I have seen the new face of integral mission in Africa

Integral mission

Dondi Mission Hospital is only about 100km from the Centro Infantil Esterinha in Kuito, the capital of Bie Province in Angola. The hospital, which sits on the mostly destroyed Dondi Mission Station, and the private school founded on Christian values highlight past and future approaches to integral mission in Africa.

The burnt-out remains of Dondi Mission Station
The burnt-out remains of Dondi Mission Station

A thing of the past?

Dondi Mission was founded in 1914 by missionaries from Canada. It was the largest mission station in Angola, offering the highest level of healthcare and education available to Angolans.  

Before it was burnt down in 1976 by Soviet-backed government forces, Dondi Mission had been a busy centre with a seminary, training centres, leprosy mission, TB sanitorium, schools and a hospital servicing an area containing 2 million people. Congregations and a denomination, the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola, were planted from it. 

These Missionaries clearly understood that mission is holistic. That means proclaiming the gospel and planting churches but also caring for the sick and poor as Jesus described in passages such as Matthew 25:35-36: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 

In the past few years, the hospital, seminary and some of the schools have been rebuilt. There is still only one full-time ‘retired’ doctor and a few beds in the hospital. Specialists such as 80-year-old Dr Stephen Collins, an ophthalmologist who grew up on Dondi Mission Station, regularly visit the hospital to provide eye care and other forms of healthcare.

Operating integral mission institutions such as hospitals and schools is extremely expensive and capital intensive. They depend on outside resources to run, mainly developed from within a Western and middle class context, often not sustainable and come from a mission paradigm that emphasised separation from a community instead of incarnation in the community. These might be seen as old models of integral mission established and funded by people externally.

New beginnings

In Kuito I saw a different approach to integral mission. Felisberto Chamuanga is a young Angolan Christian who is also passionate about spreading the gospel, helping poor people and caring for the environment. However, he believes these goals can be best achieved through a more business-oriented and entrepreneurial approach. 

So he started the Centro Infantil Esterinha as primary school. It is run as a business with parents paying for their children to attend. The business makes profit out of the student fees. Profits are used to develop the school further. Having founded the primary school Felisberto also started a crèche and language school as businesses. Although it is not specifically Christian in identity, Christian values such as compassion for those in need and care for the environment are taught through the business. 

Felisberto Chamuanga’s Centro Infantil Esterinha in Kuito
Felisberto Chamuanga is a young Angolan Christian and entrepreneur.
Dr Stephen Collins is one of a number of specialists who regularly visit the hospital at Dondi Mission to provide healthcare.
Top left: Felisberto Chamuanga’s Centro Infantil Esterinha in Kuito / Bottom left: Felisberto Chamuanga is a young Angolan Christian and entrepreneur. / Right: Dr Stephen Collins is one of a number of specialists who regularly visit the hospital at Dondi Mission to provide healthcare.

His long-term aim is to develop world class leaders for Angola who will transform their communities by living out the values of the gospel and address poverty in the country. Could Felisberto and his school be the new faces of integral mission in Africa?

Two sides of the same coin

Felisberto and Dr Stephen Collins represent different but somehow complementary approaches to integral mission. 

One is more institutional while the other is entrepreneurial. One is more likely to be donor funded rather than self-funded. Both are focused on education but one is more focused on creating jobs. One has come from the West while the other has grown out of Africa itself. One has a charitable status while the other is profit orientated. And yet the aim and passion is the same – whole-life transformation of poor people in the name of Jesus. 

I can see features of church and community transformation in Dondi Hospital whereas there are very clear elements of environmental and economic sustainability in Centro Infantil Esterinha. People will continue to need good healthcare, but they also need jobs that can be created through a more business-focused approach. 

Many Christian leaders would have serious questions about a more institutional and/or a more entrepreneurial approach to integral mission. Some will say that a business approach to mission is not mission at all despite the potential of entrepreneurs and businesses in helping to end poverty – see Bam Global’s report Business as Mission and the End of Poverty

But according to Tearfund’s understanding of integral mission Christians ‘are called to show the love of God and the good news that Jesus promised through every aspect of our lives. We do this by serving people, as Christ did.’ This is happening at both Dondi Mission Hospital and Centro Infantil Esterinha. Perhaps the more important question is not about the differences between these two actually quite complementary approaches to integral mission in Africa, but how can Christians and churches become more involved in their development?

Sas Conradie
Rev Dr Sas Conradie is Tearfund’s Theology and Networking Manager for Africa: sas.conradie@tearfund.org