Companion synods have regularly come to Cameroon (South Dakota synod) and Central African Republic (North Dakota – East or West or Texas/Louisiana/Gulf Coast synod) to help churches put roofs on their newly constructed buildings. Congregants collect building materials (sand, etc.) buy cement (or is it concrete?), make cinder blocks or mud bricks, build the foundation, and then raise the walls.
The US churches pay for wood for the rafters and the corrugated tin for the top. Then a group from the US comes to help with the roofing process. Just such a group came to Cameroon last week. They worked on two roofs, one not too far from Tibati and the other, at Garoua-seeye Church here in Garoua Boulai. 12 South Dakotans came along with Phil Nelson (financial administrator who lives in N’gaoundéré and who has lots of experience with this program), Denis (driver), and some carpenters (also from N’gaoundéré). These latter stayed in the neighborhood near the church, but the guest houses were full with the other 14!
I helped with the logistics – arranging for some local women to make the food and making sure there were enough guest house beds. Originally, they were to come Monday, February 17, but there was some fighting just over the CAR border Sunday evening. Although calm came back immediately and Garoua Boulai was not directly affected, organizers decided they would go to Tibati first instead of second to be sure all was safe (especially because the church is only a short distance from the border). The group arrived in GB on Fri. That meant, though, that the caterers had some food that had already been bought and that couldn’t be saved for three days. Instead of having it spoil, we sent bananas and plantains (the kind of bananas that have to be cooked) to the church where carpenters and volunteers were working on preparing the rafters. Waste not, want not, right?
Once the group arrived, they ate breakfast and dinner at my house (with food from the caterers who also washed the dishes) and lunch at the church. Lots of people in and out – but interesting and fun.
Saturday was the first full day of work. Workers used tools you would expect, including power tools – run by a generator.
I didn’t go with the group to the church, but about an hour later the Director of the Bible School and I went over to see the progress and take some pictures. Just as we were leaving, there was a huge crash! All of the rafters tilted over and fell into the church. Wow. There hadbeen about 5 Cameroonians up on top nailing boards in place and about 10 others (from the US and Cameroon) inside preparing rafters. It was a miracle – no one was seriously injured. We did take about 5 people to the Protestant Hospital for the Dr. Solofo to check. Mostly scrapes and bruises, one twisted ankle, and one American who got a nasty lump on the back of his head and another on his arm. (Later he was taken to N’gaoundéré (since the x-ray machine in GB is not working and kept in the hospital for observation for a night to be on the safe side. He is fine although a bit sore!)
As the rafters fell in the two long walls broke from the foundation and were tilting in. Immediately, workers put supports for one of the leaning walls, brought the rafters down to the ground (and they can be reused), and then pulled down the other leaning wall. Later, the second wall was also taken down. Now congregants need to get more supplies, make more cinder blocks and rebuild. Later the roof will be added, though the South Dakotans will not be there to help.
How could this have happened? There were many factors, some of which I am sure I don’t know, but I can repeat theories I have heard. There had been some wooden supports holding the rafters at one end that were removed early because they needed the wood for something else. Also, this church is to be the largest in GB. It seems that the workers didn’t know how to support longer walls well. The rebar probably should have been thicker; the foundation should have gone deeper; and pillars or other supports should have been planned.
Everyone was glad that the collapse happened now and not later when the church was full of congregants! It is certainly a major setback, but everyone is determined to rebuild and complete the church.
Sunday service was held in the old building (beside the one being built). People were happy to have the South Dakota visitors, but as several Cameroonians said, everything was much more subdued than the singing, dancing, and celebrating that had been planned.
Still, each time the incident/problem is discussed (often here in GB!) people first thank God that no one was seriously hurt and that the problem was discovered before a catastrophe happened. So, this was Part 1 of the roofing of the church for Garoua-seeye. Part 2 will come, but sometime in the future – by the grace of God.
Since the visitors had some extra time Monday, they got to visit the nearby (Lutheran) Protestant Elementary and Middle Schools and the Bible School. We also went to the market for some to buy cloth which was made into dresses/shirts. And, some were able to buy paintings/banana leaf pictures by local artists and some wood carvings. The group left Monday for N’gaoundéré where they helped unload the container (sent by Global Health Ministries and full of medical supplies and other gifts from the States). They are currently visiting a game park before they take the train back to Yaoundé and fly home.
I have sorted gifts they left for churches and the hospital, put the house back in order, and gone back to my “regular” life!