Sengulane, Esperança Berta
Esperança Berta was born at Zandamela in Zavala District and Inhambane province in Mozambique on March 30, 1955 and baptized at St. John the Baptist Church–Buquene on May 1 of the same year. She grew up like many other girls at Zandamela and attended a boarding school at Macia and other schools in the city of Maputo. However she had a burning love for the Gospel. She insisted on being shown her Anglican Church from the town where she lived because she felt the need to worship the way she had been brought up. She would walk a long way to attend church on Sundays, taking her younger sisters with her. This effort led to the founding of a new congregation in her parent’s home at Maguluine. Berta, as she was better known, played an important role and became a prominent leader in the youth movement and was also well respected by the adults. Her leadership gifts spread beyond her congregation and she became one of the influential members of the youth movement in the city of Maputo.
When a young priest, the Rev. Dinis Sengulane, asked for volunteers to share in the teaching of the Christian faith in his congregations, Berta offered to do so. She became a faithful member of the team of four who were equipped to teach the faith in churches and homes, especially in the areas of Machava and Maguluine. She made many people see more clearly their family life in the context of their Christian faith.
On October 9, 1977, Berta married this same young priest who was already a bishop. As the bishop in Mozambique is called Vovo (“Grandpa”), Berta also became Grandma or Vovo Berta at the age of twenty-two. Between 1978 to 1983, she became the mother of Teófilo, Crisóstomo Alfeu, Fidélia Rute and Bruno Ernesto. She worked in a bank, continued her studies and equipped herself professionally. Busy as she was with family, work and studies, she played a very active role in the church, both locally in her parish and at the diocesan level. She founded the Mothers’ Union–a group where she regularly brought constructive initiatives. She participated in various training sessions for evangelism, the ministry of healing and leadership in Anglican and ecumenical forums, making good use of the skills she learned. She founded congregations and strengthened others and deepened the spiritual lives of her own family and of others. She listened to sermons intensely and considered that sermon time was as solemn a time as that of the Holy Communion from which every individual should benefit personally. She often said, “Sermon time is a sacred time when we are in expectation to hear God speaking to us. We are called to listen intensely.”
What she heard in sermons and in seminars she translated into action. In this context she founded the Congregation of Bernard Mizeki. She introduced the habit of planting flowers near churches and she used certain expressions such as “thank God …. God willing …. by divine providence.” She invited people to recognize God’s agenda in every situation.
Berta loved her family dearly and cared ceaselessly for them, providing comfort with amazing creativity. She loved and respected the clergy and their families and spoke with integrity when there was a need to constructively criticize. The children, family and clergy called her a “caring mother,” the congregation called her a “smiling grandmother.”
On November 14, 1998 Berta spoke to some people who went to her field to help her sow seeds and she told them the parable of the sower. She promised to found a congregation in that area called Khulula, forty-five kilometers west of Maputo. On November 22, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. On November 25, Berta left Maputo travelling by car to Beira to participate in the annual conference of the Mothers’ Union. She stop and prayed at Zandamela and Maxixe, with intensity. Her husband, two children and three visitors from London were travelling with her. On November 26, Berta led those travelling in morning prayer (Matins, sung). It was the family custom to have morning prayer in the car, on the road if they had not had time before leaving. But this time she insisted that she would lead and they were to sing. When prayer was ended, before they talked about anything else, there was an accident and Berta was killed instantly. Her last role in this world was to lead the family in worship. This happened at Zove near Muxungwe.
Immediate consequences of Berta’s death
Without mentioning the funeral rites which drew nearly 5,000 people in the two days of main services and a comparable number in the following four weeks, we note the following developments in church growth:
Six months after Berta’s death, a congregation was founded at Khulula where she had promised she would go back to sow the Gospel.
Twelve months after the accident, at the exact site of the accident, a congregation was in full swing, sixty people were baptized and confirmed, eleven weddings were performed and the foundation stone was laid for the building of a church and a health center. This was to create, in this location, a place of hope and new life.
Three years later, the church was dedicated, the health center was blessed, a foundation stone was laid for the school,–a real celebration of life was performed.
These facilities were built with funds contributed by individuals and groups who wanted to celebrate Berta’s life, providing facilities to dignify people’s lives for eternity. The place is probably the most beautiful complex in the diocese. The people at Zove had never had a school, a church, a hospital, or clean water before. The local people have said that God gave them a wonderful friend in Esperança Berta, whose death brought them the church, a school, a health center and water in a very short time. They say, “We will meet her in heaven and rejoice with her.”
Four other congregations have been founded in the area (about thirty-five kilometers to the south, twenty kilometers to the north, seventeen kilometers to the east and fifteen kilometers to the southwest) and about 300 people are now members of the church.
We believe that Berta’s beautiful smile is now making angels glad and that, with them, she continues to sing as she did up to the hour of death.
Dinis Salomão Sengulane
Local history and eyewitness accounts.
This article was written and submitted by Right Reverend Dinis Salomão Sengulane, Bishop of Lebombo, Maputo, Mozambique and Berta’s husband.