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Photo essay: Lighting the way in Quéssua, Angola (UM News)

Since the late 19th century, the Methodist mission station in Quéssua, Angola, has supported the physical and spiritual needs of the villagers in this rural area, now part of the East Angola Conference of The United Methodist Church.

A mission station is an outpost of the church that provides for the physical and spiritual needs of a community. It uses a holistic approach that supports education, skills training, health care, and agricultural and economic sustainability.

Having adopted more modern approaches to mission work, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries no longer utilizes the mission-station model, though there is still a handful operating on the African continent.

Since 2004, the Florida Conference has maintained a relationship with the East Angola Conference and supported missionaries at the Quéssua station. The Florida Conference also has sent mission teams there on a regular basis.

In April, a Volunteers in Mission team from Florida traveled to Quéssua for a variety of projects, ranging from medical to nutritional to infrastructure. United Methodist News accompanied the team.

One of the main projects was providing cataract surgeries and other vision care.

Russ Montgomery, who runs a nonprofit in Tampa called Living in Faith, worked with the Florida Conference to arrange for a surgeon and medical equipment to go to Angola. His ministry runs an eye clinic in Haiti, and he made his first trip to Quéssua in 2022.

The medical team, led by California-based ophthalmologist and eye surgeon Dr. Jeehee Kim, performed 26 cataract surgeries, removing damaged lenses and replacing them with artificial ones.

Graciela Espinosa, an optometrist serving as a missionary from the Methodist Church of Cuba, assisted with the pre- and post-operation exams as well as translating for the Portuguese-speaking patients.

“It’s really moving to help people who have been basically blind for years,” she said. “They say, ‘I can see the light; I can read the hour on the clock,’ and they start giving thanks to God.”

Ben Jacob, an assistant research professor in the College of Public Health at the University of South Florida in Tampa, joined the team to implement a unique anti-malaria program that he calls “Seek and Destroy” — named after a song by Metallica.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human malaria is transmitted only by female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. Adult females lay eggs directly on water — 50-200 at a time — and they hatch within just a few days. With its long rainy season, Angola is prone to pools of standing water that are ideal environments for egg-laying.

While Jacob was teaching villagers to fight malaria, Jennifer and Victor Martin were teaching women in the village a different set of fighting skills.

Sexual assaults and rapes are prevalent in the area, with women working in the fields or walking alone at night being especially vulnerable. Some have even been killed. The Martins, both with military backgrounds, led classes in self-defense to give women skills to fight off would-be attackers.

Malnutrition is another issue in this part of Angola, for people of all ages. One idea the Florida Conference had was to create protein-rich nutritional bars containing peanut butter and a vitamin mix.

“When you’re so malnourished, regular food isn’t enough,” said Michele Johnston, a member of the team from Jacksonville.

The mission station has a 20-hectare (about 50 acres) farm on its grounds, and it runs an agricultural program overseen by Kutela Katembo, a Global Ministries missionary and agriculturalist supported by both the Florida and Mountain Sky conferences. The farm grows peanuts and provided over 100 bags for the project.

In addition to the nutritional supplement project, the team volunteered as servers at the mission station’s weekly children’s food program. Each Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of children and teens in the village are provided a healthy meal — for many, it may be the only one they get that day.

“Quéssua is surrounded by villages with people who can’t afford to eat three times a day,” Katembo said. “Whenever we have something from the farm, we use it to support the kids.”