Angola church provides case study on consequences of war
By David Wiebe
I felt the burn rising in my head.
“You mean to say the civil war in Angola was really a proxy war between the USA and Russia during the Cold War?” I asked.
Jean-Claude answered, “Yes, it became that.”
Jean-Claude drove three ICOMB delegates–José Arrais, Valdas Vaitkevi?ius and me–to pay fraternal visits to rural churches in the Angola Mennonite Brethren conference (IEIMA) after our 2014 ICOMB Summit in Luanda. As we drove through the countryside, we had hours to touch on all kinds of subjects.
One topic was the 27-year civil war. Angolans had split into several factions after independence from Portugal in 1975. One was Marxist, called “MPLA.” It eventually became the elected government, at first empowered by Cuba and later backed by Russia. Another faction, called “UNITA,” fought the Marxists, supported by South Africa and later, the U.S. It only ended in 2002.
Over 27 years of war a lot of terrible things can happen–and did. The tragedy is expressed most poignantly in the church. I felt that “burn” on behalf of our church in 2014, and I still do today.
One obvious tragedy is the poverty of our brothers and sisters in Angola. While oil and diamonds are found in abundance, this wealth bypasses the majority of Angolans. IEIMA churches struggle to find land, build meeting places and put roofs on them.
Another tragedy is how conflict can be fed by tribal origins. Different tribes participated in different factions. These differences continue to fester after people join the church because their emotions are still loaded from the traumas of witnessing violence and death. Last year, leaders from regions near Congo were openly criticized because of their origins.
Politics affects IEIMA too. We visited a local church that had to move its worship location. They were renting a facility, and someone told the landlord the church was “UNITA” because it was “Menonitas.” You can hear the resemblance as you sound out the two words. In the past, you could get someone killed by simply saying, “That person is ‘UNITA.’” In 1990, the Mennonite Brethren conference split, each side accusing the other of ties to UNITA.
More recently, the leader of IEIMA used his former military connections to his advantage and got IEIMA in deep trouble. Not only was IEIMA in danger of being dissolved by the government, it had drawn the other four Angolan Mennonite conferences into jeopardy as well. ICOMB negotiated his resignation and now supports a new interim team that’s working to resolve a myriad of problems. I recently re-read the history of IEIMA and sighed when I realized almost the exact same thing happened in 1991.
There are a couple of take-aways for me. First, there is no “just war.” A significant element of Christianity seriously questions this theory, and furthermore, the practical reality is that war devastatingly affects the life of the church. So, I’ve stiffened my resolve to live into our peace-church conviction.
Unceasing war now characterizes our world. So the responsible Christian must first question any political rhetoric that says, “We have to be at war in this situation.” Why? The church is likely present in that situation. Why are we so quick to agree with our governments on this point? Where is our faith? Where is our peace conviction? Our social engagement to resolve conflict and address injustices that open doors to conflict? When will Christians stop killing Christians much less anyone else our government tells us are our “political enemies”?
Second, the church is incredibly resilient; praise God. We find our way through war, politics, poverty, conflict and more. The way of Jesus and the teachings of Scripture show us how to live together, care for each other and love. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, ESV). “Above all these things put on love” (Col. 3:14, NKJV).
November 11 marks Armistice Day, when the treaty to end World War I was signed. Canada, the United States, Belgium, France, United Kingdom and others observe it. As Christians, let’s remember what war does to the church and commit once more to live in love and peace.
David Wiebe is a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and podcasts on church history (57 hours and counting). After two decades of working for the Canadian Conference of MB Churches, he has served the International Community of Mennonite Brethren as executive director since 2011.
Did You Know?
- IEIMA (Evangelical Church of Mennonite Brethren in Angola) reports 12,000 members in 90 churches. They plant new churches every year, hoping to reach every province.
- Joana Garcia is the current president of IEIMA.
- Some churches meet under trees in compounds, in mud buildings with thatched roofs, in brick buildings with tin roofs, etc. MB Mission has church-roof project supports in various countries including Angola.
- The Bielefeld MB church in Germany raised $10,000 to put on a church roof in Angola in early 2015.
- The factions of the civil war–including MPLA, the Marxist group–were led by men with Christian background. The churches of Angola “finally awoke,” and through public worship services, marches and meetings with government leaders, set the stage for peace.
- To learn more, read “Peaceable Witness in Contexts of Conflict” by Lutiniko Landu Miguel Pedro with David Wiebe, in The Church in Mission: Perspectives of Global Mennonite Brethren on Mission in the 21st Century, Victor Wiens, editor, Kindred Productions: 2015.