Angola! Why not Elsewhere?
For years the Hualonda people had no dealings with us, not since that bitter day when the mission elders loudly denounced us missionaries. “We don’t need your visits,” they snapped. “We don’t want you or your sermons either,” So through the years we went our separate ways. Occasionally we met at funerals, and twice I preached in villages of Hualondo elders who privately deplored the breach. But for the most part relationships were cool, regulated with precision by the standard code of behaviour observed in these parts. There was nothing that would suggest a common life in Christ. Recently, however, after so long a time, a letter broke the silence, “Come let us reason together,” it said.
Veloso, our Chilonda church secretary rode with me to Sangongolo where we left the car. Other Chilonda men had pedalled their bikes to this half-way village, leaving them there to tramp the last 3 miles. We trudged up a steep, rocky hill, hurried down an avenue of coffee trees to the mission school building. Hualondo men were lounging on the concrete stoep chatting idly. Many were dressed in hand-me-downs taken from imported bales of Salvation Army clothing. In their patched pants and wrinkled, ill-fitting jackets they looked like hobos waiting for a cup of coffee at a rescue mission in New York. Yet some of God’s choicest saints were there. With exquisite courtesy they greeted us, inviting us to enter the school.
Arranged in a semi-circle were about 20 straight-backed chairs for the leading men, and behind these several rows of benches for younger men. They gave me a chair in front of the blackboard. Nearby sat Hama, venerable in his old age and full of dignity. Calungu, grey-headed, solid, highly respected, sat near the door. Beside him sat his understudy, Eurico, a tan-colored man with a voice like the crash of thunder. These were good men. But Chivava was there, too. Four years ago he was malevolently hostile in his braying opposition to the missionaries. Now he sat smirking in the corner, silent at last. And at my right sat Joshua, the man who had been the Hualondo church secretary for years. Grasping, unscrupulous, savagely ambitious and proud of his pure Umbundu blood, he wielded power in the church. Now he sat at a table where he affected to write in a huge ledger.
“Start,” he whispered to an old man seated in the semi-circle. Sanjoni stood up with dignity, his pirate eyes glaring though he spoke hesitantly. “We have sinned,” he said. “The Lord Jesus said, ‘Be at peace,’ and here we are avoiding each other like blood enemies.” He went on sadly, retelling the story of The Trouble, repeating often what Jesus had said about peace. He turned his fierce eyes on me. Sweating now, for he is a gentle man, notwithstanding his menacing looks, he spoke passionately. “Is there no peace, Nala Coley? Is there no peace?”
It was my turn to speak. As their eyes fastened on me I knew it was a great moment, and relished it. No newspaper would record it. No politician would take notice, even if he were to hear of it. Nevertheless, it was a great moment in the history of the beloved churches of Bie. “Our hearts are unchanged,” I said. “We have always loved you. Are we not brothers? Have we not the same Lord? Are there two Christs?” I read in 1 Corinthians, then said, “Do I not love you? God is witness that I do. I will gladly spend and be spent for you!” I turned to my Chilonda brethren. “Do I lie, my brothers?” “No!!” they rumbled in unision. “God knows we all love them!” I went on to confess our part in the contention, asked forgiveness. It was immediately evident that the Holy Spirit of God was touching hearts. Half a dozen men sprang to their feet to praise God. Luiz Pedro, a Chilonda elder famed for his interminable prayers, said simply that in Christ there were neither Greeks nor Scythian much less Chilonda and Hualondo. “We are one people in the Lord,” he declared with feeling. Old Costa, respected for his tenacity in legal disputes but feared by many for his epilepsy, uttered his usual banalities and nearly spoiled the fellowship. But then the beloved Vitorino stood up to speak.
In his magnificent voice, he read about the tongue that sets the world on fire. Then he read Philippians 2, where the mind of Christ is explained. When he finished we sat meditating. Finally, Hama stood up to “lock up the word,” as they say in Umbundu. “I didn’t hear anything Nala Cole-ey said,” he observed. “His soft voice no longer reaches my deaf old ears. But I heard Vitorino. And I remember when the word of God came to this land. Oh, I remember, all right! God had his prophets then — black and white. I knew Nala Swana! There was a man! And there was Nala Lena and Nala Sande. All white men! But there was also Nala Mulena and Sanji and Vongula. They were black, and God laid his hands on them, too. And some were from Chilonda, and some from Hualondo. Even Capango! But they were all brothers in Christ. And they loved each other. Ha! you young men don’t know what love is! Well, God did a mighty work through those prophets. Now we’re going back to those early days!” He paused. “Brethren!” He stood before us, a patriarchal figure, and again raised his quavering old voice, “Brethren, Jesus said, ‘Love one another and have peace!’ “
Later, we ate a ceremonial plate of corn meal mush and chicken. And for me they had something extra —hot milk with sugar in it.
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity …” (Ps. 133).