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.


  1. Thanks for this report, Susan. And thanks for the work you continue to do in GB under less than ideal conditions!

  2. I appreciate your words so much, Susan. Here in the Gulf Coast Synod through LEAD we are posting videos about praying for peace in CAR. I can tag you on yesterday's. I realize you may not be able to watch them... just wanting you and our brothers and sisters in CAR to know that we have not forgotten you.

  3. Thanks again Susan for continuing newsy News - we keep you in our constant prayers, see you soon - stay safe, Hugs