods with them to deliver bed nets to families who had registered earlier.  It’s not as easy as handing someone a net.  Ahead of time the Activists went door to door to record how many people live in each house; how many children and their ages; how many beds in the house.  On October 11 we went back to the families that were registered and presented their bed nets, ripping open the bags they came in, taking them out and reminding the family that they need to air a day before you hang them over the bed.  This is to let the pesticide that will kill mosquitoes dissipate before use.  On October 12 we returned to help families hang the nets they received the day before.

Many of these families have used bed nets before and know just how to do it.  But nets wear out and need to be replaced.  We were pretty uncomfortable going into the bedrooms of people we had never met.  Yet people were very gracious in opening their homes and working together to hang the nets.  


Imagine No Malaria depends upon life-giving partnerships.  It took four years to put the partnerships together that led to this net distribution. 

UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) worked with the West Angola Annual Conference to create and train a Conference Health Board to oversee net distribution in Bom Jesus, but also to identify other urgent health needs in Angola, like hypertension, HIV/AIDS and intestinal worms. 

Working together the Angolan Health Ministry and The United Methodist Church identified Bom Jesus as a town with unusually high rates of Malaria and a United Methodist Church, the perfect recipe for collaboration.   And the government Health Ministry will supply the medicines to treat Malaria when it does occur.   

We met three staff of Africare, the NGO (Non-governmental Organization) that procured the nets and trained the health worker Activists from Bom Jesus who register and educate families, distribute nets and monitor their proper use.

Rocky Mountain Conference funds, raised to honor Bishop Warner and Minnie Brown, paid for the nets and the cost of training and deploying the volunteer Activists.  Chevron Oil has committed to tracking health statistics as the project unfolds. 


Malaria is just one health challenge in a nation with many challenges and limited capacity to address them.  As we tackle the immediate challenge of Malaria, the partners in this work are also focused on building the health care capacity of Angola.  So, health care Activists learn about Malaria.  But they can also encourage people with other ailments to seek care at the government-run clinic in Bom Jesus.

And, part of the Imagine No Malaria campaign is for the church to open a clinic to complement the work of the government clinic, which reports that it can serve only about 20% of the need at present. 

And once health care Activists have experience working in neighborhoods to combat Malaria, it isn't difficult to turn their attention to other critical health issues. 


Margaret Novak and I went with Rita, an interpreter, to one especially impoverished neighborhood near the river.  When we arrived, it seemed like the whole neighborhood was gathered under a giant, noble baobab tree at the edge of town.  The health care Activists were under the tree registering families to receive mosquito bed nets.  They were overwhelmed with people.  They struggled to write down the names of the people and their needs.  The people seemed especially desperate.  One woman came with a leg injury from a palm tree falling on her.  Orange tips on the ends of hair of some of the children gave notice that malnutrition stalked this neighborhood.  Mosquito nets couldn’t help those problems.  But care and attention and prayer didn’t hurt. 

AquaTap:  Solar water purification

Iliff intern Brenda Harter searched the internet for articles about Malaria and Bom Jesus and the United Methodist Church in Angola before our trip.  I was especially interested in an article about a demonstration solar water purification project in Bom Jesus.  The system was developed by two guys in Vancouver, British Columbia.  In a shipping container they build a solar powered water filtration system that provides water for 1,000 people.  The Angolan government is testing it in Bom Jesus for possible use in other communities without power.  The town Administrator took us to see it.  The local man who maintains it opened it up and proudly showed us how it works.  At the end he offered us cups to drink the clean, healthy water.  What a great project!

Bishop’s Malaria Log

September 5.  County Health Agent prescribes Atovaquone-Proguanil to prevent Malaria.
Begin 2 days before travel take one tablet by mouth each day during stay and for seven days after leaving area

October 9        2 pm Denver – Pill #1

October 10      Uncertain time, en route Denver to Washington D.C – Pill #2

October 11      9 pm Luanda – Pill #3

October 12      Too tired to remember Pill #4

October 13      7 am Luanda               First mosquito bite on left forearm.
Pill #4
                        10 pm Luanda             Pill #5

October 14      10 pm Luanda             Pill #6 
                                                            Second mosquito bite on left forearm and right ear

October 15      7 am Luanda               Mosquito bite on right forearm

Notes from Robin Ball

Hope – a necessity for mankind.  Is there hope for Angola?  After decades of colonialism, decades of war, exploitation of resources, emigration of intellectuals? 

The young adults I have spoken to and watched these past 3 days believe there is.  George came back from Africa University in Zimbabwe to lead his local church into the community to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  His degree is in theology with a minor in humanities.  He wants to get his master’s in the Peace and International government program.  He believes the church should be a leader in promoting peace and service.

Addison is a young pastor appointed to a small rural congregation.  He believes that working together can build a good place for all.

And the many “activists” or volunteers that are becoming community health workers to save lives through education, mosquito net distribution and follow up training. 

Notes from Mike Dent

I’m thankful to be part of this unique visit to experience first hand to experience the church’s good work in global health care and look forward to sharing photos, stories and experiences when I get back. 

Notes from Margaret Novak

Aside from the mission we engaged in, I was impressed with the water program we visited, where a shipping container was converted into a water purification system designed by a team in Vancouver, B.C.

I’ve learned how important it is for the church to work in partnerships in order to do the most good.  The partnerships are strong with Africare’s holistic work in global health was exciting.  This is a non-church, non-governmental organization doing excellent work and also with the local municipal administration in Bom Jesus. 

Striking to see the disconnect between the affluent congregations of Luanda and the needs of the very poor in surrounding areas.  Just like home. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012