Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Privilege

We have arrived in Bouar! Yes, the long way.  I realize, again, how fortunate and privileged I am to had this option. 

First, think of the cost.  I bought diesel fuel for the trip from Garoua Boulai to Yaoundé (and later will pay to go back) not to mention the cost of running the vehicle.  Sure, I could have taken a bus – cheaper and the way most Cameroonians would travel, but I have a car.  And, as we in the USA know well, driving is more convenient, faster, and less crowded!  Privilege. 

The next day Willie and I took the train from Yaoundé to Douala.  Yes, I had to stay overnight in Yaoundé – fortunately at Anne and Willie’s.  Then we had to get dropped off at the train station and there was the expense of the ticket.  We got first class tickets – 9,000 cfa (about $18) instead of 6,000 cfa (about $12).  It was comfortable.  (I didn’t see the second class so I really can’t compare effectively.)  We were served water and a sandwich.  Willie tells me that 1st and 2nd class riders get food.  Ah, to be able to afford a comfortable seat without having to drive.  Privilege.  OK, so we ran about a couple of hours late, but we didn’t have a meeting set or people waiting for us.

We stayed at the 3-start Planet Hotel in Douala – 55,000 cfa/night (about $110).  It was a beautiful place to be.  Very comfortable with free Wifi – like (or better) than many hotels where I have stayed in the USA, but this price is too expensive for most people here.  Privilege.

Both hotels had a Gideon Bible in the rooms.  This made me think of my Uncle Gordon and Aunt Elaine (may she rest in peace) who are/were active in US branch of the Gideons, providing Bibles to travelers and others.

Then we flew from Douala to Bangui and later Bangui to Bouar.  Privilege.  The cost is out of the range of what most Central Africans, or Cameroonians, could pay although both flights were about ¾ full.  I am thankful that we could pay and use this (longer) safe way to travel.  Both flights ran about an hour late.  The flight from Douala to Bangui was with Karinou Airlines (a company from the CAR!)  I had not heard of them before.  We had an interesting snack:  4 pieces of whole wheat bread with no crust and tuna salad between the layers.  Not 2 sandwiches – tuna between 3 layers!  It looked like a brick of bread!  It tasted fine, but looked strange to me.  (It was served with soda and water.)  I enjoyed hearing announcements in Sango, French, and English.

I am grateful to Lutheran World Federation staff in Bangui who helped us in various ways:  their driver picked us up at the airport, had made us reservations at a hotel and for the UN flight to Bouar, and drove us to their office.  Staff also helped us get internet credit, find a place to eat in the evening, and put us in contact with a reputable taxi driver.  Hervé (the LWF driver) also picked us up in the morning (at 6:10!) to take us to the airport and shepherded us through the first part of the check-in process. They will also help us out on the way back.  Many thanks!


We had little time in Bangui, but we did stop to visit St. Timothy Lutheran Church, which is next to the airport.  They have a beautiful church building, parsonage, and a school within in their compound.  Since all of the recent troubles started, they have also been housing internally displaced people.  The structure you see in the picture and the water bladder were provided by UNHCR.  Pastor Paul Denou said that they are now “down to only” 93 adults and children.  Imagine.  How many of our churches could pick up this work and sustain it for more than two years??  It was a privilege seeing Pr. Denou again and seeing a bit of the work – even if it was only for about 10 min.  I like the sign they have next to a huge bladder of water: “Everyone has the right to water, but no one has the right to waste it.”  We should all take this to heart.


The next picture is Willie talking on the phone as he studies the menu in the Balafon Restaurant in Bangui.  We were drinking, Mocaf, the Central African beer!  It was a great place.  We were told later that is very popular with humanitarian aid workers.  They even have karaoke on Friday evenings!  Everyone needs time to relax and get away from strife and work, but how many Central Africans (not working for an NGO) could afford to come often to a place like this? 

It was a first for me to take a flight within CAR.  Currently flights are run by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service.  It is present to assist UN and NGOs personnel get around more easily.  Our flight was to fly to Berberati, Bouar, and Bosangoa.  Another flight went to Kaga Bandoro and Ndele.  A third goes to Bambari and Bangasou.  We were told to report to the airport at 6:30 for an 8:30 a.m. flight.  Airline officials arrived at 6:45… 

I know we talk a lot about White privilege in the US – and probably not enough (nor have we done enough to equalize things).  I know, too, that I benefit from White privilege here as well – and in ways that are even more obvious than at home since I am part of a small minority. 

What we experienced this morning was privilege, but not just for Whites – of the 75 or so people travelling only 5-6 were White, but humanitarian aid privilege.  So, here’s the dilemma:  when a country is in crisis, NGOs and others come to help.  They need to be able to move around the country, but sometimes roads are not safe or are in very poor condition and sometimes people want to take less time traveling between places.  The UN has a Humanitarian Air Service to help out.  To use their service, one must be a humanitarian aid worker, have an “Ordre de Mission” (official letter stating where, when, how long, and why one is traveling) and a badge (or passport).  This is not a commercial airline; they can’t take anyone who wants (and can afford to) go.  But that sets up another inequity among those who come to help and those who live in the country where there is not commercial airline that operates within the country.  I am sure good work is being done, but how much say does the population have?  Are the “saviors” again coming with the answers to problems or are local people being empowered, trained, and supported?  This one example certainly lends credence to the tendency of aid workers to bring the plan, what they need for their comfort and work, and “do for” the “poor, suffering” people.  There were Central Africans who took the flights – those working for NGOs, but I was uncomfortable “qualifying” for the flight (since EELRCA is a member of LWF) while at the same time I appreciated the safe way to get to Bouar.

Much of the flight we couldn’t see much of the ground – no surprise since it is the rainy season with lots of clouds.  In fact, we were to stop in Berberati before Bouar, but couldn’t because of heavy rain there.  As we approached Bouar and came below the clouds, most of what we could see was green – forest, bush.  There were a few houses and buildings.  It was an interesting phenomenon to approach the airport and run way seeing nothing by green!  I never really paid attention to other cities where you see airport buildings and buildings of the city as you approach.  I had confidence that the pilot could see more than I could (like the runway…) and he could, but it was a bit disconcerting and felt like we were setting down in the middle of nowhere. This feeling was increased when I saw that the first half of the runway was dirt!  It was wide and flat and clear, but not paved.  Closer to the airport there was paving.  It was no surprise that the airport was a sign saying “Aerodrome de Bouar” and one building.  Lots of NGO cars were there to meet the travelers.  (We were met by Antoine and out-going President Goliké.)  The drive is about 12 km. on an unpaved but leveled road (no doubt done by the UN). 

It is good to be in Bouar and among colleagues.  As one person said, if there weren’t so many trees, we could see Garoua Boulai from here – too bad I had to come by way of New York!  It was the long way, but it worked.

Note:  UN troops are now stationed in a couple of villages between GB and Baboua.  They have also gone into the bush to disarm some people.  Some bandits have been killed or arrested.  The road is safe again, they say.  (Great, but we’ll go home the same privileged way we can – we have tickets after all!) 



Friday, June 12, 2015

The Long Way

This week the new leadership team of EELRCA was to meet in Garoua Boulai with Willie Langdji, ELCA’s Regional Representative, and Thore Ekland, Representative from Mission Afrika (Denmark), and me.  That didn’t happen.  Road bandits.  Again.

You may remember that the partners’ consultation was cancelled in November for the same reason.  Still, we were so hopeful because from December 2014 through early May 2015 there were no problems on the road.  Small business people, travelers and large trucks passed with no problem.  It is true that the large trucks generally went in a convoy with some troops from the UN, but no sight of the bandits. 

The second week in May there was a forum in Bangui to try to resolve differences, encourage disarmament, etc.  Representatives from 10 “rebel” groups were there.  They agreed to a cease-fire and agreed to release child soldiers (and some were, in fact, released).  It is true that elections were pushed back again (until the end of 2015), but I was hopeful when I heard reports of the forum.

It seems that the road bandits were not happy with the outcome of the forum.  They are again stopping cars and motorcycles to rob them.  They have also shot at cars and burned a few.  Are these the same bandits?  Probably.  Are there some from Bangui who were not happy with having to disarm? Maybe.

The result is that although some cars and trucks are passing on the road, there are many fewer.  It maybe be that there is a problem only 15-20% of the time, but no one knows when the bandits will attack.  So, I won’t be taking that main, paved road anytime soon and neither are the Central Africans with whom we work.  Sigh. 

The good news is that Baboua, Gallo, Bouar, and Bohong, the main towns were EELRCA works are safe and calm.  Bangui and most other towns are as well.  The problem is mainly on the road between Baboua and Garoua Boulai.  (Roads in other areas may also be affected as with some other towns in the north and east.)


Here’s a calm, pastoral scene from Baboua (at the Theological School in April 2015).  And, a scene from Bouar of a bridge that is being rebuilt (also April 2015).  (There is a lot of construction and improvements in Bouar, Bohong and the villages in that area.)  Progress! 

Willie and I would still like to participate in the transition retreat with the new EELRCA officers.  (Unfortunately, Thore has to go back to Denmark.)  How do we do it?  Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.  (Where does that gruesome phrase come from???)  We take the long way.  I will drive to Yaoundé.  Then Willie and I will take the train to Douala and catch a flight to Bangui.  From there we’ll catch a UN flight to Bouar.  All safe!  But, instead of a 3-hour drive, it will take me 3 days.  I am willing to sacrifice the time for the safety!

On this map, Garoua Boulai is not marked but it is south-east of Meiganga just at the bump where CAR meets Cameroon.  Yaoundé is south-west and Douala along the coast.  Can you also find Bangui and Bouar on the Central African part of the map?  Yep, surely the long way…



And, while we are in Bouar, we will be able to attend the installation of the new officers and meet with the Conseil d’Administration (National Church Council).  Should be fun.  As will be the return trip which will reverse the steps listed above. 

So, the long (safe) way to Bouar.  And, it seems, the long (frustrating) way to peace and stability in the Central African Republic.


Monday, June 1, 2015

First Mbaka Catechist

The Mbaka are the forest people of Cameroon – those we used to call pygmies, but since they don’t like that name, we give them the courtesy of calling them the name they use, the Mbaka.  There has been a Lutheran mission to these people for some time, and, recently, Rev. Jack and Mrs. Valerie Frederick of Canada helped sponsor MEDAKALA Leonel as a student at the Lutheran Institute for Bible and Theological Studies in Garaou Boulai.  (What I generally just refer to as the Bible School).  He has completed his two years of study!  Yesterday, during the French service of the Central Church he received his certificate.  Then, in the afternoon the Bible School had a reception for him.  Here are some details.
 
Just after the confession of faith (Apostle’s Creed), the Director of the Bible School, Rev. Enoch Garga-Zizi presented the certificate.  Leonel also received gifts from EELC (sent through Dr Koulagna, Director the Theological School in Meiganga) and the Bible School.  The two books about the Bible will help him as he starts work. 

As catechist, he will lead worship services, preach, teach or organize the teaching of Sunday school classes, and generally assist the congregation where he will be placed.  He is not a pastor so he will not preside over sacraments of communion or baptism.  Earlier, Jack and Val told me that Leonel will stay with the regional bishop for a while to get oriented and have some additional practical training. 


Several people from his area came to support him: the wife of the regional bishop, the first Christian Mbaka (man on the right in this picture), and two others from his parish.  After these formalities, the Mbaka sang a song for us in celebration. 
  
Then, the congregation came up to congratulate Leonel and those who could, offered a small offering to help defray the cost of his moving back home.  Rev. Garga-Zizi presided over communion during the service and Leonel was asked to assist in the distribution of the wine.  It was a joyous service. 

Later in the afternoon, the Bible School organized a reception for Leonel with the professors of the Bible School and the students themselves.  This involved preparing and eating food: meat in a sauce,

fish in a sauce, and manioc, sharing a drink (beer, soda, or a punch), talking, and dancing.

 
A couple of notes about this day: first, during the announcements of the closing meditation for the Bible School Friday, the director asked that all students dress alike for the Sunday Service; this is a usual act of solidarity.  They agreed to wear what they had worn for the recent Unity Day parade – black pants, white shirt, white socks, black shoes, and black ties.  Next, the director asked that they all shave their heads, to be neat and presentable for the occasion!  He spoke specifically to one student whose “long” hair must have been ¼ inch in length.  Personally, I thought it was neat and clean, but Michel came Sunday with his head shaved as requested, as did most of the students.  If you look closely in the picture, you can see that one student still has hair – about ½ as long as Michel’s had been.

Traditionally, people eat with their hands from a common bowl.  For a reception, each person gets a separate bowl, but people still use their hands.  I am very happy to see that hand washing has become the norm for such occasions.  One person pours water for another who washes with soap.  Then, after eating, people wash their hands again.  (It used to be people washed only after eating when their hands were “dirty.”)  Although there were no children at this reception, I have recently attended meals where the young also wash their hands – it is clear that it is a common practice and they know what to do!  Hurray for good hygiene! 

After eating, the music started.  There was some in Gbaya, Sango, French, and English (and maybe other languages I didn’t recognize).  With music came dancing; I danced, too.  Not only do I like to dance, but it provided some extra entertainment for the students.  They got a kick out of the fact that I could dance so “African.”  Women danced with men, women, or just as a group.  Men danced with men, women, or just as a group.  I did the same.  In this picture, I am dancing with Suzanne, the wife

of one of the Bible School students – everyone commented on the fact that Susan (pronounced Suzanne in French) was dancing with Suzanne! 

Traditionally, when someone sings or dances well, people listening/watching will put a coin on his/her forehead.  I am happy to report that five times I got a 100 cfa (10 cent) coin put on my forehead!  (Several others got coins, too, usually when they were dancing with me...)  What fun. 

Today, Leonel leaves for his home village to start work.  We wish him every success!  Here’s a final picture of Leonel as he was dancing at the reception. 


Thursday, May 21, 2015

How Do You Like to Celebrate?

Yesterday was Unity Day in Cameroon. This national holiday celebrates the time when British and French-colonized areas were united into one Cameroon.  In GB, the biggest part of the celebration is the parade of educational institutions. 

I have never been much for watching parades. As most places I have been it’s hard to find a spot where you can see well.  And, here it involves standing in the tropical sun and a lot of waiting since things never start at the announced time.  I heard that in Yaoundé there were fireworks, but not in Garoua Boulai.

So, if you were here, how would you celebrate this holiday?  Here’s what I did.  I decided to take a day to relax.  Two Evangelical missionaries were passing through and stayed with me as they tried to resolve car troubles.  They left before 7 a.m.  Yes, I was up since my internal alarm gets me up between 5:30 and 6 every morning.  A little later, Regional Bishop Nestor stopped by.  He is newly elected and had been in GB for a seminar, but was heading back to Yaoundé after the parade.  (He has not yet moved back and the official installation has not yet happened, but will sometime soon.)  After they all left, I went back to bed to read for a while.  Well, as you might imagine, that turned into a nap! 

Throughout the day I did read the mediocre mystery set at an archaeological dig in the Yucatan, Mexico.  I had expected to be more interested since I have been to the Yucatan and am interested in archaeology, in general, and the Maya, in particular.  What a disappointment.  I had figured out most of the mystery before the book was half over.  I did finish it, though.  And, interestingly, when someone came to the door I called him señor!  Later, on the phone ½ of a French sentence came out in Spanish!  Interesting, the book I was reading was in English with only a few phrases of Spanish thrown in, but my brain switched!

I spent some time reading email and cleaning out part of my inbox, but any answers that required much thought got put off until today.

I also cut my own hair; it is easier than going to someone who cuts hair with electric clippers or a razor blade…  And, when one is one’s own barber, she can’t complain about the quality and can later pick up the scissors again to trim the parts that got missed!  Here’s a picture.  I am blessed with wavy hair that looks pretty good even when cut by an amateur who has to do it backwards (looking in the mirror) or by feel – for the back! 

Do you notice the Pittsburgh Spring Hill K-5 t-shirt that looks brand new?  It basically is.  Comp Dog decided to stay in Baboua when I evacuated so he rested there about 2 ½ years!  I got him back mid-April.  He took good care of himself and kept the mice away from chewing his shirt.  He didn't, however, keep those mice away from other clothes that came back holey!  (So glad to have provided nesting material while I was gone…) 

I also watched “Chocolat” yesterday – DVD borrowed from the Langdjis.  I had seen it when it first came out and enjoyed watching it again. 

Although my holiday was very different from most Cameroonians (and they would not understand my desire to spend it alone), I had a great relaxing day.  I’m ready to jump back into making comments/suggestions on planning documents for programs in CAR and Cameroon! (Well, mostly…)


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Churchwide - EELC

about 1/3 of the assembly
Churchwide Assembly, you say?  Synode Général?  Didn’t I just write about one of those?  Yes, indeed, I did, but this is a second.  The Cameroonian Evangelical Lutheran Church just completed its Churchwide Assembly which it holds every two years.  It was held in Bertoua, a large town about a three-hour drive from Garoua Boulai on the paved road.  (I measure things from GB, but one could also say a five-hour drive from Yaoundé where Anne Langdji and others came from; or a six-hour drive from N’gaoundéré where Elie Sanda and Brian Palmer and others came from, or a four-hour drive from Meiganga where Elisabeth Johnson and others came from.)
The Cameroonian Lutheran Church is larger than the one in the Central African Republic.  They have ten regions and many more churches (and pastors).  Fortunately, the church in Bertoua is large and could accommodate the delegates, pastors, partners, and invited guests.  (I was one of the last.)  National Bishop Ruben Ngozo and his assistant were, of course, present, but the tradition here is that the delegates elect a committee of president, a vice-president, and two recorders who run the assembly.  They have a table upfront (just before the altar).  There were also various organizing committees to provide food, lodging, health care (if needed), etc.  Herculean tasks which they carried out well.  (As you see the picture of the front of the church, I wonder if you asking yourself, as I did, about when Jesus was painted and who picked the image…)

The day before the assembly the national church council met to take advantage of having all members present in the same place.  The schedule of the assembly then included: meditations, committee work, reports to the delegates (reading minutes from the last time, reports from the National Bishop, Treasurer, etc.), greetings from the partners, training sessions (like the one I was asked to teach on planning, monitoring, and evaluation – everything anyone needs to know in one hour!), recommendations from the committees which were discussed and voted on, and elections. Oh, and ordinations during the closing service on Sunday.

The day is set up much as it was in Bouar, CAR.  Breakfast, meditation (with different pastors taking the lead/preaching), work, break (with fruit and other foods such as a drinkable porridge), work, lunch, work, dinner…  Yep!  Work with food liberally interspersed.  For the break, as in CAR, Women for Christ brought the snack into the church – usually on trays on their heads to present it as offering.  Then it was disturbed.  This picture shows a woman with oranges (cut in quarters that are still attached to make them easier to eat).  Notice the material of her dress; this is the cloth prepared for Women for Christ. 

Work of the assembly was in French (it was mostly in Sango in CAR) and the sound system was ten times better than the one in Bouar.  Still, I found it hard to always pay attention.  I know the Cameroonian church, but not as well as the Central African one.  I didn’t always understand the background or implications of what was discussed.  It may also have had something to do with the fact that the weather was hot and humid and the church was full of hot bodies that made it close – despite the fact that the windows were open and they had a number of functional ceiling fans.  (Of course, it was hot in Bouar, too, but…  You can see in some of the pictures that in both cities glare from the sun through the windows makes picture taking difficult!)
  
Here’s a picture of Anne Langdji giving remarks from the ELCA.  (In front of her was one of the members of the assembly steering committee).  The next day when I was presenting, I discovered that I was sweating even more than I had been when seated!  I hadn’t expected that since there was no spotlight and I had hoped that there would be more of a cross breeze up front.  But, no!  About half way through my presentation, I had to keep wiping the sweat as it dripped into my ear and eye.  (Not a pretty picture.)  Fortunately, Anne took advantage of a tradition here.  She came up with a tissue (often a cloth, but this time a Kleenex) and wiped my face leaving me the tissue.  It is a sign that the speaker is appreciated and respected.  The audience cheered!  It was also greatly appreciated by the speaker in this case! (This picture is from Sunday, not when I was sweating profusely!)

The current Secretary General, Hamidou Douldje, was reelected for a second term.  He helps run the national church administration but I don’t know exactly what he does as the Central African church doesn’t have this position.  But, congratulations to him!  (The election process, which is similar to the one I explained in the earlier blog entry, ran until midnight Saturday.  Anne and two other partners stayed, but the rest of us went back to the hotel about 6 p.m.  I was pleased they could represent us all!  By the way, this was the first time I have stayed in a hotel in Cameroon or CAR!  Usually I stay in a guest house or with someone.  The Hotel Christiana is a nice place with many amenities.)

As the final, closing worship service began, it was impressive to see all the pastors dressed in robes with red stoles possessing in and then sitting near the front on both sides of the church.  There were more than 1,425 people present inside and outside around the church.  They had four stations for communion – one of which was outside.)  During the liturgy, Regional Bishops from four regions were introduced.  These regions had had regional assemblies and elected new bishops, so the out-going and in-coming bishops came up front.  First, they all stood in a line.  Then, Bishop Ngozo asked the out-going bishop to stand behind the newly-elected one.  Symbolically, the former bishop will be supporting the new one. 

Six vicars (pastors who had completed their studies and have now completed their internship) were ordained pastors.  There are two others who are still completing their internships in Yaoundé and will be ordained later.  Here is a picture of the new pastors.  Each read the commitment he (yes, unfortunately from my perspective, none was a woman) was making and signed.  Each had about five pastors/regional bishop help him put on the robe and stole. 

The church was even more hot and humid than it had been for the past days during the assembly – a lot more people, after all!  This closing service lasted close to four and a half hours.  But, what a joyous occasion.  Although lunch was provided after the service, those with whom I travelled and I decided to skip that and get on the road.  They dropped me off in Garoua Boulai about 5:40 p.m. which meant they traveled most of the additional hour to arrive in Meiganga in the daylight. 

I got back in time on Sunday, May 10 to call Mom to wish her a happy Mothers’ Day.  It is not celebrated much in Cameroon, but is in CAR – and the US of course.  I send warm wishes to all mothers and those who fulfill nurturing roles.

It was interesting to attend two Churchwide Assemblies in three weeks, but I am very glad they only happen every two years!


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Building Hope

The week after the Churchwide Assembly in CAR (see the last blog entry), Willie Langdji and I stayed in the Bouar area to work with the Humanitarian Aid team (funded by Lutheran Disaster Response) as we completed the mid-term project evaluation.  The project has many facets: delivering medicines and vaccinating children; building or repairing spring boxes; building houses; peace and reconciliation; trauma healing; and computer training.  This entry focuses on the first three of these. 

Sustainable Agriculture
Some of the traditional practices used in CAR do not promote the best crops and do damage to the environment.  There are reasons, of course that they have become traditional – they work for some

things.  For example, burning fields in the dry season may eliminate grasses that can be used for thatching, but it makes hunting easier…  AVPE is EEL-RCA’s program that has already been working with village teams to improve crops and protect the environment.  They have extended their reach with the humanitarian aid and also provided seed to some groups since the fighting destroyed what people had – or crops were left to rot when people fled.  Paul Daina, Director of AVPE and his coworkers are also setting up demonstration fields to help groups work communally and to improve farming techniques that they use.

Building Houses
The plan is to build 600 traditional houses.  People work in teams which share tools.  They make and fire the mud bricks, provide the wood and straw for the roof and the labor to build the houses.  The project provides cement for the foundation and wood for the door and window frames as well as two doors (one for the front door and one for the master bedroom. Each house has a living room and three bedrooms. 

The project got off to a late start for a variety of reasons.  Now the rains are starting again and it is a push to complete 325 houses already started.  (The others will be built when the dry season returns.)  These houses are along the road from Bouar to Bohong (70 km. north).  The teams started closer to Bouar, but it turns out that the house in Bohong itself are being build more quickly.  Some of that has to do with the availability of masons and other skilled laborers.  It also seems that there are more young men who are building houses – taking advantage of support to get a house sooner than would otherwise be possible for them.  

This region was chosen because many houses were burned and/or destroyed during the fighting over the past couple of years.  Bohong itself was particularly hard hit – I would estimate that about 75% of the houses were demolished – not just burned, but walls attacked so that one brick no longer stands on another.  As we walked around, it seemed about 50% destroyed which provides hope since now there are new houses.  Here is one picture showing a newly-constructed building surrounded by destruction.  What courage of the people who have come back and begun the rebuilding process. Could I do it?  Could you?  To return to the place where your house and life were leveled to the ground and start to rebuild?  May God be with them in this process. 


Here are a couple of other pictures of houses – in process or with proud owners and humanitarian aid team members in front of them.  The original design called for larger windows.  Prospective owners are concerned about security and asked for small windows that will not permit someone to crawl through.  Since most life happens outside the house and people use houses for sleep only, they wanted only ventilation which the smaller windows provide.

Spring Boxes
Another part of the aid project is repairing or building spring boxes (or wells).  A spring is where fresh water wells up from within the ground, but the resulting pool quickly becomes dirty and


 
contaminated unless a concrete pad and pipe are build.  The PASE/WASH team also puts a roof on the spring box and, when possible, pours a concrete slab to the side where women can wash clothes.  Whether the team builds a spring box or a well depends on the spring and surrounding area.  Victor Ndolade is the engineer who checks out what is and what is needed.  Here are some pictures of one spring box.  (In one picture you can see that even the small girl is washing one of her own garments, learning the process!)  The team builds steps made from sticks or dug into the dirt so that they can be easily repaired in the future.  I know it is normal for water to run downhill, but it sure makes carrying containers of water (on your head) hard work!


Health Support

Catherine Naabeau is the director of health projects for EEL-RCA.  Through her children under five years old got vaccinations.  She also bought medicines with the aid money to restock two health posts – at Forté and Mbotoga.  This picture shows Catherine with the head of the health post in Forté.  The next picture is the welcome we got from people in Mbotoga – lots of singing and dancing with joy.

Miscellaneous
The road between Garoua Bouali is paved and travel is (fairly) easy.  Going north of Bouar the 70 kilometers to Bohong and the additional 25 km to Mbotoga, the roads are rougher.  Some seem flat, but once the rain has started, you can easily see the often huge pot-holes.  (I call them lakes.)  This picture was taken from the back window of the Land Cruiser (over the spare tire) on the way back to Bouar.  It took over two hours to go 70 km. – meaning an average of about 22 miles an hour. 
  
Flat tires are not unusual.  In fact, tires here still have inner tubes because they are easier to repair.  At Forté the pick-up got a flat tire and it turns out that the jack broke!  It would only move an inch or two and then fall back into the lowest position.  The truck held doors to be delivered for houses.  As Antoine and Mathias tried to change the tire, they attracted a crowd of kids.  Later in Bohong, kids followed us (esp. me the white person) around.  In both cases we were better than TV!

The day before we left Bouar and the day after, the leadership team gathered to collect statistics, evaluate what worked well and plan next steps.  Here’s the team in the ELCA guest house:  (L-R) Catherine Naabeau, Victor Ndolade, Antoine Mbarbet, Mathias Votoko, Patrick Kélémbho, Willie Langdji, Susan Smith, Paul Daina.

Saturday, May 2, Willie and I drove from Bouar to Garoua Boulai with stops in Gallo and Baboua to visit people (and my house).  We also stopped briefly on the side of the road in Bardé to greet Abel Service, Director of the Village School Program.  The new school there is ready for its roof and the contractor has the materials, but the parents have been dragging their feet about getting the latrines dug.  The Director is now visiting the parents more often to make sure they hold up their end of the deal.  So, students should be using this new building soon!

Building and rebuilding brings hope.  Here’s hoping that the Forum currently being held in Bangui among delegates from many areas/groups will bring a lasting peace and the date for elections in the country. 



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Churchwide Assembly - Central African Style

Out-going Pres Andre Golike & Willie Landgji


How does one condense five full days into a comprehensible blog entry??  Those of you who regularly attend churchwide assemblies in the US will no doubt recognize many of the elements of what we did here, but there will be differences, too. 

Arrival
I think that this is one area of a lot of difference.  Whether a Churchwide Assembly is in the USA or CAR, people need to get there.  The church here is much smaller than in the US and the area where there are congregations is also much less.  People don’t even consider coming by airplane – not that there is air service to consider nor money to spend on it if there were! 

People come by project vehicles (Land Cruiser or motorcycle), public transport, or any ride they can find.  Willie Langdji and I drove to Bouar giving Dr. Antoinette Yindjara and Vicar Rebecca Miminza a ride and following the pick-up with Central Africans Antoine Mbarbet and Victor Ndolade. 

Traffic on the paved road is light, but the vehicles one can see are FULL and then have people added on top (See the picture.)  No this is not safe, but those with vehicles think they need to pile on the maximum to make more money and people are desperate to have a way to get from place to place – for themselves and for their goods. 

Imagine now, an 18-wheeler filled (overbalanced) with sacks of cement and then people on top.  One such truck was travelling with the UN convoy the day we left GB.  Even though the trucks stop in the same place, they often pass each other.  This truck tried to pass another on a curve in the road.  It overturned and some people were crushed underneath.  Four were killed and others wounded.  How do you help when your truck is already full?  We could not take the wounded, but did notify the gendarmes in Gallo and asked that the Emmanuel Health Center in Gallo send their ambulance.  It turns out that the UN convoy troops took the wounded to Bouar.  What a difficult way to travel.

For this Churchwide Assembly five delegates came from each of 28 districts (organized into seven
FCC Pres. Josephine Oumarou
A gaggle of pastors
regions).  Also in attendance were pastors, project/institution directors, Central Church Administrators, and observers.  Willie and I were the only partners who could attend.  About 300 people were there.  Where would you house all these people when hotels are non-existent? (There are a few guest houses like Chez Marthe and Marie (CMM), the social center run by EELRCA.)  How would you feed them?  (There are only a few restaurants, mostly locals who cook in their homes.)  The congregants of the Centre Lutherien (where the assembly was held) got organized to host (feed and lodge) most people.  Some stayed at CMM; some at the Central Administration Building, and Willie and I stayed at the ELCA guest house (formerly Jackie Griffin’s house – and before that Ian and Joyce Grau’s house).

Another logistic that people in the US probably don’t think about is electricity.  Bouar has no city power so those who have it run generators.  During the whole assembly we had electricity – a generator.  One afternoon, they had to turn it off long enough to move it out of a threatening storm.  (They moved it; we got power again; but the rain didn’t come.)  Lights inside the church were up high and didn’t really help much.  Between the minimal florescent light and the bright sunlight streaming in the windows taking pictures was difficult.  You may see in some of the ones I chose the glow (halo effect??) near people close to the windows (including at cross made of windows behind the altar).  The real reason for the generator was to power the sound system.  Huge speakers, electric panel with lots of knobs, a couple of electric guitars, and a couple of microphones.  The mikes definitely helped everyone to hear even though the voices were sometimes distorted.  The guitars were VERY loud! But, each time music played some people inside and outside started to dance.  This was a joyous occasion. 

Benches were set up outside for the overflow crowd – who could hear fine because of the speakers.  The next picture is Dr. Antoinette speaking on Day 1 (with Pastor Bruno holding the microphone) followed by Pastor Andre praying over the offering plate (bowl).  





Sessions
Many sessions would be recognizable: Bible study, liturgy, reports, questions on reports (that always took longer than allotted for), food, and choir music.  Even so, many things people in the US wouldn’t recognize.

The Prefet, Mayor, and local officials (including some Muslims)
were invited to the Opening Session.  They gave their greetings.  (By the way, you can tell someone’s importance by his/her chair.  The town and church officials sat in overstuffed chairs to the left of the altar.  (That position beside the altar seems to be important in many churches.  I would rather not be that important; you can’t see anything from there except maybe the audience – and sometimes that is blocked by a lectern or plant…)  The next tier sat in chairs (with back) borrowed from the Lutheran Center Program that works with students from the nearby high schools.  Most delegates (including most pastors) sat on narrow benches – where the faithful sit each Sunday.

 
At the end of this first session, leaders went to the Lutheran Center to have refreshments while most of the delegates had something in the church.  They served us peanuts, fried dough balls (I don’t know the name), vegetables (tomatoes, green peppers and onions), bread, and grilled meat.  To drink the women offered us soda, water, beer, or wine. 

Other days, women brought a variety of foods to the altar in a procession.  It was then distributed to participants.  There were fruits (including the unusual – for me – mango pieces with onion and a little mayo sauce), rice with onions, cooked salad (green beans, potatoes, carrots with mayo sauce), greens
(don’t know what kind), etc.  For meals, participants were organized into groups who ate at someone’s house.  Women of various churches prepared what we ate. As with meetings many places, the participants don’t starve! 
 
There was often a flock of photographers or recorder.  Each new activity brought a bunch often standing in front of each other and the audience.  Here’s an example from When Willie was speaking.

Election
Church Officials are elected for four-year terms with a two-time term limit.  This is the year that a new president was to be elected and the current, out-going president was not eligible to run again.  For President four candidates came forward: (in alphabetical order) Joel Bobo, Paul Dilawe, Jean Gbami, and Samuel Ndanga-Toué.  Two ran for Vice President: Rachel Doumbaye and Alfred Kombo.  No one put in a name to be Treasurer.  Various people were candidates for the National Church Council who are elected by their region.  This vote took place Saturday, April 25, 2015.

Abel Service
The process has been developed to foster transparency and democracy.  (Maybe it should be a model for the country when elections are held later this year…)  An election committee was formed headed by Abel Service, director of the Village School Program.  This group verified that candidates had the

credentials.  Then during the assembly, they ran the election.  They wrote each of the 6 candidates’ names on about 300 pieces of paper – by hand!  They found a ballot box.  Floribert Ngare had the official list of delegates on his computer.  Ready!

In the sacristy of the church, I was asked to observe as neutral (nonvoting) person.  No problem.  Another woman assisted me.  She ended up sitting outside the room and helping assure that only one person enter at a time to assure a secret ballot.  So, we started with the president; each person came in and got four papers.  It turned out that most people were not clear on what to do, so I developed a speech that I said about 270 times:  “There are the four candidates.  Pick the one you want, keep it to put in the box in the next room.  Put the other three in the cardboard box here and leave by the other door.”  And I must have said, “No not yet, please wait for this person to finish” and “Awe (Next in Sango) a hundred times!  In the church I could hear the delegates being called by region and verified before they made a line to vote.

So, what would you do for people who can’t read?  I gave my spiel in French, but it was clear when they didn’t understand; my Sango was not strong enough to give instructions in that language.  Either the person named his/her candidate or I put the papers on the table and read each pointing at it.  The person got the paper for their candidate, we tossed the rest and they left.  This whole process took about two hours for 284 people to vote.  (P.S.  We started at about 3:30 p.m.) 

Now, repeat the process for vice-president!  Actually, this went more quickly.  I didn’t have to give directions since they had just done it and there were only two candidates to pick from.  This part only took a little more than an hour – for 264 voters (yes, 20 fewer people voted).  Since they didn’t have a second ballot box, they turned a drum upside down and used that!

It was now 7:30 p.m. but the fun was just beginning.  They asked me to officiate for the next part, too.  Besides the chairman of the election committee, Willie Langdji was also there and each candidate had a representative watching.  We opened vice-presidential ballots first (and later used the same procedure for president.)  We counted all the ballots first.  I couldn’t help thinking about the crazy (to me) French system of counting.  The teens are similar to English, but then you get to 70 which is sixty-ten, followed by sixty-eleven, etc. until 80 which is four-twenties; 90 is four-twenties-ten…  Meanwhile I am counting into a microphone so everyone can see and hear.


 


Next I opened each paper and read the last name aloud and put it in a pile for that person.  Two other people were up front with a board and made tally marks as I read.  Look at the picture to see the slick system they use for groups of 5 instead of the four lines and one across that is most common in the US.  After all ballots were read, those at the board counted the tallies – with the audience helping.  Willie and I counted the ballots in each pile to verify what was on the board and the total number of ballots!  (Note: The board had two sides so they just turned it over for the second time.  That’s why the vice-presidential tallies seem sideways; they were since I took the picture from the back.  Pastor Paul Denou from Bangui looked as tired as I felt by the end!

So, the new President of EEL-RCA is Rev. Dr. Samuel Ndanga-Toué who has been the director of the Theological School in Baboua.  The new Vice-President is Rev. Rachel Doumbaye who has been the Chaplin and director of the Lutheran Center in Bouar.  She is the third African church to have a woman in the second highest position in the church (after Botswana and Gambia). She was by far the favored candidate.  There was a closer race between Ndanga-Toué and Dilawe; the former won by 13 votes. 

Since there were no candidates for treasurer, Michel Doko who is currently doing the job was retained.  Here is a picture of the National Council, but I didn’t get all the names.  Then the winners were called up front.  We must have finished about 10 p.m.  Willie, Mathias and I stopped for dinner (at a relatively new restaurant in Bouar where it works best if you order the day before or earlier in the day that you want food…) and headed home!

A couple of evenings, the current National Council met to assign pastors to new posts and Sunday morning to fill the posts vacated by the new positions.  Dr. Antoinette Yindjara who has been teaching at the Theological School was named director.  And someone whose name escapes me at the moment will take Rev. Rachel’s job. 

Final Day
BUT, the Churchwide Assembly was not over!  Yes, people stayed and danced and celebrated at the church, but we still had a session and church in the morning, Sunday. 



The new officials were presented to the congregation.  The installation and handing over of command will be June 27-28, 2015.  There were some final speeches and prayers. 

Gifts were given to various people (soap for some – expensive and hard to come by in many areas).  The Out-going President, Willie and I got banners with wooden letters.  (See the picture.)  Mine says, “No one can separate us from the love of God.”  Three regional leaders got new motorcycles (purchased with money given by one of the three partner synods). 



Then, Vicar Rebecca Miminza was ordained as pastor.  She is currently teaching the women’s class at the Theological School.  There is another (male) pastor to be ordained who is working in the South Region.  The recommendation was that it be scheduled in Bouar during the installation celebrations in June.

 



Finally we had the usual Sunday liturgy with communion.  So, it was a four-hour session/service!  And because it is at the end of this entry, I am also writing less!  If you don’t understand some part or have questions, please ask!  (And, please excuse any typo and other errors as I am spending less time editing.  I want to get this sent out while we still have internet service which has been sporadic in the past few days.)

May all Churchwide Assemblies go as smoothly. 

Willie Langdji with Pres.-Elect Ndanga-Toue