Periodically, we in the "field" are visited by others from ELCA Global Missions. We were pleased to welcome Rev. Dr. Andrea Walker, Regional Program Director (based in Chicago), Anne Langdji, Regional Representative based in Yaoundé, and Dana Dutcher, the woman in charge of Synod-local church relations (sorry, Dana, I don’t remember your official title!) who is also based in Chicago. They spent a couple of weeks in Cameroon, but given the continuing (and sometimes worsening) insecurity in the Central African Republic they could not even consider going there.
These visitors visited Yaoundé, N’gaoundéré and Garoua Boulai with a couple of other places in between. I was with them in GB and Nandangue. Lots of visits and conversation.
We went to visit the Bible School Friday afternoon. All the students and professors welcomed us with a couple of hymns in Gbaya. This included the catechists-to-be, their spouses, the Director and both other teachers of the student-catechists as well as their wives who teach the spouses. We had formal introductions and some conversation. Here’s a picture of the visitors, teachers, and students of the Bible School. The second is the teachers and visitors.
Saturday morning, we went to the palm oil plantation that the Bible School has started to help fund the institution. The palm plants won’t produce oil until Year 4. (They are now starting Year 3.) In addition, though, they plant some food crops to help feed the students (and teachers) and to sell. Here are some palm plants that will replace some that didn’t make it the first two years and a cricket we saw in the field. These are edible, although a little bitter and not the preferred cricket for eating! It’s pretty though…
The team then visited the hospital with Drs. Solofo and Joely Rakotoarivelo. I have been there (living next door!) so I went to the market to get some veggies for lunch. They had a great time seeing changes and talking with people there.
During the rest of the day, Andrea met with missionaries individually, including Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Johnson who came for the day from Meiganga. In the evening the hospital hosted a dinner. They gave Andrea, Anne, and Dana a gift of material and we had wonderful food.
Sunday, the visitors headed back to Yaoundé but the plan was to stop in Nandangue (½ hour from GB) for the church service. The regional bishop and I went along as did the Mayor of GB. She is a Lutheran and very supportive of the church. (This is also her home village.) What an eventful stop! For this day, the four ELCA women wore “Femme pour Christ” – women for Christ material. Since I don’t any, Dana lent me a pagne.
First of all, as is usual in Gbaya culture, we were met and invited into the house next to the church (I am not sure if it is for the catechist, evangelist or pastor). We were offered coffee or tea (which I expected), but also scrambled eggs and bread! (We had had some at my house, too…) Church leaders were with those of us coming from Garoua Boulai. What a warm welcome!
The liturgy began, also as usual, with the choirs processing in with church leaders and visitors following behind. Palms were woven with leaves of another plant to form the decorations around the entry. We found out later that 400 people participated. The service was in a mixture of French and Gbaya. Normally, it would be only Gbaya, but they added the French for us. The church is set up with three groups of benches for the congregation, some benches upfront on the sides for choirs, and chairs further in the front on the sides for important people. The regional bishop and his assistant (who was liturgist) sat behind the altar facing the people. (All of this is typical.)
It is also typical in October to have lots of rain storms. It is one of the signs of the approaching dry season. Still, in GB we have been having heavy rains in the afternoon, night and early mornings. This Sunday, the heavy rains came about 11 a.m. in the middle of our service. The church is beautiful with a corrugated tin roof that ELCA congregations from South Dakota helped fund, but they don’t yet have windows. There are openings, but not shutter type windows. This is an important detail when strong rains with high winds begin. Suddenly the choir on the right of the altar brought a bench and sat on the other side (sharing some benches and using the one they brought). Then, the faithful sitting on the right pews/benches moved to the middle. The rain was coming sideways into the building. Soon after that, the people in the middle all moved to the left! Now people were in the last section and the aisle. Even those of us upfront on the left could feel the mists of rain! In addition, rain on a tin roof is very loud. It was impossible for us to hear in our corner. I think some people could hear; I only know that the liturgist was speaking Gbaya.
After about 20 minutes, the rains abated; now falling straight down at a much slower rate. We could hear again. The children were sent back to the right (wet) benches to clear the aisles and worship continued with communion. After the service we visitors were given gifts of cloth.
After the service as we left the sanctuary, there was a lake outside where there had only been dirt upon our arrival. We picked our way back to the house where we were given lunch. Fish, beef, rice, manioc… prepared by different women of the church. Andrea,
As we left, we discovered a problem. We had all parked under a huge mango tree as is the custom when it is sunny; it provides great shade. Of course, we hadn’t anticipated the storm. The high winds knocked a branch out of the tree onto the Land Cruiser I was driving. There is now a small dent in the hood and a huge network of cracks in the windshield. It will have to be replaced – maybe in N’gaoundéré – three hours away – or maybe in Yaoundé eight hours away. (Yes, we made it back to Garoua Boulai with no difficulty.) And, now the battery in the Cameroonian truck I have has gone dead. There is a slight chance we can find a good one here, if not, it will again be N’gaoundéré or Yaoundé. Little is easy, but much is possible.
Still, overall, we had a great visit. All is well that ends well.