by Margaret Skea
From the newly published book Angola in my Heart, this short excerpt shares Ruth Hadley’s experiences as a young missionary. As she learns to adapt to a new culture, country and Chokwe language, we begin to understand what new mission partners face, as they step out and learn to serve today.
For Ruth, coming from the wild beauty of Cornwall, it was a joy to find that after the claustrophobic chaos of Luanda and the drabness of Saurimo, Biula was also beautiful, the surrounding landscape an attractive blend of red soil contrasting with the vibrant green of the trees. The mission station was an oasis of well-watered grass, shaded by elegant stems of bamboo. They stretched upwards, silhouetted against the immense skies: pale at dawn, ripening to the ochre and pink and yellow and fiery red of the sunsets. It was a welcome end to a journey that Ruth was glad she wouldn’t be repeating anytime soon. It was perhaps just as well she didn’t know then that in just two years, due to the encroaching war, she would have to evacuate from Biula, first to Luanda, and finally, a few years later, make the move to a permanent base in Saurimo.
The mission team at Biula consisted of George and Ena from the UK and two single ladies from Canada, Doris Pitman and Marjorie Beckwith (nicknamed Becky). All were elderly. George’s primary role was to preach and teach. Ena and Becky, who were both nurses, worked in the very busy local rural hospital and ran the attached dispensary. There was also a TB clinic and a large leper village close by. Doris was a teacher, and as well as taking meetings and supporting Sunday school teachers, she did translation work and was in charge of marking the Emmaus Bible correspondence courses. They were all kept very busy and were excited to have a new and younger member of the team.
They were delighted with the food that Ruth, Eric and Margaret had brought, and it didn’t take long for Ruth to understand why. Although fruit and vegetables were grown around Biula, supplies were limited and the resultant prices extortionate. A single cabbage cost the equivalent of £6–£10 sterling, and just three cabbage leaves £2. Meat of any kind was even scarcer, and even if they could have found some for sale, the prices made it almost out of reach. A chicken, however scrawny, cost £40, a duck £70 and a pig £200. The only chance the missionaries had of achieving anything remotely approaching a balanced diet was through the supplies of dried and packaged food that arrived from home. As a result of the long civil war, it was a situation that lasted through much of the period Ruth was in Angola.
Looking back to her childhood, she began to understand how growing up as the daughter of an unsalaried, itinerant evangelist was preparation for some of the privations she now shared with her missionary colleagues and with the local population. As a family they had often experienced times of real hardship, not knowing when or from where their next meal would come. She had witnessed her parents’ unshakeable faith in God, and had seen the results of that faith in the gifts they received, sometimes from people they knew, often from those they didn’t, exactly when they needed it. In many ways a difficult upbringing for a child, it was a lesson in ‘living by faith’ that encouraged her now, and reminded her that, though sometimes God would test her faith and allow her to face trials, His promise was that it would never be ‘beyond what she could bear’. That promise became increasingly important as tensions in the country grew.
There were constant rumours of war, and Ruth found it hard to imagine if war did erupt how the people around them would manage to find enough food to survive.
She had witnessed her parents’ unshakeable faith in God, and had seen the results of that faith in the gifts they received
It was the dry season, and day after day the skies were cloudless, a clear, rinsed blue. The temperature was in the high twenties, a welcome change from the cooler high teens she had left in the UK. The mornings began with a breeze, the branches of bamboo dipping and swaying, a constant background whisper to the chirruping of small birds. By afternoon the air had settled, the horizon was a shimmering haze and the scrub vegetation beyond the watered grass crackled underfoot. The anthill-mud road was baked hard, dust everywhere, inside and out. Although the days were pleasantly hot, the nights were cold, and Eric and Margaret, unprepared for the contrast, were glad of the jumpers that Betty Shorten found for them in a suitcase left in the flat. Ruth, knowing she was here to stay, had brought clothes for all seasons, so wasn’t caught out by the evening drop in temperature. Later, when the first rains came, she wrote home of the explosion of colour as small flowers sprung up almost overnight. Her favourite were the ground orchids, which stood out, purple and white against the black ashes of the burnt-off scrub.
Initially, she had one small room on the end of a mud-brick mission house, which was entered from the outside. It had no ceiling, no mosquito net, and, as at Camundambala, a myriad of creatures living in the thatch above her head that were liable to fall or jump down on her at any moment.
Language learning was hard going, for there was no formal mechanism for learning, apart from a grammar book written by a previous missionary that she was working through. Not being particularly good at languages at school, it had been one of the excuses she’d made to God when she first felt a missionary ‘call’ to Angola. She had been surprised at her own steady progress in learning Portuguese, but it at least shared common Latin roots with much of English. Chokwe was entirely different. Listening to her colleagues as they talked with the local people was initially dispiriting. She could pick out individual words, but it seemed like one in a hundred, and she found it very difficult to look ahead to when she too would be able to join in conversations and not feel so totally at sea. The children were the biggest help. Their bright, inquisitive eyes danced when she tried to speak to them, their laughter at her mistakes totally without malice. More importantly, they weren’t afraid to correct her. The women were likewise fascinated by her attempts and gathered round. ‘Speak!’ they said, but though their amusement was equally obvious, they were less willing to openly correct her.
Helping Doris with the marking of Emmaus coursework in Portuguese was the one part of her week that felt like ‘real’ missionary work. It was harder to reconcile herself to the other more mundane tasks that took up quite a bit of her time while she attempted to learn Chokwe. Mixing cement and carting mud bricks was far from what she had imagined her missionary work would involve. Little did she know then that this was a helpful preparation for the many years of work to come.
At first, when verbal communication was almost impossible, she played football with the younger boys, glad she could begin to build relationships through the ‘beautiful game’, enjoying the relaxation and relief from her studies. This throwback to her tomboy childhood, and the endless hours of playing sport of all kinds with her brothers, now proved its value in a time and a place she could never have imagined. It was another small but significant sign that she was the right person in the right place and that God can and does make use of natural talents in His work.
- for those who serve faithfully, often in difficult and dangerous situations
- for local Christians, as they continue in the Lord’s work
- for people to be called and encouraged to answer God’s call to serve
- for those who are preparing to go out into the mission field and those supporting them
- for the transforming work of the gospel to grow and bear fruit.