Angola: A growing church making a mark in education

Bishop Antonio Alfredo Barros, Western Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Angola. Photo. S. Gallay
Bishop Antonio Alfredo Barros, Western Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Angola. Photo. S. Gallay

Interview with Bishop Antonio Alfredo Barros

(LWI) - Bishop Antonio Alfredo Barros heads the Western Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Angola (IELA) in the northwestern part of the country. He spoke with Lutheran World Information (LWI) about growing up in the Catholic Church, and his enthusiasm to see every church member experience the freedom of discovering the Bible and knowing that God’s grace is sufficient for “each and every one of us.”

Growing up, what led you to the church?

I was born in 1958 in Angola’s capital Luanda, in a devout Catholic family. I was baptized and confirmed in the church, and got married there in 1979. Since Angola was a Portuguese colony and Catholicism was the favored Christian denomination, I was influenced by the Catholic faith.

After independence in 1975, civil war broke out, and like many others my age I was conscripted into the military where I served for about three years. At around the age of 20, I met Lutheran evangelists for the first time. The evangelical nature of Lutheranism opened my eyes, and I was drawn to the exceptional way of explaining the relationship with God, about salvation as God’s free gift for each and every one of us. I started attending the local Lutheran church, and was confirmed as a member in 1985. I studied theology at the Lutheran Seminary in Kunene. I was ordained as a pastor in 1990, and I have also been an evangelist. When the church was divided into two dioceses in 2016, I was consecrated as bishop to lead the Luanda region.  

How has your faith journey influenced the way you lead the church?

Although the war ended in 2002, the effect of more than 30 years of conflict is still very painful. So many people died in the fighting and several years later more were still dying or being maimed by landmines that had been planted by the army and guerrillas. In this situation, the church became a tool to facilitate healing, reconciliation, and peace. We also educate people on how they can empower their lives, and use the Bible to teach about restoring people’s dignity. Things are changing now, but we still need to remind people that Christian life is not about coming to church on Sundays and saying “Amen” to everything. Our faith must question the way we experience God’s kingdom here on earth.

Is there a particular Bible verse that inspires you?

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. [Luke 10:2]” I have been a congregational pastor for 25 years, and a bishop for only three years. I enjoy teaching the Bible, and having conversations with people about how the Word of God relates to their daily lives. I am happy that God has called me to be a laborer in God's vineyard. In Angola Lutherans are only 59,000 members, not many compared to other Christians. But our church is growing, and we also make important contributions in terms of education and health.

Can you elaborate?

We are an open church with 57 congregations throughout the country. We have 58 pastors including eight women currently, and nine retired women pastors. We have 11 evangelists, 39 deacons and deaconesses. Until three years ago, we had only one national bishop, Bishop Tomás Ndawanapo, and now we are two.

Our contribution to education and health includes two secondary schools in Kunene, two in Huambo and two in Luanda although one of them has not yet been completed. Our schools have around 5,000 students in total, and our goal is to ensure that they are self-sustaining. And, we have one health clinic in Kunene.

Where do your church workers train?

All our church workers train at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Kunene, where we run different types of courses ranging from five years for pastors to short-term training for diaconal workers. The head of the church, Bishop Tomás Ndawanapo is one of the lecturers there, and we have up to 30 students each year.

Given the history of repression the Lutheran church faced during colonialism and the devastation of civil war, we need to work very hard, and have well trained church workers to grow and sustain the church. We are grateful for the support from the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission (FELM), and also from the LWF.

What are some of the major challenges the church faces?

In Angola we have many denominations, and the Lutheran church is still small. The new Pentecostal churches which promote material wealth as a condition for salvation pose a major challenge. We evangelize about God’s grace and free gift of salvation, and encourage people to stay connected to God’s word.

Many people in the country, especially in the rural areas are still very poor, yet Angola has vast oil and other natural resources. The new government is trying to bring development but a lot still needs to be done. The church does not have enough income to pay all its pastors and other workers, but we are trying to empower our members to support the church more.

You participated in the last annual LWF retreat for newly-elected church leaders in Geneva and in Wittenberg in November 2018. What did you take away from the meeting?

It was a very important experience for me. I got to know the Lutheran World Federation better, and how it works. I met fellow bishop colleagues from other parts of the world, and I learnt that we all have very similar challenges. We need such bonds of fellowship in the communion. In Wittenberg, I got to see firsthand where Martin Luther started his work, and I felt inspired about the Lutheran confession.

 

By LWF Communications and Peter Kenny

 

Communion building

 


The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Angola (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana de Angola) was organized as an independent church body in 1991, and it joined the LWF in 1997.


Voices from the Communion

The Lutheran World Federation is a global body that shares the work and love of Christ in the world. In this series, we profile church leaders and staff as they discuss topical issues and set out ideas for building peace and justice in the world, ensuring the churches and communion grow in witness and strength.

 

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