The Virtual Pulpit

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By: Luís Samacumbi

1. Introduction:

A respected opinion leader of a Church, recently made harsh criticisms of the national leadership of his Church, because the leadership chose to hold the Ordinary General Assembly, in virtual format instead of in person or semi-in person. In his protest note, the prelate used his Church’s official documents, especially the Statute and also the Presidential Decree on the State of Public Calamity of his country, to defend his thesis on how the face-to-face meeting would have been the best decision and option even at the time of COVID 19.

That leader also said that

“…. Divine work is fundamentally face-to-face and during the difficult time of war, when the roads were inaccessible, the only alternative was airplanes. With all that it takes and huge financial costs that this exercise entailed, the magnificent meetings and presences were held successfully[1]. “

The religious official I am referring to said he had reflected and prayed, before taking the liberty and the boldness to write such criticisms. This reminded me of the saying that “the habit does not make the monk.” Therefore, the in person services are not what makes work divine. These and other realities inspired me to write this reflection to awaken religious and Christian leaders from around the world to excel in life in the exercise of their pastoral duties and their faith in times of pandemic. 

On the other hand, this reflection seeks to alert religious leaders and believers in general not to engage in deceptive and misleading theologies in the time of COVID 19. The reflection encourages the promotion of constructive and contextual theological discussions that defend Christian teaching and beliefs, to promote life with dignity on the African continent and around the world, based on practical theological beliefs[2].

2. Social networks before and after Coronavirus:

It is worth remembering that the Pulpit is the place within a Church where Biblical readings are given, a concept that is being challenged by the context of the Coronavirus pandemic. Social networks, at least as perceived by some Church circles in Angola, were part of what was considered unclean for Christians and were like “the stone that the builders rejected that has become the cornerstone” (1 Peter 2: 7). The emergence of the virtual pulpit, which is gradually becoming part of the new normal, arose as a response of hope, communion and socio-spatial insertion – into communities that accommodate the otherwise excluded, by the radical changes in the Church caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For a long time, some, if not many, churches resisted change and were opposed to considering or even implementing different ideas of ‘being’ church in the 21st century, getting stuck in long-established standards. COVID-19 forced the church to “make” the church differently and to rethink its future. COVID-19 forced churches to turn to electronic platforms to continue public worship, providing an opportunity to expose Christians to other forms of worship, liturgical practices and preaching than those to which they are normally accustomed.

3. What can you learn from COVID 19?

There are many lessons to be learned from the current context and modus operandi imposed by the pandemic. Among others, we could list the following:

  • The COVID-19 experience should lead us: to a more appropriate understanding of the Christian mission, with a focus not on the Church, but on the kingdom of God, to understand the presence of God in the midst of a pandemic and to help us see the state of the world instead of focusing on the inside of the four walls of our Temples, to give an additional opportunity to make the Church more accessible, not only to those who are its members, but to all people;
  • The pandemic appears to have opened the Church’s eyes to the realities of suffering in the world and has forced the Church to orient its activities and ministries towards the ideals of the kingdom of God, placing some traditional theological views in the spotlight;
  • COVID-19 urges us to learn to learn and to rethink certain theological pre-assumptions about the Church, Church leadership and sacraments. It inadvertently raises the question of what it means to be a church (body of Christ) without going to church (place of worship). And it has questioned our understanding of the church as an institution that is generally associated with buildings, offices, organizational norms, budgets, leaders, theology, doctrine and visibility;
  • I think that COVID-19 is teaching us what it means to be the invisible Church, since the Churches were not allowed to meet physically, for a period, and to re-imagine the idea of Church as a community;
  • In a sense, the pandemic “flattened the curve” in the hierarchical structures of the Church, showing us that the faith survives without pastors, priests and bishops, because the closure of churches has led to the strengthening of the ‘pastor’ in each home. Someone at home had to take the lead to provide spiritual guidance for the family, awakening our knowledge to the presence of Christ as in the first experience of the resurrection – the joy, the pain of the glorious wounds, the questioning, the touch and the price[3].

4. Concluding Thoughts:

We can conclude this reflection by stating that the closure of churches during the emergency phase of the coronavirus pandemic forced them to function in new ways, remaining open virtually after many had resisted virtual means in the past, under the old model of functioning as we read in the introductory account of this reflection. If everything we have been learning during this time of COVID-19, for example: how to find an alternative to live transmission of sermons, worship songs, religious rites and requests for offerings and tithes, does not lead to a recognition that live transmission is not part of our new normal, we miss the Kairos moment.

The difficult times we are facing should help us to know exactly what the Church’s mission is and how we can embrace theologies that affirm life, and transform by reflecting and mirroring the kingdom of God in our midst. COVID-19 must help us to reaffirm that the Church does not live within walls; it is the people of God who, in the power of the Holy Spirit, live and yearn for the reign of God in the world. The Church as the body of Christ must embrace everyone and build up everyone’s life with hope in a time of COVID’s pandemic 19.


[1] Message circulated by WhatsApp in the first quarter of 2021.

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Addressing-Contextual-Misleading-Theologies-Africa-ebook/dp/B08N9ZJ4RR 

[3] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0265378820963156 acessado aos 17 de Maio de 2021

A Call for a just and lasting peace in Angola

Luís Samacumbi – 8 February, 2021

What has been happening in Angola in the last few days reminds me of the Garden of Eden episode.

Am I my brother’s guardian?

This is the question that God asked Cain about his brother Abel. And Cain replied, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4: 9-10). This was the answer he gave to God, because he had killed his brother out of envy, out of jealousy. Today, God asks this question to our hearts: “Where is your brother?”. And I look at my side, at those who live with me, and I am driven to be more present in my relationships, so that my answer to God is a statement: “I am my brother’s keeper!”

As a former child soldier from the government side, my heart hurts when I see the Angolan government returning to the old tactics that in the past did not work and contributed negatively to the miserable state of the populations left behind. The authorities’ arrogance must be discouraged. This is not the path to an Angola that our ancestors dreamed of.

For many Angolans including myself, the year 2017 represented a renewal of hope for a better Angola, which would put citizens at the center of their entire governance experience. Such hope that was emerging in our hearts dies back with each passing day, like a plant dying back from lack of water, as we observe the speed with which the country returns to the old habits of crushing its own people with anti-democratic practices. The recent events in Cafunfo in Lunda Norte Province have shocked everyone who wants to see Angola prosper and enjoy the abundant life promised by Christ Jesus in John 10: 10b.

For Reverend André Cangovi Eurico, Secretary General of IECA,

“There are events that reflect badly on put the whole country badly in the picture. The moment we live in the history of our country does not justify these acts today. We must not forget that the corruption – that prevented good governance and the fair distribution of the resources and opportunities that this country offers and that are a gift from God – is the cause of this suffering and these innocent deaths. Corruption created and cemented profound asymmetries.

What we see happening is only consequences. The causes are more profound, and if they are not solved, there is no poor person so resilient that one day he will not claim his right to be human, and have rights.

Anticipating these events, seeking with the people to solve their basic needs, using diamonds, water, land, climate, oxygen, gold, silver and the willpower and work that these people have in abundance, is the principle way to resolve this conflict. Good Governance is giving people the opportunity for abundant life.

It is sad when everything we do inspires hatred and a lack of common sense. The law of war commands respect and protection for the opponent after being defeated. And God’s law commands to love and forgive enemies and says that love does not treat people lightly, with disdain. If the spirit of revenge of the civil war is not overcome and the power to steal is not transformed into power to preserve the life of the people, Angola will never be what our ancestors dreamed of, nor will it deserve respect among the nations of the world. God remove this satanic spirit from our midst. The act we observed in the video is unacceptable and objectionable.

The door must open for a national consultation, showing us the viable way of living together, promoting peace and the ideal way to build the country we want for ourselves and for our children.

This country has already shed a lot of innocent blood without palpable justification, simply because we feel the taste, the pleasure, of killing and humiliating those whom we do not want them to live and whom we don’t want to demand their rights to a decent life.

Let us stop, reflect, avoid everything that looks like what we saw in the videos. Let us be civilized and protect our people, for whom the real revolution was made. Let us be human, love and defend life “.

For Lúcio Marques, IECA Pastor and Sociologist,

 “When it comes to the good life, we cannot remain silent. In fact, activating the “silence” mode, when one or more lives are lost, is to agree with the violator of an inviolable asset in the light of the Bible and the Constitution in force in the country. Angolan citizens cannot hide when human rights are constantly violated. No civilian or police should ever die without explanation, in this time of peace. Angola became independent 45 years ago; we are already experiencing or living with past bloody moments, which our history has recorded, blood spilled in hope, so that there are no more deaths like these in Cafunfo.  We are the majority who long for just and peaceful development.

Bishop Tirso Blanco, Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Luena, Province of Moxico, received, with his heart bleeding, the information about the unprecedented violence seen in the Cafunfo videos on Saturday, January 30, 2021, with all the aggression and death, disrespecting the living and the deceased.

For the prelate, nothing can justify this type of “summary executions without a crime committed”. Those who fought for independence, who sacrificed their lives for this country, what would they say if faced with this macabre scenario?

Blanco regretted the fact that there are Social Media, which should show, with true indignation, the acts committed, but instead mask the facts, “absolving the guilty and condemning the innocent” (cf. Dn.13, 53).

For Dom Tirso, fellow citizens-people of faith do not want to listen to the cry of a people who live in misery and see the ores and the timber leaving the region, without enjoying anything from the resulting revenue. We do not want to see malnutrition among children, the lack of water, roads, inadequate conditions for teachers and doctors, the lack of hospitals, medicines, fuel, transportation, opportunities for quality study, opportunities for work… needs that exist everywhere, but that in Eastern Angola multiply exponentially.

Tirso says that books could be written on everything he has seen in this part of Eastern Angola! The absence of documentation of regional conditions gives the impression that this situation does not interest almost anyone; meanwhile a few get rich without knowing the origin of so much fortune. We have been talking about all this for a long time, until tiredness prevails: we are like a cracked bell, whose music is no longer heard.

That Catholic Leader from Luena even says that it seems that we are facing a case of moral leprosy: whoever should, does not feel, is not moved, does not react. Ostrich policy is practiced: when one sees the danger, he hides his head in a hole. He doesn’t see. This blindness and insensitivity, however they are learned and taught, are a refined form of violence.

 Dom Tirso goes on to say that a few years ago, we saw, with hope, a certain openness in the public media: today, they have returned to old habits.
They should show what is happening, so that these people who have been blinded can grow, but they do not; rather, on the contrary …

The cops? The army? It cannot be generalized, but some have forgotten that they are a people, that in their homes, their children experience the same needs as those of the children of those they beat, of those they kill. They even attacked the dead, discharging their own frustrations. In the name of Jesus: stop killing! We are facing an unencouraging scenario.

The prelate appeals that he needs those in authority, with humility, to acknowledge the crimes, and that the guilty ones assume their responsibilities. Unfortunately, human life cannot be compensated or repaired or reclaimed.

There needs to be a change in the attitude and practice of the Media: that they give the voice to the people, that the media show what must change, to help those who govern and those who are governed. There also needs to be a change in government engagement with citizens. Government must create mechanisms for dialogue; it must be closer to the populations; it must feel their needs as its own. Above all, the government must provide effective responses, with all available means at its disposal: with poverty there is no peace. It is necessary to love the people more than the ruling chair itself, to make engagement and inclusion happen, so that people will again believe in their country, in the institutions, in their rulers.

Finally, Dom Tirso regrets that we know that on January 30, deep wounds opened that will not heal easily, but undertaking a path of violence will not lead anywhere, on the contrary. “For this reason, I pray and I will pray that the Lord will enlighten us so that we can live in peace, a just and lasting peace.”

We have to be careful not to assume an angelic condition of ourselves that puts us in a condition of people facing our own navels, experiencing selfishness without looking and worrying about those who need us. I hope that we will be able to give an account to God of our brothers, that we will even have the courage to make a statement to God and not a question: I am my brother’s guardian!

God bless our firm purpose of being more human and help us to build the necessary just and lasting peace with urgency in Angola.

Amen!

References

  • https://formacao.cancaonova.com/diversos/onde-esta-o-teu-irmao/ acessado aos 07 de Fevereiro de 2021 pelas 19:12 minutos.
  • Extrato da publicação no WhatsApp de Dom Tirso, Blanco, Bispo Católico da Diocese do Luena, Moxico de 31 de Janeiro de 2021.
  • Extrato da publicação no WhatsApp do Rev. André Cangovi Eurico – Secretário Geral da Igreja Evangélica Congregacional em Angola – IECA – 02 de Fevereiro de 2021.
  • Extrato da publicação no WhatsApp do Rev. Lúcio Simão Marques – Pastor Evangélico e Sociólogo – 02 de Fevereiro de 2021.

Short Devotion by Luís Samacumbi at the “UCC Morning Staff Chapel on ‘Following Jesus in Challenging Times’”

January 20, 2021

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Following Jesus in challenging times

 14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” 16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets.20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. Mark 1:14 -20 NIV

Dear friends,

Good Morning and Happy New Year!

 I do bring you greetings from your sisters and brothers in Angola who are currently busy building the body of Christ Jesus, the Lord in these challenging times. It’s a pleasure to worship with you and be able to share some thoughts.  I thank my brother Rev. Japhet for the extended invitation. Since I have nearly ten minutes for my reflection, allow me to use up my minutes.

The Gospel of Mark is a “busy” book. In this Gospel, Jesus seems the busiest, quickly moving from one event to another. One of the key words in the Gospel is immediately, occurring more than 40 times in Mark. We see Jesus as a servant – busy meeting needs and busy being God’s Messiah.

There is no doubt that we are living in a very challenging times with COVID-19 pandemic cases rising up everywhere in our broken, unjust and divided world. Here in Angola we too are struggling follow Jesus during these hard times. Youth unemployment (15 -24 years) peaked at 56.5% – 55.4% for women and 57.5% for men – that is about 2.7 million young people unemployed. Another major threat during the COVID-19 pandemic is the lack of tenure security affecting significant numbers of slum dwellers. Homeless, especially elders and street children, are also a major vulnerable group in the COVID-19 crisis in Angola. People are starving, mainly in Luanda, due to lack access to food. Sometimes people cannot get access to COVID-19 tests.

Therefore, if you go through difficult times, you may get mad, at God, or at those who appear to have caused your problems. Or you may feel sorry for yourself, become depressed, get angry with yourself, become fearful, or wonder if God loves you. These are all normal emotions. But don’t stop there. Ask God to help you draw close to Him and to put your trust in Him.

It was in a similar context that Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God. Jesus was a preacher and He brought the message of God’s rule on earth, though not in the manner that was popularly expected or desired. Most people wanted a political kingdom that would replace the oppressive occupation of the Romans. Contrary to the expectations of most people in His day, Jesus brought a kingdom of love, not subjugation; of grace, not law; of humility, not pride; for all men and women, not only the Jews; to be received voluntarily by people, not imposed by force.

Follow Me: this was the invitation extended to the fishermen: These were common men, without theological credentials or status in the world. Jesus met them as they labored as common men. Jesus chose these disciples not for who they were, but for what Jesus could do through them.

Mark reminds us that we make a serious mistake when we have the understanding that if we follow Jesus, then He will make life smoother and better for us in the here and now. Nowhere in the NT does Jesus promise His people a pain-free life with no worries or concerns. In all actuality, Jesus calls His followers to take up the cross to follow Him. A call to follow Jesus is a call to die.

We read that our Lord called Simon and Andrew, when they were “casting a net into the sea,” and James and John while they were “mending their nets.” It is clear, from these words, that the first followers of our Lord were not the great of this world. They were men who had neither riches, nor rank, nor power. But the kingdom of Christ is not dependent on such things as these.

Like the fishermen who were mending their nets when they were invited to follow Jesus, we are also being invited by Him to equip, to complete thoroughly, to repair, to adjust, to fit, frame, mend, to make perfect, to join together, to prepare, to restore and to mend the broken nets of our today’s world. Remember, following Jesus through tough times will lead us to new experiences of Worship.

Let us accept the challenges of the present and future time without pessimism or fatalism, but with hope and a great civic sense of commitment. Let us accept the challenge of building a new society based on law and justice, and respecting the sovereign will of the people. Let us not be distracted and isolated from the lives and experience of marginalized people.

Our actions must contribute to letting justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream. May YAHWH renew our commitment to justice as we go from here to serve God’s people.

Amen!

There will always be tomorrow

Reflection by Luis Samacumbi

Dear friends,

Upon opening my computer today January 7, 2021, I came across with a message from my friend Reverend Joyce M. Brown with the following subject: “Chaos & Violence & Insurrection at US Capitol!!! I’m HEARTSICK”. Surprised and perplexed, I visualized the sad scenario through the pictures shared by friend Joyce about what had happened the previous day – January, 6, 2021 in the United States of America.

I posed for a few minutes and quickly reflected on my own life full of ups and downs, and concluded that in life we ​​need to be humble enough and know how to lose. Sometimes we just focus on learning how to win, as if knowing how to lose was useless. On the contrary, success implies going through countless failures, large and small, resisting and overcoming them. We need to start again, many times, over the rubble of what has passed. The wisdom of life involves accepting the misfortunes of existence, from the most trivial to the most profound.

Life is made up of constant losses, hours that pass without ever passing again. Everything is always new, for better or for worse. To live is to learn to give up everything. Victories and defeats usually come in different intensities. Thus, learning to lose is a real necessity. Dealing with frustration and being able to keep your head in place is critical to moving forward. This involves recognizing that losing is a characteristic of any competitive activity. In order for someone to be named the winner, several others lost the game.

It is worth to say that defeat, especially “fair” defeat, is an important feedback mechanism and always leaves important lessons. We must avoid falling into denial and take advantage of the experience to grow. Defeat can be a difficult but efficient way to face our own fears, recognize our failures and evolve quickly. It is good to remember that a difficult defeat always leaves some positive aspects and memories of what we are capable of. Without forgetting mistakes, we value what we get right as an indicator that, despite everything, we are on the right path.

The loss helps us to deal with the frustration that is really uncomfortable and disturbing. Frustration can cause sadness, anger, psychological fatigue, internal discomfort and loneliness. Frustration is a very human experience; however, it is recommended that we stay at that point for the shortest possible time. Chronic frustration pollutes the heart with doses of stress, negative thoughts and anxiety. The first step after losing is to withdraw for reflection, to understand exactly where the problem is and what were the aspects that favored the negative result. It is important to know what went wrong so that we can correct it in the future.

Whenever we go through the loss process, it is imperative to understand why we are losing, and it is important to adjust our mentality so that the defeats does not affect us. We must understand that nothing valuable comes easy. As much as we hear examples of success overnight, there is usually a long work of defeats, victories and learning that no one was close to follow.

There will always be someone to celebrate your failure. Look ahead and don’t listen to anyone who doesn’t bring constructive information. Listening to those who have nothing to add is the worst way to deal with challenging times. Be surrounded by positive people who help you to get up. Perhaps the most important thing that we can extract from all these ideas is that there will always be tomorrow. That losing is bad and nobody wants it, but that tomorrow is there to play and try again.

The best way to learn to lose is to accept these experiences calmly. The importance of internal dialogue is remarkable for both winning and losing with emotional intelligence and tranquility.

Jesus, teach us to lose!

Shalom

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Bibliographic Notes

https://www.imissio.net/artigos/49/2447/a-importancia-de-aprender-a-perder/

https://papodehomem.com.br/como-aprender-a-perder/https://papodehomem.com.br/como-aprender-a-perder/

https://guiame.com.br/colunistas/bruno-dos-santos/jesus-ensina-me-perder.html

É na escuridão que se aprecia a beleza das estrelas

Por: Luís Samacumbi

Em breve um ano agitado, desafiador, difícil e louco chegará ao fim. O ano de 2020 provavelmente será lembrado por todos nós como o “Ano-Corana” por muito tempo, porque teve um impacto incrível em nossas vidas e também mudaram em muito pouco tempo. Coisas que nunca podíamos imaginar antes de repente se tornaram um facto. Novas palavras como “distanciamento social, novo normal, bloqueio, distância corona, etc”. agora fazem parte do nosso vocabulário. Sim, de facto, foi um ano cheio de acontecimentos, com muitas mudanças – negativas e positivas. Este tem sido um ano muito difícil, desafiador de várias maneiras e continua sendo assim. Muitas vidas foram perdidas, economias foram abaladas, empregos perdidos e muitos outros desafios vieram com bloqueios e redução de actividades.

Depois de tudo isso, chegou a época de esperança, de luz e de um novo começo! É minha oração que o Ano Novo traga esperança para um mundo melhor e mais justo para todas e todos, que haja luz onde há trevas, e que 2021 seja um de ano cura e renovação. Apesar das dificuldades e lutas, o caminho é para a frente, basta lembrar que é na escuridão que se aprecia a beleza das estrelas. As vezes momentos difíceis e de luta nos ajudam a nos firmar e a crescer.

O ambiente tenebroso imposto pela pandemia do COVID -19, tornou o Natal num aniversário realmente fedorento. Como afirmou o Pastor Phiwa Langeni, de todos os lugares onde Jesus poderia ter nascido, ele entrou no mundo, num local sujo, fedorento, barulhento, bagunçado, frio e sujo para alimentar animais.

Foi nestas circunstâncias difíceis e escuras que a Jovem Maria deu à luz seu filho primogênito e envolveu-o em faixas de pano, e deitou-o numa manjedoura, porque não havia lugar para eles na estalagem (Lucas 2: 7). Ainda assim, Jesus veio ao mundo como um bebé pequeno e indefeso para um casal improvável num lugar muito repulsivo.

Para Jesus, Maria e José, a escuridão e o ambiente repulsivo serviram de grande oportunidade para a cura e transformação da sociedade enferma e para aumentar o seu poder de agir como agentes de cura e transformação de Deus num mundo dividido e individualista.

Hoje também nos sentimos desamparados quando tragédias inesperadas invadem nossas vidas. Nós lutamos para ver, ouvir e respeitar verdadeiramente uns aos outros. Algumas das nossas igrejas que deveriam ser lugar de alívio e esperança tornaram-se em ditaduras autênticas em lugares que despertam a ansiedade, o ódio, insensibilidade e o medo.

 Ainda assim, Deus entra em nosso mundo entregando o poder, por meio de pessoas peculiares e em lugares bizarros que jamais poderíamos esperar, porque é só com a escuridão da noite que conseguimos contemplar a beleza das estrelas.

Por isso, mesmo não importa onde estamos em nossas vidas, não importa o tipo de caos que encontramos, Deus já esteve lá, Deus está lá agora e Deus continuará a estar lá connosco. Nas dificuldades econômicas, nos desastres evitáveis, no caos político, nas margens da sociedade, em todas as circunstâncias, Deus está connosco, sempre e para sempre.

Que Deus nos ajude a perceber que a felicidade é uma noite de lua cheia.

Amém!

Bibliografia Consultada

  • Ritzmann, Beatrice – SAM Global December, 2020.
  • Ndhlovu, Japhet – End of Year Letter 2020 to UCC Partners, December 18, 2020.
  • Langeni, Phiwa – Stank-y Birthday, United Church of Christ Daily Devotional, December 25, 2020.
  • Evangelho Segundo S. Lucas, Capítulo 2, Verso Sete – Bíblia Sagrada, Tradução João Ferreira de Almeida.

It is in the darkness that you can appreciate the beauty of the stars

By: Luís Samacumbi

Soon an eventful, challenging, strange and crazy year will come to an end. The year 2020 will probably be remembered by all of us as the “Corona- Year” for a long time to come, because it has had an incredible impact on our lives and also changed it in a very short time. Things we could never imagined before were suddenly a fact. New words like “social distancing, new normal, lockdown, corona distance, etc.” are now part of our vocabulary. Yes indeed, it has been an eventful year with many changes – negative and positive. This has been a very difficult year, challenging in many ways and continues to be so. Many lives were lost, economies were shaken, jobs were lost and many other challenges came with blockages and reduced activities.

After all this is the season of hope, of light, and of a new beginning! May the New Year therefore bring hope for a better and more just world for all, let there be light where there now is darkness, and may 2021 be a year of healing and renewal. Despite the difficulties and struggles, the path is forward, just remember that it is in the darkness that you can appreciate the beauty of the stars. Sometimes difficult times and struggles help us to consolidate and grow.

The dark environment imposed by the COVID -19 pandemic, made Christmas a really stinking birthday. As Phiwa Langeni said, of all the places where Jesus could have been born, he entered the world, in a dirty, smelly, noisy, messy, cold and dirty place to feed animals. Of all the places Jesus could’ve been born, he entered the world in a dingy, stinky, loud, messy, cold, grimy location for feeding animals.

It was in these dark and difficult circumstances that Young Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn (Luke 2: 7). Still, Jesus entered the world as a tiny helpless baby to an unlikely couple in a most repulsive place.

For Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the darkness and the repulsive environment served as a great opportunity for the healing and transformation of the sick society and to increase their power to act as agents of God’s healing and transformation in a divided and individualistic world.

Today, in Angola and elsewhere we also feel helpless when unexpected tragedies invade our lives. We strive to see, hear and truly respect each other. Some of our churches that should be a place of relief and hope have become authentic dictatorships in places that arouse anxiety, hatred, insensitivity and fear.

 Still, God enters our world surrendering power, through peculiar people and in bizarre places we might never expect, because it is only with the darkness of the night that we can contemplate the beauty of the stars.

No matter where we are in our lives, no matter what kinds of chaos we encounter, God has already been there, God is there now, and God will continue to be right there with us. In economic hardships, in preventable disasters, in political mayhem, in society’s margins, in every circumstance, God is withus, always and forever.

May God help us to realize that happiness is a full moon night.

Amen!

Bibliography Notes

– Ritzmann, Beatrice – SAM Global December, 2020.

– Ndhlovu, Japhet – End of Year Letter 2020 to UCC Partners, December 18, 2020.

– Langeni, Phiwa – Stank-y Birthday, United Church of Christ Daily Devotional, December 25, 2020.

– Gospel According to St. Luke, Chapter 2, Verse Seven – Holy Bible, João Ferreira de Almeida Version.

Remarks by Luis Samacumbi [1] at the “Angola Memorial Scholarship Fund – Annual General Meeting”

December 14, 2020

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus,

Beloved Friends,

As we sit here today on this remarkable AMSF Annual General Meeting date in a virtual setting, we are focused on 2021 plans and in our journey together. We miss our friends who have departed during this year ending in 2020.

First, let’s thank the AGM organizers for the efforts made, as well as for inviting me here today to share a few insights on the recent developments in Angola in a world of increasing complexity and accelerating change.  

Like Paul the Apostle I do believe that “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4: 8 – 9).

Life has taught me that any crisis can be an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, either from an individual or organizational perspective. As we learn to Adapt in the present world context we are called to find the humor in the situation, focus on our values instead of our fears, and accept the past, but fight for the future.

Angola has been experiencing an economic recession for 5 years. The resulting social and economic consequences have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Affecting the whole world, this pandemic has generated a global context of extreme uncertainty, where the difficulties in the international market are accentuated and where social discontent becomes widespread. When and how the conditions imposed by the pandemic, in a situation of economic recession, can be overcome in Angola remain unanswered questions.

Thus, for 2021, Angola will face the challenge of first identifying and prioritizing policies that are capable of mitigating the effects of a pandemic that has dragged on over time and that are capable of responding to the imperative of protecting life and addressing the growing difficulties of families that are losing income with rising unemployment, companies facing bankruptcy and the daily crises confronting most vulnerable families and citizens.

In its assessment of 2020, the World Bank recommended strengthening social protection in a logic of anticipating future shocks in terms of vulnerability and poverty, as well as alerting to the need for the Government to finance central programs in this area [2].

A very reasonable expectation from society was related to the need to adapt the education system to the constraints and challenges imposed by the pandemic. Not making this investment now will have profoundly negative short, medium and long term consequences.

The economic shocks and prolonged or successive school closures will result in higher school drop-out rates, affecting the most vulnerable children and young people who do not have the means to access the tele-school or any other means of virtual teaching. The schooling delay of these children will be even greater, as will the probability of not returning to school.

In the long run, the effects of this situation on the level of human capital are disastrous and the menu of consequences includes increasing poverty, worsening inequalities and the likelihood of greater dissatisfaction and social instability. A reform that is crucial both for the development of social and territorial cohesion, as well as for democratic culture, is decentralization – a theme that has been on the Angolan public agenda for several years.

In Angola, the proportion of families concerned about insufficient food in the last 7 days, amounts to 67.9%. The percentage of families that have limited the size of meals for 5 or more days in the last 7 days is 39.6% and the national proportion of families with food insufficiency in the last 12 months is 55.8%. This situation is as worrying in urban areas (57.6%) as in rural areas (52.7%). In addition, the average number of months that citizens in Angola spend without sufficient food is 3.9 months [3]. in Angola. I note that only 0.9% of the population has health insurance.

Decentralization of education, as an effective response to the pandemic, is a model which IECA has been practicing for years. The innovative education programs of the IECA Women’s Association, supported by AMSF provides a shining example, as does the Etta Snow School which offers programming to children who have not been able to benefit from regular elementary school. IECA is a member of CICA, and helps in the identification of gifted scholarship candidates with community leadership qualities. I have had the privilege of visiting Quessua Mission, with its innovative education outreach programs, which AMSF has been supporting.

  Let me share with you words from a CICA Scholarship student. Virginia João Fernando, born in Porto Amboim, Cuanza Sul Province, was orphaned by the death of her father, and lives with her mother, in Porto Amboim. Currently, Virginia is a student at the Instituto Agrário do Waku Kungo, a boarding school, which closed because of COVID-19. She says:

“Thanks to the support of AMSF, I am training in Agronomy to support peasant communities in family farming, which is a source for diversifying the economy of my country, which is experiencing the problems of petroleum dependence. Without the CICA scholarship, my widowed mother would not be able to get me to school. I am grateful to the individual AMSF members and donors. God bless and multiply the work of your hands.”

I should mention that post-secondary programs were given government permission to resume in October of 2020, although under uncertain circumstances. 

In closing, I hope that AMSF, functioning within the current global uncertainties, will be able to reinvent itself, learning how to adapt the organization to the new challenges in order to maintain its critical presence in Angola. In doing so, AMSF will continue its fabulous contribution of transforming lives through education in Angola.

I wish you well in your deliberations and thank you for your kind attention.


[1] Director General of Resource Mobilization, Evangelical Congregational Church in Angola

[2] https://onuangola.org/pnud-relatorio-de-desenvolvimento-humano-2019-destaca-desigualdades/

[3] Inquérito sobre despesas, receitas e emprego em Angola. IDREA 2018-2019.

Remarks by Luis Samacumbi at the “Angola UCC partners Online Conference/Consultation on ‘Mending the World’”


August 12, 2020

Dear friends,

Grace and peace to each of you. It’s a pleasure to be part of this lovely event and to share some thoughts with you. Let me thank the organizers Rev. Japhet and Josie.

This conference takes place four days after IECA buried one of its members – Mr. Silva Zeca, from Lobito. He was a very committed person to the noble cause of mending the world.

I must admit that I was a bit intimidated when the invitation was extended, realizing that I am relative newcomer to the theologian’s world while many of you have been doing good things in this world for much longer. Then I found out that my General Secretary of IECA, Rev. André Cangovi Eurico, would be one of the speakers, and I was doubly intimidated.

But I overcame my fears when I realized that this is an online conference. So, if my remarks are terrible and disappointing, you won’t have to go to the trouble of running me out of this virtual room! You can just turn off your volume. And, if by good fortune my remarks are timely and useful, I can leave with no fear of having to live up to a good reputation! So, all things considered, thank you for your kind invitation to speak today.

Since, I have twenty minutes for my presentation, allow me make good use of this time.

In the past, significant political and environmental crises have changed the world in fundamental ways.  The great pandemics that devastated the land brought great advances in science and medicine. The great social upheavals were an opportunity to reprogram our world and also bring about better systems of cooperation, accountability and governance. The world changed, reformed, and became better[1]. In recognizing the good has come out of previous catastrophes and pandemics, I believe that this current crisis is a major opportunity for healing and transformation of the church, which can enhance its power to act as God’s agent of healing and transformation in the world.

If the Church, in Angola and worldwide, continues to be as it was before COVID-19, then the experience was worthless and the world will be less prepared and more fragile for future events of a local or international dimension. 

This conference, today, can be a reminder that “we believe that God calls the Church to do justice and love kindness, to show courage in the face of evil, to seek reformation for itself and society, to share God’s liberating and empowering work, to trust in God”[2] (Micah 6:8).

Why do we need to mend the world?

  • The world is too dangerous from an environmental point of view: pollution; global warming; unprecedented and never before seen environmental disasters;
  • The world is too dangerous from a social point of view: crime; political instability; fragility of states; racial and ethnic discrimination etc.;
  • The world is too dangerous from an economic point of view: increasing inequality both within countries and between countries – in both ways the gap between the rich and poor grows wider and wider;
  • The world is too dangerous from a political point of view: failed states with development models that further accentuate social inequalities; global governance crises; total disillusionment and lack of confidence in the global and local governance systems; desertion by nations of their commitments to universally accepted pacts;
  • Even the Church has become an end in itself – a Church increasingly focused on itself for its own maintenance:
  • The Church has lost its role in influencing society. I see a Church that is often held hostage by political and economic forces and has become less prophetic;
  • I see that the functional structure of the Church is too rigid, heavy and vertical; a copy of failed organizational models in the world, with exaggerated emphasis on power and less on being in the service of God;
  • I see a Church weakened by internal conflicts, sin and idleness, with different priorities than “Missio Dei”.
  • The Church must continue to be a fluid movement that uses the strength of the members instead of the strength of the government approved and controlled institutions;

How should the Church contribute to mending the world?

  1. Renewing itself spiritually: A Christianity of appearances, a Sunday committed to the sin of self-righteousness, must be abandoned. Avoid at all costs falling into the deaf and blind situation described by Isaiah 65:1: “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name.” We, those who consider ourselves to be in the Light, must seek God and invoke his name in Spirit and in truth.
  2. Increase its spiritual and social relevance: We need a Church that grows fully. A Church that is not afraid to be a Church.  The Church increases its Social relevance by breaking the Silence on difficult issues. By greater engagement and contribution to issues of Climate Management, Governance, Social Inequality, Racial Justice. We must be a Church that Promotes Dialogues of Hope.
  3. Be more itinerant than sedentary as a Church: We must meet the challenge of moving the pulpit out into the community. And we must be present with both church and community at the same time so as not to leave “Jerusalem unguarded”. There is a need to make more adequate the Church’s training and research centers (Theological Seminaries or Biblical Institutes) in the formation of post COVID -19 Church leaders.
  4. Creating a more effective structure: We must be a more agile church with a less rigid structure than that of today, which is more suitable for those who sit on a sanctuary seat on a Sunday.  We must be a church that goes out to the people and not the other way around. A church that recognizes that leaders have less and less answers to the complex environment in which they live. A church that needs the insights and contribution of everyone.
  5. A more proactive and less reactive Church: We need the ability to renew, adapt, change quickly and succeed in an environment of rapid, ambiguous and turbulent changes. We need to move from an old church with outdated methods of operation, an old church that fails to renew its leadership by bringing younger age groups into its midst, groups who speak better to their peers, an old church which does not bring a contextualized message of renewal and hope, or has aged because it is worn out with endless internal conflicts. We need to Create Scenarios. (Most likely and the worst-case scenario – constantly asking the question: what is the worst that could happen in the Church or in the world and what are we going to do to avoid it, or to mitigate its effects?)

Concluding Thoughts

We have to mend the Church before mending the world. Mending the world needs the early church practices of deep introspection, and a spirit of sacrifice and humility.

There is a need to return to the essence of what it means to be a Church. We need to review the architecture of the current church, make it more horizontal, less institutional and more fluid in movement. The Church must stop doing the same thing and expecting different results. We have to experiment with more dynamic models that are appropriate to the current context. Deconstruct what is wrong. The fact that it is legal or in the statutes of the Church does not mean that it is good and great for the kingdom of God. I do not recommend asceticism, monastic life or any other excesses committed in the past, but to be a Christian or leader of a church has never been to be in comfort zones. It has always been a tight place, a tight way.

As a Church we need to be constant in our ethical and spiritual practice. We need to maintain the same voice and language of denunciation of social sin, alertness, empowerment, criticism, etc. It doesn’t matter who the offender or thief is. A domestic thief (of our family, tribe, color or party) remains a thief.

Our schools of theology should be research centers that put the Church at the forefront, in developing new approaches that place it at the level of influence where it once was and so it can positively influence current global thinking. I think that theological education is one of the most important things for bringing about the changes we want to see! My recent theological studies have been profoundly enlightening and empowering, and I long for that light to be shared far and wide.

The work of mending the church and mending the world can seem an overwhelming task. We can be encouraged by the image of an American poet who wrote, ‘Humanity [is] like an enormous spider web …. If you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling [for good or bad] the same can be said for the whole of creation.’[1]

Finally, we can be strengthened and comforted by the scripture in Colossians chapter 1:  Christ is present in and to all of life Coll 1:15″And in Christ all things hold together Coll 1: 17.

I thank you for your kind attention. And, I wish each of you Godspeed in your efforts to help hold up our half of the sky!


[1] https://theconversation.com/archaeology-shows-how-ancient-african-societies-managed-pandemics-138217 accessed on August 9, 2020 at 12:05

[1] The UC Canada Mending the World report, p.12.

[2] The UC Canada Mending the World report, p.4.

Sermons or Stories? Preachers or Storytellers?

I am expected to engage with this week’s assigned readings and more specifically reflect on the work of scripture, in its interpretation and proclamation to people living in current times. What an interesting assignment! As I try to put together my thoughts in five pages or less I recalled the discussion I had with a friend of mine in Caculama Municipality, Malanje Province, Angola on Sunday 13 January 2019 on the question of whether we are hearing more sermons or stories.

People living in current times are demanding preachers with power and passion, sensitive to the cultural context in which the performance of biblical testimony takes place[1]. It is clear that the preacher has to have a moral authority and merits the trust of the hearers[2]. And preaching, valid preaching, must be faithful to the biblical vision for justice, which arises from both our exposure to culture and our cloistered contact with the divine[3].

The sermon addresses and narrates God’s liberating response to the cries of the oppressed: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them” (Exodus 3:7-8)[4]. In fact, right at the start of his ministry Jesus set out his mission statement: good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed. This remains an inspiration for many social enterprise people today (Luke 4:18). Jesus didn’t need to invent a mission statement; he finds one ready-made in the Old Testament. The promise of good times no longer lay in the future; it was being fulfilled in the present – ‘today’ – and in his person. He is the Lord’s Servant of whom the book of Isaiah speaks. He is the one anointed by the Spirit, the longed-for Messiah. So echoing Isaiah, he promises good things to four groups of people: Good News to the Poor, Recovery of the Sight to the Blind, Freedom for the Oppressed and Relevance to those living Today. Surely, and I believe, this is the work of scripture in its interpretation and proclamation to people living in current times, which the preacher needs to articulate.

I am known as the border man because I was born on the border between Kwanza Sul and Huambo Provinces in Angola (Southern Africa) – an omen perhaps, in a society where class and the place of birth makes an important difference, that I would be a builder of bridges between people and communities. So, the identity of the preacher also comes to play when delivering the sermon. This was the case of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the servant of Yahweh, the itinerant preacher in Galilee who was then accused by the Jewish authorities, before the Roman procurator, of being political and a social agitator due to the egalitarian movement among the masses He inspired[5].

The sermon and the preaching of someone who understands the role of scripture, in it’s interpretation and proclamation to people living in current times, has to be prophetic and characterized by two elements: an overwhelming sense of an encounter with God and a message of moral and political judgement that the prophet feels divinely compelled to proclaim, particularly to those in political authority[6].

In my conversation with that friend of mine in Caculama we reflected on the fact that many pastors in our days tell stories, any stories, as long as the stories capture attention, seem relevant and take up sermon time. Perhaps the reason is that these pastors/preachers do not want to do the nitty gritty pastoral work of getting into a specific text embedded in a storied world of Israel and Church (and perhaps need more training and mentorship to enhance skill and confidence in exegesis).

What do we mean? Because Jesus told stories this is not a license for preachers to tell only stories and not “preach the word.” Any first year student knows that Jesus’s parables are riddled with biblical allusions, if not outright biblical motifs. That is, Jesus’s stories were told within a culture aware of and living in Israel’s ongoing story. Likewise, preachers today can elicit the biblical text or reference underlying modern stories, linking them back to the biblical moral of the original parable or passage (such as the theme of Moses in the film La Amistad).

I agree that preachers have to preach the Story of the Kingdom as it finds fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah. That story is anchored in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Telling stories outside of that big story may be pleasing in some communities, but will never be edifying to the church. Preachers must grapple with this gift called Scripture and preach it[7].

It is interesting to note that Jerome Clayton Ross suggests, and I do agree, that the Bible must be read as a collection of communications between different and diverse parties; it must be contextualized. By locating the Bible, says Ross, we are able to attribute it to somebodies[8].

The work of scripture, in it’s interpretation and proclamation to people living in current times has to include the ascertaining of when, where, and by whom that text was written, who spoke the text? To whom was it written? For whom was it spoken? When was it written? Where was it spoken? Where was it written? What is it addressing? How is it presented? Why is it presented[9]?

For the church to be meaningful and relevant topeople living in current times will have to raise its prophetic voice; the Ministers of the Gospel must comfort the afflicted, but they also have the prophet’s duty to afflict the comfortable. The sermons and the preachers will have to challenge the status quo, because the primary purpose of biblical prophecy is to effect social and political change in a society. Prophets have never been called to conserve social orders that have stratified inequities of power and privilege and wealth; prophets have always been called to change them so all can have access to the fullest fruits of life[10](John 10:10b).

May the Lord Jesus grant me with courage to raise my prophetic voice in Africa and in Angola in particular, to preach the word in such a way that liberates the oppressed and the voiceless people.

Amen

[1]Born to Preach: Essays in Honor of the Ministry of Henry & Ella Mitchell (2000), p.vii, viii.

[2]Ibid, 2000, p.viii

[3]Ibid, 2000, p.viii

[4]In – The Politics of Jesus – chapter One, p. 14

[5]Born to Preach: Essays in Honor of the Ministry of Henry & Ella Mitchell (2000), p.25

[6]In – The Politics of Jesus – chapter One, p. 28

[7]https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/10/28/telling-stories-is-not-preaching/accessed on 20 February, 2019 at 6:40 PM

[8]Born to Preach: Essays in Honor of the Ministry of Henry & Ella Mitchell (2000), p.30

[9]Ibid, 2000, p. 31.

[10]The Politics of Jesus – chapter One, p. 28

Do not Shrink Your Neighbor to Misery

“You have heard that it was said, – Love your neighbor and hate your enemy, – But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

Mathews 5:43ff

This biblical text was once used in the past by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in his sermon during his remarkable efforts to counter a vicious racist campaign in Alabama, United States of America. Dr. King argued that he, Jesus said, “love your enemies” – He was talking about the secret of the power of nonviolence action.

According Dr. King

“There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet. Jesus discovered it centuries ago. Mahatma Gandhi of India discovered it a few years ago, but most of men and most women never discovered it. For they believe in hitting for hitting; they believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; they believe in hating for hating; but Jesus comes to us and says, “This isn’t the way.[1]

The way includes speaking truth to power and being open to reconciliation with others in right action in the times and places we find ourselves.

As a consequence of the rooted and institutional corruption in Angola the percentage of people living in poverty is increasing (by/to more than 36% of the 25 million). In fact, critical poverty is the greatest drama, both for the suffering it causes in itself, and for its articulation with environmental dramas, the lack of access to knowledge and the deformation of the production process to one that is not interested in the needs of those who have no purchasing power.

The United Nations (UN) estimated in 2000 that it would cost at least $300 billion to lift a billion people living on less than $1.00 a day out of misery. These are ridiculously low costs when you consider the trillions transferred to financially privileged economic groups in the context of the last financial crisis. The ethical benefit of such a poverty alleviation program is immense, for it is unacceptable for 10 million children a year to die for ‘ridiculous’ reasons. The short- and medium-term benefit of poverty alleviation programming is great, as the resources directed at the base of the social pyramid immediately stimulate micro and small production, acting as a counter-cyclical process, as has been observed in the social policies of many countries including Angola. The Angolan government indicated recently that intends to “end the extreme poverty of three million Angolans[2]” by 2022, within the framework of the Monitoring Plan to Combat Poverty.

In the longer term, it will be a generation of children who have been fed decently, which will translate into their better school achievement and greater productivity in adult life. In terms of political stability and overall security, the impacts are obvious. This is the best-invested money imaginable, and the experiences of some countries like Brazil, Mexico and other countries that have implemented such policies have already provided the relevant know-how.

It appears to me that the very popular theory that the poor remain poor and dependent if they receive help is simply denied by the facts: getting out of poverty stimulates productivity, and money is simply more useful where it is most needed.

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord”

(Deuteronomy 8:3)

Dr. Thistlethwaite, former president of Chicago Theological Seminary, a syndicated columnist, ordained minister, activist, theologian, and translator of the Bible, affirms that “this text from the Hebrew Bible, and Jesus’ quotation of it in the Christian scriptures, is often used to justify poverty and interpreted to mean, “if you really have faith, you don’t need food.” That’s not at all what this text means, nor what Jesus means when he quotes it[3]. Professor Gutierrez, cited by Dr. Thistlethwaite, testifies that “you do theology differently when your stomach is full than when it is empty”, mainly because those who are on the street, who are hungry and in poor health, are the ones feeling the real effects of economic policies ….”[4] It is in acknowledging the real effect of exploitative economic policies that we understand the path of action we are called to follow.

May the Lord have mercy on us in order not Shrink our Neighbor to Misery.

[1] # Occupy the Bible – Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, 2012, p. 11

[2] https://www.club-k.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=33636:governo-quer-tirar-da-pobreza-extrema-tres-milhoes-de-pessoas-ate-2022&catid=41026&Itemid=1083&lang=pt

[3]# Occupy the Bible – Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, 2012, p. 21

[4] Ibid, 2012 p. 2