Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Synode, Work, and Roof, Part 4

New Dress
A synod in CAR and Cameroon is a regional church meeting.  At the end of last week, there was an 
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon (EELC) Garoua Boulai district meeting; I was invited to attend Friday morning.  So, what’s the meeting like?  How similar is it to similar meetings in the USA?  (I can only imagine those US meetings, since I have not attended them! – although I have been to Synod Assemblies…)

The theme of the meeting was “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10a.)  Thursday evening there was the installation of delegates, opening ceremonies, formation of the synode board (pictured at right), and a concert.  The next morning (when I attended), guests were welcomed during the opening ceremonies.  A choir from the local church danced in and sang for us.  There was also a skit based on the book of Job. 

Next, the regional bishop led a Bible study on the meeting theme.  Most of the activities and speeches were in Gbaya, so I could only understand a little.  The bishop also taught in Gbaya with some phrases and Bible texts in French thrown in.  It is interesting; when one can only understand about 30%, one focuses more on presentation.  Bishop Garga-Zizi (pictured here) is a wonderful speaker.  He is animated, makes a strong connection with the audience, and delivers his message clearly.  The audience responded often and clearly followed what he was saying.  (I couldn’t get a picture of him teaching; a decorative palm stood between us.)

After the Bible study, there was a coffee break.  Women from several churches were responsible for providing something to eat and drink.  Invited guests went across the street to the catechist’s house.  We were served a drinkable porridge, bread, and yams.  (At this point I went home to continue other work.)

According to the schedule, the synode also included teaching sessions – “Christian Marriage in the Era of Globalization,” “The Importance of Language,” “Typhoid Fever and Ebola” (by Dr. Solofo), and “The 4-Year Vision of EELC – using Nehemiah 2:18.”  There was also time for committee work.  Each day at the end of the work, church choirs provided concerts.

The closing worship service happened on Sunday. (I did not attend this service because I went to the church with a (nearly complete) new roof – see below.)

Doesn’t that sound like the kind of meetings we have in the US: Teaching, committee work, time to eat, concerts or performances, and worship?  Yes, we are all Lutherans!  (Or, maybe, we can even say we are all Christians or religious groups…)

There’s been lots of work happening here in Garoua Boulai.  I have not always thought to take pictures, but I can report of some of it. 

Future Latrines
Future Well

At the Protestant hospital, UNICEF is building some new latrines (not very far along yet) and a new well.  For the latter, they brought in a huge well-drilling truck and inserted a pipe through which they could drop the pump and attachments. They dug down about 60 meters (almost 200 feet).  But, as they dropped in the pump, it would only go to 22 meters.  Workers dug down that deep – by hand!  They had to remove the pipe and found that it had been cross threaded causing a slight bend in it – enough that the pump could not get past.  Why couldn’t they have just pulled up the pipe?  Or, had the drilling truck come back?  I don’t know.  They are working to fix the problem, though.  It just takes a lot of time.  They will have water, eventually!  They will also build a water tower – a place to store the water so that the pump is not constantly running.

Work has also been down on some old, unused rooms; they are being turned into more patient rooms.  Because of the continued high number of refugees and increased population in GB, more rooms have been sorely needed.  By the end of last week, these 4 new rooms were ready for use.  The area outside was also cleaned up.  Some paving is also being done around the hospital.  Those coming for the Partners’ Consultation (for the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Central African Republic) will be able to see the improvements.

MSF (Médicin Sans Frontiers/Doctors Without Borders) continues to work with severely malnourished children at the Nutrition Center of the Protestant Hospital.  They also continue to build and improve the area.  I will have another tour Thursday to see the extent of the work, but it is clear that they are constantly at work making improvements. 

The city of GB has also been making many improvements.  In the past I have mentioned the new tile stalls for butchers in the market and the extended market space, complete with roofs and stalls (as well as a place for women who sit on the ground).  I have also seen a sidewalk build – wooden planks banded together to cover a large drainage ditch with some of the hand-done paving along the edge.  Near the newly-finished town hall they are also building a very nice drainage ditch along the edges of the road – with stones and concrete.  Store fronts continue to be fixed up.  A new bank is almost ready to open and there is a second “fancy” bakery that has opened – I haven’t been there yet.  I am not sure why all of this is happening now, but it is great to see. 

And, on a more mundane note, workers are digging 2 new garbage pits for the guest houses on our station. The one near my house is down about 8 meters.  Workers are widening the part at the bottom so it will hold more; this project is taking extra time because the workers sometimes go to help out with other projects around the hospital and station.  The pits don’t have priority since there is still some room in the old ones and they are less visible to guests!  I am happy all this work is being done.

Roof, Part 4
You have read other updates on the roof project at Garouaseeye Church – where the walls collapsed when the roof was being added in April.  Work advances well.  There was a celebration and “opening” of the new church on Sunday, November 16.  The Regional Bishop Garga-Zizi came along with Rev. Nguia, Drs. Solofo and Joely, Jim Noss, Rev. Brian Palmer (who came from N’gaoundéré with Jim), local officials, roof-building consultants from N’gaoundéré, and me.  Jim has been instrumental in providing technical and communication support to keep this project moving forward. 

Roof 1/2 done
Putting up roof supports
Cleaning the ground nearby
It is a very big church – one of the largest within the Lutheran network.  Because of the size, the whole roof could not be completed by Sunday, so they put the corrugated metal up on ½ the building.  Then, they moved all the current benches and altar in to the covered half.  It all fit with room to spare!  They also put some mats on the ground for the children.  (Later they will need to find the means to pave the floor and get more benches.)  Part way through the service, the Bishop asked the choir to come forward from the back so we could hear them better.  They did, but ended up sitting in the un-roofed side in the sun!  Someone brought them some umbrellas for (limited) shade.

It was a joyful service.  Afterwards, of course, we were offered a “cocktail.”  That included some fish, manioc, yams, beverages, and bread with a fish spread.  It was held in the house across the street from the church.  The choir lined the path for visitors to follow and be welcomed.

Lots of fun!  I will go back again soon to get pictures of the church when both sides of the roof are complete.

As we left, Jim Noss had a young congregant drive us out!  He had fun, too!

Just a reminder:  The ELCA’s Office of the Treasurer announced a newly–refined procedure for depositing gifts that congregations or individuals send to support missionaries or ministries. They can either:
A.    Include their gifts in remittances sent to the synod office clearly marked with the missionary’s name and account number in the memo box (Susan Smith (MSG0717), or
B.     Congregations and individuals may write their checks directly to “ELCA Global Church Sponsorship” and write the designation name and 7-digit code in the memo line, (Susan Smith (MSG0717).  Mail it to:
            Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
            ELCA Gift Processing Center
            P.O. Box 1809
            Merrifield, VA 22116-8009 or

C.     Sponsors may also arrange for gifts by credit card, or for automatic monthly withdrawals from their bank account, by contacting 800-638-3522.

Friday, November 7, 2014


Today would have been my father's 87th birthday.  

I am thinking a lot about him today – and my family.  Missing him.

Recently, I have been helping to plan for the EEL-RCA/Partners’ Consultation which will be held in Garoua Boulai Nov. 20-24.  If we could have it in Bouar as we did during my first year in this job, the church administration could do much of this.  But, insecurity still has a strangle hold on the Central African Republic.  It is true that many towns and many people have begun to rebuild their lives.  A major problem continues to be bandits (let’s not even call them rebels to be honest) who stop cars on the road and demand money.  They have occasionally taken people hostage and burned cars.  I read an article on the internet yesterday that talked about a meeting of some ex-Seleka rebels in Kaga Bandoro in which they named (among other leaders) who will collect taxes (http://www.voanews.com/content/ex-rebel-reshuffle-in-car/2508991.html).  Wait!  Governments collect taxes, right?  It seems those at the meeting were taking about the “taxes” collected at the barriers that they establish and tax money they can get from those extracting natural resources. Other ex-Selekas (not at the meeting) disagree with actions taken.  It seems the ex-Seleka are now divided into three groups.  Then, you have the anti-Balaka, the Miskines, and those just out to get what they can.  No wonder we are not meeting in Bouar this month! 
I do not want to minimize the risk that the Central African church leaders will take as they come to Garoua Boulai.  The bandits on the road between Baboua and Garoua Boulai stop cars about every 10-14 days.  Unfortunately, we can’t know which days that will be.  We are grateful to the church leaders for taking the risk and enabling them to meet with the partners (from the USA and Europe).  Pray for their safe travel.

There will be about 30 participants – arriving from different places on different days at a variety of times.  GB does not have hotels as we do in the US.  Participants can’t just make reservations on the internet and pay individually with a credit card.  Remember this is a cash society.  EVERYTHING happens with cash – just to add another challenge to planning logistics. 

The primary planners for this meeting are President Golike and the EEL-RCA administration; Anne and Willie Langdji, ELCA Regional Representatives, David Gbabiri and Marthe Yapana, ELCA workers at the GB station; Dr. Solofo, doctor at the Protestant Hospital in GB; and me.  You might realize that we are located in at least three locations (sometimes more as people travel for work!)  I am grateful for phones and internet connections.  What a huge difference they make.

We do not have 30 beds in the guest houses here on the station.  Filling to the max we can handle about 15 people.  There is a Centre Social, run by the Cameroonian Evangelical Lutheran Church – but they don’t run a schedule as we would expect a hotel or guest house to do in the US.  They will reserve us some rooms, though.  And, we have heard of a new “auberge” not far from the station.  (That’s somewhere between a hostel and a hotel.)  With a help of a couple of people who will host people at their houses, right now it looks like we can provide beds for everyone! 

I am also working on collecting schedule requests.  Partners, of course, want to meet with leaders of programs they sponsor.  Some leaders will be included in the general meeting, but others will not so we have to see if when they can come (and where they will stay if they come for more than the day).  Partners also want to meet with people in Yaoundé, Bertoua, Garoua Boulai, and N’gaoundéré.  I don’t have to organize all the visits.  (Thankfully!)  But who goes where when will impact who stays in GB when – and who eats. 

Next, we need to consider food.  Again, there aren't restaurants we can use.  Yes, there are some in town, but we are not sure about sanitation and don’t want to take a chance with so many munjus (Sango for white people) arriving.  We will hire someone to cook and do dishes, etc.  Next week we’ll meet with Angeline, the caterer – once I have a better handle of who will be in GB when. 

Yes, my head is swimming with details and the desire to create a schedule that can be easily read and followed.  Well, and an accurate budget proposal, too…  Closer to the day, we’ll worry about making sure the station is presentable and rooms prepared. 

Fortunately, EEL-RCA is establishing the agenda and taking care of the main meetings. 

Building a Roof, Part 3

I took a break this morning and drove to Garaousayee Church (several kilometers from my house).  This is the place where the South Dakotan team came to help build the roof, but the walls collapsed.  Several weeks ago I visited to see the new reinforced, strong walls.  Yesterday, workers began work on the roof again.  They are able to use the wooden supports from before, but some need to be repaired and all are being reinforced before they are installed.  Next week, these will be in place and the corrugated metal pieces will be installed.  Optimistic workers hope to be done in a week.  Maybe I’ll have time for a photo of the finished building before I write my next blog entry.  

Friday, October 31, 2014

Participatory Learning

October 31, 2014 (Halloween and Reformation Day!) 

I have finally begun teaching my first Trauma Healing Class.  It took time to get off the ground-partly because I didn't personally know some of the first people I invited.  They also didn't know what the class was about.  After weeks of delay and two false starts, I went to Plan B. 


 I am now getting my feet wet with the students I teach at the Lutheran School for Theological and Biblical Training here in GB.  There are more students that I had planned for (18), but they are eager and happy to participate.  And, I know them somewhat since I have been teaching a two-hour class once a week for a month or so.


The format of the Trauma Healing class would not surprise people in the US.  We start each lesson with a story that sets the scene for the days learning.  Then, work is done with a combination of small and large group discussions.  We chart what is said with a secretary for the small groups or on the board for large groups work.

This style of teaching is, well, foreign here.  Students usually sit in traditional rows and don’t participate much.  They are more likely to copy text from the board as the teacher writes. In my classes, I had already been asking them questions and having them all participate, but it is still new to them.  They laugh when I ask them to agree/disagree with an answer with thumbs up/down.  They laugh, but they do it and I can see who understands.

Talking about difficult topics in groups or as a class is getting better, but slowly.  I sometimes have to challenge them to get them started.  One early question was how their local culture views God.  The first responses were “correct” Christian views.  When I asked about God viewed as Nature, they began to open up.  At a couple of points there was even lively discussion.  Someone would make a statement which provoked a spate of heated discussion in Gbaya. They would reach some consensus and then make a statement in French.  (I am still struggling with my Gbaya-learning and am nowhere near able to teach the class in that language.  I am glad they can use it among themselves, though, as needed.)

We have completed Lessons 1 and 2.  I look forward to watching the participation grow and expand as the course continues. 

Water Tower Update
I got some pictures of the water tower work from Elie SANDA (Administrator for ECLA).  Look at the before pictures (inside and outside the tower) and then the finished product with the workers posing in front.  I have much more confidence about the quality of the water coming into my house! (I will still filter what I drink, but the filter should have less work to do.)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

God's Creatures and Maintenance

God's Creatures 
I am fascinated by ants.  Can’t say why.  I don’t like them living in the house with me and I have written about them before, but I continue to be fascinated by their hives and activities.  So, as I was walking this week, I took a picture of a thriving nest in the grass. (Yes, the swampy grass that has been saturated with all the rain we have had!)  Too bad you can’t see the ants themselves as I could.  They also form smaller nests in the dirt, around the base of my porch, and just about everywhere!  Small and mighty.

The children this week have been fascinated with grasshoppers.  I
saw a couple of boys in my yard; it looked like they were whipping the grass.  Each had a thin stick with smaller branches at the top that they were using like whips.  Upon reflection I realized that they were aiming for grasshoppers.  You should have heard the shouts of triumph when they got one!  They will eat them – extra protein that I am not sure I’m ready for…  Kids have been in the lawn around the station most days this week.  Grasshopper season, it seems.

OK, this last one isn't a creature, but it is fascinating.  Not far from my house are two cell phone towers (for two different companies).  I was talking a picture of cloud formations (which always catch my attention) and caught a picture that looks like God is talking directly through the tower! We need more of this direct communication to bring peace and cooperation on earth…

Most people in the US know the value of regular maintenance of property.  Many Central Africans and Cameroonians have not yet learned or accepted the need to do it.  (Personally, I think it comes from subsistence living for a long time.  How can you learn to think about the future, especially a long-term future of buildings, etc. if you are worried about what you will eat today?)  Fortunately, the Cameroonians responsible for the station where I live understand the value and need for maintenance. 

So, not too long ago, I got some electrical outlets in my house fixed and 2 weeks ago, someone came to fix my kitchen light when it suddenly stopped working.  This week, workers are repairing and extending a fence around Drs. Solofo and Joely’s house.  They are also working on the water tower.


For the water tower work they first had to cut some branches and a tree that were too close to it.  Then, when it was empty, they got inside to clean out the gunk and seal a couple of cracks.  Soon, it will be back in service with cleaner water and no leaks.  In the meantime, we are getting water from the bladder.  That big, yellow, balloon-like thing on the ground belongs to Doctors Without Borders.  The same pump that usually fills the water tower fills it.  (It’s empty in this photo.)  Regularly, a truck with another bladder comes to take water to the nutrition center where DWB work.  So, for a few days I have no running water, but containers of it.  Temporary inconvenience for permanent improvement.  (Isn’t that what they say in cases like this?) The last picture is a seat that guards of the bladder use.  Beautiful wood, no? 

I have had some maintenance this week as well.  I picked up a respiratory infection, probably because of all the rain and germs that grow in abundance as a result.  Fortunately, I live beside the Protestant Hospital.  It is also fortunate that we live in a time of antibiotics and medications that can take care of such pesky bugs.  I have felt fine but recognized symptoms that told me I need to go in for a check-up! 

The CAR/Cameroonian border is still open.  The Cameroonian military have used a bull dozer to knock down building between the two barriers and just across the Central African border.  This provides an open zone to enable officials to see who is coming.  I have not seen it as I don’t go that close to the border for security reasons.  Even if I did go, I wouldn’t take pictures; it wouldn’t be appreciated with all the increased security. 

Central Africans have been able to come to work with me although less than I might like.  They are busy with project activities, though, which are more important.  We are moving forward, though.  Today I worked with Sani-Salaa Mouhamadou who will begin computer training classes in Baboua.  Money for this project comes from my home church, East Liberty Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh, PA and Lutheran Disaster Response.  It is part of capacity building for the community – enabling Christians and Muslims to work together positively.  Note to ELLC: the plan was to start a pilot program with people coming from Baboua to Garoua Boulai but that got complicated with the border closing.  Then, we found someone who could do it there.  The travel money is going toward paying for part of the stipend for Sani.  Here we are working together so that he could take money today.  Classes start Wednesday!  A committee of five Central Africans has been instrumental in planning this project and getting it started.  What a pleasure to work with dedicated folks.

The situation in CAR remains much the same.  Bangui has calmed down again.  Many people are trying to go back to regular activities.  There is more security than last year, but pockets of problems.  Pray for peace.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cameroonian Snow Days

storm approaching
I worked for the Pittsburgh Public Schools for a LONG time and periodically in the winter school would be delayed or cancelled because of huge snow storms that dumped white stuff and ice on the city making it dangerous for school buses (and cars, of course) to get around.  Well, this week we have had the Cameroonian equivalent twice – torrential rain.

With tropical rains, often the skies open and dump buckets of rain in a short amount of time (as I noted in my blog two weeks ago).  Still, usually for an hour or so it rains really hard and then tappers off to a milder rain.  Not this week!  On both Monday and Thursday, the rains started just after dawn – between 6:30 and 7 – and continued – hard – until 10 or 10:30.  A LOT of rain can fall in that amount of time!  Near my porch where the water comes off the roof, there are often long puddles when it rains – naturally.  This week, we had puddles and lakes everywhere!  And where there wasn't a lake, the grass was like a swamp.  It fascinates me so I tried to get some during and after pictures.  Did you every try to take pictures of the rain?  It doesn't show up as well as snow does!  The after pictures are about 1 ½ hours after the rain stopped.  Already much of the water was soaking into the ground but the grass was still swampy and the mud lasts a lot longer.

Last night a second tree fell over.  This one had been located in one of the temporary lakes.  (The other fell last week near Dr. Solofo's house.)  The root systems were just not able to keep them upright in the saturated soil.

Another funny weather story.  The people at Yazeka School called the Village School Program because there was a problem with the latrine.  I got the initial story third hand it wasn’t clear if lightning struck it, it imploded or exploded.  I saw Mathias today.  He said it was a latrine with a metal roof.  It was struck by lightning and the walls cracked.  No one was hurt; it can be repaired; and it is still usable.  The Parent Organization was concerned that the VSP would remove the school because the latrine was stuck by lightning.  Many people believe that many lightning strikes hit where they do because of witchcraft. The leadership team of the VSP did not believe that cause and assured people in Yazeka that the school would stay where it is!  After all, the metal roof probably attracted the lightning as the school is outside of town.  The school itself has a thatched roof.

Just like on a snow day, people who can stay inside do.  One would be soaked to the skin in about five seconds.  Everyone knows that activities are put on hold.  I, of course, didn’t go into town, but shop owners report that they don’t open at the usual time either.  Why bother when next to no one would come? 

So what did I do with my “snow days”?  I could do much of my work since it is inside with a computer (and the electricity and internet continued to work).  There were no people scheduled to come to work with me so that wasn't affected either.  (Note: the border is open and things have continued to be calm, but crossing the border takes much longer than usual.  Also, many of the people I work with have had other meetings or visits to churches/schools.)  Still, unexpected time deserves work on unplanned projects (in addition to regular ones). 

Monday I made bread pudding.  While I was in the US this summer, a new fancier bakery opened in Garoua Boulai.  I went in a while ago to check it out and was impressed with the variety of baked good offered, including whole wheat bread.  I bought some.  When I got home, I discovered it was so stale that it was inedible.  Sad.  I froze it thinking that it might work better when I took it out, but that didn't work either.  So, bread pudding.  I had made some a couple of times at Mom’s house while I was there.  It actually tasted good (although in my opinion it was missing something – besides raisins which one can find in Yaoundé but not GB).

Thursday, I spent a lot of time working on maps to show where the Village Schools are in western CAR.  I found a website called Mixsee which allowed me to create a map and also put pictures of the schools along with some other information.  It puts those little numbers like you see on other internet maps.  Cool.  I really like the result – and here is the link so you can check it out, too.  http://mixs.ee/KZyY

But, when I tried to print a copy I had trouble getting it onto less than 3-4 pages.  Not what I wanted.  So, having (or taking) some extra time, I decided to create my own map in Power Point so it would be one page.  I tried Google Maps, but they label very few towns in westerns CAR.  Mapquest was better – not all the towns I wanted, but lots of them.  It’s a balancing act, though.  You have to zoom in far enough to be able to see the town names.  Then there was a lot of cutting and pasting because at that level, you can’t get a wide enough area.  And, the map still can’t be too big to fit on the page.  I succeeded, but the names of the towns are tiny.  Oh, well.  I numbered the towns/schools.  In all cases but one the name of the school is the same as the name of the town.  (The school in Baboua is called Peouri.)  Now,I have a pdf version of the map which I will send/post when I send this blog.  By the way, thanks go to Joe Troester who found me the latitude/longitude coordinates for many of the towns more than a year and a half ago.  Thanks also to David Zodo, curriculum supervisor of the Village School Program who sat with me and a map to locate the schools that didn’t show up correctly with the coordinates. 

I am happy to have the maps done.  I went to town yesterday to see if I could copy the one-page map to give to my colleagues.  I knew that the town names were small and not very distinct, but he adjusted the darkness and created good copies.  Many thanks abound!

The US is heading into winter.  If you get a snow day, may it be a productive and enjoyable as mine have been!