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Southern Baptists share food, God’s love in war-ravaged Angola

KUITO, Angola (BP)–Tired and weary, the woman smiles as she holds up the ragged piece of cloth. The Baptist minister smiles back and dishes a few cups of rice into it.

The woman quickly folds and wraps the cloth around the precious gift, but grain after grain falls through the threadbare cloth to the ground. She bends and picks up every piece of rice she can find. It’s been a long time since her family has eaten rice, and nothing will go to waste.

Missionaries Eddie and Janice Ray said their hearts broke as the food was passed out to the 500 families registered for a Baptist relief project through local churches in Kuito, Angola.

“The people there are so hard off. It’s just hard to live for them,” said Ray, who coordinates the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s work in Angola. “When we handed out the food and clothes, you could see how grateful the people were. They would just light up.”

Angola’s 26-year civil war rages on, leaving thousands of casualties behind. Increased attacks by both government and rebel forces have sent refugees flooding into the town of Kuito — as many as 3,000 a day.

The United Nations reports that more than half of Angola’s people have been dislocated by the war. Entire communities walk for days and even months, dodging land mines and bullets, to reach the safety of Kuito.

Twenty-two months of shelling and street fighting have wrecked Kuito. Even though the attacks ended eight years ago, still-hidden land mines keep people from rebuilding. Families live in bombed-out buildings, while students meet in a crumbling school building.

Seventeen tons of food, Bibles and clothing — purchased with Southern Baptist hunger and relief funds — were flown in to help relief agencies already taxed by the overwhelming demands.

Many families go for days without anything to eat.

“These people don’t have anything to take care of themselves with. Their clothes are just ragged threads,” Janice Ray said. “The cloth of the women’s shirts and the men’s shirts were so bare that the beans and rice were passing through them to the ground.”

When their villages were raided, many people left with only the clothes on their backs. As a result, clothes are a prized commodity in this area of Angola. Beaming children put their new clothes on right in the middle of the church.

“I saw faces that were so tired,” Janice said. “Despite that, they just stood there in line with hopes of getting something. These people are living a hard life. They are weary.”

Angola has been at war since 1961, although the civil war officially began when the country was granted independence from Portugal in 1975. Many Angolans have never known a time of peace.

IMB missionaries evacuated the country in 1992 due to the severity of the fighting. One missionary couple returned in 1993 and stayed until they retired in 1997. Four missionary families replaced them in the capital city of Luanda in 1998.

Food and clothing, of course, are not the long-term answer for the people of Angola.

Relief agencies have been trying to help the people for years, Ray said, but Angolans cannot help themselves until they can return to their fields. Efforts to rid farmland of land mines have been stepped up, and some areas are now cleared for cultivation.

After the land mines are removed, the Baptists of Angola plan to launch another major relief project: supplying hoes and seed to help Angolans living in the countryside become more self-sufficient.

“These people have nothing, not even a hoe,” Ray said. “They were forced to leave everything behind. They are willing to work. They just don’t have the means to get started.

“Our goal is to help them, both spiritually and physically. The best thing we can do for them is help them to help themselves.”
— Search for current prayer requests from Angola: http://www.imb.org/CompassionNet/countries.asp.
— Learn more about Angola missions needs: http://www.imb.org/southern-africa/country_info-angola.htm.
— Volunteer needs in Angola: http://www.imb.org/southern-africa/volunteer.htm.
— Financial contributions for Angola relief efforts may be sent to International Mission Board, General Relief Fund – Angola, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230.
— Young family follows God’s call to Angola’s war-ravaged people: http://www.imb.org/learn/news/story.asp?id=491.