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The Late Joan Antcliff MBE “Joan’s story is threaded through the history of Mozambique…”

Joan Antcliffe MBE 1921 – 2019

I first met Joan in 1993 at Bishop Paulino Manhique’s enthronement, when she made what was to be her final visit to Niassa with her colleague from the war days in Messumba, the beloved nurse, Irene Wheeler (who served the mission hospital there from 1947-71). Later, we were to serve together on MANNA, where she, as the Commissary for the Diocese of Lebombo, would travel up from Devon and I, the organizing secretary (1999-2003) and after my family’s first ten years of experience in Mozambique, travelling from Wales to our meetings in London.

“I will always remember Joan for her no-nonsense steely support of Bishop Dinis Sengulane and his extensive ministry in Lebombo and southern Africa, her involvement with the Christian Council of Mozambique’s project ‘Swords into Plowshares’ which Bishop Dinis championed as CCM president, her energy – and the passion that we all shared for the returning peace and challenges of the land and people of our mission lives in Mozambique. “

Those meetings with MANNA were always a learning time, hearing the wisdom of the team which included the retired Archdeacon of Messumba (covering the 120 mile Lakeshore), Canon John Paul, and the retired Archbishop of Central Africa, Rt Revd Donald Arden, as well as missionaries from the pre-war days, Ken and Eileen Hamilton, who remain as trustees of MANNA today.

There is a common thread that holds all those who have served the Anglican church in Mozambique. That thread is the deep sense of ‘Living in the Spirit’ (the title of Joan’s book, written in 2004), the belief that the Holy Spirit has been profoundly present through generations, and with and in the Anglican church there – from before the UMCA missionaries first arrived with Rt Revd Charles Mackenzie back in 1861, and then Jansen and Johnson walked across to Lake Malawi/Niassa from Zanzibar in 1876, and a base for mission work was established on Likoma Island in the 1880’s to reach out to the Yao and Nyanja (and leaving a legacy of 26 Anglican dioceses today around Lake Malawi); and, in southern Mozambique with missionary clergy and returning workers from South Africa, beginning the Diocese of Lebombo, their outreach in education and influence within the unfolding story of the new nation (see the mission-educated Anglicans in government and education even today); through to the ongoing and present  ‘running after the Spirit’ with rapid church planting and growth after the end of the civil war that so seriously destabilized the new nation for 16 years (and whose peace negotiators included Dom Dinis).

Joan’s story is threaded through the history of Mozambique.

Joan was born in Birmingham in 1921, and experienced the Second World War as a land girl in Wales, where her calling to missionary work with the USPG began. She first went, as a newly trained teacher, to Malawi in 1951, moving on in 1956 to ‘off the beaten track’ Messumba for 10 years, a mission station established by the UMCA to serve the 150 mile long lakeshore. Charles Wright, a former mission colleague in Maxixe, wrote in 2004 of Joan’s time as Director of the school in Messumba:

‘she was an excellent director, a good organizer and teacher, concerned about the welfare of her pupils.

Friendly with both the Portuguese local administrators and the African teachers, when the War for Independence broke out in the north and reached Messumba in 1966, Joan was called south to Maxixe by the Bishop and her Messumba house, with its clear view of the valley to the lakeshore, was subsequently occupied by Portuguese soldiers. Joan, Charles said,

‘bouyant creature that she is, threw herself into life at Chambone, Maxixe, so different from Messumba, where she was Superintendent for the next ten years until Independence came. Under her care, Chambone  sprouted from a derelict Mission to a bright station with all mod-cons and a growing sense of responsibility on the part of local Christians. That is what really counts.

Joan took seriously her responsibility for training teachers, developing courses, organizing the building of schools, in all those remote areas that the Anglican church found itself. As Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu, wrote:

“Many of us in Africa would probably not be alive today had it not been for mission hospitals and clinics: many of us would not have been educated had it not been for mission schools….we owe an immense debt to the intrepid women and men such as Joan Antcliff.”

It is for her work in education that she was rightly awarded an MBE.

But Joan’s legacy is known to me mostly from my parishioners at Yohanna Abdullah Anglican church in Lichinga, where I served from 2011-15, the last years of our long ministry in Mozambique which had culminated with my husband, Mark, as the third Bishop of Niassa (2002-15). I was privileged to hear the stories and memories of Mozambicans in Niassa, and am reminded of an African proverb that clarifies what I learnt as held in the lives, minds and hearts of Mozambicans:

“Death is an occasion for seeking more life.

Joan is one of those who planted a seed in Mozambique that is being carried forward by those Mozambicans she was a part of educating and encouraging into leadership. She is one of those missionary women, leaving both post-war Britain and the age-old limits for a dedicated Christian woman desiring to serve her Lord and the church, who inspired the church women they met in those new fields with their life-giving sacrifice, strength of presence and power of service. She lives on in the hearts of those she taught who are now remembered as community, church, educational leaders throughout Mozambique, and in the memory of the Chizoma, Minofo, Farahane, Mazula, Katatula, Masanche families, and many more. Joan’s life bore more fruit than will ever be known. Graças a Deus!

Revd Canon Helen Van Koevering 

Lexington, Kentucky, USA: August 2019