A Successful Trip

When I sent out my last update, two Angolan colleagues and I were getting ready to head to Illinois for the month of June as an official delegation of the Evangelical Congregational Church in Angola (IECA). So, now it is way past time to share with you some of what went on during our time there.

Greetings, once again, from Angola!

When I sent out my last update, two Angolan colleagues and I were getting ready to head to Illinois for the month of June as an official delegation of the Evangelical Congregational Church in Angola (IECA). So, now it is way past time to share with you some of what went on during our time there.

My traveling companions were Rev. Abias Cauto, IECA's Executive Secretary (which translates into the #2 administrative role within the denomination) and Luis Samacumbi, the General Director of IECA's Department of Social Assistance, Studies and Projects (DASEP), who is, on the day to day here, my boss.

It was gratifying for us to be so warmly received in several settings, including:

The Annual Meeting of the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC), the theme of which was "Living the Sacred Life," and we were able to share both the opportunities and challenges of faithfully doing so in Angola. We had the honor of keynoting the Saturday morning worship service and focused both on the changing face of mission, in which each party gives and receives as equal partners, and the changes occurring within Angola that make a variety of justice issues so very important as the Church seeks to give help and hope to the vast majority of Angolans who remain mired in poverty in a growing economy fueled by oil and diamonds.

Visits to 11 churches within Illinois where we were received with food, fellowship, and openness to hearing about the role and work of the Church here in Angola. As we "told our story" we also had some encouraging conversations regarding how churches in the USA might partner with us on specific projects, assisting us to write the next chapters in IECA's story.

The Illinois Conference Angola Partnership Team will be the primary point of contact and coordination for our Church-to-Church partnership. In conversations with this statewide team, areas discussed included: nurturing creative, equal partnership; improving cross-cultural sensitivity; building a shared agenda of priorities and projects; and enhancing communication via the Internet and through exchange visits by individuals and delegations.

A visit to the offices of Global Ministries (GM) in Indianapolis, which provided a useful exchange of views on partnership with Rev. Sandra Gourdet, Executive for Africa, and others in GM leadership positions as well as a conversation with the Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), to increase dialogue and direct connection with the denomination that partners with the UCC on international mission efforts via Global Ministries.

General Synod, the biennial national meeting of the United Church of Christ, which was held in Grand Rapids. The meeting was attended by approximately 3,000 delegates and observers and our Angolan delegation participated in worship, plenary sessions and many formal and informal conversations. Some of our observations were:

·  The UCC is open to discussing difficult issues, to valuing its commitment to nurture unity in diversity, which does not necessarily mean unanimity, but retains fellowship at the common table of faith;

·  The resolutions that come out of committees are one expression of the UCC's engagement in holding actors in public and private sectors accountable on issues of social justice;

·  The number of members in many UCC congregations is relatively small when compared with the membership of IECA's churches, while the number of pastors serving IECA's churches is very small, only around 150 pastors for nearly one million people – a definite challenge for the Church in Angola;

·  Both IECA and the UCC want to engage in partnership with each other, given the historical connection of IECA's being founded by American Congregational missionaries and given that both Churches share commitment to Holistic Mission, which seeks to integrate the spiritual and social aspects of faith.

So, when all was said and done, we got back safely to Luanda at the beginning of July and, despite the hectic nature of our time in the USA, we came back convinced that the effort was well worthwhile in terms of creating additional partnership enthusiasm and connections. We are deeply grateful to the Illinois Conference of the UCC and to Global Ministries for so graciously inviting and receiving our delegation.

And, shortly after our return, the Angola-Illinois Partnership was given another boost as a four-person delegation from the Illinois Conference was here in Angola in August. The delegation consisted of members of the statewide Angola Partnership Team: Rev. Tom Norwalk, delegation leader; Nancy Tucker Reed, who spent ten years as a "missionary kid" in Angola; Matthew Reed, who traveled to Angola in 2004 to set up the equipment for a computer training program in Lobito; and Angela Arnold, who touched hearts here with her singing. They traveled in the provinces and also spent time in the capital city of Luanda, experiencing warm welcomes and hospitality in all locations. One of the priorities in our conversations was to begin reviewing IECA's priorities for program support and other partnership exchanges, including exploring a missionary-in-residence going to Illinois from IECA.

So, all in all, it is a time of positive promise for our Church-to-Church partnership as we remain committed to "Building the one Body of Christ in two places." Please continue to keep our efforts in your prayers!

Peace and blessings,

Donna Dudley

Donna Dudley serves with the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola.  She assists with development projects and staff leadership training programs.