Moving thousands of pounds of agricultural equipment 9,000 miles may seem to be a daunting task. When members of the team needed to accomplish that task are 2300 miles apart, it may seem undoable – or at the very least, unlikely. But that's not accounting for United Methodist Connectionalism!
This "journey of a thousand (plus) miles" began, as all such journeys do, with a single step – in this case taken in October, 2008 by four members of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, who were visiting West Angola. Dr. Sue King, then the conference's Director of Volunteers in Mission, wrote at the time, "Rob Jennings-Teat, Laura Heffernan, Donna Van Maanen and I have come up with some great ideas to make the connection with Angola real to our churches, through the Agricultural Irrigation Farm Project that Bishop [Gaspar] Domingos has asked California-Nevada to support. We will travel tomorrow to see the farm and speak with the project manager, Antonio Sozinho."
Sozinho, who holds a Doctorate in Agriculture from Agricultural University of Huombo, Angola, would cast a vision for building an Agricultural Training Farm near the village of Porto Quipiri, 75 kilometers north of capital city Luanda, to provide jobs and increase food abundance and availability in the short term, and to train farmers in sustainable agricultural methods, to benefit rural and urban Angolans for generations to come.
California-Nevada churches would be asked to enter into partnership by providing some "start-up capital equipment" – a John Deere tractor, disc plow, and cultivator.
King and the others, with the backing of the conference's episcopal leadership, delved headlong into a campaign to raise $100,000 to buy the equipment and some hand tools and cover the cost of shipping. It became the focus of the 2009 Conference Offering, taken at Annual Conference Session, and the goal was expanded to include purchase of a pickup truck.
In July, 2009, Cal-Nevada's Interim VIM Director, Phil Bandy (who replaced King when she accepted a position as Director of Connectional Ministries for the Yellowstone Annual Conference), reported, "Thanks to the generous donations, both the John Deere tractor (with accessories) and the 2004 Ford F250 pickup truck have been procured and soon will be bound for the Agricultural Training Farm."
South Georgia steps in to help
"Soon" turned out to be a bit optimistic: The administrative process – involving tax exempt status, transfer of title and ownership of the equipment, and custody arrangements for the import/export of the items – took a full six months. Eventually, however, the equipment, purchased from dealerships in Georgia, was ready to ship to West Angola.
But not without help from the South Georgia Annual Conference.
The agricultural equipment was being held in storage at the Blanchard Equipment Company dealership in Waynesboro, Georgia. Bandy arranged for the pickup truck, purchased from a Savannah dealer, to be driven to Waynesboro and for the entire shipment to be crated on the Blanchard grounds, then trucked to the Port of Savannah to be loaded onto a freighter bound for Angola.
He asked members of the missions committee of First United Methodist Church of Waynesboro to oversee the process and they readily agreed. Several turned out on the morning of January 14 and helped load the tractor, pickup, and other equipment into the shipping container, while the Rev. Sam Vernon, pastor of FUMC Waynesboro, led an onsite service of prayer and blessing for the shipment. (The president of Relocation Benefits, the company arranging the shipping, also flew in to supervise.)
Ira Hozey, one of the FUMC Waynesboro missions committee members, carried out public relations duties, notifying The True Citizen newspaper in Waynesboro and WJBF-TV in Augusta about the project – and then documented it with his own video camera for the California-Nevada conference. (View Loading of Tractor for West Angola video here.)
"The packing went fine and the packing crew did a fine job as far as we could tell," Hozey reported. "It should arrive there [West Angola] in good working order. We had less than three inches at the back when we loaded the truck, between the truck's bumper and the back doors of the container [leaving little room for the contents to shift]."
The shipment is scheduled to reach its destination approximately two months after date of departure from the Port of Savannah.
Vital to the region
Angola once was a net exporter of food, but now, following three decades of civil war, food is scare and extremely expensive. Luanda has replaced Tokyo as the highest-priced city in the world, with per capita income of $3,700, and 70% of the people making less than $1 per day.
The importance of the agricultural training farm to the region cannot be overestimated.
Porto Quipiri, north of Luanda, was once the site of a refugee camp where 10 children per day were dying. UMCOR was instrumental in improving conditions at the camp, assuring that the people received food and water. When the refugees were allowed to return home, many decided to remain in Porto Quipiri. They built a Methodist Church/school building there, which continues to serve the new community that they created.
The tractor, disc plow, and cultivator purchased in Georgia by Californians and Nevadans will be used to plant vegetable crops in an under-story of mango trees planted at the farm by a 2004 UMVIM team from California-Nevada. The pickup truck will take corn, beans, carrots, tomatoes, onions, tomatoes, bananas, mangoes, citrus, cassava, sweet potatoes, and potatoes – foods that are the staples of the Angolan diet – to market.
Once crop production and markets are established, the food and the profits from the agricultural production will provide financial support for the missions and ministries of the United Methodist Church. The posocas, community centers in the poorest areas of Luanda, will receive food to feed street children. Proceeds from food sales to grocery stores could help fund pastors' salaries and other conference projects in the impoverished region.
Most important, the training aspect of the farm is expected to prove vital to the long-term development goals of United Methodist leaders in Angola. They intend that University students and rural farmers from other districts will go to the farm to learn best management practices for developing and managing farms, and then will start farms in five other areas of the conference, where the church already owns large tracts of property.
The realization of that vision represents the culmination of the story: the story of a journey of many thousand miles, over many months, which was begun with a single step. Or of a seed, if you will, planted in West Angola, sprouted in California-Nevada, and watered in South Georgia – which returns to flourish and nourish and feed the people of West Angola.
"The items in this shipment represent the love within the congregations in our two conferences," Bandy says, "and in the hands of fellow Christians at the Agricultural Training Farm, will fuel the ministries of the church in Angola."
By Cate Monaghan
Interim Communications Director
CA-NV Annual Conference