Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spring, Rainy Season, and Grief

I love spring.  Everything is coming back alive.  The trees wear their leaves of spring (yellow) green.  By extension, I like the arrival of the rainy season in Cameroon/CAR.  Again, plants are coming back to life, turning green, growing quickly.

What a time of hope.  What a paradoxical time to be experiencing grief.  If you haven’t already heard, I am back in Pennsylvania; I came because my father was ill. (I was here in March, but he seemed to be making such positive progress, so I went back to Garoua Boulai.)  His health took a turn for the worse and he died April 8, 2014.  How can I rejoice in the new life of spring/rainy season when someone who has been an integral part of my life is gone?  But, on the other hand, how can I not? 

This is also Holy Week.  I have to say that I have not been paying much attention to Lent this year.  Too many other concerns…  So, Holy Week seems unreal.  It “snuck up on me.”  Tonight is the night we commemorate the last supper.  And tomorrow the crucifixion.  Jesus died so we could live.  So my father could live with Him.  How can I be sad when Dad is beyond pain and living in joy with Christ?

Of course, we who are left behind feel sadness and grief.  It is our loss in this earthly life.  It made me very sad to remove Dad’s name from the distribution list for this blog.  I am staying with Mom and as she said, Dad is everywhere in this house.  We miss him terribly.

But, I could go for a walk this morning and revel in the sunshine, the forsythia, the early spring flowers, the buds on the trees, and in the renewal of life.  Death is a normal part of life – even when it is hard for us individually. 

News from CAR continues to be difficult to hear – and even harder to live, I am sure.  I want to be in Garoua Boulai to help.  I was working at a distance from CAR while in GB.  Now I am working at an even greater distance!  I can’t meet with people, but we can talk on the phone.  I will do what I can.

Two songs keep coming to mind, so I want to share them with you.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Oh, the Lord is good to me,
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun and the rain and the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me.
Amen.  Amen. Amen, amen, amen.

May we remember God’s presence and goodness at all time.

P. S.  I will be writing less often while I am in the States with Mom and then visiting churches for my Home Assignment.  Please continue to pray for the Central African Republic.  Prayers for my family would also be welcome.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Rev. Kemane
Sunday School Teacher
I had the opportunity to observe an  EcoDim this morning. EcoDim is short for École de Dimanche or Sunday school.  I went with Rev. Maurice Kemane, Director of Christian Education in CAR, Rev. Pierre Hamboa, Assistant Director, and Rev. Lucien Gbawi, a local pastor who attends that church. 

The first question is what time to go.  They all assured me that Sunday school starts at 7:30 a.m. before the 9 a.m. liturgy.  OK.  We were to arrive at 7.  I met Pastor Lucien at 7 so he could show me where the church is, meaning we got there about 7:15.  (See, I am getting a little better at the flexible time stuff.) 
Local tradition dictates that guests enter the house, sit down, and be offered something to drink.  So, we went into the house of the pastor of the church (who couldn’t be present because he was in another village for the day).  We waited.  And waited – just the two of us.  There were women outside wishing dishes – seated on small stools and using basins.  You can seem them through the doorway in the picture that shows my view as I sat in the living room and waited.  (I like the idea of having a gauzy cloth on the doorway to provide some privacy but allowing for a breeze.  I suppose it would also keep out a few of the bugs…)
Pastors Maurice and Pierre arrived at 8 a.m., so much for a 7:30 start.  I was told that part of the late start was because the congregation was not notified far enough ahead so they hadn’t had enough time to prepare.  What did they prepare?  Well, first, tea (very sweet) and bottled water (for me) then rice prepared with some macaroni, onions, and probably Cubes Maggi (bouillon used in most everything). It was actually very good.  We ate that dish before Sunday school and again after it before the liturgy.  After church we had pieces of meat in a sauce with manioc (cassava) – and a separate bowl with rice for me in case I don’t eat manioc.  Another delicious dish – but by now I have had breakfast at home (probably a mistake on my part) and 3 meals, all before 11:30 a.m.!)  To complete the hospitality topic: after lunch (the third one), we were invited to the house of the President of the local district of
Women for Christ.  After we all entered her living room and waited for a bit, she offered us wine.  Meat and wine are relatively expensive and are, therefore, good items to offer guests to show that they are valued.

But, wait!  I supposed to be talking about Sunday school!  As we entered the church, children and youth sat on benches on one side of the church.  Toward the front on benches that were perpendicular, sat the Sunday School Mothers and a few children.  About 160 children were present.  They are all together for the children’s liturgy.  Much of it is call and response.  That is, the lead teacher says a line and the children repeat (often with great energy).  They did the Apostles’ Creed this way and a couple of part of the liturgy that I didn’t recognize.  At other times, the leader said a line and the children responded with another line that they knew.  They also sang some songs – sometimes with hand motions (as in the picture).  It was impressive.
At the end children came up to put their offering in the basket that one of the mothers was holding.  Their Sunday school is so active and generous that they have contributed to buying five sacks of cement and sand to aid in the construction of a new, larger church building.  (See the pictures.)

After the official liturgy, they went outside to play some games.  Because of the late start, they got to do only about 10 minutes today.  (Sorry kids!)  I am learning one of the chants that involves hand clapping and having people go into the center of the circle to dance.  (Yes, the made me go in with the Assistant Director!  No pictures – whew!)

After a short break (to eat rice – see above!), we went back into the church for the regular liturgy.  I was impressed that it started very close to the 9 a.m. start time.  Any delay was because of us, it seems. 

 Honoring guests continues in the EcoDim and liturgy.  We got to sit in plastic chairs instead of benches.  (I prefer that since they have backs; yes, I’m spoiled in that way…)  The chairs were upfront: for the EcoDim, we were in front of the altar rail which is still in front of where the children and teacher were; for the liturgy, we were behind the altar rail and even behind the altar.  It is an honor, but one I could do without!  First of all, I am there as a fellow worshiper.  But, more than that, it is hard to see and hear from there.  From these honor seats, I can’t see the board with the Bible readings either.  The picture on the right shows the congregation (probably about 250 people) when I was standing up and the second my view when I sat down. 

Hearing is also an issue because of “modern technology.”  Many congregations, including this one, now have drum sets, electric guitars, sound board, microphones, and HUGE speakers.  My problem is that very loud often comes with distortion.  They have a fancy-looking sound board, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. 

Have you ever paid attention to the fact that when listening to (or reading) something in your first language, you can often fill in small parts that you miss (or are distorted)?  Well, I can do that somewhat in French, but not in Sango (and since I only get about 15% in Gbaya, not at all in that language!)

The congregation we visited is mostly Central Africans, so the activities were in Sango.  In theory, I can understand about 80% of what is said in that language.  The sermon was preached in Gbaya and interpreted into Sango, so that was harder to follow.  But, when the microphone/speaker distortion was added, I lost more than I would like to admit.  I may have even drifted off during the sermon. (Maybe it was a good thing I was hidden by the altar…) 

The President of the local district of Women for Christ preached.  I learned a folktale about why the lizard bobs his head a lot.  (OK, I admit I only really understood it when someone told me a shortened version later.)  He is saying, “That’s true! That’s true!” after having seen something for himself.  She compared it to us Christians who can’t believe unless we have seen evidence with our eyes.  (Please don’t ask me for a fuller explanation of the sermon!)

I had a wonderful time and was greatly enriched by the Sunday school and liturgy.  It will also help me in my work with Christian Education – and I may have a new game to teach children I visit on Home Assignment in a couple of months!

Update on my FatherAs many of you know, when my father was in the hospital in March, I went to Pennsylvania to visit him.  Heseemed to be making good progress, so I came back to Garoua Boulai.  I found out today that he has taken a turn for the worse.  It has been a day of waiting – waiting to hear from my family, but even more waiting for time to pass so it would be a good time to call – considering the 5-hour time difference.  I still have only limited news.  (I am using the writing of this blog as a way to pass the time while waiting.  Distraction.We don’t know what will happen.  Please pray for my family.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

Home in GB

So this past week I left home (
Mechanicsburg with my parents) to come home (Garoua Boulai) waiting for the day when I can go home (Baboua) and regretting not having time to visit home (Pittsburgh) while I was in the US!  Someone said, “Home is where the heart is.” I glad that my heart is big enough to have multiple homes that I love.

The good news is that my father is making slow, steady progress with his physical therapy.  He must also go to dialysis three times a week.  I am glad for the progress and prayers everyone continues to send his direction.  I am back to phone calls home to keep in contact.

As I got back to Garoua Boulai, many people came to greet me.  I felt welcomed in many ways.  I missed being here for International Women’s Day on March 8. There are parties and a parade, they tell me.  Each year material is made to commemorate the date – a choice of two different colors.  I had bought a dress in the material, but didn’t wear it until I got back.  No sense taking a summer dress to then-snowy Pennsylvania.  Still, women wear the dresses even after the date.  I am, in fact, wearing mine now.  Here’s a glimpse. 

 As I got back four Central Africans were in GB (Patrick, Antoine, Mathias, and Cyrique) with a chauffeur from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon (Denis).  They are here to arrange to take more of the rice and oil as Humanitarian Aid to Bouar and the surrounding area.  What a huge job – for so many reasons.  

Imagine having to load and unload trucks with 50 kg (100 lb.) sacks of rice and lighter, but more fragile boxes of oil.  Who will do it?  For how much?  Where can it be stored while waiting to cross into CAR?  Who will take it?  How difficult will it be to get through customs?  Will it be the same as last time? (Probably not…)

 There is a storage building on the Lutheran campus that workers have fixed up to make more secure and serviceable for storage.  It is currently filled with rice.  The products come from Yaoundé (or beyond) in trucks driven by Cameroonian drivers.  Most of them don’t want to take the chance to drive to Bouar in CAR – even though security is now good along the main road at least that far.  Others will take loads, but demand exorbitantly high prices.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon has agreed to rent their truck and driver to help out.  The truck is smaller so it means more trips, but at least food is getting where it is needed.  There are still complications, but maybe they are now better defined – if no easier to deal.  As I was writing this last evening, Pres. Golike, Patrick, Antoine, Josephine, and Abel arrived from CAR.  The first three are dealing with some of the complications today.  May it go smoothly!

This whole process has me thinking a lot about greed.  There are so many degrees of greed that raise are evident.  What is greed, really? says, “1. excessively or inordinately desirous of wealth, profit, etc.; avaricious: the greedy owners of the company; 2. having a strong or great desire for food or drink; 3. keenly desirous; eager (often followed by of  or for  ): greedy for praise.”  I think it is also wanting more than we need… Taking what belongs to others…

Or, maybe the better term for these latter definitions is delaying gratification.  If we can’t, we see, so we want.  We want immediately, preferably without effort and in large quantities.

We all experience this (whether it is greed or the desire for instant gratification) to some degree, but some of us have learned how to curb acting on the feelings.  Who hasn’t seen a plate of cookies in the kitchen before a reception and taken one, or two, or three…  Who hasn’t seen others eating candy and wanted some for him/herself?  But do we act on these feelings?  When does it matter?  Here are a few examples of why I’m thinking about greed/gratification now. 

The mango trees are full of fruit now, but much of it is still green (unripe).  Still, for the past month, youth (and even adults) have been climbing the trees to get it.  Or, throwing rocks and fallen mangos to make other fruit fall.  Why?  It is inedible.  You can tell from the many mangos on the ground that have had one bite taken out and then dropped because they are rock hard and have no taste.  I know people are hungry, but if all the fruit is wasted this way, there will never be ripe mangos to share. 

When I mentioned in GB that Willie had bought great t-shirts made for those distributing Humanitarian Aid to wear, a couple of local Cameroonians said, “I hope there is one for me.”  The shirts say Église Évangélique Luthériennne-République Centrafricaine, partnered with ELCA and Mission Afrika.  Why would a Cameroonian not working with the aid want one?  Of course, I saw the shirts and wanted one, too! (See selfie with the attempt to get the front and back of the shirt…)  I hope that I can make the case that it was appropriate for me to take one. 

Last week, after the weigh-station weighed the aid truck and charged them their fees (probably too high), the official then asked for a sack of rice and box of oil.  He knew this was humanitarian aid for those with little or nothing.  He had a job, a salary, and “gifts,” yet he wanted some of what he saw.  (They gave him none.)

Why are we so self-centered that want what is not ours, even at the expense of those who have much less?  Isn’t that a big part of the trouble, too, in CAR with the “rebels”?  How do we change or control these unhealthy appetites?  They damage us as much as those we take from. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Snow and the Hospital - in Pennsylvania

St. Patrick's Day!  This is much more of an event in the US than in Cameroon/CAR.  Stating the obvious, I know.  I am aware of the holiday because I am currently in Mechanicsburg, PA because of my father’s medical crisis.  I am happy to report that he is out of the hospital and in rehab.  It will be a long, slow road back to where he was, but I am very grateful for the slow, steady progress.  Thanks to all who have been praying.  For those of you who are hearing for the first time, please feel free to pray for his continued progress and healing.

Mom fixing Dad's dinner tray
I have been stuck by the differences between hospitals in the US and Cameroon.  Wow.  Here’s a picture of the outside of Holy Spirit Hospital where Dad spent several weeks.  Look at the size!  He had to be in Intensive Care for a while and the array of machines and materials was truly impressive.  Because he had a couple of infections, we had to wear gowns and gloves to be in the room – everyone did and they had to be changed each time one entered the room.  Think of the number of gowns and gloves we went through!  I think we’ll be setting the new fashion trend – what do you think???

Dad at Rehab
When Dad was moved to Manor Care for rehab, we immediately noticed that his room seemed larger and quieter.  The hospital bed is there, but none of the other machines.  Nurses, aides, and therapists go in and out a lot, but it is still calmer.  He is very fortunate to be at a place that is well run and has extremely caring and competent staff.  What a blessing!

Of course, I flew to Philadelphia (and drove to Mechanicsburg with my niece and her boyfriend) at the tail end of the Polar Vortex – cold!  I could not have made the trip without much support in Cameroon – to get me from Garoua Boulai to Yaoundé airport, to arrange the ticket, and even to lend me a coat and gloves.  Many thanks to friends there.

 Here’s a couple of snow pictures from around my parents’ house – not so deep, but much more than we get in Garoua Boulai!  Since I arrived, it has been warmer and the snow is melting, but they are talking about cold again today with possible snow.  Ah, March – in like a lion and out like a lamb (if we are lucky).

Later in the week!

I will be going back to Cameroon soon, so the next blog entry should be from there again.