Thursday, August 18, 2016

Tension – In but not of the world


Maybe it is because I am still unsettled t
hat I spend so much time thinking about connections – ways that what I am doing right now are like things I did and saw in Cameroon/CAR; my faith and what is happening around the USA and the world; or what work I might be doing and ways that might connect to what I have done in the past.

I am very disturbed by the social climate in the USA that is reflected in the current political campaign.  During all of my voting live, politicians have smeared each other with dirt to make themselves look better.  Some voters have held strongly opposing views that they have used to make decisions about candidates and to try to convince others to vote (think, believe…) as they do.  But it is getting worse. 

Neither “side” in a political “discussion” listens to the other.  Rarely can there be a civil debate of issues.  Personalities are immediately drawn in; mudslinging begins – based on looks and personality mostly.  I understand the many factors that contribute to this situation.  The internet has made it much easier for people to find others who think like them, but in interacting only (or mostly) with those who hold similar views, views are being pushed away from the center and further toward extremes.  From there it is even harder than before to connect with someone who is different – whether that difference is skin color, religion, or just a belief about ways to solve one of the many problems that confront us.

People, especially those of the working class are not doing well economically.  They resent that jobs have gone and are going overseas or to those who are willing to work for much less pay (not even a living wage, really).  I have heard it said that this is the first generation in which the children can’t expect to do better than their parents – and maybe not even as well.

Many students have completed college degrees with huge debt and few job prospects.  They are ready to start careers and, hopefully, work to solve some aspect of a problem, but can’t get work.  Or work below their skill level.

Global climate change is getting worse, but there are those who still refuse to “believe” it is “real.”  Is a fact any less true if some people don’t believe it??  I found out this week that Pennsylvania, my state, would be ranked as the 17th worst polluting country if it were a country: Coal mining, fracking, methane from dairy cows…  What I am I doing to change this?  Even in a personal way?  We can’t just eliminate all use of coal without alternative work for those in the industry.  I watched what happened to Pittsburgh in the 1980s when steel left.  It was disastrous for many and still has many lasting effects.  We are not part of the Rust Belt for no reason. 

Violence is the world is increasing.  Look at the number of shootings in the US, Syria, Nigeria, the Extreme North in Cameroon, Central African Republic, and gangs in Central America.  It is not wonder that the number of people fleeing their homes is increasing. According to the International Organization of Migration, “There are 65 million people displaced worldwide. An unprecedented number of people are being forced to migrate to escape war, poverty, the impact of climate change and persecution.” https://www.iom.int/

During the Summer Olympics, we should be better able to focus on what brings us together – and that has happened to some extent, but look at the problems.  Reporting in the US that focuses on women’s looks and men’s achievements.  Continuing evidence of racial discrimination.  Little reporting on the problems in Rio that surround the Olympics: people in favelas (slums) who are moved, detained, etc.  Then there is Ryan Lochte and three of his U.S. Olympic teammates who said they were mugged but whose stories don’t match the videos found in investigating the incident.  Why would they lie?  Did it happen?  Why has this become such big news when the innumerable other muggings in Rio are not mentioned? 

Then, I think about the situation in CAR.  Yes, they have a new president.  Yes, there is more security and many are able to work safely again in their fields.  But there are still pockets of violence, especially in Bangui, the capital.  And, age-old conflicts, such as those between herders (with their “free-range” animals) and farmers, tend toward violence, bloodshed, and death now that many more have weapons and tensions among groups are running high.  Vengeance is also an integral part of most ethnic group cultures.  Who will risk going against the norms to seek peace and love his/her neighbor? 

Most of these items I have mentioned make us afraid.  Legitimately so in many cases.  Fear is the emotion that helps us protect ourselves and our loved ones.  It is real and it is sometimes necessary, but what a toll it takes on our bodies and our connections with others. 

OK.  I actually started this entry with the intent to be positive!  So far, it sure hasn’t been.  I know you could add to this litany of tensions as you consider your neighborhood and corner of the world.  Tensions abound!

When I consider this world and my place (and role) in it, I often think of Jesus’s prayer recorded in John 17:15-16: “I am not asking that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

What does that mean?  I believe that we are called to see, hear, and pay attention to the world around us – especially the ways that its horrors affect us and our neighbors.  We must, though, react differently.  We must not hate as others do.  We must not let our fears – legitimate as they are – close us off from others.  We are called to follow Jesus and his examples while he was on earth.  We are called to love others as we love ourselves.  We live in this world – in our neighborhood, state, and country – we don’t chose to become hermits and withdraw from it.  On the other hand, we pray (as Jesus did) to be kept from the evil one.  We seek to represent part of Christ’s kingdom here on this earth were we currently are.

Courage is not the absence of fear but comes from actions taken in spite of that fear. 

I have a few suggestions of that I think being in, but not of, this world means for me here, today, in this place where I am.
  • Refuse to listen to inflammatory news and commentary – on the television, radio, and from even from those around us.  We can turn off the set, walk out of the room (politely), or hit mute for a time. 
  • Seek at least one person a day to talk to who is not someone you would normally interact with.  It could be a short conversation with a clerk in a store, a phone call to someone (perhaps someone you have heard is ill or has had an accident (why not show some concern for his/her wellbeing?) or an email (maybe to congratulate someone or wish them well as they start a new venture). 
  • Focus on connections rather than things that divide us.  You don’t agree with someone’s political views?  OK, but maybe you like the same music or activity.  We must talk about candidates to be informed voters and to help the country move forward, but we don’t have to get angry (or verbally abusive) when someone doesn’t accept our point of view.  Why can’t the last part of every interaction be positive so that we don’t dread the next time we see that person – and they don’t dread meeting us again?
  • When you see someone you don’t know (on the street or in a store), mentally name three (or more) things that you like about them and another three (or more) things you have in common.  I believe very strongly that we cannot love our neighbor if we see them as the “other” or “strange.”  Yes, they are different, but they are also similar.  If everyone focused on the similarities, there would be less fear and more working together.
  • Greet everyone you meet on the street.  This is a habit I developed in Garoua Boulai where I also tried to greet each person in his/her own language.  We don’t often have to consider language here, but say hello; acknowledge him/her.  Make a connection even if it is only for two seconds.  We all like to be noticed and appreciated.  Brighten someone else’s day. 
  • Pray about the world around you.  Don’t just ask for change and a better place, but make that prayer time include silence when you listen for what you are called to do to show God’s love.  

If we all stretch our heart muscles to love our neighbors, things will get better.  Fear will abate.  We will naturally become less destructive and more connected.  Then, with these increased connections
we can find solutions to the overwhelming problems that face us, individually and collectively.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Settled?


So, I am back in Pennsylvania, staying with a friend in East Carnegie (a part of Pittsburgh).  Am I settled into my life here?  Far from it!

After finishing two months of traveling to tell the EELRCA and CAR story, I have now started networking to find what I will be doing next. (More on that another time.)  A huge thank you to all who supported me in my home assignment travels and who offered all kinds of hospitality!

What I have noticed is that the US is vast and diverse!  (Not really news there, right?) But somehow it is also the same.  I have been thinking a lot about Wilton, ND as I have taken my morning walks in East Carnegie.  Both are small towns – but with big differences.  I can walk all around both places in an hour – going up and down the streets. Both are near the railroad.  Both are pretty little areas where people will greet a stranger walking down the street early in the morning.

OK, East Carnegie is really a part of Pittsburgh, but it is tucked into a little space between highways, some industrial complexes, and other neighborhoods, so it feels like a small town.  I looked up the population online for both places and found 726 for Wilton and 546 for East Carnegie.  Streets are much narrower here and there is much less yard around houses.  Many streets are now dead ends – cut off when the highway or other road was built – or when the road got to the stream.   Isn’t it interesting how our brains (or at least mine!) are always looking for connections?  To compare what is happening/being seen here with something from the past?  Fascinating.  I do compare this town to Garoua Boulai, too, but much less because it is so different.

Speaking of fascinations: clouds and rain storms still intrigue me.  Here is the rain approaching – taken from the porch of the house where I am staying.  Just after that, I had to go inside when the rain started in earnest and came at such an angle that the porch roof was no protection!

Here are some other things I have noticed as I get re-settled in the US.  Lots of places have planes that fly overhead.  This picture is from a walk near O’Hare Airport in Chicago, but they fly overhead   in East Carnegie, too (just not quite so low).There are lots of signs telling us what to do in the US, too.  That assumes a literate culture and money to develop this infrastructure. 
Road are generally wider in the US with lots of lanes and traffic.  On the other hand, Pittsburgh has many hills with VERY narrow streets.  I have been on a few where I didn’t think it was wide enough for my car.  It was paved or I might have thought I was in CAR!  Here, too, there are some very steep roads where you get to an edge and feel like you will drive off a cliff, but after a few more feet you see that you are just starting on one of the almost vertical streets.  Some streets here are also steps. (That is, the street name continues, but only pedestrians can continue on the stairs up/down a hill.)  The GPS has told me a couple of times to turn right there were was no street – once there were some of these steps. 

So to go back to the original question?  Am I settled?  No.  Walking helps me reintegrate in my US world.  Networking is helping me think about what I will be doing next.  I am still traveling around – staying with a friend here, about to go to Linn Run State Park (near Ligonier, PA) to stay at a cottage with a friend for an early weekend, and then headed to Mechanicsburg (near Harrisburg) to visit Mom for awhile. 

I look forward to a street address and meaningful work.  I’ll keep you posted!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Living – Inside our Out?


People ask me how I am adjusting to being back in the USA.  The question makes me think about the ways we choose to live with the environment.  Do you live inside or outside?
 
(By the way, the nature pictures with this entry show the Central African Republic, Cameroon and places I have visited recently in the USA: North Dakota, Texas, and Louisiana.  Can you tell which is which?)

I Cameroon/CAR most people live outside.  Yes, they have houses, but most use them principally for sleeping.  OK, many also have a living room with a TV that they use some of the time, but it is usually hot in there.  Windows are small.  (Central Africans told me they prefer them that way since it’s harder for thieves to get in.)  There is no air conditioning and generally no fans (since electricity is rare in CAR).  So, much of the time, people live outside. 

Usually, women cool outside over wood fires.  People sit outside in the shade – to visit with others, braid hair, eat, rest, etc. 

CAR is a community-oriented culture in which relationships are   (Relationships are important in the US, too, but individual concerns/wishes/desires often take precedent over the community.)  Being outside encourages relationships and interactions.  People will stop to chat as they pass by and see others outside their homes.  No doubt, these are social interactions, but work goals are also advanced. 
key.

Do people spend more time outside, visible to the community, because it facilitates maintaining relationships or has the maintenance of relationships increased because people are often outside?  (Which comes first, the chicken or the egg??) 

Many people there spend more time outside, too, because they cultivate fields – even those with “desk” jobs since those may not pay well or regularly.  Most people also get where they are going on foot leading to more time outside.  There are a lot of motorcycles taxis and some have cars/trucks, but garages are rare so they can’t go into the house from the garage – adding at least a little “outside” time.  They also play volleyball and soccer outside, but overall there is less leisure time in CAR.

As you read this, have you been comparing it to what is often the reality in the USA?  Generally, we live inside.  Let me acknowledge, upfront, that many people in the US go outside for picnics, sports, walks, swimming, etc.  And, people, in general,   have more leisure time to engage in these activities.  Still, we most often cook inside, work inside, watch TV and play video games inside, etc. 

Living inside makes sense in the winder in cold regions when heat is essential to stay alive.  But many also prefer to be inside air conditioning in hot weather.  (In fact, many in the US say they “need” AC and couldn’t live without it.  But it wasn’t so long ago that there was no air conditioning and people did survive.  I think too many people confuse needs and wants…)  Then, we travel most everywhere by car/truck (which is also air conditioned).  Many can get into and out of the car to go into the house without being outside as they have attached garages. 

I find myself living in both worlds.  I am perfectly comfortable living and working inside but prefer the windows and doors be open.  That means I prefer big windows (that actually open) that let in sunlight and the breeze.  Considering these preferences, my house in Garoua Boulai was perfect.  Doors (with lockable screen doors) on two sides, large windows that open (with screens to keep the bugs out) and a great cross-breeze.  I was more likely to sit outside on the porch than on a mat in the shade, but seeing a computer screen outside is difficult so I generally worked inside.  In GB, I often walked to get where I was going, but had a truck to use, too.  And, since I am back, I am often cold in air conditioning.  Some have exhorted me to carry a sweater all the time – but this is summer!  Why should I need to?  Why can’t there be more moderation?

How do these approaches (living inside or outside) affect environmental issues and global climate change?  I don’t know.  I see major problems with both.  Cooking over wood fires can’t be good – you have to cut the wood from somewhere and then the smoke goes into the air.  It is also not an efficient heating/cooking system.  But, to use propane (which is cheaper in the long run) you have to be able to pay money upfront for the compressed energy instead of a little every day – this is a problem for many, and not only because it involves planning ahead.  Then, too you have to buy a stove, another big, upfront cost.  (And, what are the environmental costs for producing the gas and getting it into the bottle?)

Constantly controlling indoor temperatures in the US has an enormous energy cost.  Why do many demand lower, colder temperatures inside in the summer than they will accept in the winter – inside or out?  Why do we condition the air when the outside temperatures are the temperatures we seek? (OK, that doesn’t apply currently in places like Houston where it goes “down” to 82 degrees at night…)  In some “modern” buildings you can’t even open windows; the buildings are designed that way.  I wonder, too, about always cutting ourselves off from nature; do we end up paying less attention and, therefore, using resources more quickly or carelessly? 

And none of these considerations address the resources we use to power computers, telephone, and internet!  But, let’s leave that issue for another day.

I don’t have any answers, but since I have been back and traveling around to talk about my work I have often felt isolated from the natural world around me (once even when I was at a church camp - in air-conditioned building!)  If we are to be good stewards of this world I believe we need to be paying more attention to nature and ways our everyday actions impact God’s creation.

What do you think? 

Friday, July 1, 2016

More Hospitality


I am continuing my home assignment tour, currently in the Texas-Louisiana-Gulf-Coast Synod.  As in North Dakota, hospitality abounds and is very warm and generous.  I am only half-way through my visit in this synod, but wanted to past some pictures of welcoming hosts. 

In Columbus, TX I stayed with Pastor Alan Kethan and his wife Debbie and preached at three services at St. Paul’s.  Debbie even had a dress from Liberia to complement the one I wore  from CAR. 

Next I went to Brenham, TX and stayed with Ruth Kelling.  I spoke at two meetings (council at St. Paul’s and mission committee at Christ) but also had a chance to visit the Star of the Republic Museum to learn (or relearn) about the time that Texas was an independent republic from 1836-46.  They announced their independence from Mexico (and fought for it) but since many settlers came from the USA, many always hoped to become part of the US; they became a state in 1846. 



Wednesday I flew to New Orleans where Chuck Short met me and brought  me to his house not far from Baton Rouge. Yesterday we had the chance to visit the French quarter in New Orleans and even take a half-hour buggy tour to get the low-down on history of the area.  I don’t think I have ever taken a buggy ride.  (I had expected it to be horse-drawn, but it was pulled by a mule which is better suited to the heat and humidity of the city.)  This evening I will be speaking at an International Dinner at St. Paul’s, Baton Rouge. 
 
(Ever notice that MANY Lutheran churches choose to name their congregations after Paul?  I am sure that is not a coincidence.)

Tomorrow I go back to Houston (and for one day to Lake Jackson) to speak to several more congregations.  All is going well – hope it continues this way… 

In many of these places, I have been able to continue my daily walks which I greatly appreciate since I am eating way more delicious food that I need!  For example, in New Orleans Chuck and I stopped for beignets and coffee (with chicory) at Café du Monde.  CAR and Cameroon have beignets, too, but they are smaller, round, and don’t come with powdered sugar.  Too bad I never thought to take a picture of those so you could see the different.  These were, as you might imagine, delicious. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sharing the News


So, I have been back in the USA for two weeks.  Look at the gorgeous flower that welcomed me at
my sister’s house in Philadelphia.  I started the transition back to US culture visiting with my sister, her family, and Mom; then I took off for North Dakota to share the news of my work and the CAR with supporters. 

This is my second (and final) home assignment for this work.  I find myself comparing my trip with the last time (in 2014) and with experiences/places in CAR/Cameroon.  I am sure that is natural.

People are welcoming and hospitable (in all places I have been).  I am particularly grateful to Pr. Paul Schaur who as been the epitome of generosity.  I am currently staying in his house in Wilton, ND even though he has gone to Seattle with the youth group for 10 days.  He also lent me his car – as he did two years ago.  Between the time he offered it this year and my arrival, though, he got a brand new Chevy Malibu in a very attractive barbecue red color – and he lent it to me anyway! 


Pr. Paul’s daily walks (and his dog Sansa, some of the time) have inspired me to go back to regular walks.  I like going in the morning, but evenings work too since it stays light until close to 10 p.m.  There are things that remind me of CAR.  On many roads there are few cars (in both  Here’s one road I shared only with the birds…  There are grasses that seem similar to me – although some in CAR get much taller than those I have seen here.  Some roads are unpaved.  The major difference there is that ND “dirt” roads are graded and covered with gravel.  They are in great shape.  In CAR there is little to no grading and multiple long rainy seasons cause many more pot holes, ruts, and much more difficult maneuvering.  Still, sun rises (and settings) are inspiring in both places.  This picture of a ND dirt road was taken about 7 a.m.
ND and CAR).

As last time, I attended synod assembly.  (Well, in 2014 I was in WND’s assembly and this year I attended the one in WND and EaND.)  Lots of people have been interested in learning about EELRCA’s work and my life there.   


I even saw a couple of friends I knew from Cameroon, June and Phil Nelson.  

Last time, I stayed in the southern part of the state (along Route I-94) in Bismarck, Valley City, and the Fargo area.  This year I visited these same cities, but have also gotten to the northeast area and am now visiting more of western ND.  I have been to three Lutheran summer camps, too.  I even have a couple of days to go to   Jakelle Cornell’s mother Jane is hosting me. 
Dickinson and Medora to see a little of the Badlands.

How am I adjusting?  I am.  It is not always easy to be visiting so many places in a short time, but it isn’t particularly hard to be back in US culture (after all, I have lived the majority of my life here).  I think often of my work and friends in CAR.  I would be anyway, but they are in the forefront of my mind since I am talking about my work and experiences there.  I miss the people I worked with.  I expect that will increase after my home assignment visits because I have done this before and then gone back to CAR/Cameroon.  This time I will return to Pennsylvania and find a new mission. (No, I have no idea yet what that will be.)

Transitions take time.  But sharing the work of EELRCA and my life with these dedicated people helps. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Appreciation


Recently I wrote about the ceremony/celebration EEL-RCA had for me in Bouar.  Now I want to share more celebrations and appreciations.

some students

Friday, May 20 was Unity Day in Cameroon.  It is a national celebration, but the the Bible School in Garoua Boulai, we also made it the day for the closing of the Bible study groups.  Each Tuesday for two years we have met to read and discuss a text together and to pray for each other (and sing).  We have been divided into three groups.  Friday, all three groups met together for a final Bible study.  I got to prepare the meditation.  (They said it was because they wanted to hear my voice and thoughts one more time…) 
profs

some students' wives
We met in the assembly room of the Bible School.  (On Tuesdays we had met in people’s homes.)  Everyone contributed some money so that a meal could be prepared.  So, we shared the word, prayed, and then they honored me with a gift of cloth.  I gave them small presents as well, as souvenirs and because I will miss the graduation ceremony on June 5.  There was, of course, lots of singing, too.

Profs
Afterwards, the Regional Bishop and professors went to a local watering hole for a beer that was in the house of neighbors of our concession.  It  Mme. Pon Pon and I have seen and greeted each other in passing numerous times but we hadn’t really met.  When she found out I was leaving this week, she invited us back for a meal the next day!  At that delicious dinner of fish and chicken with plantains and an avocado salad, she gave me a dress as a souvenir.  It’s a beautiful pink color, isn’t it?  I hope it is warm enough tomorrow that I can wear it.
.
Unfortunately, several Central Africans came into town on Saturday and wanted to have dinner with me.  I felt badly that I already had plans. I had not known they were coming.  In stead of dinner, they gave me a bottle of whiskey!  Think I can finish it before I leave?  Maybe with a little help from my friends… 

Sunday, I had arranged with the pastor to have a little time during announcements to say goodbye to the congregation.  It turned out to be more than that!  May 22 was they day that they celebrated Mothers’ Day by having the women of the congregation lead the liturgy.  The Women for Christ also had a mini-concert in the middle of the service.  What a great celebration. 

So, there are two services on Sundays in the Temple Centre; the first is in French and the second Gbaya.  Saturday, the Regional Bishop stopped by to ask that I stay for both instead of just the French one that I usually attend.  I arrived at 8:30 a.m. as usual even though the service often starts at 8:50 or 9.  At 8:50 we began singing hymns (for 15 minutes) until the service started.  (One hymn is not unusual, but 5 is.)  The liturgy was joyful and the women did a great job.  At they end, they had me come to the front where I gave my little speech.  Then, the Women for Christ gave me and outfit – but also dressed me in it – right over the outfit I had on!  The material was stiff and new so tying the head scarf was a challenge, especially on my smooth (slippery) hair!  It looked great but  if I moved my head it started to fall off or made it so that my head couldn’t turn!

This was not enough.  The women also gave the some of the new material that all of the Women for Christ had had made into new outfits for the occasion.  They said I can still be a part of them even in the USA.  Then they sang to me.  Fortunately, a friend got my camera that was in the pew and took a couple of pictures and a video.  Wow.  We finished at 11:30 a.m.

As we left, various people greeted me as one congregation left and the other entered the sanctuary.  The first service ran long so there was no turn-around time.  I had been thinking of finding a bathroom (to take off one set of clothes and to relieve myself) but I was escorted up to the front pew.  Sigh.   As the head scarf started to slip again, the Bible School student said – “It’s too big, just take it off.”  I was glad to be able to turn my head again.

The second service was just as joyful and the women did a wonderful job again.  Fortunately for me, I gave my short message during the announcements which come near the beginning of the liturgy.  I had had a friend translate it into Gbaya so I read it to them in their language (after asking for patience!)  I understood the message – not only because I wrote it, but also because I recognized some words – but reading it was a challenge.  They were very appreciative of my effort at speaking Gbaya and some nods of agreement made it seem that they understood at least parts.  The Women for Christ also did a mini-concert.  I loved the energy and singing. 

As they were to start the Bible readings and sermon, I got permission from the Bishop to leave.  It is hard listening for so long when one doesn’t understand – and I really need to find a bathroom!  So, I only stayed for the first hour and fifteen minutes of the second service. 

Today, I am wearing my new blue outfit (without head scarf).  I am invited this evening to have dinner with some people from the Protestant Hospital.  (Too bad Doctors Solofo and Joely aren’t in town, but I will see them in Yaoundé later in the week.) 

Wednesday, Dr. Elisabeth is coming from Meiganga with Christine who has been teaching at the seminary there for three months.  It turns out we leave on the same flight Saturday!  They have already announced that they want to take me to lunch.  Sanda Elie is coming the same day for meetings and to say goodbye.

Do you notice that, as in the USA, most leave-takings involve food??  It helps to connect us. 

I am very appreciative of the kind gestures of those around me.  This is an emotionally difficult time for me but I am happy to be able to share it with many friends and colleagues. 

Soon it will be time for my Home Assignment visits and “Welcome Back” gatherings.  There will be lots more good food, I am sure!  (Maybe it is a good thing that traditional African skirts are wrap-around and that the dresses are full and loose!)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Youth Gathering



JEELCA (the youth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic) had their national youth gathering May 10 – 15, 2016 in Bohong.  (Yes, that means it is still going on until tomorrow, but I was only there for the first two days.)  The theme is “Wake up” from Ephesians 5:14. 
Pres. Ndanga-Toue

JEELCA Pres Martin Nouye
Imagine this:  six representatives from 28 districts (that are organized into seven regions) came with their leaders along with the choir from Temple Centre in Bouar (about 35 youth, several electric guitars, a drum set, a traditional drum or two, and the PA equipment).  Then add many of the leaders of programs/institutions of the EELRCA who presented, including President Samuel Ndanga-Toué.  Youth who come to these gatherings are generally between 15 and 35 years old.  (Many seemed to be at the older edge of this range.)

Activities were held in the Lutheran Church, Bohong Mbella which is at the edge of town.  We filled the church – with overflow crowds outside the windows and doors – especially the next generation of JEELCA members (those currently under 15 years old.)  It was standing room only at times (so that open space in the picture was filled, too).

Now imagine the area:  Bohong was hard hit during the “events” (evenements, as they are called here).  I have written about the town before; 75% of buildings in town were leveled.  Much of the destruction has been cleared away and new houses are being built (some with Lutheran Disaster Response support).  Youth stayed in the houses of church members; the president and I stayed in one of the EELRCA houses near the hospital with Naabeau Catherine.  In town there is no electricity or running water.  The telephone tower stopped working some time ago and has not been repaired so there is no cellphone service (and there have never been land lines…) nor internet.  If such a meeting were organized in the USA, young people would boycott, don’t you think!  But many came and were happy to be there; this is the first youth gathering in five years. 

Getting there was another challenge.  The road is not paved, although it is not horrible (just bad).  Some participants found their own way there but JEELCA arranged for some transport, too. Those coming from the south rented a large truck in Baboua and picked up others along the way.  Another small bus came from Bouar.  They filled the back – standing room only with  (unfortunately) a few hanging off the back.Fewer came from the north but they, too, rented a small bus.  Both vehicles broke down!  Because there were only eight coming from the north, organizers hired motorcycles from Bohong to go and get them.


When I was traveling from GB, we passed the larger truck.  I stopped in Bouar for lunch with Pres. Ndanga-Toué and a rest.  As our Land Cruiser started off to Bohong, we saw the truck again just past Maigaro (not far outside of Bouar and still 60 km./40 m, from Bohong).  This was not a flat tire, but something more major.  More than 50 youth were stranded as the driver and his assistant tried to repair the problem.  Our LC had seven people, but we picked up a few more. (A drop in the bucket.) 

Once we got to Bohong, our LC and the hospital ambulance went back for more stranded youth.  That’s a four-hour round trip starting at 6 p.m. as it was getting dark.  They couldn’t get everyone, though (since we refuse to have people riding on top or hanging off the back…)  Fortunately, the driver got the truck fixed and it, along with the rest of the youth, arrived at 3 a.m.  An exciting, or maybe just exhausting, start to the gathering for them!

I have to say, churches in the US need to learn about welcomes from Central Africans!  About half a mile before the church a group of people gathered to welcome our vehicle with songs and shouts.  Between there and the church were more people singing, waving, shouting, and even some waving palm branches.  (I got a clearer image of the original Palm Sunday.)  Once we got to the church, even more people were there with a welcome song.  We were surrounded with joy at our having arrived.  Here’s one small picture of that crowd.

It has been a long time since I have been to a youth gathering in the USA, but I imagine that this one was similar:  singing, a message from the national president and the president of JEELCA, bible studies, educational sessions, reports from regions (including the development of proposals that were voted on), and, of course, socializing, and singing.

Did I mention lots of singing?!  The program opened with various choirs singing: from Bouar, the hosting church, Women for Christ, Young Sisters for Christ, and the Sunday school of the hosting church!  No choir had fewer than 30 people and all sang with gusto accompanied by the guitars and drums.  This was a joyful time.  As is custom, to show their appreciation people brought coins and small bills to put on the singers’ foreheads as offerings of appreciation.  Two people also put something on my forehead as I danced with the others!  What a joyous start.  In the evenings singing and dancing continued after formal meetings were done.

My presentation’s theme was “Education Wakens the Soul.”  I fretted a little before beginning my preparation because there would be so many and I wasn’t sure what to say.  (I even put out an appeal on Facebook… and followed a couple of the suggestions given).  It turned out well.  First I told them that although I could understand a lot of the Sango, I couldn’t present in their language, so I would do it in English if that was OK with them.  They laughed so I said I would do it in French and a pastor would interpret into Sango.  (Many speak French, but since public schools have never been strong and have been close to nonexistent since the “trouble,” we wanted to be sure all understood – and had the courtesy of hearing the message in their own language.)  

We started with a simple song in English, though, “Praise Ye the Lord.”  This is one I remember from my days at Lutheran youth camp!  It was a great start.  Then I had them work in small groups to consider some questions like what education is, models of teaching found in the Bible, what they want to learn, and ways they can begin to learn, even if they can’t go to formal schools. The emphasis   We ended with another round of the song.  I was temporarily famous as I saw various cell phones recording me sing the song.  (Bohong may have no telephone network, but many other places in the country do.)  They gave leaders from Bouar small gifts (another tradition).  Here’s me with my orange basin – on my head (practicing traditional ways of carrying things…)
was on their working together to define challenges and then seeking local help to start to address them.

I was glad to have the chance to be with these young people who have such energy and many huge challenges to face – both as individuals and as a church and country.

VSP Dir. Service Abel
After lunch (by the way, I ate more manioc during this trip than I had for months – when in Rome…) a car full of us went back to Bouar. (Other church leaders headed to Bohong Fri.)  EELRCA organized a farewell gathering for me that moved me close to tears a couple of time.  Several people spoke  about my work and presented we with parting gifts which included two wooden plaques carved for me, a couple of dresses, decorated gourds, and a set of elephants. JEELCA presented the latter saying that one elephant faces the others.  That one is me, sharing my knowledge with them. 
 
This was a wonderful and bittersweet week.  I regret that I have not been able to be involved in more such gatherings and work in CAR.  At the same time, since I have had to live in Garoua Boulai, I have been able to work with many more church and program leaders.  Currently, many friends and colleagues are at a distance in the USA.  After next month, I will be closer to those people, but I now have other friends and colleagues who will still be at a distance – in CAR.