The new church building at Kinkuni
The work of the Dutch Reformed Church in the Kunene region of north-west Namibia led to the founding of congregations on the northern side of the Kunene River in Angola. These newly formed Angolan congregations needed denominational ties in Angola and as such a relationship between the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa and the Igreja Evangélica Reformada de Angola (IERA or Evangelical Reformed Church of Angola) developed.
Angola is a vast country stretching along the western coast of Southern Africa and is one of Africa’s major oil producers. It borders on Namibia, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Following the withdrawal of the Portuguese colonial powers in 1975, rival former liberation movements plunged the country from independence directly into a bloody civil war that lasted 27 years and only came to an end in 2002. While Angola is determined to heal the scars left by the war, separatists threaten to destabilise the country further by opposing the government in the oil-rich enclave of the Cabinda Province.
The Portuguese started to trade with the peoples of Angola in the fifteenth century. A sad history of exploitation, the slave trade, and corruption unfolded. The first Portuguese settlement was established in Luanda in 1575. Portugal has colonized Angola since 1655 and formally incorporated it as an overseas province in 1951. In the 1950s and 1960s liberation movements were formed, but it was an uprising of workers undergoing forced labour on plantations that set off clashes between the Angolan people and the Portuguese rule in 1961. The struggle continued until 1975 when the Portuguese left the country and Angola became independent.
The MPLA gained control through the support of Cuba and the former USSR. Their rule was contested by UNITA, which was backed by the USA, and South Africa and FNLA, which was supported by China. (It is noteworthy that the leaders of the three independence movements, MPLA, UNITA, and FLNA were all children of Protestant pastors.) 16 years of civil war followed until a peace agreement was reached in 1991. Elections were held, but UNITA was dissatisfied with the results and thus continued fighting until 4 April 2002 (almost two months after the death of Jonas Savimbi). From 1975 up to 1990, Angola had been governed by one party and a centralised economic system. In 1991 it became a multiparty democracy with an open market economy.
The Roman Catholic Church has played a dominant role in the country since the Portuguese’s arrival in the country. While statistical information varies, some sources estimate that about 50% of the population practice Roman Catholicism, while about 25% are Protestants, and about 25% practice indigenous beliefs.
Due to decades of struggle and war, it is not easy to distinguish between denominational affiliations in Angola. IERA trace their origins back to the work of an Anglican layperson, Archibald Patterson (1899-1983) from the Low Anglican Church of St. Clement Parish in Liverpool. He started his work in 1922 in Kikaya, near Uige from where he moved to Sanza Pombo and founded the Kinkuni Mission, about 8 km from Sanza Pombo and 150 km from Uige city on June 6, 1934. He then moved to Kimbele on 18 May 1939 and founded the Kimbele Mission, 250 km from Uíge city. Patterson and the Swiss missionary Ernest Niclaus, from the Evangelical Church of Bienne, are regarded as the founders of what is IERA today. Other missionaries from the United Kingdom, invited by Patterson to come and help in Angola, also played a part in establishing the church.
IERA was founded in 1922. Their seminary was built at Kinkuni in 1940, but was destroyed twice; first in 1961 by the Portuguese and again, after it had been rebuilt in 1978, during the civil war in 1987. Kinkuni became well-known for being a centre that offered training in skills, such as carpentry, shoemaking, blacksmithing, and farming. It also offered primary school education and the training of pastors. The pastors who were trained here thus also learned other skills and were called masters for both teaching the Bible and practicing their trade wherever they served.
In 2004, two years after the end of the Angolan Civil War, a special relationship was established between the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRCSA) and IERA. A delegation for visiting churches and seminaries in Angola was formed and consisted of the following members:
Many Angolans returning to their country after the war has formed Reformed congregations in southern Angola.
Prof. Jurgens Hendriks writes about this visit: “The delegation wanted to reach out to these congregations and establish a link between them and IERA. The delegates were also eager to establish ties between the DRC and IERA. Although the roads were relatively clear from landmines, the average speed of the convoy was 40 km per hour over a distance of 4 000 Angolan kilometers. There was little left of the roads after the war; car wrecks indicated the direction for the delegation to take.
“In Luanda the group met with the IERA executive and an agreement was reached and signed. The delegation visited Kinkuni where IERA requested their support to rebuild their seminary.”
IERA has 600 congregations with a total of approximately 250 000 members and it is still growing. There are 404 pastors of whom some have had only primary school education and courses in biblical subjects as training. 80% of them are close to retirement. Kinkuni is still used as a training centre. After the visit in 2004, rebuilding the centre has become a joint project of IERA, NetACT, and the DRC. It is the most suitable place for a seminary for a number of reasons. First, it is in the centre of the vast majority of IERA congregations. In fact, 480 IERA congregations are situated in Uige Province. The seminary will be ecumenical in nature, especially for the Bakongo, Kimbundo, and Tchokwe people in this region of Angola and the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as the Congo Republic (Brazzaville). Luanda, where most of IERA’s theological training currently takes place, is a very expensive and overcrowded city. Most IERA congregations are founded in rural areas thus it is not ideal to train pastors in an urban environment such as Luanda. By contrast, training done at Kinkuni will work equally well for rural and urban congregations. True to the initiative of its founders, IERA is busy developing Kinkuni as a skills-training seminary.
Good relationships are also maintained between congregations in the south of Angola and the DRC Namibia, especially through the work done by Rev. Jacob Schoeman.