Obituary: Joan Antcliff

30 August 2019

Joan Antcliff MBE

Joan Antcliff MBE

Elizabeth Thomas writes:

JOAN ANTCLIFF, a retired Anglican missionary who had spent more than 20 years training teachers and working with the Church in Mozambique in the midst of the war for independence, died recently, aged 98.

Joan was born in Birimgham in 1921, and felt called to Mozambique after serving in the British Land Army during the Second World War. She led one of the few Anglican mission schools in the country, looking after 300 pupils and training teachers.

Joan first went abroad, as a newly trained teacher, to Malawi in 1951, moving on in 1956 to Messumba, off the beaten track in Mozambique, for ten years.

This mission station had been established by the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa to serve the 150-mile-long lakeshore. Charles Wright, a former colleague in Maxixe, wrote in 2004 that she had been an excellent director of the school, “a good organizer and teacher, concerned about the welfare of her pupils”.

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

Chambone, Maxixe, was very different from Messumba. Joan threw herself into life there, and was Superintendent for the next ten years until independence. “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,” Charles Wright recalled.

Joan took seriously her responsibility for training teachers, developing courses, and organising the building of schools in remote areas. Archbishop 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.” For her work in education, she was appointed MBE in 1976.

While in Mozambique, she was a trusted colleague of the previous Bishop of Lebombo, the Rt Revd Dinis Sengulane, who helped to bring peace to Mozambique in 1992 after 16 years of civil war. When Joan returned to the UK in the 1970s, she served with Canon Helen Van Koevering on the MANNA committee as Bishop Sengulane’s commissary, and spent years giving talks in churches and encouraging others to support the growing churches and community work in Mozambique.

Helen recalled Joan’s “no-nonsense steely support of Bishop Dinis Sengulane, her involvement with the Christian Council of Mozambique’s [CCM’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 in Mozambique.”

In 2002, Joan wrote a book about her experiences, Living in the Spirit, which raised funds for the churches in Mozambique. In it, she wrote: “The schools’ and church finances were desperate and so were ours. We were not paid a salary and were given £30 a year for personal needs. I stayed through ten years of the fight for freedom. Most of the Frelimo were my pupils who had been trained in Tanzania. It was extremely difficult to keep an aura of neutrality. One by one, the pupils vanished to fight for their country. It was extremely difficult. They would send us notes telling us not to travel on the roads because they were putting down landmines.”

Joan is one of those who planted a seed in Mozambique which is being carried forward by those whom she was a part of educating and encouraging into leadership. She inspired the churchwomen she met in those new fields with her 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, and educational leaders throughout Mozambique.

Joan’s life bore more fruit than will ever be known. Graças a Deus!

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