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


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…) 

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.

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.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Working Myself Out of a Job

This is my last month in CAR/Cameroon!  I will see many of you in June or July.  Meanwhile I am
busy working myself out of a job!

Part of my goal before I leave is to have things in place so that the work I have been doing continues.  It is easy because I am here as an adviser and much of the work is being done by leaders of EELRCA (or EELC).  It is hard because one can never be sure that the training is enough or the arrangements of who is picking up responsibilities is clear enough. 

Last week I spent several days in N’gaoundéré (Cameroon).  I had a meeting with the National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon to thank him for the church’s hospitality, talk to him a bit about what I have been doing, and take my formal leave of him.  He also thanked me, of course.

While in town, I met with the Christian Education team and the man who is translating the Sunday school materials from English to French.  I handed over the documents I had organized, interviewed the team for an article that will be in Living Lutheran in July (watch for it!), and we reviewed the next steps and responsibilities of each person (Cameroonian and Central African).  I prepared a duplicate binder for the Central African team and had sent it to Baboua a couple of days earlier. 

This project is advancing well.  Translation of the first volume from English to French advances well.  Once that is done, Central Africans will begin working on French to Sango.  Two artists are drawing pictures. Hopefully by the end of the year, the N’gaoundéré team can get the French version and the illustrations printed.  We are hopeful, but continued good progress on the work and arrival of more financial gifts are also necessary!

Tomorrow I leave for Bohong, the town a couple of hours north of Bouar, CAR, for the churchwide youth gathering.  It has been 4-5 years since there has been enough security to permit people to travel to such a gathering.  I will be leading a presentation, “Education revives the Soul.”  I will also be saying good-bye to people there. 

I have already been working to insure (as best I can) that project leaders I have worked with will be able to sustain and advance the progress we have made.

Today, I taught my last class at the Bible School in Garoua Boulai.  Next week they prepare for exams (which start May 23).  Their graduation is June 5 (although I leave for the USA May 28).  I hope that some of the pedagogy and planning we have worked on for two years will be stuck in their heads
There is always more work to be done, but change is also inevitable.  I will be sad to leave, but am looking forward to the next step in God’s plan for me (whatever that is!)
Here’s hoping that peace has come back to CAR to stay.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Event planners: what would you do?

The new governor for the East Region, Gregoire MVOZGO, was scheduled to visit Garoua Boulai today.  People were asked to arrive at 2 p.m. (which means things would probably start at 3).  I went with two professors from the Bible School and arrived at 1:45. (Their choice.)

45 minutes later the storm clouds were clearly massing in the sky. The wind picked up after a bit blowing dust everywhere.

So, imagine the sky and the impending storm - not a surprise since this is the rainy season....  Now imagine a fairly large permanent pavilion (roof with no walls) filled with plastic chairs (which were full of people, of course) and a temporary tent beside it similarly filled. Also imagine many students in uniform lining the street.

There was also a group of three men - one drumming, one with a flute-like thing that sounded to me like a bagpipe without the bag, so no base drone, and one with a megaphone. They would play for (and flatter) various people trying to get money.

So, the scene is set.  The rains are obviously coming. What would you do??

Nothing happened here until the heavens opened and buckets of rain fell.

People in the permanent pavilion moved toward the center (but not much as it was already full). Others crowded in at the edges. Many people scrunched down between the chairs - as did I between a chair, a pillar and some legs. The sun hat I'd brought worked well as a rain hat... 

Rain came from several directions and hard for 45 minutes. I was snug as a bug in a rug but parts of me got wet anyway.  I was next to two young girls who chatted with me a little.

After the hard rain tapered off the students went back to their waiting positions - after some played in the new temporary stream. 

20 minutes later things began - sort of.  Bureau chiefs were asked to go to the nearby sous-prefecture building to greet the governor; the rest of us waited some more.

I had had enough adventure after two hours but is was difficult to leave.  I decided to start writing this as I sat and waited.  40 minutes later we were still waiting with occasional intermittent rain.  I really couldn’t see anything but periodic glimpses.

Speeches et al lasted a long time. Hearing was difficult with the noise of a nearby generator, people talking, etc.  The first couple of people faced the group under the pavilion (including the governor) and spoke well into the microphone.  Then the man I assume was the governor stood and faced out away from those under the pavilion and toward the students.  The microphone had to be moved to his spot; from that moment we heard nothing.  Hey, planners, what would you do about that??

We professors finally left after 10-12 minutes of listening to the man we couldn’t here.  Lots of others left before and with us.  I finally got home at 6 p.m.  Glad to be here!

After the rain
Politically I guess it was important for me to be present. Still, I would have been happier at home watching the rain from my porch.  This was even more of an adventure than the regional bishop's “prise de contact” yesterday!  I am glad it is over.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Prise de Contact

When a leader comes into a new position, one of the early things he (sorry, they are mostly “he” here) does is to take a trip to visit the programs, institutions, towns with whom he will be working.  Regional Bishop Nguembe Djidere Nestor was elected about a year ago and was installed in the summer.  He is now finishing his month-long “prise de contact tournée” (trip around the East region to meet people and officially greet them).

The bishop saved Garoua Boulai for last – probably because he lives here.  He has been visiting the Lutheran churches in town and today came to the Bible School and Social Center.  There was a liturgy which included introducing everyone connected to the Bible School and the team that is traveling with the bishop.  Part of the tradition is to offer a gift to the new person.  It might be money (to help defray travel costs) or a gift in kind. 

Here’s a picture of some of the almost 40 goats the bishop has received!  They are staked out in his yard and part of the area in front of the Bible School.  The goats are fed on the green grass now growing abundantly and they are fertilizing the lawn as well! 

 After the liturgy, we took pictures and all walked over to the Social  Center for refreshments.

 Some of the students carried the chairs – on their heads, of course.

Tomorrow the bishop and his team will visit the French and Gbaya services of the church closest to us.  Later in the week, they will visit the hospital and Lutheran schools. 

Then, the new governor of this region is coming for his “prise de contact” on Monday!  Lots of excitement and Cameroonian flags everywhere.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

April in CAR

I had the good fortune to take two recent trips to the Central African Republic and to attend the partners’ consultation (between EELRCA leaders and their international partners) in GB.  I could write a book about activities and people, but decided to make this a photo essay instead.  (With pictures in the order that they were taken, more of less…

It is usual in Cameroon for cars (acting as small buses/trucks) to be over loaded.  It is even more true in CAR where people are added to the trunk and roof (and on top of loaded trucks).

Some of the many trucks waiting for the UN convoy to start, going from Garoua Boulai, Cameroon to Bouar and Bangui.  There have been no attacks on the road for some time and some are now willing to travel without the escort.  Progress!  

 Most villages still have traditional mud brick houses with thatched or corrugated tin roofs.  The second picture shows the underlying wood being prepared to receive new thatching.
 Leaders during a visit to the Seminary in Baboua: Anne Langdji, ELCA regional Representative; Dr. Rebecca Duerst, ELCA Director of Diakonia; Rev. Dr. Andrea Walker, ELCA Area Program Director for West/Central Africa and Madagascar; Rev. Dr. Antoinette Yindjara, Director of the Seminary.

  The same women with other church leaders in Baboua – and me peeking out from the back. 

Sewing class at Chez Marthe et Marie, the women’s center in Bouar run by FCC (Central African Women for Christ). 

Women waiting to have their babies weighed, measured, and vaccinated at the Emmanuel Health Center, Gallo.

 Catherine Naabeau, Director of the Heath Center in Bohong and Coordinator of Health Programs for EELRCA (holding mushrooms we bought on the roadside).

Map of the area of intervention of the Primary Health Care Program, Gallo with Michel Bouba, Director.

Thomas Sanda, artist standing with me by the artisan’s shop he runs in Bouar (yes, that is a huge painted rock). 

EELRCA headquarters 

and President Ndanga-Toue’s house that is being refurbished (courtesy of ELCA).

 Dinner with Rev. Dr. Ndanga-Toue and ELCA women Anne, Andrea, and Rebecca.

Antoine Mbarbet and Anne in front of a house on the Baboua station (where they both lived – at different times in the past).  Antoine is now EELRCA book keeper, chauffeur, and assistant in many other ways. 

Consultation Participants: Dr. Antoinette leading devotions at the start of the Partners’ consultation.  Also pictured are Job Mario Mamadou, EELRCA Administrative Secretary, and Rev. Martin Nouye, Director of EELRCA Youth Program.

 Patrick Kelembho, Administrator; Rev. Rachel Doumbaye, Vice President; Rev. Dr. Samuel Ndanga-Toué, President; Michel Doko, Treasurer.

Annelise Diss, DEFAP (Protestant Churches in France).

 Josephine Oumarou, President, Central African Women for Chirst; Mathias Votoko, Representative, National Church Board.

Anne Wangari, LWF representative; Willie Langdji, ELCA Regional Representative; Jakelle Cornell, representing the 3 ELCA partner synods (Western ND, Eastern ND, Texas/LA/Gulf Coast), Helmut Grimmsmann, ELM (Lutheran Church in Germany.)

VP Rachel and me

Director of the Village School in Foro (with the school’s pavilions and some students in the background.

Selling (very large!) mushrooms along the road.  This is the season.

Solar power:  recharging lamps and drying manioc (cassava) at the Seminary in Baboua.

Antoinette receiving gifts sent from the USA through Jakelle.

 Bougainvillea near “my” house in Baboua

Director of the Péouri Village School in Baboua (in their permanent building) with me.

Assisting with communion distribution during the the closing ceremony for the Bouar 1 District Conference in Kele Boukou (20 km. north of Bouar). 

Elie Sanda, ELCA Administrator (living in N’gaoundéré, Cameroon) and Josephine (FCC) after the liturgy. 

 Chicken coop (fertilizer accumulates under the structure) – village near Bouar).
 Willie and Antoine digging up a wild orchid plant for Willie to take to Yaoundé.  

Kids (being kids!) at a spring box made by PASE (EELRCA water project that has also worked a lot with the LDR humanitarian aid project).

Rutted (but not very) challenging, infrequently travelled road between Bouar and Bohong.

Bohong: evidence of destruction being cleaned up and houses rebuild after 2013-2014 fighting.

Jakelle sharing pictures of the kids (taken on her phone) in Bohong.

Close up of some of the students.

Gifts as we left Bohong: pineapples, avocados, and mangos (in the bag).