Monday, April 20, 2015

Improvements at the Market!

Garoua Boulai's huge influx of people, including many Central African refugees, has meant that the market has also been growing.  Now, the city (with support from an international donor) is rebuilding the main market area.
I reported before that most butchers have tile counters instead of wooden ones.  There has also been building of stalls behind the market where there are sellers of clothes, household items, and some food.  Many women still set up on the ground in that area.


Now, the central part of the market was leveled and cinder block stalls/shops are being built.  One merchant (pictured under this huge umbrella for protection from the sun) told me that things are difficult now, but they are looking forward to the new buildings.  Those, he said, can’t burn down as the wooden tables could have.  I also hope that sanitation will improve with the new changes. 

Ever wonder what happens to all those clothes that people in the USA donate to charity?  Yes, they are sold in resale shops run by the charity, but many of them are also sent abroad – to places like GB.  So, the people can get cheap clothes, but it also takes work from local tailors.  Help and unintended consequences – as with most things. 

I look forward to seeing the “new” market when it is done.  I’ll post pictures.

CAR Update:
Tomorrow, April 21 is the arrival day for delegates, pastors, program directors, and partners for the Church-wide Assembly of EEL-RCA.  They meet every two years, but could not last year because the level of insecurity was too great to assure safe travel.  So, this year they will hear reports for three years of work, discuss and vote on revisions to the constitution, and elect a new national president. (President Goliké is finishing his second term and is not eligible to run again.) 

Willie Langdji and I will be going to represent the ELCA.  After the assembly we will also be part of the team to evaluate the LDR Humanitarian Aid project’s work at about the half-way mark; EEL-RCA is integrally involved in the implementation.  Willie and I will be back in Garoua Boulaï on May 2.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Bouar for a Week at Easter

Yep!  I went to Bouar for a week. This is the first time I have been in the Central African Republic for more than a year.  What better time than to be there for Easter – a time of hope, rebirth, and salvation.

I went because Pastor Joseph NGOE, director of the Bible School in Baboua, and Josephine OUMAROU, National President of Women for Christ organized a trauma healing seminar.  It was funded by humanitarian aid from Lutheran Disaster Response and sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church-CAR (EEL-RCA in French). 

This is the same course/seminar I have attended before – first in Bamenda last August and again when I helped facilitate in Yaoundé, Cameroon in March.  I was in Bouar as a facilitator along with Simon DIMANCHE.  He works with the Central African Bible Society as a translator (into Sango) and is head of the Trauma Healing Program in CAR.  He came from Bangui and I from Garoua Boulai. 

Since the seminar started on Easter Monday, I decided to travel on Saturday.  Antoine MBARBET who works with the Central Administration of EEL-RCA and Josephine came to GB the day before.  Josephine bought many supplies for the meals during the training.  They both accompanied me on the trip to Bouar.  We also picked up a couple of participants in Baboua.  The road has been safe for months and the cities of Baboua and Bouar for longer than that, but we agreed that it was best to have church representatives along.  I was glad.  Things were the same, but they weren’t. 

 During the whole time I was there, no action showed that parts of the country are still in turmoil.  We could see houses that had no roofs or with new ones; this destruction and rebuilding is because of earlier fighting.  There was not a lot of traffic on the road – we saw more goats than cars or trucks.  And some sheep, a couple of dogs, and some chickens.  (There is now one less live chicken since it decided to cross the road just as my Land Cruiser arrived and I couldn’t avoid it.  Evidently Antoine hit a goat on the way to GB.  Sometimes it is just impossible to miss them!)
On the way to Bouar, we stopped to buy local mushrooms – roadside stands!  This is the mushroom season – early in the rainy season.  Unlike in the US, when a car stops, young people like those pictured at left, come up to the car to sell their wares.  We bought many bunch – we were feeding 17 after all!  The most common way to prepare them is separately with some onions and a little flavoring.  We also bought some (thought a lot less) on the way back to GB, too, so I made some last night.  Everything in its season…

Easter service was joyful as it is most places.  I worshiped at Temple Centre which is beside the Woman’s Social Center, Chez Marthe and Marie, and catty-corner across the street from the EEL-RCA’s Central Administration Building.  The picture at left is especially for the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod churches that worked with Chuck Short to make the pictured banner.  At the bottom are flowers representing the states where EEL-RCA has partner synods.  You can see that it has pride of place in the church – up front near the board where text lessons for the day are announced and close to a painting of Martin Luther done by Etienne YAIMAN, a long time church worker who is now retired. 

Pictured at left are the two young women who were preparing to read the lessons of the day.  National EEL-RCA President André Golike presided over the baptism of two children and communion.  He also blessed the children who came forward after the adults communed. 

Note:  The National Assembly for EEL-RCA will be held the third week of April.  (It was postponed last year because of the insecurity.)  Preparations are in full swing.  Pastors and delegates will be in Bouar for important meetings which include considering changes to the constitution (that a committee has been drafting for several years) and the election of a new national president as Pres. Goliké has already served two terms and cannot run again. 

Women of the congregation brought food to share after the liturgy in honor of Easter and the baptisms– a pot luck! (They must be Lutherans, right??)  Simon and I were invited to eat with the church leaders. 

Chez Marte et Marie
The Trauma Healing Seminar had two purposes: to help participants heal the wounds of their hearts and to assist them in preparing to lead accompanying groups for healing.  Simon and I taught the eleven lessons of the classic course and provided information about teaching as well as a practice experience.  We meet in the meeting room at Chez Marthe and Marie.  The women there (supervised by Josephine – who was also a seminar participant) provided three meals a day.  This is an emotional and intensive week, but participants were active.  We heard some stories of healing.  One man said, for example, that his house had been destroyed in a town outside of Bouar.  He moved his family to Bouar and built a house there.  During Lesson 1 we discussed why God permits suffering when he loves us.  We discussed that God
Rev. Dr. Antoinette Yindjara
uses suffering; one way is that God turns suffering into something good.  This man said that at that moment in the lesson he felt a great weight lifting from his heart.  He realized that before the troubles, he has been concerned about how he would be able to send his children to high school since there was none in his town.  Now he lives in Bouar where they can easily attend high school and still live with the family.

We tried an experiment with this seminar. The program is strongly grounded in the Bible.  Still, there are also many Muslims in CAR who are also suffering from heart wounds.  So, we invited two interested Muslims to participate with the other Lutherans.  They added a third objective (beyond the two mentioned above).  They kept an eye open to ways they might use the program with their brothers and sisters.  Since the Koran and other important teachings in Islam accept the Old Testament and contain other parallels with Christian teachings, they regularly talked of passages from Islam that parallel those cited from the Bible.  They were pleased to be included and are looking forward to teaching other Muslims in Baboua.  They will also develop a list of Koranic verses for each chapter than can complement the book.  One said that he plans to say, “Here is what Islam teachings and here is what our Christian brothers and sisters believe.”  I hope that this approach can foster peace and reconciliation in Baboua (and elsewhere in the future).  Pictured at right is Sani-Salao MOUHAMADOU receiving his certificate at the end of the training.

During the seminar meat couldn't
t have been fresher!  Josephine and her team bought the chickens and goats live!  Since Muslims only eat meat that is butchered according to their teachings, they could help in the process.  Anyway, grocery stores and freezers (even refrigerators) are had to come buy so all meat is butchered and sold the same day – or sold live so that it can be killed just before the preparation for the meal.  Here are before, during, and after pictures of the goat!  (OK, I admit that I didn’t think to take a picture of the actual goat beforehand so this is another one from the street, but it’s the same idea.)  All of our meals were prepared over wood fires.  At right is one of the women preparing the goat meat for cooking. 

While in Bouar, I stayed in what is now the ELCA guest house and where Jackie GRIFFIN lived when she worked in Bouar.  Tigre, the dog she got is still there to help guard the house.  He is much calmer than I remember him from two years ago when he was still a puppy!  He is friendly but the guards tell me that he has appropriately scared away different people with his barking.  It was strange to be in the house without Jackie and her belongings.  (She is currently working as a volunteer for a year in Mbingo, Anglophone Cameroon, training nurses for the Baptist hospital.) 

former market
The market in Bouar has been demolished so that a new one can be built.  I asked if the destruction was a result of the fighting and people assured me that it was not.  It was intentional.  However, the building part of the work has been delayed – not yet started...  There is a huge temporary market just across from EEL-RCA headquarters.  It makes things noisy during the day!  (Sorry, no picture; I couldn’t capture the noise or the size.)  Look at this place in the picture.  The name of what was probably a bar or night club in “High Tension.”  What an accurate name for what has happened in the country…  Notice too, that it is one of the buildings that has been partially destroyed and is currently not in use.  

Throughout the week, I was able to talk with program leaders about reports and other issues.  I also saw some humanitarian aid (also sponsored by LDR) in action. Here are Antoine MBARBET and Mathias VOTOKO with a load of wood destined to be doorways and window casings for the houses being built in villages around Bohong.  Work is advancing well although they report that they are VERY busy with the work of keeping construction teams supplied with what they need as they work together to make bricks and build the houses.  

I left Saturday morning with participants from Baboua.  I was able to spend about an hour in my house there – found some “new” clothes!  (That is, things I haven’t worn for more than two years – since the first evacuation December 24, 2012.)  I decided to bring all the clothing back since mice have taken up residents in the house (despite efforts to keep them out) and have been taking parts of some clothing to make their nests.  It felt strange being there, especially only for a short time.  Still, all is well at the ELCA station in Baboua.
While I was in Baboua, I was invited to have lunch with Mayor David NGBAKO.  It turns out that the Sous-Prefet also came to meet me and Josephine, President of Women for Christ was there too.  The Sous-Prefet has been in Baboua for a year so I had not met him before.  Both men welcomed me and made it clear that they would like me to come back soon.  What an honor to be among these leaders.

This blog entry is longer and has more pictures than many others.  It seems appropriate for the first time I have been back in my official country of service in such a long time.  I hope you all had a blessed Easter, as I did. 

He is Risen.  Alleluia. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Challenges: Packing

Shipping and transporting materials are a challenge here.  Once or twice a year Global Health Ministries sends a container with medical supplies (including some furniture). Others can piggy-back goods that are coming to Cameroon and CAR.  For example, partner synods have sent communion trays and little glasses.  People here are glad to get them, but imagine the packing needed so that they arrive safely!

Last year a container arrived while I was in the USA.  There were three boxes of trays and glasses marked with my name to be sure they got to CAR.  The challenges began since I was not in GB when they arrived.  When I got back, no one thought to mentions that the boxes were in the storage room. We had also delayed sending some other materials because we were concerned about them being stolen or broken because of the insecurity.

A couple of weeks ago, someone, looking for something else, rediscovered the three boxes with my name on them.  Great.  As we tried to figure out what they were (since no one had remembered to tell me that the liturgical supplies were coming marked with my name), we noticed that one box was coming apart at the bottom.  Not just coming undone, but being eaten!  It turns out the box held hand-made wooden communion trays and the termites were having a feast!  As a part of our investigation, we turned the box over.  That turned out to be a good idea because when I went yesterday to get the box to address the problem, the termites had gone – they didn't like the light/air, I guess.

So, yesterday I decided to take the boxes all apart to sort what was there and explore the extent of the damage.  The box that was partially eaten stayed outside, needless to say, even though it looked like there were no termites. (Indeed they were gone although they left behind their dirt and some partially eaten wood.)  As I took the wooden trays out to clean those that were not significantly damaged, two Bible School students passed by.  They stopped to greet me and then offered to clean the trays for me.  I passed that task off to them and they did a great job.  It turns out that the termites only ate one tray and its lid to the point where they were not usable.  The remaining 15 cleaned up nicely.

As the students worked outside, I unpacked the other boxes and found 9 metal trays, MANY little glasses, some trays for wafers, communion cloths/napkins, and some stoles.  I asked the students to come back this morning to help me finish sorting and repacking what had arrived.  They worked diligently with me as we prepared 14 new smaller packages ready to be given to congregations.  Only a handful of the small glasses – that are actually glass, not plastic – broke in transit.  Great packing, sending churches! 
Ngoffi and Semega

Sarwissi and Gaston

As you might imagine when you see shredded paper and Styrofoam peanuts, we had a bunch to clean up to do in my living room when we were done!

The supplies are now ready to go to CAR at the next opportunity. 

This is not a traditional way to spend Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, but I hope that Central African congregations will soon get their new liturgical supplies as (slightly late) Easter gifts.