“We are at war…”
On April 12, 1961, headlines from the local Luanda newspaper, O Comercio, declared, “We must unite. We are at war!”
It was a month earlier that Sandy Bookman’s letter to Miss Lawrence at the Board of Missions reported the very tense situation in Luanda when white Portuguese were beginning to blame the mission for fomenting blacks to violence.
All these years later, Deolinda, with outbreaks and unrest all across the Arab world, the masses resisting autocratic leadership in Tunisia and Cairo, and a history of years of violence throughout Africa, those headlines from Angola seem like just one more report from one more troubled spot in the world. We’ve become almost immune to what’s happening to masses of people in remote places because of high-tech communications that regularly tweet or twitter or otherwise inform us of the latest news all over our planet.
Sandy reported to Miss Lawrence they had heard rumors that on Monday of that week—almost three years to the day that I left Angola--gasoline bombs would be thrown on the mission. Nothing happened. Tuesday was also uneventful. Wednesday there were demonstrations against the American Consulate, and roars from the crowd that they should storm the mission. A Portuguese friend came quickly on his motorbike to warn the missionaries to leave, and they did. Nothing happened.
On Thursday Sandy went with a few of her workers to the clinic, sensed a lot of unrest, saw the few patients who had come for treatment, and let the workers go home. Police were everywhere.
Later, one of the new churches was attacked, and Marion and Anita Way’s missionary residence was assaulted by flying rocks. Sandy’s house, where I also lived briefly before returning to the U.S., was damaged. Windows in the office building on the mission compound were all broken. You’ll remember that was where so many of our activities took place, including ongoing typing classes offering a marketable skill for Angolan workers.
I have a visual memory of Job de Carvalho spending hours in the copy room of that building cranking out scores of mimeographed pages for various activities on the agenda for your youth meetings. All the outreach functions of that building and the services it provided for your African community ended with those attacks.
During the siege, members of the missionary families stayed together in one residence. At times, they huddled in the hallway away from the windows for safety.
Sandy wrote that the next day she and Marion drove back to the clinic, and picked up the faithful clinic workers along the way. When they arrived at the building housing this public health outreach of the mission, policemen met them armed with machine guns, guarding the entrance; no one was allowed to enter.
The place was a mess. Sandy hoped to get back later to inspect the damage, but she heard from nearby neighbors that the microscopes, sterilizer, examining table, file cabinets and other equipment were all over the yard, everything in shambles.
On Sunday, Africans and missionaries met for church services as usual. A group of agitators gathered outside, looking in. They didn’t create a disturbance, and Emilio de Carvalho, whom you knew well, preached about Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem.
The letter continued with Sandy describing the quandary she was in about what to do next. There were rumors of personal threats to her, so she suspected it was too dangerous to return to the clinic, even to get estimates of the damage. One of the African nurses she had trained was in jail for political questioning, and the whole operation seemed up in the air.
Should she simply use the vacuum of free time and go back to the U.S. on early furlough until there was a measure of stability in the country? The dilemma was the sense of abandonment the people would feel, that the minute some difficulty arose, she left for home. Sandy wasn’t a quitter, and loved the people and her work too much to want to leave.
She concluded by cautioning Miss Lawrence not to be too disturbed about reports that were coming in about revolts and violence, asking for prayers that they would all keep level heads and Christian love in their hearts.
You, Deolinda, far away on another continent, were also hearing all those disturbing reports about what was happening to your beloved people. You, too, were facing the dilemma of what your response should be. We now know the choice you made.