First a note about the organization of the church here and the ELCA mission. There are not yet enough pastors for every church to have one full time. Each village with a church has an Evangelist who works with them. Then, each region has a pastor, in this case Pr. Ousmano Dieudonne who serves 8 churches in his district. He is able to visit them regularly, but not every Sunday. Rev. Dr. Nyiwe Thomas is the bishop who heads the whole Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon.
So, it was a huge occasion to have not only the pastor lead the worship, but the national bishop. He, in turn brought us! They had not expected us, but welcomed us with open arms. It rained all night and continued this morning. The car ride to Mpallango Tjanlingo was challenging since most of the road is not paved. Although it was not too far, puddles, potholes, and mud kept our speed to a minimum. Fortunately, we had a safe and experienced driver. The village had a large welcome planned where some would meet us on motorcycles and many others would line the street near the entrance to the church. Rain prevented these activities, but some members of other churches in the district were able to come.
We were welcomed in a ceremony in a hut near the church. They fed us noodles and chicken and provided coffee or Grenadine soda. After introductions and some conversation, the pastors went to put on their robes. A line of women sand and danced at the entrance. Once congregants (including Themba, Elisabeth, and I) were inside, the dancers processed, followed by the pastor, evangelist, and bishop. Part of the liturgy included introducing us and allowing us to give brief remarks. A couple of times, the people cheered! (for example, then they heard that Elisabeth will be teaching in Cameroon). When I told them that my first task in CAR is to learn Sango and said hello in that language, they laughed and clapped again. I should mention that all 3 of us, the bishop, the pastor, and the evangelist sat up front on a platform to the side or behind the altar. Another honor for us!
The service was in a combination of French and the local African language with some English thrown in for and by us. It was much like services in the US - Bible readings, sermon, announcements, communion. We were also present for baptisms (4 infants and 3 young adults) and confirmation (2 other young adults). There was much lively and joyful music with some people dancing in the small area between the pews (benches) and the altar area.
After the liturgy (about 2 hours with all the extras...), we were again invited to the nearby hut. We ate cassava and a meet dish. Outside the people sang and danced with joy at our presence as one man played the drums. Despite the mud and continuing drizzle, people stayed around.
When we left, they lined the streets and followed the car to the intersection with the main road of the village. Such singing, clapping, and cheering! They did not want to see us go! They gave a gift of two (live) chickens to the bishop. They rode back with us... (held upside down by the legs with only occasional squawks!)
I feel privileged to have been invited to participate in this worship service and the welcoming ceremonies that surrounded it. I know that they felt honored that people from the USA were there, but, really, I felt that the honor was mine - to be included in their daily life. So many similarities, despite obvious differences.