“Your courage surrounds
The memories go on and on, as I contemplate all the letters I could write to you. It’s like we’ve been having a long conversation. In your diary you admonished yourself for talking too much. Perhaps I have written enough. Recording my memories of you and others from your beloved land have been holy moments for me, but it would take a lifetime to write them all. The time may have come to release to history and to a higher Presence whatever ways we have touched one another, knowingly or not.
There are gaps in your story that I will never know. But I do know that you and your generation were challenged in ways unimaginable to most of us then youthful American missionaries who came to serve you in our somewhat idealistic but well-meaning ways.
I know so little of what happened to those jovens who welcomed us so enthusiastically to your shores and worked alongside us during our short stay in Angola.
But I’ve relished reconnecting with your old friend Loid’Ana, now living in Philadelphia, only a short drive from where I live. And looking through my collection of old photos of the day care center, I see the beautiful face of Bebiana, working lovingly with the children where you also found your gifts of leadership. According to reports I’ve received recently, she is making meaningful contributions to the lives of so many still struggling in poverty, even after freedom came to your land.
Many of your group as well as leaders of the larger Angola church community whose names I do not know have either fallen in acts of courage, like you, or gone on to positions in a post-colonial government. Perhaps you paved the way.
Then there were the missionary families, some of whom spent many years in Angola. They, too, welcomed us. The Blackburns in Luanda became like my own family as Lin and Polly opened their home for all kinds of celebrations, like Christmas--always the most homesick time for me. They became almost a visitors’ center for people traveling from the mission board, for bishops checking what had been accomplished in the worldwide church, even for birdwatchers from the British Ornithological Society who one afternoon shared a spot of tea served graciously by Polly Blackburn.
They were all part of the history of those years, absolutely committed to the work they felt called to do.
Since I began this look at the past, I have read all kinds of things about Angola, browsed through bookstores, searched through my files of newspaper clippings that have become brittle with age. Other missionaries of that period in Angola are recording their own memories, reflecting how the country named for the African king Ngola shaped their lives and witness in the world.
Two particular books stand out for me: The Unpopular Missionary by Ralph E. Dodge and The Revolutionary Bishop Who Saw God at Work in Africa by then Bishop Ralph E. Dodge, dedicated to the memory of his wife Eunice, who served with him. The titles alone are the clue to the way he worked alongside his African colleagues and chose paths not always popular, indeed considered revolutionary by the colonial powers already feeling threatened by the missionary presence.
That presence resulted in the arrest and prison time for a number of our missionaries daring to stand up to Portuguese authorities, who considered their support of Angolan leaders a seditious act.
You would have been proud of them all.
Not too many years later, African bishops were elected, as Bishop Dodge had said was both inevitable and needed for the church to move forward. They had suffered alongside their people in acts of courage that you know only too well.
Courage. That was the explanation I was searching for when I first began writing these reflections. Where did you get the courage, dear Deolinda, to face all the obstacles and dangers that confronted you in your few short years of life? As long as I knew you, you were devoted to your people, and to preparing yourself to serve them. In ways we cannot understand in this mortal life, your courage surrounds us still.