done_all Peer Reviewed Article
Vulnerable Mission in Angola: An Intra-African Conversation with Jim Harries
The Vulnerable Mission movement grew first in the rich soil of rural Western Kenya, based in the deeply contextual insights of Jim Harries. Africa, however, is large, diverse, and changing. This article considers what Vulnerable Mission might look like in another corner of Africa: the cities of Angola. The contextual differences require that Harries’s proposals undergo considerable alteration. Vulnerable Mission strategies in Angola must recognize Portuguese as a truly local, African language and must take into consideration the globalizing changes that have redefined local identity and resources.
In its relatively brief existence, the concept of Vulnerable Mission has undergone a subtle but far-reaching seismic shift in its foundational assumptions—a shift which perhaps the seismographs of the movement have not adequately detected. This shift, in a word, is context. VM grew first from the fertile soil of the African continent, specifically in the life-experience and work of Jim Harries, long-term missionary to rural Zambia and rural Kenya. Harries’s writings draw deeply from local African culture and language, struggles in the African church, and pan-African philosophy. As a result, Harries’s strategic proposals are explicitly aimed at mission to Africa.1 However, his proposals struck a chord with mission practitioners from around the world, and in recent years his Alliance for Vulnerable Mission2 has attracted voices from Latin America and Asia and others who write on behalf of the “Majority World” at large.3
Without doubt, the VM discussion has much to offer non-African contexts. But I suggest that the shift in the discussion has happened so rapidly as to preclude careful reflection on the side effects of abandoning the contextual roots of the discussion.4 Therefore, in this reflection paper I intend to take the VM conversation back to its roots: I engage in an intra-African conversation with Jim Harries. Specifically, I will interact substantively only with Harries’s thought as canonized in his 2011 volume Vulnerable Mission, a collection of fourteen previously published articles written as early as 1997.5
Harries’s encapsulated strategic proposals—the use of local languages and local resources—are nothing novel to missiology.6 Rather, the strength of his contribution lies in his exposition and defense of those proposals grounded deeply in his personal and studied experience of Africa over the last two and a half decades. His writings are replete with references to Luo customs; linguistic comparisons of Dholuo, Kiswahili, and English; and ground-level assessments of “what is really going on” in African initiated churches. Thus he provides a refreshing and at times unsettling corrective to much current missiology that pays lip-service to contextualization but lacks the deep contextual grounding to substantiate its claims.
Unfortunately, Harries’s strength is also his weakness. From the vantage point of a Luo village in Western Kenya, he writes on behalf of plenary sub-Saharan Africa.7 In this tendency to gloss over significant contextual differences across the continent, Harries can claim a prestigious heritage of African scholarship. Classic studies of African culture such as John Mbiti’s African Religions and Philosophy and Geoffrey Parrinder’s African Traditional Religion mix examples indiscriminately from West, East, and Southern Africa, yet still today are widely cited to substantiate missiological approaches in particular African contexts that may or may not fit the paradigms they espouse.8 Such generalization may have been justified in a fledgling field of study, but it is time for African missiology to come of age, resisting the temptation to paint with one brush a continent that incorporates 54 sovereign nations, over 1,000 languages, countless local histories, and a stunning diversity of current economic and social influences.
To highlight the need for contextual sensitivity, therefore, I bring to the conversation my local experience in another corner of Africa: the city of Huambo, central Angola. Through reflection on Angola’s context and an analysis of how Harries’s assumptions and proposals fit (or do not fit) this local setting, this essay will demonstrate the need for two key correctives to Harries’s proposals. First, the use of local languages in African missions may well need to include so-called “European” languages. Second, the identification of local languages and local resources may well be more globalized, even Westernized, than Harries is willing to admit. At stake in this discussion is our view of what Africa really is and our willingness to fearlessly contextualize the VM approach amidst the whirlwind of globalizing change on the African continent.
Introduction to Modern Angola9
To say that Angola is a former Portuguese colony is true but insufficient to convey the depth of impact the Portuguese had. A quick contrast with the British colonization of Kenya may at least provide some idea. The Portuguese arrived in Angola in 1483; within a decade they had built their first Catholic mission and begun their cultural expansion, and within three centuries they had militarily and economically subjugated the vast majority of what is today Angola.10 The British, on the other hand, arrived in Kenya with cultural impact only in the 1880s—a difference of 400 years. The Portuguese founded Luanda, Angola’s capital and largest city, in 1576; the British founded Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and largest city, in 1899. At the height of colonial occupation, more than 335,000 Portuguese called Angola home;11 fewer than 56,000 British lived in Kenya.12 From early days Portuguese colonists intermarried with black Angolans, creating a large and influential mestiço population;13 interracial marriage in British Kenya was rare. The Portuguese settled widely across Angola, founding cities as they went; in Kenya a large segment of the British population attempted to isolate themselves in the “White Highlands.” The British began pulling out of power in Kenya in 1959, granting full independence in 1963.14 At that time, Portugal was busy redoubling their presence in Angola; independence would come only in 1975 after an intense and prolonged military struggle. In short, compared to other colonial powers in Africa, the Portuguese arrived much earlier, dug in deeper, and stayed longer.
Even before the Portuguese left Angola, a civil war erupted that would dominate Angola’s existence for twenty-seven years, devastating the country until 2002. The war shaped modern Angola in many ways, but three are especially relevant to our study. In all three cases, the war continued and substantially accelerated trends that were already in progress from colonial times:
No less than 42 per cent of children under 9 years of age and 34 per cent of those between 10 and 19 speak Portuguese as their first language. . . . It is now common to find young Angolans, especially in Luanda, who do not speak any African languages at all—a situation which has no parallel elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. The implication is clear: almost half of today’s children are being brought up to speak Portuguese as their first language, and Portuguese seems set to outstrip all the African languages.23
That was 17 years ago. Those “children under 9 years of age” are now parents of a second generation of Angolans who speak Portuguese as their mother tongue—and often as their only tongue.
The war ended abruptly 11 years ago, but its impact remains. Angola today is an urbanized nation where tribal identities have been blurred and a national identity has grown strong, epitomized by the use of the Portuguese language as the language of Angola. Mission in Angola, even Vulnerable Mission, must take account of this reality. In the following section I will share our mission team’s attempt to engage with this bewildering context that is Angola. In the process, the reader will get a glimpse into what these national statistics look like from ground level.
Introduction to Our Ministry in Angola
In July 2011, our mission team of six adults and four children moved to Angola for the purpose of long-term church-planting ministry. Though we are the first long-term missionaries from the Stone-Campbell Movement to Angola, we did not come with a pioneering mentality. Rather, we took seriously the Christendom context: 95% of Angolans claim to be Christian,24 and churches are ubiquitous but proverbially shallow in biblical knowledge. Rather than create more division within this “Christian” context, we accepted the invitation to work with the Igreja de Cristo em Angola (ICA), an indigenous Angolan church movement. ICA began as an interdenominational association of Angolan Christians praying for peace in Angola, and in 1974 they adopted the name Igreja de Cristo, meaning “Church of Christ.” In the mid-1980s ICA first learned about “Churches of Christ” in other nations, specifically Brazil and Portugal, and over the next two decades had sporadic interactions with these churches. For the most part, however, ICA continued to make its own way forward, isolated from the world by the same factors that kept Angola as a whole isolated during many years. As a result, the dreaded dependency disease has not afflicted ICA—what they’ve accomplished, they’ve accomplished without outside assistance—and their theology and church practice are characteristically Angolan. When we arrived, ICA comprised about 36 congregations, mostly in Luanda and the northern regions of the country. They asked us to help in Bible teaching, church planting, evangelism, and social outreach ministries.
Our team was determined not to make a mess of the promising situation into which we stepped. So as not to introduce dependency, we have very carefully avoided the use of Western resources in ministry.25 Also, we have been careful to avoid stepping into positions of power—but that has been easy. In the existing ICA systems of power and influence, we young missionaries are welcome participants but decidedly low on the totem pole!
After surveying many possible locations, we settled in Huambo, an urban center of perhaps 350,000 in one of the hardest-hit regions during the civil war.26 Huambo’s geographic centrality makes it an ideal strategic base for ministry with a nationwide focus; indeed, our team has already visited churches in 16 of Angola’s 18 provinces. We are currently gaining experience in church planting in the Huambo area in a variety of settings: urban, peri-urban, and rural.27 We pray that in the future this experience will be useful as we mentor Angolans in planting and maturing healthy churches with a nationwide scope. In all we do we try to partner with Angolans rather than working alone. This is not the financial “partnership” oft glorified and much maligned in missiological literature, but the daily camaraderie of getting our hands dirty together in the labor of church planting and maturation. God heard our strategic plans as prayers, and he has graciously allowed our team to participate in the planting of four new churches in the past year, all initiated by our Angolan coworkers.
I live with my family in an Angolan-style house in the bairro (low-class high-density peri-urban neighborhood) of São Luís on the outskirts of Huambo city.28 Day after day I walk fifteen minutes through the labyrinth of narrow dirt alleyways to the area of the São Luís ICA church plant, where I devote the bulk of my ministry efforts. In the bairro my interaction with Angolans is ground-level, devoid of grandeur. I drink kissangwa in their homes; I overhear drunken brawls in nearby courtyards; I sit in solidarity with family members at their funeral wakes; I join in arguments about the local football scene; I stumble over my phrases of Umbundu, the predominant Bantu language of this area, which I am in the throes of learning. And in all of this, I try to bring God’s word to interact with their lives at their level.
The point of this somewhat extended introduction to our ministry in Angola is simple: that the reader may understand that our mission team shares the values of Vulnerable Mission, and that we are struggling to apply these values and principles to the particular Angolan context in which God has placed us. In the process, we have learned that several key assumptions of VM as espoused by Harries simply do not fit the Angolan context. If we cannot say “Amen!” to Harries’s proposals for mission in Africa, it is not because we differ in strategic goals; rather, it is because the “Africa” of urban Angola is a world away from the “Africa” of rural Kenya.29
VM Assumptions that Do Not Fit Angola
If I were to list the VM assumptions that do apply well to the Angolan context, the list would run to pages and pages. Harries is correct in saying that there is much in the African mentality that is common across Africa.30 However, the following assumptions that do not hold true in Angola are foundational enough to Harries’s proposals that they must be addressed:
European languages are not local, and thus should be avoided in mission.
Harries argues strongly that European languages, though widely used in Africa, are so disconnected from the daily life and thought processes of Africans as to preclude helpful communication, especially as regards a topic so intimate and far-reaching as the gospel. European languages are foreign, based on vastly different cultural foundations, and instruments of dangerous cultural imperialism.31
In response, allow me to introduce some of the members of the São Luís ICA church, still less than one year old, planted in the bairro by an Angolan.32
About half of the church members speak Umbundu. Half don’t. Not a single member is capable of reading Umbundu. Every single member is comfortable speaking Portuguese, and the vast majority can read (to some extent) in Portuguese. None speak English or other European languages, though the youth would like to learn English.
To put this in context, Umbundu is the most widely spoken Bantu language in Angola, and Huambo province is one of the most ethnolinguistically homogeneous regions of the country. Here, in the heart of Ovimbunduland, I listen to children playing on the streets in Portuguese, drunks cursing the world in Portuguese, churches worshiping in Portuguese, people in the market buying vegetables in Portuguese, and family members engaging in chores at home in Portuguese. Huambo, like Angola in general, functions in Portuguese.34
European languages remain rooted in foreign cultures; they do not become Africanized.
Harries admits that some of his linguistic argument would not apply “if European languages were allowed to become African”:
Should communication with European originators of the foreign languages used in Africa suddenly cease, then the very languages will become Africanised. This is not currently happening, because (at least in East Africa) Northern languages are valued exactly because of the links that they enable with the North, and are assessed using foreign standards.35
Angolan Portuguese stands as a counter-example to Harries’s assumptions. Since a majority of people in Angolan cities function primarily in Portuguese (in all contexts of life, even home life), and since a sizeable minority speak no other language besides Portuguese, it is clear that they have found a way to Africanize the Portuguese language—to root it in the Angolan context and adapt it to fit Angolan life. A hypothetical glimpse at the vocabulary of an Angolan morning may illustrate the case:
Paizinho wakes up before the sunrise and immediately goes outside for his matatino (morning run), a typical Mwangolé (Angolan) morning routine. Back at home he draws water from the cacimba (well) to take a bath, conserving the water bué (very) carefully since it is August, near the end of cacimbo (the dry season). Clean and refreshed, he takes a few moments to matabichar (eat breakfast) before heading out for the day. Normally Paizinho works doing candongueiro (informal business that involves buying, transporting, and selling), but today he must visit the soba (local authority figure) to discuss some makas (problems) regarding his family in the kimbo (rural area). Before going to the jango (meeting hut), he winds his way through the beko (alleyway) to the market to buy a gift to present to the soba. He knows which sellers will give him eskebra (a little extra for free); perhaps today someone might even give him kilapi (informal credit), since he is short on cash.
The italicized words above are purely Angolan. Native speakers in Portugal may not have a clue what they mean, except the few words that have come to Portugal as slang. Moreover, these words are not Bantu. They are Portuguese. Though some have etymological roots in Kimbundu, Umbundu, or other Bantu languages, they made their way into Angolan Portuguese generations ago and are now used widely across the nation of Angola, from Cunene in the south to Cabinda in the north. They are used daily by Angolans who speak only Portuguese. And many Angolans would be quite surprised to hear that citizens of Portugal don’t even know how to communicate with these basic Portuguese words. “Do people in Portugal not eat breakfast?” they might ask.36
Adaptation of the language has enabled Angolans to use Portuguese effectively in even the most traditional African settings. Last year I had the opportunity to be a bystander in a sensitive situation where a church leader was accused of using witchcraft to possess a teenage boy with his spirit, resulting in debilitating madness. The case was handled by the soba (traditional communal leader) and included input from the traditional herbal healer who was watching over the boy in the far-flung rural area of his home. The process lasted parts of three days—and all of it was conducted in Portuguese. The only times someone broke into Umbundu were when they wanted the opinion of the boy’s grandmother, who was not comfortable in Portuguese. Immediately after hearing her opinion, the participants would switch back to Portuguese.37 Portuguese is Angola’s medium of choice to handle the intricacies of African life.
Portuguese today belongs to Angola as much as it belongs to Brazil or Portugal. Each country has its version of Portuguese; the differences reflect the variations in culture, and the similarities foster fraternal connections between the three continents.
Ethnolinguistic ancestry is the key identity for Africans.
Harries relates the unwillingness of the Luo people to accept him, a white man, as part of their tribe. The reason is simple: “in much of Africa, unlike in the West, someone’s key identity is rooted in their ancestry.”38 I suggest that this observation forms a defining assumption that undergirds the whole of Harries’s thinking. For example, he makes much of the cultural roots of language, and his (usually unspoken) assumption is that in Africa, cultural means tribal.39 I concur. In my experience in many parts of Africa, tribal (ancestral) identity is key.
Angola is not, in this sense, like “much of Africa.” The two-sided sword of ethnolinguistic mixing and urbanization has pierced deep. In our local church this intermixing has already been noted. The church, which averages fewer than 20 adults on a typical Sunday, includes not only Ovimbundu but also Kimbundu, Bakongo, Chokwe, and Ovamuila persons—here in the most ethnically homogeneous region of the country. In the cities of Lubango and Luanda the situation is even more pronounced. Paul Robson and Sandra Roque conducted an excellent ethnographic study among migrants to the cities and found that the exigencies of internal displacement have created a pervasive heterogeneity:
People end up renting or building a house wherever they can. This is one of the main reasons why the peri-urban bairros are so heterogeneous. People go to live where it is cheapest or where there is space, and this is not necessarily in the bairro where they first went to or where live their relatives, friends and other people originally from their area. [This has] important consequences . . . for the social dynamics of the peri-urban areas.40
Among the important consequences is the disappearance of ancestral traditions. “Nowadays few traces of rural traditions remain in the social life of Luanda’s peri-urban areas.”41 Even in Huambo, “traditional festivals like ovinganji, olundongo, and evamba are almost non-existent.”42
The question remains: despite changes in language, customs, and urban heterogeneity, do Angolans still hold ancestry as their key identity? For many, the answer is no. One may catch a glimpse of this in their conversations with each other. When making a new acquaintance, Angolans do not typically ask, “What tribe are you?” as might be common in other nations. Rather, they ask, “What area are your parents from?” The answer often shows that the choice of phrasing is not superfluous. “I was born in Moxico while my mother was fleeing the war, but she is originally from this area (Huambo). Her father was from Malange. My father grew up in Luanda, but his family is originally from Uíge. . . .” Moreover, the rhetoric of ethnic rivalry was used by government and rebel forces to perpetuate the civil war. Angolans of today explicitly shun such rhetoric; they want no part in undoing the peace they have gained at such great cost.
Angolans have had to forge new identities and new sources of identity. The central worldview question “Who are we?” is always rooted in a story, and when the story changes, so does one’s key identity. Traditional Bantu myths emphasize the cyclical nature of life: we are a community composed of members from the past, present, and future. Ancestors play a vital role in the continuity of life, and numerous community rituals (birth rites, circumcision, funerals, libations and sacrifices, etc.) function to reinforce the communal and cyclical coherence of life together with the ancestors.43 This story defines each tribal social grouping in contradistinction to others.
The continuing importance of ancestors has waned significantly in peri-urban Angola,44 and many other elements of the traditional story, including rituals, have been removed or replaced, as noted above. Perhaps it is not too bold to say that peri-urban Angolans explain their place in the world not primarily in terms of the traditional story, but in terms of the story of how they have survived the war and rebuilt since the war. It is this story that has redefined the social groupings. For some, such as the returned refugees from Kinshasa, their new community is not their tribe but the people who accompanied them in their journey of survival. Thus this group does not speak Kikongo (their tribal language) but Lingala (the language of their refugee story). They feel a unique solidarity with each other, but not with other Bakongo.45 For other residents, their social group is their immediate family. They are the only ones who have stuck together through thick and thin—there is no story which binds them to their neighbor, regardless of ethnicity. One of the most important social groupings, by the assessment of several independent observers, is the church community. Fellow church members are the people who have endured the struggles of the story together and hence share a solidarity that is not found in the larger peri-urban population.46 But for many, key identity has shifted to the national level: an individual is, first and foremost, an Angolan, regardless of region, social class, language, religion, or race. A national identity has been forged in the furnace of the nation’s story of struggle, a story that binds Angolans together and distances them from surrounding peoples, many of whom used to be family. For many Angolans, a redefined story has redefined communal identity.47
Perhaps the illustration of this reformation of communal identity that would most surprise Harries is Angola’s breakdown in racial division. As he notes, where tribal identity is key, whites must necessarily remain foreigners in black Africa. So great is the racial divide of his Kenyan context48 that Harries naturally adopts the racial divide into his own terminology:
Use of the term “black” . . . is applied to people of African origin wherever they are now living. The term “African” is reserved for those black people who are living in (and are assumed to have been born and raised in) Africa.49
Thus Harries concurs with the assumption of his Luo neighbors that a white person cannot be African.50
My thoughts turn to Alexandre, Huambo’s local veterinarian. He was born, raised, and educated in Huambo. His parents, too, are from Huambo. But he is white. Alexandre says he is Angolan, and his passport agrees. Through his paternal grandfather he can trace ancestry back to Portugal; but his identity is formed by his story, not by his ancestry. At the end of the work day, Alexandre walks home with his black receptionist who shares his story, for she is also his wife. It would never occur to their two mestiça daughters that a white man cannot be Angolan.
The racial divide runs so deep, writes Harries, that “for a white man to become a leader in black Africa in other than an ‘oppressive’ way, is almost impossible.”51 But no one informed José Luís de Melo Marcelino, Huambo’s municipal administrator, that such was the case. Marcelino is white, Huambo born and bred, and in a government position of great responsibility. He is also respected by the people of Huambo: black, white, and mestiço. From an elevated vantage point, he shares the people’s identity because he shares their story.
Examples could be multiplied. The point is simple. Through ethnolinguistic and even racial integration, Angolan identity has shifted from its roots in tribal ancestry toward new roots in the shared national story of struggle, survival, and rebuilding.
Westerners maintain economic and cultural hegemony over Africa.
The last of Harries’s assumptions with which I will contend is that, because of the great economic gulf between rich Western nations and poor African nations, Africans are forced to follow Western leading, hoping for a handout. This particular strand of the dependency virus, he maintains, has infected Africa at the national level, the institutional level, the communal level, and the personal level.52 His analysis is perceptive and convincing; it rings true with much of what I have seen in other parts of Africa.
What makes Angola different? In a word, petroleum. Crude oil. As Africa’s second largest producer of oil, Angola has no shortage of cash.53 On the contrary, the nation has emerged from its war years to find itself in a position of considerable economic clout in the global arena. It did not take long for Angolan politicians to discover the ease with which petroleum dollars can overturn American idealism, French justice, and international armament embargoes.54 With its pockets lined, Angola wasted no time becoming bedfellows with the superpower that is China.55 But perhaps the most poetic twist in the international plot was when Portugal, the former colonial power, came on its knees begging for a financial bailout from Angola, its former colony.56 Of course Angola condescended to open its purse! Who could pass up the chance to reverse history, to rise from slave to master with all the world watching?
What does this look like at street level in Angola? There is lots of money floating around in this country. As “wealthy Westerners” in Angola, we find ourselves consistently unable to afford the exorbitant prices that wealthy Angolans throw money at. We stay as guests in homes in Luanda that would rent for $20,000 a month. There are also many poor Angolans who live on just a few dollars a day; the lifestyle gap between rich and poor is astounding!
So what does this mean for dependency issues in Angola? Angolans, like other Africans, will take a handout no matter who it comes from, but most of the time in Angola it comes from wealthier Angolans. International aid dependency, whether from the IMF, NGOs, or churches, is still a problem in Angola. But it is dwarfed by the issues of internal dependency. A church here might ask us missionaries for funds to build a new building, but when we don’t prove golden, they waste no time in turning to their list of Angolan donors, who consistently prove much more generous than the stingy foreigners who keep mumbling on about missiological ideals. In this context, the all-important purse strings are held not by Westerners, but by wealthy Angolans who walk in the age-old African paths of patronage.57 This pattern holds true at levels from the individual to the national. The result is that in Angola, Westerners are seen as potential donors, but their influence is not dominant because they do not carry the biggest wallets.58
One final note regarding the dynamics of wealth in Angola is important. Wealthy Angolans serve as a wide-open door between Angola and the globalized world. Many Angolan businessmen make their millions internationally; not through aid, but through trade. As such, they swim in the urban currents of New York, São Paulo, and Beijing, drinking from the global fountains of politics, materialism, and religious pluralism. These ideas (and things!) flow steadily into Angola down the patron-client canals, eventually inundating even the lowest socio-economic rungs of Angolan society. Whether we missionaries want to participate in this globalizing current is a moot point. Angola is already there, with or without us.
Implications for Vulnerable Mission in Angola
If these assumptions that are at the heart of Harries’s contextual concept of Vulnerable Mission do not hold true in Angola, how are we to move forward? VM’s key principles, the use of local languages and local resources, remain missiologically sound, but they must be radically adapted for use in the Angolan context. I suggest that the following five alterations to Harries’s recommendations do not require a lengthy defense, but rather emerge naturally from the above analysis of Angolan culture.
Conclusion: What Does Angola Have to Do with Africa?
If the contextual situation of urbanized Angola contrasts so dramatically with that of rural Kenya as to necessitate such significant revisions to the core strategies of VM, then perhaps Angola should simply be treated as an outlier—noted and ignored—in matters related to African missions. Perhaps missiologists in sub-Saharan Africa should embrace and advocate Harries’s approach while including a footnote that says, “except in Angola.”
Angola is indeed exceptional in some aspects. I know of no other sub-Saharan nation, for example, where the colonial language has become the first and only tongue of so great a segment of the population. The historic moment when the former colonizer, Portugal, entreats the former colony, Angola, for financial assistance is perhaps unprecedented. But it would be a mistake to equate “unprecedented” with “won’t happen again.”
Africa is changing. In some aspects, Angola is not exceptional but rather simply ahead of the curve. Urbanization is the obvious example. The pull of the city is relentless across Africa: urbanization is expected to march forward at about 1% per annum,61 which is among the highest rates on the globe. Thus Africa as a whole will pass the 50% urban mark by 2035,62 and will triple its urban population by 2050.63 Already thirteen sub-Saharan countries are at least 50% urban.64 Even among those nations with lower urban percentages, Christian mission cannot afford to overlook the cities.
Urbanization will continue, across Africa, to increase the percentage of Africans who speak trade languages, including former colonial languages, as their first language. Urbanization will continue, across Africa, to bring people of different ethnolinguistic backgrounds shoulder to shoulder as neighbors. And above all, urbanization will continue to open doors to the already pervasive influence of globalization. Whether we like it or not, global languages, global resources, and global thinking styles are irreversibly becoming a part of the local African scene. In these aspects, Angola is not exceptional but rather ahead of the curve. Perhaps we should see it as a preview of coming attractions.
Moreover, Angola is not the only African nation whose national story has been so intense, so epic, as to forge within its flames a new national sense of identity. In this globalizing world, Africans across the continent are being challenged to rethink tribalism’s place as key identity. If missiologists are to exercise diligently our anthropological duties, we must be ever bold enough to probe the worldview questions of Africans as they are becoming, not simply as they were.
The vital lesson in all this is beautifully simple: each local context demands that we approach it with fresh eyes, ready to see it for what it is, not what we remember from another context. Local stories are unique; local mission strategies, too, must be unique—even in Africa.
I close with a few words from a project manager, a foreigner, living in another city in Angola. He was asked to do a radio interview about Africa “in general,” but when time and again his down-to-earth Angola-specific responses did not live up to the preconceived notions of the interviewers, “they cut me short and decided instead to interview someone in Cameroon, where they must have a much better idea of what Africa really is.”65
May God grant us the ever-renewed vision to see what Africa really is and the ever-increasing wisdom to reach Africa with the word of his saving grace!
Danny Reese delights in the maturation of God’s church on the continent of Africa, the continent that witnessed both his physical birth and his spiritual birth. He lives with his wife and daughters in Huambo, Angola, serving as part of the Angola Mission Team (). Danny holds an MDiv from Harding School of Theology. You may contact him at .
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McKinzie, Greg. “Vulnerable Mission: Questions from a Latin American Context.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 110–33.
Mendelsohn, John, and Beat Weber. An Atlas and Profile of Huambo: Its Environment and People. Development Workshop Occasional Paper 10. Luanda, Angola: Development Workshop, forthcoming in 2013.
Meredith, Martin. The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence. New York: PublicAffairs, 2005.
Ogot, Bethwell A., and William Robert Ochieng’, eds. Decolonization & Independence in Kenya, 1940–93. Eastern African Studies. London: J. Currey, 1995.
Oyebade, Adebayo O. Culture and Customs of Angola. Culture and Customs of Africa. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007.
Pacheco, Fernando. “Rural Communities in Huambo.” In Communities and Reconstruction in Angola: The Prospects for Reconstruction in Angola from the Community Perspective, edited by Paul Robson, translated by Mark Gimson, 51–117. Development Workshop Occasional Paper 1. Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001.
Parrinder, Geoffrey. African Traditional Religion, 3rd ed. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1976.
Robson, Paul. “Communities and Community Institutions in Luanda.” In Communities and Reconstruction in Angola: The Prospects for Reconstruction in Angola from the Community Perspective, edited by Paul Robson, translated by Mark Gimson, 163–81. Development Workshop Occasional Paper 1. Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001.
Robson, Paul, and Sandra Roque. “Here in the City There Is Nothing Left Over for Lending a Hand”: In Search of Solidarity and Collective Action in Peri-Urban Areas in Angola. Development Workshop Occasional Paper 2. Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. “World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision.” New York: United Nations, 2011. .
________. “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision: Highlights.” New York: United Nations, 2012..
Van der Winden, Bob, ed. A Family of the Musseque. Oxford: WorldView, 1996.
Vines, Alex. Angola Unravels: The Rise and Fall of the Lusaka Peace Process. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999.
1 See, e.g., the subtitle of Harries’s influential volume, Vulnerable Mission: Insights into Christian Mission to Africa from a Position of Vulnerability (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2011). Indeed, even as the VM movement gains worldwide momentum, Harries continues to write specifically about Africa, as is apparent from a perusal of his articles at .
2 See .
3 E.g., the substantive collection of VM articles concerning the Chaco in Argentina ( ), Gene Daniels’s contributions on Kyrgyzstan ( ), and the articles in the current issue of Missio Dei from Paul Yonggap Jeong of Korea and Jean Johnson of Cambodia. Stan Nussbaum stands as a prominent representative of the tendency in VM circles to write concerning the Majority World, effortlessly drawing examples from mission works of great geographical diversity without regard for contextual differences.
4 A similar concern is evident in Greg McKinzie, “Vulnerable Mission: Questions from a Latin American Context,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 110–33.
5 Harries, Vulnerable Mission, xiv. Having read several of Harries’s other articles, I judge that the articles in this 2011 compendium well represent his larger corpus.
6 McKinzie, 111–12.
7 E.g., Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 57, fn 2; and 164, where he admits the possibility that there may be exceptions to his broad brush strokes of sub-Saharan Africa.
8 John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (London: Heinemann, 1969); Geoffrey Parrinder, African Traditional Religion, 3rd ed. (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1976). In relation to his own local context Harries recognizes the danger of this generalizing tendency, e.g., when he sides with indigenous Luo scholar Okot p’Bitek regarding the traditional Luo conception of God over against the more common generalization represented by Mbiti and by Ghanaian Kwame Bediako. Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 4, 9; Jim Harries, “The Need for Indigenous Languages and Resources in Mission to Africa in Light of the Presence of Monism/Witchcraft,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 59.
9 For the purposes of this paper, an introduction to Angola and our mission work can be only cursory. However, it may still be sufficient to enable the reader to grasp the import of the need for contextualization of VM approaches.
10 W. Martin James, Historical Dictionary of Angola, new ed., Historical Dictionaries of Africa 92 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2004), xxv–xxvi.
11 Gerald J. Bender and P. Stanley Yoder, “Whites in Angola on the Eve of Independence: The Politics of Numbers,” Africa Today 21, no. 4 (Fall 1974): 31.
12 Bethwell A. Ogot and William Robert Ochieng’, eds., Decolonization & Independence in Kenya, 1940–93, Eastern African Studies (London: J. Currey, 1995), 113.
13 David Birmingham, Empire in Africa: Angola and Its Neighbors, Ohio University Research in International Studies, Africa Series 84 (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2006), 8.
14 Martin Meredith, The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (New York: PublicAffairs, 2005), 90.
15 I use the terms tribe and tribal neither in a pejorative manner nor a romanticized manner, and I do not intend for them to have primitive, rural, or pre-colonial connotations. Rather, I use the terms to denote ethnolinguistic groupings based on common ancestry.
16 James, xliv, highlights that this destructive trend toward nationwide identity had its deep roots in Portuguese military domination of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: “The Portuguese unknowingly laid the foundations of Angolan nationalism. By dismembering the great kingdoms, the Portuguese allowed the inhabitants to slowly begin to view themselves not as some part of an ethnolinguistic group but as belonging to a greater entity: Angola.”
17 Tony Hodges, Angola: Anatomy of an Oil State, 2nd ed., African Issues (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004), 22.
18 Filomena Andrade, Paulo de Carvalho, and Gabriela Cohen, “A Life of Improvisation! Displaced People in Malanje and Benguela,” in Communities and Reconstruction in Angola: The Prospects for Reconstruction in Angola from the Community Perspective, ed. Paul Robson, trans. Mark Gimson, Development Workshop Occasional Paper 1 (Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001), 135.
19 Bob van der Winden, ed., A Family of the Musseque (Oxford: WorldView, 1996), 74, calls this the “third and largest wave” of migrants to Luanda. However, the last and most brutal phase of the war (1998–2002, after his publication) produced many more internal permanent refugees, at least another 1,000,000 (Development Workshop, Centre for Environment & Human Settlements, and One World Action, Terra: Urban Land Reform in Post-War Angola: Research, Advocacy and Policy Development, Development Workshop Occasional Paper 5 [Luanda, Angola: Development Workshop, 2005], 68).
20 Hodges, 22.
21 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, “World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision” (New York: United Nations, 2011), . In contrast, Kenya is 22% urban. A brief glance at the list of nations reveals that the region of eastern Africa maintains the lowest statistics of urbanization on the continent. Rural Kenya is not “typical” of Africa.
22 Lawrence W. Henderson, The Church in Angola: A River of Many Currents (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 1992), 137, 296–99.
23 Hodges, 25; emphasis added.
24 David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson, eds., World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World, 2nd ed., vol. 1, The World by Countries: Religionists, Churches, Ministries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 62. About two-thirds of Christian adherents in Angola are Catholic.
25 Our non-use of Western resources has two notable exceptions: we own 4x4 vehicles which we use in ministry, and we have instituted the Bibles for Angolans program, in which individual Christians in America donate funds to buy Bibles for individual Angolan believers (see ). These exceptions will be discussed below.
26 Population estimates in Angola are at best educated guesses; a complete census has not been executed since 1970. This population estimate for the city of Huambo comes from 2008 data and trends in John Mendelsohn and Beat Weber, An Atlas and Profile of Huambo: Its Environment and People, Development Workshop Occasional Paper 10 (Luanda, Angola: Development Workshop, forthcoming in 2013), 62.
27 The term peri-urban denotes the areas surrounding the city center that appeared at a startling pace as internally displaced peoples (IDPs) settled chaotically during the wars. These areas are certainly not rural: people are crowded in at urban densities, virtually no space remains for subsistence farming, and urban social dynamics predominate. But neither are they urban: there is in many cases a complete lack of urban infrastructure and services such as roads, schools, electricity, or piped water. See Paul Robson and Sandra Roque, “Here in the City There Is Nothing Left Over for Lending a Hand”: In Search of Solidarity and Collective Action in Peri-Urban Areas in Angola, Development Workshop Occasional Paper 2 (Guelph, Canada: Development Workshop, 2001), 10–11. In Angola, the peri-urban population forms a distinct third segment of society. This is in contrast with the norm in other developing countries, where peri-urban areas form “a spatial continuum between the traditional concepts of urban and rural.” There is a distinct cognitive and lifestyle disconnect between rural and peri-urban populations in Angola.
28 According to Mendelsohn and Weber, 62, we share this peri-urban bairro setting with 89% of Huambo’s population. Only 11% live in “formal housing.”
29 Like Harries, I will ground most of my comments about the reality of African life on personal experience, even though I cannot claim the decades-long exposure that he can. My own experience in Africa began early—I was born in South Africa—and encompasses visits to churches and mission works in twelve sub-Saharan nations.
30 Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 164.
31 Ibid., 17, 68, 95, 121, 127, 146, 156, 251.
32 I joined as a Bible teacher in this church plant soon after it was started, but the majority of members that I introduce here became part of the church before my arrival. Others that have joined since then are family and friends of existing members, reached through existing relational networks. Thus it will not do to claim that my white presence has significantly skewed the survey population.
33 Ovimbundu are the people who speak Umbundu. Huambo is traditional Ovimbundu territory.
34 I am painting only one side of the picture. Umbundu is also widely used in the bairros of Huambo, especially among women. It is fairly easy to find a few women in the market who do not speak Portuguese, typically those who travel in from rural areas to sell their goods. In rural areas, Umbundu predominates, but Portuguese is also very widely spoken. In contrast, the city center of Huambo uses Portuguese almost exclusively. Someone who speaks only Umbundu would not be able to accomplish basic tasks in the city center. I am not trying to say that Bantu languages have been ousted from Angola, but rather that Portuguese has been grafted in and has become an inextricable part of Angolan life.
In Luanda, the national capital, where a third of Angola’s population resides, the situation is even starker: “In Luanda Portuguese is used almost universally, at home and in the street, although people have sometimes introduced words from the local languages as well as recently created terms.” Robson and Roque, 82.
35 Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 156; emphasis added. See also his similar reasoning on p. 250, where he thinks about the possibility of “a big wall . . . to keep Westerners out.” In effect, the civil war was that big wall. For 27 years the Western world abandoned Angola—except for supplying it with armaments—and precious few foreigners dared to live in Angola during that time (with the notable exception of the South African and Cuban military forces during the early years of the war). Doubtless this isolation provided major impetus for the Africanization of Portuguese. However, from what I can deduce in conversation with Angolans, the process of Africanization was well under way before the civil war. From the picture that Birmingham, 8, relates, it seems that the Africanization of Portuguese truly began among the Angolan mestiço urban elite that dominated Luanda during the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.
36 Many, many more Angolan Portuguese words could be listed. See, e.g., the list of 249 terms at , , and . Moreover, these terms and many more are legitimized by their inclusion in Portuguese dictionaries by major publishers such as the Porto Editora publishing group, whose Dicionário Plural da Língua Portuguesa includes more than 1,500 “Africanisms”; see .
It is also worth noting that Angolan Portuguese should be categorized neither as a pidgin nor as a creole. It is true Portuguese, conforming to the international Portuguese Acordo Ortográfico of 1945, but with expanded vocabulary and the particularities of contextual usage so familiar to Harries and other students of linguistic pragmatics.
37 It was not my white presence that influenced their choice of language. For the most part, they could not have cared less that I was there—it was not my business. Several times I wandered off to do other things, but the conversation continued in Portuguese.
38 Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 169–70.
39 On my use of the terms tribe and tribal see fn. 15.
40 Robson and Roque, 58.
41 Ibid., 82.
43 Adebayo O. Oyebade, Culture and Customs of Angola, Culture and Customs of Africa (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007), 29–30, 43–45.
44 In a recent conversation I asked several Ovimbundu friends of differing ages what impact the ancestors continue to have on life. They generally agreed that during the first year after a family member’s death, the spirit remains influential—for better or worse—in family affairs. But the ceremony at year’s end liberates that spirit, and it ceases to have any impact on life. I pressed them, suggesting that surely people might still pray to the ancestors for protection, etc. Their response was unanimous as they laughed at me: “Friend, that was a long, long time ago. Perhaps our great-grandparents did that, but not today!”
45 Paul Robson, “Communities and Community Institutions in Luanda,” in Communities and Reconstruction, 170; Robson and Roque, 36–37, 81. It is this social segment, defined by a refugee story and not by ethnicity, that birthed the ICA movement with which we work.
46 This is the conclusion of Robson and Roque, 130–41; Van der Winden, 113–14; Robson, 178; Andrade, de Carvalho, and Cohen, 143. Fernando Pacheco, “Rural Communities in Huambo,” in Communities and Reconstruction, 97–98, 110, makes clear that this vital role of churches began in the rural areas, though it has gained importance in the peri-urban context.
47 Birmingham, 99, points out that similar identity revolutions took place among the Kimbundu people three centuries earlier.
48 Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 163.
49 Ibid., 164. Harries is here explaining his own non-pejorative use of the terms black and African.
50 Ibid., 169.
51 Ibid., 180; cf. 169.
52 Ibid., 70, 173 (national level); 171 (institutional level); 85 (communal level); 169 (personal level). In these discussions, he repeatedly describes the cultural and intercultural dynamics which make it virtually impossible for African leaders to refuse offers of international aid, even if that aid will harm the community in the long run.
53 A wealth of diamond mines also contributes to the national status as “rich boy on the block.”
54 Regarding the US, I refer to the abrupt switch in allegiances in the early 1990s from overt and covert UNITA support to solid MPLA relations. Regarding France I refer to the infamous Angola-Gate scandal; see “Angola-Gate: Relations between Angola and France Remain Troubled,” The Economist (19 November 2008), . Regarding armaments, I refer to the steady flow of Eastern European arms into Angola during the latter stages of the civil war, despite the limitations set by the Lusaka Protocol; see Alex Vines, Angola Unravels: The Rise and Fall of the Lusaka Peace Process (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), 103–6.
55 China’s multi-billion-dollar oil-backed loans are the bread and butter of Angola’s infrastructure program. See e.g. Scott Johnson, “China’s African Misadventures,” Newsweek (3 December 2007), 46–47.
56 “Angola’s Eduardo Dos Santos Offers Help to Portugal,” BBC News (11 November 2011), .
57 Perhaps the best accessible explanation of African patronage is found in David E. Maranz, African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa, Publications in Ethnography 37 (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2001), 125–42. Harries, Vulnerable Mission, 152 agrees with Maranz that all friendship relationships in Africa have an element of financial dependency. In this context, therefore, our attempt to uphold VM principles has resulted in our friendships being somewhat stultified, incomplete. Angolans do not have a reference point from which to understand our stinginess. Surely, they think, if anyone of means can help the church financially, the missionaries would be the first to jump at that chance! They are not looking to us as sources of Western wealth, but as sources of patron-friend wealth.
58 These dynamics opened the door for us to make one exception to our no-foreign-resources strategy: the Bibles for Angolans program. Donating Bibles has provided us a small-scale method to exhibit generosity without creating dependency. Bibles are readily available in Angola for those who wish to purchase them, and the cost is not out of the range of most Angolans. We place Bibles in the hands of believers, or almost believers, who would not choose to purchase one, and the act of generosity has in many cases already spurred people on to a greater personal appreciate for the Word of God. In a few cases the recipients have, after months of Bible study, chosen to give their lives to Christ in baptism. We believe the prize is worth the strategic risk.
59 This is, in short, the reason we chose to purchase 4x4 vehicles for use in our mission work.
60 Examples are the Kilenge, Kwandu, Kuvale, and Ngendelengo peoples in Namibe province and the Dhimba, Tchavikwa, and Hakaona peoples in Cunene province. These small and isolated groups are unreached in the true sense. My thanks to Linda Jordan for bringing them to my attention.
61 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision: Highlights” (New York: United Nations, 2012), 11, .
62 Ibid., 1.
63 Ibid., 12.
64 Gabon, Djibouti, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Africa, Republic of Congo, Cape Verde, Botswana, Angola, Gambia, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria. UN Population Division, “World Population Prospects,” .
65 Jenny Gal-Or and Eran Gal-Or, Electric Trees: Reflections of Angola (Lewes, England: Sylph Editions, 2009), 9–10.