“Learning to lead…”
When our group of A-3’s arrived in Luanda, we were part of the worldwide missionary enterprise of The Methodist Church that began work in Angola in 1885.
Our youthful enthusiasm was part of a program by the denomination’s Board of Missions to introduce young church members to the opportunities for missionary service. The hope was that we would choose to join the ranks of full-time missionaries who returned for terms of four or five years and kept returning for a lifetime of missionary work in some part of the world. And even if we chose not to make mission work our career, the experience would be a good introduction to living in another culture and seeing firsthand the results of years of work by dedicated missionaries—in agriculture, education, health care and other church ministries. At the very least, we would return to the U.S. and tell about our experience to congregations back home that would support the work financially.
Our small group assigned to Angola followed on the heels of other A-3’s that had completed their three-year assignment to Africa and were already at home.
You and the other Luanda youth (jovens) had been very active as young students under the leadership of my predecessor, Menina Henriquetta. She had built a strong youth group, and your response to her enthusiasm and creativity were evident from the day I arrived.
I had other responsibilities on the mission compound as well, such as field treasurer for our church’s work with women in Angola.
I also took up the assignment of supervising the day care centers where you and other young Africans did such a fantastic job with the kids. And I hired African teachers for sewing and cooking classes for girls, again renting a simple building similar to the ones you all lived in as squatters on the edges of the city. We even had a clay oven constructed in the back yard replicating the community ovens that women shared in the villages--the same kind of oven you would be using in your own neighborhoods. The teachers were expert at their craft of sewing, using Singer treadle sewing machines shipped from the U.S. They trained the girls to design and sew their own clothes, and they soon became skilled as seamstresses, leading to economic opportunities for their families.
One of my dreams was to start typing classes. Most of the villagers who came to the capital city of Luanda had few skills for jobs other than janitorial or other low-paying employment. A few inquiries about the job opportunities in downtown mercantile establishments and government offices revealed that the Portuguese entrepreneurs knew nothing about touch typewriting. Aha, I thought. This is my chance to teach a skill that would offer quick employment for members of our African church community.
So I ordered a dozen typewriters from the U.S. and we had a carpenter build individual desks and chairs for a room at the mission social center where the classes would be held. The typewriters arrived. Lo and behold, they sent us typewriters with an International keyboard. What to do? Simply write a manual adapted to that keyboard.
Who could take the classes? Here the missionary elders and the young A-3 had a major disagreement. A young man who recently started coming to the mission church desperately needed employment. The problem? A recent convert to Christianity, he brought with him the baggage of old beliefs including the practice of polygamy. My argument with the missionary community—some of them as rigid in their religious beliefs as my beloved mother--was that if anyone needed skills training, it was someone with more than one wife to support, along with multiple kids. I won the battle.
In perhaps an irony of teaching, my method of teaching typewriting was to use the rhythm method. With the natural rhythms flowing through their African veins, it wasn’t long before I had so many star students that I could turn the teaching over to one of them. I had accomplished a long-held missionary goal: work yourself out of a job. Turn it over to an African.
And you, Deolinda, were a natural at everything, from teaching to language to poetry.
You watched me fret when, as the missionary representative to youth meetings at the church, I was directed to a seat of honor at the front of the sanctuary on seats that were often crude benches with no back. There, in sweltering heat, I tried to stay awake and attentive while you and other very sharp and articulate young people debated through the hours on topics that I was convinced could be decided in a few short minutes. That was the African way, and I had to adjust.
Several times the youth group traveled to neighboring villages to assist with some project related to worship or organizing the local church youth or overseeing some sanitation project in the village. On one village trip our assignment was to help build outhouses, and we carried along shovels and construction tools to get the job done. Our advance information was that there was only one outhouse for the entire village, so we suspected it would take hours to complete the work.
Our inspection began as soon as we arrived. The villagers had been alerted in advance of our expectations for making the village healthier, and they beat us to the punch…or to the dig! It took our team an entire morning to inspect all the outhouses the villagers had constructed on their own!
There was definitely time left for playing games with the villagers, and one of my memories is of you in the middle of the circle, the rest of us surrounding you with hands held while you were tested as the chosen one for that moment in time. Another memory is of you smiling from the doorway of one of the village homes, obviously enjoying that moment with an older woman from the village along with someone else from the youth group.
As Mordecai said to his cousin Esther in the Old Testament story about persecution of the Jews in the King’s realm, “Perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” Deolinda, perhaps this was your time to develop as a leader of your beloved people.