Rockford, Illinois UCC Minister to Swim the English Channel

Rockford, Illinois UCC Minister to Swim the English Channel

Raising money to build a primary school in Waku Kungo, Angola

For most of his life, Mike Solberg, Senior Pastor of Second Congregational United Church of Christ in Rockford, Illinois, has dreamed of swimming across the English Channel. As a pastor, he has also developed a second dream: to support a school building project in Waku Kungo, Angola.

The local church pastor, avid triathlete, and marathoner will soon see both dreams become a reality as he prepares to swim the English Channel in September 2009.  In addition to conquering the Channel, Reverend Solberg is using the swim to raise funds to work with the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (IECA) to construct a badly needed school.  In the town where 89 children were once killed in a school bombing during Angola’s civil war, IECA is still at work bringing hope and a viable future to Waku Kungo’s children.

Revered Solberg is able to pursue this double dream due to a $45,000 grant from the National Clergy Renewal Program of the Lilly Foundation.  The grant will fund the cost of the swim and other activities during a three-month sabbatical from his pastoral duties.

The Mission: a School in Waku Kungo, Angola

With the end of Angola’s civil war in 2002, the country is emerging from decades of violence and destruction, physical and social.  As part of a church partnership, Reverend Solberg visited Angola in 2005 and was impressed and intrigued by the longing of young people for education.

“Most people in Angola live with economic and social challenges that few people in America can imagine.  Due to globalization, they are exposed to European and America culture, but for the young people I met in Angola, it was not our i-pods, cell phones, and other possessions that they longed for: it was our education.  Ten year olds understood that to rebuild Angola, education had to be a first priority in their lives,” said Revered Solberg.

Education is also the top social witness priority of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (IECA).  While the government of Angola has oil revenue in the billions of dollars, the vast majority of people see little benefit.  Investments in education, health care, and other foundations of society remain low in comparison to other countries in the southern region of Africa.  But IECA works to embody the good news of the gospel by opening and expanding education for as many young people as possible. 

 “With the peace that began in 2002, it is a time of change and a time of hope in Angola. But we can only have real change, can only have lasting social and spiritual transformation, if we invest in education. We must invest especially in our children and youth, but also in adults whose lives can still become fuller through education. As the eye allows light to come into the body, the mind allows light to stimulate our souls. We need to ensure that our children get a good education that will equip them well to be agents of positive change. The proposed school in Waku Kungo is an important part of that process and will offer hope to local children, their parents, and the whole community.” said Luis Samacumbi, Director of IECA’s social development programs.

The church has created over sixty schools throughout the country, most resulting from the dedication of local congregations, and often providing education in vastly underserved areas.  In Waku Kungo, at the latest reporting, there were just over 36,000 students enrolled in the public schools, but another 5,500 children of school age were outside of the school system. What limits school enrollment is the number of available classrooms.  When the church builds a school building, the government joins the church by providing teachers.  Therefore, by raising funds to construct a four-room school building in the town of Waku Kungo, the church will be able to educate an additional 420 students, including day-time education of children, and evening education of adults.

“In the big picture of Angolan society, building a four room school is a small thing.  But that is why the connection to my English Channel swim is so important to me.  In the context of swimming the English Channel, one stroke is a small thing.  But you only swim the Channel one stroke at a time.  There is no other way.  To me, building a school in Angola and swimming the English Channel are demonstrations of the patience and persistence we are called to show as disciples of Jesus.  Perhaps it sounds a little odd, but I think we just keep swimming through the waters of baptism,” Reverend Solberg said.

The Means: Swimming the English Channel

Fewer people have swum the English Channel than have climbed Mt. Everest.  The 21.5 mile crossing through 60 degree water and unpredictable sea conditions is widely considered the toughest endurance swim in the world.  Due to traditions going back to the early Channel swims of Matthew Webb (1875) and Gertrude Ederle (1926), swimmers are not allowed to use a wetsuit nor touch any person or vessel during the swim.

Reverend Solberg has been training for the swim for over a year already, mostly with long pool swims over the winter.  As the weather warms, he will be able to work in more open water swims, including swims of several hours in San Francisco Bay and on location in Dover, England.

The Donations

Global Ministries is a longstanding partner of the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola (IECA).   Global Ministries is happy to receive gifts for the SwimMikeSwim project.  The gifts, along with all of the donations that Reverend Solberg raises, will be sent in their entirety by Global Ministries to IECA for use in the Waku Kungo Primary School building project. 

To follow Mike’s progress in this effort, you may refer to and subscribe to his emails; or sign up as a Fan for SwimMikeSwim on Facebook.

For more information about this project and other projects in Angola, check out the Global Ministries website ( or contact the Global Ministries Office of Resource Development (contact information below). 


 To make an online gift to this project click  here and select Angola – Waku Kungo Primary School from the designation list. To make a gift by check to this project click here.


To read more about this project, go to:  Waku Kungo Primary School Project