Monday, June 1, 2015

First Mbaka Catechist

The Mbaka are the forest people of Cameroon – those we used to call pygmies, but since they don’t like that name, we give them the courtesy of calling them the name they use, the Mbaka.  There has been a Lutheran mission to these people for some time, and, recently, Rev. Jack and Mrs. Valerie Frederick of Canada helped sponsor MEDAKALA Leonel as a student at the Lutheran Institute for Bible and Theological Studies in Garaou Boulai.  (What I generally just refer to as the Bible School).  He has completed his two years of study!  Yesterday, during the French service of the Central Church he received his certificate.  Then, in the afternoon the Bible School had a reception for him.  Here are some details.
Just after the confession of faith (Apostle’s Creed), the Director of the Bible School, Rev. Enoch Garga-Zizi presented the certificate.  Leonel also received gifts from EELC (sent through Dr Koulagna, Director the Theological School in Meiganga) and the Bible School.  The two books about the Bible will help him as he starts work. 

As catechist, he will lead worship services, preach, teach or organize the teaching of Sunday school classes, and generally assist the congregation where he will be placed.  He is not a pastor so he will not preside over sacraments of communion or baptism.  Earlier, Jack and Val told me that Leonel will stay with the regional bishop for a while to get oriented and have some additional practical training. 

Several people from his area came to support him: the wife of the regional bishop, the first Christian Mbaka (man on the right in this picture), and two others from his parish.  After these formalities, the Mbaka sang a song for us in celebration. 
Then, the congregation came up to congratulate Leonel and those who could, offered a small offering to help defray the cost of his moving back home.  Rev. Garga-Zizi presided over communion during the service and Leonel was asked to assist in the distribution of the wine.  It was a joyous service. 

Later in the afternoon, the Bible School organized a reception for Leonel with the professors of the Bible School and the students themselves.  This involved preparing and eating food: meat in a sauce,

fish in a sauce, and manioc, sharing a drink (beer, soda, or a punch), talking, and dancing.

A couple of notes about this day: first, during the announcements of the closing meditation for the Bible School Friday, the director asked that all students dress alike for the Sunday Service; this is a usual act of solidarity.  They agreed to wear what they had worn for the recent Unity Day parade – black pants, white shirt, white socks, black shoes, and black ties.  Next, the director asked that they all shave their heads, to be neat and presentable for the occasion!  He spoke specifically to one student whose “long” hair must have been ¼ inch in length.  Personally, I thought it was neat and clean, but Michel came Sunday with his head shaved as requested, as did most of the students.  If you look closely in the picture, you can see that one student still has hair – about ½ as long as Michel’s had been.

Traditionally, people eat with their hands from a common bowl.  For a reception, each person gets a separate bowl, but people still use their hands.  I am very happy to see that hand washing has become the norm for such occasions.  One person pours water for another who washes with soap.  Then, after eating, people wash their hands again.  (It used to be people washed only after eating when their hands were “dirty.”)  Although there were no children at this reception, I have recently attended meals where the young also wash their hands – it is clear that it is a common practice and they know what to do!  Hurray for good hygiene! 

After eating, the music started.  There was some in Gbaya, Sango, French, and English (and maybe other languages I didn’t recognize).  With music came dancing; I danced, too.  Not only do I like to dance, but it provided some extra entertainment for the students.  They got a kick out of the fact that I could dance so “African.”  Women danced with men, women, or just as a group.  Men danced with men, women, or just as a group.  I did the same.  In this picture, I am dancing with Suzanne, the wife

of one of the Bible School students – everyone commented on the fact that Susan (pronounced Suzanne in French) was dancing with Suzanne! 

Traditionally, when someone sings or dances well, people listening/watching will put a coin on his/her forehead.  I am happy to report that five times I got a 100 cfa (10 cent) coin put on my forehead!  (Several others got coins, too, usually when they were dancing with me...)  What fun. 

Today, Leonel leaves for his home village to start work.  We wish him every success!  Here’s a final picture of Leonel as he was dancing at the reception. 

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