GBHEM’s second Theological Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) Consultation and evaluation meeting for the Sol Africa program took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, May 2015. Many graduates from the Sol Africa program attended the consultation, a follow up to the 2011 Theological Lusophone Consultation held in Portugal.
by Christie R. House, Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church
Sol Africa is a partnership between United Methodist churches in Angola and Mozambique and the Methodist Church in Brazil. This program, which the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry began in 2006, has made it possible for up to four pastors annually from each of the four Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) annual conferences of Africa—Angola, West and East; and Mozambique, North and South—to travel to the Methodist University of São Paulo in Brazil to gain training and other tools for ministry.
When the Rev. Julio Vilanculos graduated from Africa University, he had several academic degrees, but he was not yet ready to become a professor, which was his intention. When he returned home to Mozambique from Zimbabwe in 2009, his annual conference recommended him to participate in the Sol Africa partnership program.
Vilanculos said the first goal of Sol Africa is to train graduates to become teachers for seminaries and faculties of theology. His country, Mozambique, has been working through a long period of recovery after a 16-year civil war that started soon after its independence from Portugal in 1975. Much of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed, including churches, schools, and orphanages that The United Methodist Church had built up in both the north and south Mozambique annual conferences. It was necessary to rebuild the church structure from scratch.
The last decade has seen an intense effort by United Methodist general agencies and a number of US annual conferences to partner with the churches in Mozambique and Angola to build up the social and educational institutions in these African countries. Angola also suffered through a long civil war after independence from Portugal and has experienced a long period of recovery and rebuilding as well. The goal is to increase the capacity for the African churches to create their own educational opportunities, train their pastors, and maintain their institutions.
“Soon after my graduation,” Dr. Vilanculos explained, “I went to the Methodist University of São Paulo (Universidade Metodista de São Paulo), also known as UMESP, a private university based in the city of São Bernardo do Campo, in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. I spent three months there, working with different professors in order to gain teaching experience.”
In the 10 years since the program’s beginning, Sol Africa has made it possible for 42 pastors from the four Lusophone annual conferences in Africa to be trained at UMESP.
After he returned to Mozambique, Vilanculos began teaching at Cambine Theological Seminary in his home conference. Today, he serves as the seminary’s director. Three other professors currently teaching at Cambine seminary also gained valuable experience through the Sol Africa program. Vilanculos said in an interview: “We learned how to teach, to lead a class—but when I finished the class in São Paulo, I received books for my personal use in my teaching, and, in addition, the program also provided books for the seminary’s library.” Providing teaching resources and materials in Portuguese is the program’s second goal.
According to the GBHEM, more than 3000 books in Portuguese have been sent to stock the libraries of the local seminaries in Angola and Mozambique.
Dove-tailing with this effort in the last four years has been the e-reader project. The E-Readers for Theological Education initiative is a partnership of the UMC’s Higher Education and Ministry and Discipleship Ministries general agencies to provide e-reader tablets loaded with important theological texts to the libraries of United Methodist-related and sponsored theological schools in Africa and the Philippines.
E-readers have proven to be an effective way to help theology schools in remote areas gain access to current textbooks and reference books. Students receive books related to their degree curriculum, Bibles, dictionaries, and even cultural readings related to and authored in Africa. E-reader distributions through the schools include a training module for faculty and students. Most of the funding for the E-Reader project comes from donor support.
The third goal of Sol Africa is to reach even more pastors in Angola and Mozambique by sending Brazilian professors to teach seminars in those countries. Vilanculos said that in Mozambique, the professors come for week-long seminars. The church in Mozambique provides space accommodations for the trainings, the pastors, and the professor. “When a pastor graduates from seminary, he or she is ordained, and sent to work,” Vilanculos noted. “The seminars introduce the pastors to a new way of working in the parish.” The professors from Brazil train pastors in areas such as theology, counseling, and church history. GBHEM pays the transportation costs, both for the professors from Brazil and for the students who attend from across Mozambique. In addition, the agency also provides subsidies for food. The pastors and their families then cook and prepare the food themselves. Similar seminars take place in Angola.
The Rev. Adriano Kilende, who was director of GBHEM’s Global Formation for Spiritual Leaders up through last year, said of Sol Africa: “Today, the theological seminaries in West Angola: namely Bishop Emilio de Carvalho seminary and Quéssua seminary in East Angola, Cambine in the South Mozambique Conference, and the Gondola Training Center in the North Mozambique Conference, are equipped with qualified teachers who can respond to the challenge of providing sound United Methodist theological education in their countries. In addition, according to our records, we have trained more than 2000 local pastors in Angola and Mozambique over the last 10 years.”
Kilende confirmed that at least six pastors in Angola who had gone through the Sol Africa partnership program are now serving the church as district superintendents and as teachers in Angola’s United Methodist seminaries.
The Methodist Church in Brazil and the faculty of theology of the Methodist University of São Paulo have actually been working in partnership with the Methodist churches in Angola and Mozambique since the 1980s, before the Sol Africa project began. Global Ministries’ scholarship programs helped students from the two African countries receive training for pastoral ministry and theological degrees in Brazil, and some of those students rose to become bishops in their central conferences.
The church in Brazil also sent faculty members to Africa in the past to teach courses, and it distributed printed materials. This deep Methodist connection is a Wesleyan inheritance.
In 2006, when the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry signed the agreements to begin the Sol Africa partnership, the Brazilian church sent a research team to spend several weeks in both Angola and Mozambique to assess the needs of the churches and work on appropriate curriculum. It was necessary, because of cultural differences, to make adjustments to the Brazilian curriculum to make it useful in the African context. Bible study, theology, church history, and the practice of ministry have remained the core curriculum throughout the program.
Curriculum development has been done primarily by the theological faculty and staff at the Methodist University of São Paulo and other representatives of the church in Brazil.
As more theologians and teachers earn degrees and take their places in the seminaries of Mozambique and Angola, the Sol Africa partnership has developed a new vision going forward. The goal now is to equip and empower Portuguese-speaking writers to produce their own theological literature that is relevant and appropriate for their local churches. This year, participants in the Sol Africa program in Brazil participated in a writing exercise to develop a manuscript from an initial idea through a draft to a completed book for publication. The workshop participants finished their book and the Faculty of Theology in São Paulo has promised to publish it soon. Additional manuscripts are in the works.
Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlookmagazine.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, July-August 2016 issue. Used by permission.
Seminary and graduate students in Angola show their new tablets loaded with text and reference books and other materials they need for their studies. Photo: Courtesy Adriano Kilende
Seminary and graduate students at Cambine Seminary in Inhambane, Mozambique, show their new tablets. The Rev. Dr. Adriano Kilende is in the center of both photos. Photo: Courtesy Adriano Kilende
Adriano Kilende (far right, standing) at a Sol Africa meeting in Angola with GBHEM staff and the Angolan bishops, Gaspar Domingos (far left) and Jose Quipungo (third from left). Photo: Courtesy Adriano Kilende