Proxy war and broken peace

Wiebes-Witness-HeaderAngola as a case study

I felt the burn rising in my head.

“You mean to say the civil war in Angola was really a proxy war between the USA and Russia during the Cold War?” I asked. Jean-Claude answered, “Yes, it became that.”

Jean-Claude drove three ICOMB delegates – José Arrais, Valdas Vaitkevičius and me – to pay fraternal visits to rural churches in the Angola Mennonite Brethren conference (IEIMA) after our 2014 ICOMB Summit in Luanda. As we drove through the countryside, we had hours to touch on all kinds of subjects.

Civil war

One topic was the 27-year civil war. Angolans had split into several factions after independence from Portugal in 1975. One was Marxist, called “MPLA.” It eventually became the elected government, at first empowered by Cuba, and later backed by Russia. Another faction, called “UNITA,” fought the Marxists, supported by South Africa and later, the U.S. It only ended in 2002.

Over 27 years of war a lot of terrible things can happen – and did. The tragedy is expressed most poignantly in the church. I felt that “burn” on behalf of our church in 2014, and I still do today.

Poverty

One obvious tragedy is the poverty of our brothers and sisters in Angola. While oil and diamonds are found in abundance, this wealth bypasses the majority of Angolans. IEIMA churches struggle to find land, build meeting places, or put roofs on them.

Tribalism

Another tragedy is how conflict can be fed by tribal origins. Different tribes participated in different factions. These differences continue to fester after people join the church because their emotions are still loaded from the traumas of witnessing violence and death. Last year, leaders from regions near Congo were openly criticized because of their origins.

Politics

Politics affects IEIMA too. We visited a local church that had to move its worship location. They were renting a facility, and someone told the landlord the church was “UNITA” because it was “Menonitas.” You can hear the resemblance as you sound out the two words. In the past, you could get someone killed by simply saying, “That person is ‘UNITA.’” In 1990, the MB conference split, each side accusing the other of ties to UNITA.

More recently, the leader of IEIMA used his former military connections to his advantage and got IEIMA in deep trouble. Not only was IEIMA in danger of being dissolved by the government, it had drawn the other four Angolan Mennonite conferences into jeopardy as well. ICOMB negotiated his resignation, and now supports a new interim team that’s working to resolve a myriad of problems. I recently re-read the history of IEIMA and sighed when I realized almost the exact same thing happened in 1991.

Take-aways

There are a couple of take-aways for me. First, there is no “just war.” A significant element of Christianity seriously questions this theory, and furthermore, the practical reality is that war devastatingly affects the life of the church. So, I’ve stiffened my resolve to live into our peace-church conviction.

Unceasing war now characterizes our world. So the responsible Christian must first question any political rhetoric that says “we have to be at war in this situation.” Why? The church is likely present in that situation. Why are we so quick to agree with our governments on this point? Where is our faith? Where is our peace conviction? Our social engagement to resolve conflict and address injustices that open doors to conflict? When will Christians stop killing Christians much less anyone else our government tells us are our “political enemies”?

Second, the church is incredibly resilient, praise God. We find our way through war, politics, poverty, conflict and more. The way of Jesus and the teachings of Scripture show us how to live together, care for each other, and love. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, ESV). “Above all these things put on love.” (Colossians 3:14, NKJV).Authors_0001_David Wiebe

November 11 marks Armistice Day – when the treaty to end World War I was signed. Canada, USA, Belgium, France, United Kingdom and others observe it. As Christians, let’s remember what war does to the church, and commit once more to live in love and peace.

 

Some churches meet under trees in compounds, in mud buildings with thatched roofs, in brick buildings with tin roofs, etc. MB Mission has church-roof project supports in various countries including Angola.

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IEIMA (Evangelical Church of Mennonite Brethren in Angola) reports 12,000 members in 90 churches. They plant new churches every year, hoping to reach every province.

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Joana Garcia is the current president of IEIMA.

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The Bielefeld MB church in Germany raised $10,000 to put on a church roof in Angola in early 2015.

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The factions of the civil war – including MPLA, the Marxist group – were led by men with Christian background. The churches of Angola “finally awoke,” and through public worship services, marches and meetings with government leaders, set the stage for peace.

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Further reading: “Peaceable Witness in Contexts of Conflict” by Lutiniko Landu Miguel Pedro with David Wiebe, in The Church in Mission: Perspectives of Global Mennonite Brethren on Mission in the 21st Century, Victor Wiens, editor, Kindred Productions: 2015.

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Some churches meet under trees in compounds, in mud buildings with thatched roofs, in brick buildings with tin roofs, etc. MB Mission has church-roof project supports in various countries including Angola.

Read more of Wiebe’s Witness

♦ Christmas all year-round [in Angola]

 Valentines from Panama: A church in the rainforest

 Faithful together in civil conflict [Ukraine]

 The man in the soup bowl [Southeast Asia]

 The power of the Cross(es) [Lithuania]

 Women of valour in DR Congo

♦ Father to gang members [Colombia]

♦ Naked Anabaptists [Japan]

♦ The gifts we didn’t know we needed [Mexico]

♦ Voyage into the unknown [Portugal]

♦ Singing and dancing with a water can

 Faithfulness and hospitality after upheaval

♦ Culture Pearls

 

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