Building a Christian school in the Angolan bush-bush is a far cry from the broken and worldly life that missionary Juan van Tonder lived before he encountered Jesus.
But activities like this have become normal for the former businessman who left Cape Town on a mission outreach to Pomfret, a derelict town in the Kalahari, seven years ago — and never turned back.
As the founder of the evangelistic Emmanuel Christian Outreach (EC0) which was launched in 2006 he oversees projects in Pomfret, Tosca, Piet Plessis, Bray, Logeng, Stabeng, Botswana and Angola.
I asked Van Tonder about the sorely-needed school building which he and his team plan to build in the small bush-bush village of Ekamba in Cunene Province.
He says Angola is still recovering from the consequences of decades of civil war during which little development took place. At Ekamva which can be reached by travelling 70 km along a bush road from Humbe, which is about 220km north of Ondjiva, there is no water, electricity or school building. The village with its clay and wooden houses grew around a church that was planted in the area.
Schooling currently takes place under trees where “two of the community pappas” teach about 185 children aged from seven to 16. The classes, which are split into groups of about 40 usually start in the afternoon as mornings are for work around the village. School in the bush normally goes up to Grade 7. Children who want to continue their education have to go to school in a big town but this is difficult for them and their parents: it’s far, they don’t have money and the children don’t have a place to stay.
He says ECO has been involved at Ekamva for three years, since he responded to a prompting by God to go to Angola. They started a children’s home there, which they built with materials they transported there under trying conditions during the rainy season. They learned how to build on the job and experienced God’s miraculous provision during the process. Today the children’s home is run by the local church which is affiliated to the IESA (The Evangelical Synodal Church of Angola).
“Together with the church we then decided to assist in building a proper school. The king* gave land for the school — praise God!” says Van Tonder.
The plan is to build a five classroom school using clay bricks which members of the church have started making by hand.
“We will then buy the bricks from them. The money the church gets in will be used to strengthen the church funds. In the bush it works differently: people bring mielies and fruit for offerings — seldom money.”
The clay bricks construction will be covered with a layer of cement and the roof will be made in thatch. The chairs and tables are a challenge because it is very expensive to buy furniture in Angola and importing “is a nightmare”.
“We will try to make benches out of cement or wood,” says Van Tonder.
A team from ECO plans to visit Ekamva shortly to start the building project, visit the children’s home and hold a Gospel crusade. They will take up clothes, Bibles, books and food for the community. .
He says the estimated school building cost is R15000, and the return trip travel cost will be more than R 7000.
Anybody who would like to support this project can do so by visiting the ECO website where there is a list of their needs.