I join other people in the ecumenical world to celebrate and recognize an honour that has been bestowed on the Rev. Jose Belo Chipenda. The President of the Republic of Angola, João Lourenço, recognised the contributions to the gaining and preservation of National Independence, as well as peace and democracy. The Rev. José Belo Chipenda was honored with the Medal of Bravery, Civic, and Social Merit, first class. He received the award in November, 2018 at the Presidential Palace in Luanda, Angola.
I met the Rev. José Belo Chipenda in the 1990s. I was then a young ordained minister serving in Zambia. The Rev. Chipenda was then General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) while Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the president of the organization (1987–1997).
I met the Rev. Chipenda at a workshop. I had been invited to attend an economic literacy workshop organized and conducted by Omega Bula who was then serving as an executive staff in the same organization. During that workshop, the Rev. Chipenda came to greet the participants. A few weeks later, I met him again in a symposium under the theme “Problems and Promises of Africa: Towards and Beyond the Year 2000.” The symposium was convened by the AACC and was held in Mombasa, Kenya.
In those two earlier encounters, I was so impressed with the depth and personality of the Rev. Chipenda. He spoke about six languages which included French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, English, and Ovimbundu. He was a very clear visionary leader who had ideas about where the African ecumenical movement needed to go in its quest to use religion to create harmony, unity, and peace among people of different churches and faiths— interchurch and interfaith relations.
I also came to discover that the Rev. Chipenda was a pastor of the Evangelical Congregational Church (IECA), a partner of The United Church of Canada for many years. Several years ago, there were actually many Canadians who went to Angola as missionaries and contributed to the birth and growth of the Evangelical Church—for example Dr. W. Sidney Gilchrist, his wife Frances Harriet served the people of Angola for 40 years in medical and educational work under The United Church of Canada.
The Rev. Chipenda also held several roles in his ministry, having served as travelling secretary, National Student Christian Federation in the United States of America, 1964-1965; foreign student secretary, World Student Christian Federation, Geneva, 1966-1969; secretary for Africa, World Student Christian Federation, Nairobi, Kenya, 1969-1973; secretary of the program to combat racism, World Council Churches, Geneva, 1973-1980; director, Center for Study of Theology and Culture, Lobito, 1980-1985; general secretary, Angola Council Evangelical Churches, Luanda, 1985-1987.
Angola suffered a protracted civil war from 1975-2002, during which more than two million people (20 percent of the population) were driven out of the country and several thousand died. More than 20 million land mines were planted by the warring factions.
The Rev. Chipenda invested a huge chunk of his ministry life advocating for peace in Angola and even got involved in mediation efforts with the warring factions. The honour therefore comes at a right time.
It was José Chipenda who reminded us in 1987, that the mission we are involved in is God's. Our partners and us are called to work together in God's mission. We believe that God has given primary responsibility for mission in any particular place to the people of that place, but not all the gifts needed for the fulfilment of mission are necessarily to be found in that place. And so we believe God calls us to be in partnership one with another, so that we can contribute to one another the gifts we have to offer for mission.
The ecumenical ministry of Rev. José Belo Chipenda reminds us that together, we act for peace, justice, care for creation, and God’s mission of healing the whole world in cooperation with others.
—Rev. Dr. Japhet Ndhlovu is The United Church of Canada’s Program Coordinator for Southern Africa and South East Asia.