Biography: Mãe Celita Chinossanda Kulanda Epalanga

Mãe Celita and her husband Rev Ricardo Epalanga. Henderson Collection

Avançai! Avançai!
Derramai essa luz
Sobre os povos da terra
Que não têm Jesus!
Ide, pois, disse o Mestre.
De vós quem irá
Observando o preceito
Que Cristo nos dá?
Confiai no Senhor
Não tenhais mais temor
Avançai com Jesus. Avançai

Forward! Forward.
Spread this light
Among the peoples of the earth
Who do not have Jesus!
Go, then, says the Master.
Who among you will proceed,
Observing the precepts that Christ gives us?
Trust in the Lord
Do not fear,
Go forward with Jesus. Forward.

Translator’s note. There may be an English language equivalent of this, but I am not aware of it. The above is a direct translation.

Mãe Celita Chinossanda Kulanda Epalanga , a woman who defies description, was the daughter of Joel Kulanda and Ruth Nangandala Kulanda.  She was born on the 24th of July 1934, in the village of Numbo, in the Municipality of Bailundu, Province of Huambo. 

She did her primary school studies in the village of Numbo and at the Evangelical Mission of Chilume.

Early on Mãe Celita was orphaned, so missionary Delina Abias Satatu, who was Celita’s mother’s aunt, sent her to live with Canadian missionary Lauretta Alberta Dibble, there to work in order to help pay for her education.  With the help, then, of missionaries Delina and Lauretta, support was found for Mãe Celita’s studies. 

From 1949-1952, through her devotion to God and her dedication to study at the Mission of Chilume, she was chosen to proceed to Means School in Dondi.  At Means School, Mãe Celita was a model student in all subjects.  She won many prizes, some of which provided money with which she bought books. 

While at Means School, she shared academic life with, among others, Benício Chissolukombe, Catarina Chikumbo and Raquel Lianga, whom she sometimes called sister-in-law Raquel using the Portuguese “cunhada” Raquel, and at other times using the Umbundu “nawa” Lianga.  Her children thought these were two different people, though they were one and the same.

In 1955, before entering into marriage, Mãe Celita was sent as a delegate to the first Congresso da Juventude Evangélica de Angola (first Congress of Angolan Evangelical Youth). She was a representative of CIEAC (Now IECA – Igreja Evangélica Congregacional em Angola).  The congress took place on the Methodist mission of Kessua, in the Province of Malanje.  In Kessua she met and interacted with people from different parts of the country, such as Deolinda Rodrigues, Engrácia Cardoso and others. 

Her studies in Dondi completed, she was selected to be a teacher at the Mission of Chilume and then at Means. 

In 1956, in a ceremony presided over by Reverend Tadeu Chissolukombe , she married teacher Ricardo Ulienge Epalanga, who eventually became the second Secretary General of the IECA. 

Now married and heavily involved in church work and having been identified as highly qualified, she enrolled in the first level of high school (Primeiro Ciclo) at the Escola Duarte Teixeira, in Bela Vista.  She subsequently took the “Concurso”** examinations for state-licenced primary teachers.

In 1958 the couple was selected and sent to Emmanuel Seminary in Dondi.  Here Ricardo studied theology in order to become a Pastor, and Mãe Celita took courses in Christian Education and other areas important to pastoral life.

In February of 1967, because of Ricardo’s new responsibilities, they moved to the Currie Institute in Dondi, Bela Vista (now Cachiungo), in the Province of Huambo.  Here, complementing the work of her husband , Dona Celita, as a Pastor’s wife, continued as a state-licensed teacher in the neighbourhoods of Jime and Gomes. 

Mãe Celita, heavily engaged in church work and using the many skills acquired during her time with the missionaries in the 40s, worked with various women’s groups, with children’s and men’s groups too, equiping them for the challenges of life. 

Also, given her special skills and talents, on the 24th of January 1975, and at a General Assembly called to elect leaders for the church’s women’s work,  Mãe Celita was elected Vice-General Director of OTMA, now the women’s organization within IECA. That same year, representing the women of IECA, she was sent to London as a delegate to the World Conference of Christian Women, where the key theme was “the role of women in church and in society.”

With the winds of independence blowing over Africa, with the new patriotic spirit, the couple involved themselves deeply in nationalist and revolutionary matters, contributing to the fight against obscurantism and colonialism, in favour of freedom and democracy.

Tía Celita was a model of faith, dedication and resilience. Everywhere she went as teacher and church worker, she practiced dedicated loyalty and a love for her work.  She taught classes for children, taught older people how to read, welcomed visitors and helped those in need. 

Dona Celita Epalanga. Rev Etta Snow photo collection

A Parting Word from Mãe Celita

“In 1992, I was struck by acute glaucoma, which left me visually impaired.  Since then, despite my impairment and other conditions, I have found comfort in the love I have received from so many who, despite their many obligations, have visited me or telephoned me, giving me courage.

I thank our Almighty Father who has always blessed and protected us.  I hasten also to thank my late husband, 7 children, 31 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren, as well as members of my extended family, friends and neighbours who were always by my side, with their love and affection, even in the most difficult moments of my life. 

A special word of thanks to the group responsible for the Sunday morning program “Ecos do Evangelho (Echos of the Gospel), on Rádio Nacional de Angola.  They have always mentioned me in their prayers.  Thank you.

I thank them all. They are here today because of me.”

Onde está, ó morte, a tua victória?
Onde está, ó morte, o teu aguilhão
Where is, o death, thy victory?
Where is, o death, thy sting

Mãe Celita died at the age of 86, at 8:30 in the morning on the 16th of January 2021, in the Hospital Militar, following a lengthy illness. 

Our mother, aunt, grandmother, Celita Chinossanda Kulanda Epalanga died on the exact day that her school mate, Professor Benício Chissolukombe celebrated his 90th birthday. 

Uncle Benício said this, “We all wanted this to be a day of great festivity, celebrating my 90th, but, alas, Celita put a stop to all of that.”

Tío Benício then asked those present to join him in singing a hymn that his colleague and contemporary loved. 

A cinyi cange, enju ndo songuile,
Ngenda ku Tate ;
Ekumbi lia enda kuenje nda nyelela,
Ndaile kupãla ;
Ndaño nda kava, utima wa kolapo,
Nda kola ngo, ohali ya ñolisa …

Na escoridão, oh brilha meiga luz
Guiar-me vem ;
Na negra noite brilha e me conduz,
Guiar-me vem
Não peço luz a fim de longe ver,
Somente luz em cada passo ter.
O my light, come, guide me,
I am going to my Father;
The sun is gone and I am lost,
I have travelled afar ;
Although I am tired, my heart is strong,
I am firm, hardship has strengthened me.

In the darkness, shine kindly light
Come guide me ;
In the dark night, shine and lead me,
Come guide me ;
I ask not for light to see afar,
Just light for every step of the way.

Mãe Celita, a strong woman, full of love, always adapted to the times, never losing what could never be changed in her.

Throughout your life, you were always firm in your faith in God, and you were thus able always to adapt to the many social, economic and political changes that came into your life. You accomplished much toward improving the lives of our people, and you have left for our heavenly home, knowing our gratitude. 

Mãe, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother Celita Chinossanda, rest in peace, in the glory of our Heavenly Father.  Thank you, Aunt Celita. 

Luanda, January 19 2021

Editorial group:

Barbosa Epalanga

Benício Chissolukombe

Emília Etaungo Sicato

Written by Abias Cauto

Copy edited by Emília Etaungo Sicato. 

Translated from Portuguese to English by Frank Collins.

*”Mãe” is a word that is loaded with meanings – mother, a way to address an aunt or any lady that one sees as an aunt or mother to us all.  So, I’m leaving it untranslated in all its appearances here.  Suffice it to say it is a term loaded with endearment. 

**”Concurso” examinations were competitions.  Success was according to where you stood among the candidates sitting the exams with you.