Escape from Portugal – The Church in Action
Bill Nottingham, president emeritus of the DOM, is co-author with Rev. Charles Harper of a new book Escape from Portugal – the Church in Action: The secret flight of 60 African students to France.It is the story of a dramatic clandestine operation sponsored by the World Council of Churches in June 1961, which is being made into a documentary this year in Portugal.
The 60 students were intellectuals from Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, the Cape Verde Islands, and São Tomé-and-Principe. Soon after the first anti-colonial armed rebellions broke out in Angola (March 1961), the student community in Portugal suffered increasing harassment by the Portuguese political police. Passports were confiscated and some arrests of suspected student leaders occurred. Many students – men and women – decided to flee Portugal illegally.
It was risky business. False passports from friendly African countries had to be found, contacts set up for night border crossings into Franco’s Spain, and then overland transportation to France. Some of the students, graduates of North American and British missionary schools in Africa, appealed to the World Council of Churches in Geneva to help them escape. The challenge was accepted by the French Protestant service agency CIMADE. Many of the students later became leaders in their home countries— two presidents, two prime ministers, a bishop, several ambassadors and many government ministers.
The Guardian newspaper in the Observer March 8, 2015, called it The Great Escape that changed Africa’s Future!