Monday, December 15, 2014

National Bishop's Visit

As the dry season starts and before Christmas (November and December), Regional Bishops visit their districts and the National Bishop visits the regions.  They make contact with congregations and area church leaders to encourage them in their work.  The faithful like seeing their leaders as well, welcoming them with open arms. 

For the past couple of weeks the Regional Bishop for the Eastern Region, Rev. Enoch Garga-Zizi  (who lives across the street from me and is also the Director of the Bible School in GB), has been traveling around the region with the National Bishop, Rev. Ruben Ngozo.  This weekend they were in the Garoua Boulai District. 

     New church                                 Women preparing food                    Chapel Dedication, Nganko

Saturday, the church at Nganko hosted the bishops as they dedicated their new church building.  Preparations were made and then, in the afternoon, many people gathered. (I was among them.)  When we got word that Bishop Ngozo and his entourage were on their way from a nearby town, four cars and a dozen motorcycles went to the village which marks the beginning of the district.  We waited in front of the traditional chief’s house.  When they arrived, people lined the street; the bishop and some leaders who were with him, got out of the car and greeted each person (shaking hands as is the tradition here).  Bishop Garga-Zizi went before Bishop Ngozo to give each person’s name and title.

(Note:  this was along the main paved road that is the life-line for commerce and travel in the region!  Fortunately, there wasn’t a lot of other traffic!) 
National Bishop Ngozo
Regional Bishop Garga-Zizi

Then we piled back into the cars, drove around GB honking horns and returned to the church at Nganko (several miles from GB proper).  Several choirs (from local churches) lined the entry way.  The bishop was carried in on an armchair. 

The service began outside the church to bless the building and give its history.  Once we moved inside.  It was a regular liturgy, more or less. The bishop spoke three times (about ½ hour each time).  First, during announcements, he introduced his entourage and the Regional Bishop introduced those who came with him.  (This is normal, but took longer than usual since there were many visitors!) Then the National Bishop was given a chance to greet the congregation.  (Normal, when there are visitors, but not something that happens every week.)  His third speech was the sermon, based on a lesson in Acts.  There was also lots of singing – by choirs and the congregation. (That is normal.)  The service was mostly in French with the bishop using some Gbaya to repeat parts of the message. Singing was in Gbaya. (Normally, services are either in French or Gbaya, not both.  This was an exception since there were many visitors and local Gbaya people.)  The service lasted about 2 ½ hours.  (That is pretty normal for serviced here.) 

Nganko congregants organized receptions; since there were so many people, they were asked to go to one of three locations.  When we finished eating, we went back to the Lutheran Station for another reception for the people from Garoua Boulai!  We ate again, of course.  The National Bishop stayed in the guest house next to mine.

Sunday morning, at the Central Lutheran Church (a five-minute walk from my house) the French and Gbaya congregations combined for one Liturgy.  The Sous-Prefet (regional government official) and others attended.  The service was similar to the one the day before (without the blessing of the church).  Unfortunately for me, the bishop gave the same three talks.  (It was fortunate for him.  Since he is visiting MANY churches in the region, it makes sense that he would present the same sermon and information!)  One difference was giving thanks for the returned hostages and blessing them.  Bishop Ngozo also received presents as a sign of respect and honor. The GB district gave him a cow (or maybe a steer… In French you just say “un boeuf” - a beef).


After church, there was, of course, a reception!  We went back to the Social Center for more food and conversation.  Local people came to see the bishop after lunch and he left our area about 4:30 p.m. – headed to another church and more visits!  (With all that eating, drinking, waiting for events, and speaking, I am glad it was he who went on to other places and not me!)

Monday, December 8, 2014


Today I had the privilege of visiting
the traditional chief (of a neighborhood in Garoua Boulai) who had been held hostage for almost 3 months by the Miskine rebels in CAR.  I went with the Bible School students who wanted to pay their respects.  I did, too.

In this season of Advent – anticipation and waiting – I can’t help but think about all of the families who waited anxiously for the 26 loved ones to be released.  Waiting and wondering how the hostages were.  What a joy to have them back.

The chief (addressed as his majesty) welcomed us and told us some stories of his captivity.  (Fortunately for me, and probably because I was there, he spoke mostly in French with a little Gbaya.  He said there were 26 captives: 15 Cameroonians, 10 Central Africans, and 1 Polish priest who works in Baboua. 

When the rebels came into the Bethany neighborhood and took 7 people, he was able to convince them not to take his son as well.  A couple of the children of a teacher at the Bible School had just passed him on the trail.  When the rebels asked who they were, planning to take them as well, the chief said they were just children returning to town.  He saved them (and their parents) several months of hardship.  The chief said that 24 of the hostages were men and 2 were women.

When these Cameroonian hostages arrived at the camp in CAR, the chief said the rebels offered him a soda and told that he was to be treated well because they had nothing against him personally.  They saw the hostages as a way to put pressure on the Cameroonian government to release their leader.  That was the last soda and courtesy that they were given.

The hostages were chained together at the ankle and wrist.  To eat the wrist manacles were temporarily removed and then replaced.  If they had to go to the bathroom they had to ask and get permission to be unchained.  Often they were told to wait a while.  More than once a hostage wet or soiled himself because the wait was too long.  Then, the hostages were always accompanied to do their business. 

Food was not well prepared.  It was often burnt or poorly cooked.  Meat was often almost raw.  The chief said that the priest once asked for some manioc (cassava) to go with some (mostly raw) chicken, but the rebels refused.  Father Mathieu insisted on saying mass each day at noon and having evening prayers about 6 p.m., even when the captors said they were not to pray. 

The chief said that he often had dreams of his dead parents and children.  He was sure that he would soon be with them.  Even the hostage chained to his side said he saw the chief’s father. 

One of the other hostages said that he wished he had refused to go and been killed before crossing the river; it would have been better.  The chief said he would not be taken again, that he, too, would rather die than go through that nightmare again.

About a day before they were released, the chief said a chicken came into the area where they were being held early in the morning.  It hopped over other hostages and squatted beside him to lay an egg.  Soon, a rebel came to take the chicken and the egg, but told the chief that the chicken’s action meant there would soon be good news for him. 

The next day, they saw some rebels talking to the priest and helping him to pack his things.  Soon after that, the rebels came to the Cameroonians and said they, too, were to be freed.  (The Central Africans were also freed, but three days later.)  The rebels walked the hostages from the camp to the river at the border with Cameroon.  They left at 1 a.m. and arrived about 6:30 a.m. – walking the whole time in the dark without flashlights.

The original plan was for all 16 of these hostages to go to Yaoundé and then to fly to Brazzaville, Congo with Abdoulaye Miskine, the leader who was being held in Yaoundé.  Fortunately, they were not forced to accompany Miskine although the chief said he thought that Father Mathieu did.  (I have heard that despite all the difficulties, this courageous, dedicated priest want to return to his work in Baboua.  May God be with him where every he goes.)

Chief, Bible School students, some visitors
The chief said he is very glad to be home among his family and neighbors.  He was touched and pleased that so many people prayed for him during his absence.  He said he gives thanks to God continually to be home.  His feet still hurt, but he is beginning to regain his strength.
So, as we await Christ’s coming (the first time to mark history and the second when he will return) this Advent, imagine what the waiting was like for these hostages.  Imagine what many people around the world feel as they wait for peace and security.  Imagine the frustration and grief of people of color in the USA who still wait for equality and peace in their daily lives.  Pray for God’s peace that passes all understanding be with all who suffer.  Pray that the Holy Spirit change the hard hearts of the rebels who took these hostages and of all of those who put greed and self-interest before the well-being of others. 

Change can come.  We can help – each of us in our corner of the world.  May we all get what we are waiting for – sooner rather than later.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Wedding, November 29, 2014

A wedding is the joyous celebration of the two people who commit themselves to living together and creating a family.
I had the pleasure of attending such a celebration for Jacob Betrogo, financial administrator at the Protestant Hospital in GB, and Ruth Neusene Salatou. They live in the house next to mine, but the wedding took place in N’gaoundéré (about 3 hours northwest of GB – now that the road is paved!)

Just like in the US, fancy invitations invited guests to attend.  Here, though, they are generally delivered by hand and not by mail.  The one I got has English on the outside (probably coming from Nigeria) and had a couple of French pages inside.  At the reception, I saw others who had invitations that looked like passports.  Mine is pictured at right.

Couples are officially married twice here.  First, they are married at Town Hall; this is the civil ceremony.  Jacob and Ruth had their civil ceremony at 9 a.m. Saturday, November 29.  I decided not to go to N’gaoundéré until Saturday morning, so I missed that part.  (I had only been back from Yaoundé a couple of day, taught two classes, and was recovering from Plan Q – see the last blog entry.)
The church wedding where the couple makes their commitment before God and the congregation happened at the Millennium Lutheran Cathedral at 3 p.m.  Well, that was when it was scheduled to start.  It actually started at about 4 p.m.  Parts of this service are the same as a wedding in the US, but parts are different.  There was a bulletin which gives the schedule as:

  • Songs by the choirs (Yes, they had two.  Both had great, lively music, mostly in French, but some in English.)
  • Arrival of the groom.  The brides’ maids and groom’s men process in first and line the main aisle.  Then Jacob entered with a woman of his family.  He was seated on a couch (love seat size) in front of the pews.  The woman sat on a covered chair next to him.
  • Then, after some more music, the bride processed in with her father.  The groom’s men sprayed fake snow/confetti from cans as she came down the aisle.  Ruth sat next to her husband-to-be with her father on a chair next to her.  Both the bride and groom wore white.
  • Many invitees wore clothes made from material that the bride chose.  (See the people with the blue print cloth).  Others chose material that a whole group wore (choir, family, etc.) 
  • There were photographers taking video and still photos.  I have to say that I found this to be intrusive.  Many times they hid the couple and the “action” of the ceremony as they stood in the way to take pictures.  You can see one photographer in the shot of the bride’s procession.
  • Hymn
  • Welcome and Invocation
  • Confession of sins
  • Promise of Grace
  • Song by one choir
  • 2 Bible Readings (read by friends)
  • Confession of Faith
  • Song by the second choir
  • Sermon:  One pastor was the liturgist and a second preached.  He talked about the texts read and what it means to be married.  I thought, personally, that ½ hour was too long, so he lost me toward the end…
  • Liturgy of Marriage
  • Institution and Introduction
  • Vows of the couple
  • Exchange of rings
  • Benediction of the couple
  • Hymn
  • Presentation of a Bible to the couple
  • Speech by the family of the groom

  • Speech by the family of the bride
  • Speech by a representative of the church
  • Presentation of gifts (for those who were not attending the reception later)
  • Prayers
  • Photos with the family
  • Final Benediction

  • Recession lead by the couple, wedding party, and then guests.The whole wedding took about 2 ¼ hours until about 6:20 p.m.  (Too long for me, but it’s not about me, right??)  By the final recession only about ½ the congregation was left (so maybe it was too long for them, too, especially since we started an hour late).

The wedding reception was held at the Hotel Mentong Palace on the outskirts of town.  The invitation said 8 p.m.  I went with Elie Sanda (ELCA financial administrator for Cameroon/CAR) and his wife.  We didn’t go at 8, but arriving at 8:45 we were still the first to arrive.  Festivities started at 10:30 p.m.  (Sigh.  All day we did a lot of waiting.) 
The reception also started with a procession – of the bride’s maids and groom’s men and then the bride and groom.  These young people did two dances for the guests – choreographed and enjoyable.  Then there was grace and we ate.  A woman from the hotel announced the menu for two buffets then tables of guests were directed to one buffet table or the other. (So why were there different foods? ?)  Food was plentiful and enjoyable, but not very warm despite chafing dishes with flames beneath them.  A large room was full, so I’d estimate there were over 200 guests.  (They don’t have people return cards to get a count; they just make enough food!)

After we ate, the bride and groom left to change clothes.  After more than an hour of waiting, I had had enough.  It was after midnight and since Dr. Solofo and Dr. Joely were leaving I left with them. 

So what did I miss?  There was another presentation of gifts and other formalities and then dancing that went on until about 4 a.m. I heard.  I am sure it was fun.  Still, I am not much of a party person, especially when I don’t know many people and festivities get off to such a late start.  And, the waiting tired me out.  I was happy to go to the guest house for a good night’s rest!

I wish the couple all the best in their married life! 

I stayed in N’gaoundéré Sunday since Anne Langdji and Andrea Walker were arriving that evening from the Cameroonian Pastors’ Retreat.  We went to dinner at the Coffee Shop and shared news. 

When I left Monday, I took a load of medical supplies destined for the Lutheran Clinic in Gallo, CAR that had been delivered in a container from World Health Ministries.  (They were temporary stored in my entry way until the people from the clinic picked them up Wednesday.)  I also stopped in 
Meiganga to see Elisabeth Johnson (who teaches at the seminary there).  We had a delicious lunch and caught up on news.  I arrived safely back in Garoua Boulai Monday afternoon. 

By the way, I opened the can of humus (referred to in the last blog entry) yesterday.  It is OK.  A nice change of pace, but too salty for my taste.  Also, it was not very creamy.  (Served here with tomatoes and avocado with salt and pepper)  I don’t know if I will buy it again, but I am glad to have the variety and experience.  It makes me think that I will look for chick peas and tahini to make my own!  The seaweed (some of which I added to a cabbage dish) was better.  I used one of the spice packets which made the food a bit hot, but well within my low tolerance.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Plan Q

EEL-RCA/Partners' Consultation
Ever had planning get so screwy that you got to not only plan B but plan Q?  That’s what seemed to happen for the Partners’ Consultation with EEL-RCA.  What fun to change your plans every ½ hour or so for a couple of days!  (Well, maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but not much!)

To refresh your memories, There were 14 partners coming from Europe, the US, Yaoundé (the Langdjis, regional representatives of ELCA), GB (me!) and 15 church members coming from the Evangelical Lutheran Church-CAR.  Several other Central African program leaders were scheduled to come after the main meeting – thereby having a place to stay as other Central Africans went back home.  (It is not easy finding lodging for 30 people in GB, especially nowadays with various NGOs in town and many more Central Africans.)
Dr. Charles Short with hospital workers at the Protestant Hospital, GB

Jacob Betrogo, Hospital Administrator; Dr.Vitaly Vorona, Lutheran Disaster Response; Dr. Rebecca Duerst, ELCA Global Missions, Health learning about the Nutrition Center in GB

So, Wednesday, November 19 nine people were in cars on their way from Yaoundé to Garoua Boulai.  Most had arrived by plane late the night before.  I was teaching my regular two-hour class at the Bible School from 10:30 to 12:30.  In fact, students were taking a test the second half of the class period.  Suddenly, just before noon, we heard shooting across the border in Cantonnier, CAR.  We hear it from time to time for a few minutes when the UN troops (mostly Cameroonian at the border) shoot to get people’s attention or there is a short skirmish between rebels and the UN troops.  This time it continued for about an hour.

OK.  The first comment is that I was safe.  I live far enough from the border and am protected in the church station.  It is distressing to hear the shots, but much more because of what it means.  Peace has not yet come to CAR.  People who live in Cantonnier (just over the border), many of whom are already internally displaced people who have sought refuge somewhere they thought was safer, risk being shot, especially by stray bullets.  It means that those with guns are still trying to get what they want through aggression.  To say this is discouraging is a major understatement!

So, what did we do?  I talked to a couple of people on the phone trying to get more information.  Schools in GB were closed to be on the safe side so students could be in their homes with their families.  The Bible School students and I talked about the situation; we decided that they would finish the exam since they were almost done.  Then, we all went home to stay inside until we heard more about what was happening. 

Protestant Hospital Lab
The “good” news was that the shooting was limited to the Central Africa Republic; there was no problem in Garoua Boulai.  Those in Cantonnier (even those already displaced) left for other nearby towns).  Several rebels were killed and others taken to the hospital in Baboua.  Two civilians got hit by stray bullets and were brought to the Protestant Hospital in Garoua Boulai; they were not seriously wounded, fortunately.  (Pictures won't go where I want them!  Sorry)
New/Old Record-keeping
Sanitation - for feet/shoes

Sanitation - hands
MSF well at Nutrition Center

Special Food for malnourished children
Gado Camp with garden

Now the planning complications began.  Should we tell the partners to continue to GB?  After discussion, phone calls, debates, and prayers, we decided that the first car would continue to GB since it could reach here before dark (6 p.m.).  The second car had already shifted to Plan B because they got a late start out of Yaoundé and also had a flat tire that had to be fixed!  We agreed that they would stay in Bertoua (5 hours from Yaoundé and 3 from GB) so that they also would not be traveling in the dark; they arrived Thursday morning.
Rev. Nguia, Ms. Anne Wangaari, LWF, at Palm Oil

Thursday was to be a day of visits to local projects:  the Protestant (Lutheran) Hospital that is just by my house); the Nutrition Center of the same hospital that is currently run by Doctors without Borders (or MSF, to use their French initials), and a refugee resettlement camp in Gado, about ½ hour from GB on the road to Bertoua/Yaoundé.  We also visited the Bible Schools Palm Oil Project just outside of GB.

Friday and Saturday the partners stayed in GB while we waited to see if the Central Africans would be able to come from Bouar and Baboua.  They could not.  They tried coming as a part of a military convoy, but that didn’t work.  The problem was not the CAR/Cameroonian border which we heard was open, but rather the insecurity on the road.  Frustration.  Partners had some side meetings. Fortunately, the internet was working so President Goliké and Patrick Kelembho, Administrator, sent the presentations they would have given.  I translated them for those who don’t speak French and we had some preliminary conversation. 

(OK, so I haven’t mentioned the number of times we talked and rearranged plans for when we were going back to Yaoundé, how long we could wait for the church delegation to arrive, etc.  Four partners went to N’gaoundéré Friday until Saturday to visit the hospital there –another couple of plans to get that set as well!  I also didn’t mention the number of times I talked to the women who were to be catering four days of meals for 30 people!  Angeline was flexible and cooperative, but what a hassle.)

The partners decided to travel to Yaoundé Sunday; I went with them driving one of the cars.  We (the partners who had gone to GB, one who hadn’t left Yaoundé, the ELCA regional representatives, me, and ELCA’s Area Director – an added bonus since she was arriving for the Cameroonian Pastors’ retreat and with Plan A would have arrived after the EEL-RCA meeting was finished) the met on Monday and Tuesday.  Again, thanks to electricity (which was out for 36 hours in Yaoundé over the weekend, but was back Monday afternoon) and internet we had an hour-long Skype conversation with Patrick Monday.  Tuesday morning we had a two-hour Skype call with President Goliké, Patrick, and about five other church leaders who were in Bouar.  Not ideal, but much better than we originally thought when Plan A went out the window!  Face-to-face meetings would have been better, but we were able to accomplish some of our goals.  Monitor and adjust – to use Madilyn Hunter’s education language…
Look what I found!
In a bakery/small grocery store in Bertoua where we often stop when driving between Yaoundé and Garoua Boulai, I found cans of hummus!  The can has ½ the label in Arabic and we get lots of products from the Middle East, but I was surprised (and pleased) to see it.  I haven’t yet tasted it, but plan to soon.

In a grocery store in Yaoundé I found seaweed!  I use it to cook sometimes in the US, but hadn’t thought I could get it here.  Again, I shouldn’t have been surprised since many Chinese now live and work in Cameroon.  It is not the dried kind I get in the US; in fact, it comes in a plastic packet with two little spice packets to be prepared like Ramen noodles and other such products that are sold in the US.  Wow. Wonder what I will find next!

I did not celebrate a traditional US Thanksgiving.  No turkey.  But, I had made pumpkin (OK, squash) pies for 30 to share at the Partners’ Consultation.  You are probably already thinking, for 30?  But the Central Africans couldn’t come!  Right.  So, those who came to GB had some.  I sent some with Anne and Andrea for Elisabeth (ELCA missionary who works in Meiganga). I took some to friends who are shop keepers in town.  I also shared some with my class at the Bible School. (Because I traveled back from Yaoundé on Wednesday, November 26, a day I would normally teach, I taught on Thanksgiving Day.  It seemed fitting for them to celebrate with me at the end of class.)  And, I got to eat lots of pie!  I also gave thanks for many things. Those are certainly Thanksgiving traditions.  (I hope that you shared yours with family and friends and that you continue to be grateful for all you are and have.  I continue to be grateful for all the ways you support me.)

Christmas presents!
My family was able to send some stocking and Christmas presents early with Dr. Charles Short who came to the Partners’ Consultation representing the three US partner synods.  He was one of two people, though, who had a tight connection through Atlanta on the way to Cameroon.  Unfortunately, their luggage didn’t arrive with them! (That must be part of plan J…) It came later, when they were in GB.  So, they got their luggage a couple of days before they left the country.  Still, all items they brought to share were intact.  The women of St. Paul’s in Baton Rouge, LA made a beautiful banner for the church in CAR.  I re-glued a couple of letter that came loose and have repacked the banner ready for the next leg of its trip to Bouar; I hope someone will be in GB soon to pick it up (along with a few other items.)

And, I got my Christmas presents!  Thanks, family and Chuck.  I will admit to opening one present which was covers for heating food in the new (to me) microwave.  I have been using them already.  The other gifts are waiting.  Will I make it to Christmas???  Time will tell.

Another Plan Q? 
Photo credit: Reuters/Stringer
There have been several signs of hope for peace in CAR.  One group of rebels whose leader is Abdoulaye Miskine had taken hostages (Cameroonian, Central African, and one Polish priest).  They wanted to make an exchange for their leader who was being held in Cameroon.  Last week, 16 hostages were released unharmed.  In exchange, Miskine was sent to Brazzaville, Republic of Congo;
he has announced that he will work for peace in CAR.  (Not to be pessimistic, but he and his rebels have caused LOTS of problems and destruction in the country for years…  Can/will he now work for peace?? Let’s hope and pray he does.)  See
Voice of America file photo - Anti-balaka fighters stand for a photo in Boda, Central African Republic, Aug. 2014

Yesterday and today, the internet and radio news programs are talking a lot about the fact that Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, national coordinator of the anti-Balaka, has announced that his troops will turn in their arms and continue their struggle only through the political system.  They are creating a new political party.  How will that work?  It is not clear.  Some of these rebels supported Francois Bozizé, the president who was ousted in the 2013 takeover (He had also come into power in a 2003 coup d’etat…), he already has a political party.  Also, the rebels are really divided into various sections – that can’t seem to agree on much. (See and also - for a less optimistic view.) Does this leader speak for all the so-called “Christian” groups?  Will the (mostly Muslim) Seleka follow suit and lay down their arms?  We can only hope and pray that it is so. 

Pray and work for peace – in CAR and around the world.