Monday, May 23, 2016


Recently I wrote about the ceremony/celebration EEL-RCA had for me in Bouar.  Now I want to share more celebrations and appreciations.

some students

Friday, May 20 was Unity Day in Cameroon.  It is a national celebration, but the the Bible School in Garoua Boulai, we also made it the day for the closing of the Bible study groups.  Each Tuesday for two years we have met to read and discuss a text together and to pray for each other (and sing).  We have been divided into three groups.  Friday, all three groups met together for a final Bible study.  I got to prepare the meditation.  (They said it was because they wanted to hear my voice and thoughts one more time…) 

some students' wives
We met in the assembly room of the Bible School.  (On Tuesdays we had met in people’s homes.)  Everyone contributed some money so that a meal could be prepared.  So, we shared the word, prayed, and then they honored me with a gift of cloth.  I gave them small presents as well, as souvenirs and because I will miss the graduation ceremony on June 5.  There was, of course, lots of singing, too.

Afterwards, the Regional Bishop and professors went to a local watering hole for a beer that was in the house of neighbors of our concession.  It  Mme. Pon Pon and I have seen and greeted each other in passing numerous times but we hadn’t really met.  When she found out I was leaving this week, she invited us back for a meal the next day!  At that delicious dinner of fish and chicken with plantains and an avocado salad, she gave me a dress as a souvenir.  It’s a beautiful pink color, isn’t it?  I hope it is warm enough tomorrow that I can wear it.
Unfortunately, several Central Africans came into town on Saturday and wanted to have dinner with me.  I felt badly that I already had plans. I had not known they were coming.  In stead of dinner, they gave me a bottle of whiskey!  Think I can finish it before I leave?  Maybe with a little help from my friends… 

Sunday, I had arranged with the pastor to have a little time during announcements to say goodbye to the congregation.  It turned out to be more than that!  May 22 was they day that they celebrated Mothers’ Day by having the women of the congregation lead the liturgy.  The Women for Christ also had a mini-concert in the middle of the service.  What a great celebration. 

So, there are two services on Sundays in the Temple Centre; the first is in French and the second Gbaya.  Saturday, the Regional Bishop stopped by to ask that I stay for both instead of just the French one that I usually attend.  I arrived at 8:30 a.m. as usual even though the service often starts at 8:50 or 9.  At 8:50 we began singing hymns (for 15 minutes) until the service started.  (One hymn is not unusual, but 5 is.)  The liturgy was joyful and the women did a great job.  At they end, they had me come to the front where I gave my little speech.  Then, the Women for Christ gave me and outfit – but also dressed me in it – right over the outfit I had on!  The material was stiff and new so tying the head scarf was a challenge, especially on my smooth (slippery) hair!  It looked great but  if I moved my head it started to fall off or made it so that my head couldn’t turn!

This was not enough.  The women also gave the some of the new material that all of the Women for Christ had had made into new outfits for the occasion.  They said I can still be a part of them even in the USA.  Then they sang to me.  Fortunately, a friend got my camera that was in the pew and took a couple of pictures and a video.  Wow.  We finished at 11:30 a.m.

As we left, various people greeted me as one congregation left and the other entered the sanctuary.  The first service ran long so there was no turn-around time.  I had been thinking of finding a bathroom (to take off one set of clothes and to relieve myself) but I was escorted up to the front pew.  Sigh.   As the head scarf started to slip again, the Bible School student said – “It’s too big, just take it off.”  I was glad to be able to turn my head again.

The second service was just as joyful and the women did a wonderful job again.  Fortunately for me, I gave my short message during the announcements which come near the beginning of the liturgy.  I had had a friend translate it into Gbaya so I read it to them in their language (after asking for patience!)  I understood the message – not only because I wrote it, but also because I recognized some words – but reading it was a challenge.  They were very appreciative of my effort at speaking Gbaya and some nods of agreement made it seem that they understood at least parts.  The Women for Christ also did a mini-concert.  I loved the energy and singing. 

As they were to start the Bible readings and sermon, I got permission from the Bishop to leave.  It is hard listening for so long when one doesn’t understand – and I really need to find a bathroom!  So, I only stayed for the first hour and fifteen minutes of the second service. 

Today, I am wearing my new blue outfit (without head scarf).  I am invited this evening to have dinner with some people from the Protestant Hospital.  (Too bad Doctors Solofo and Joely aren’t in town, but I will see them in Yaoundé later in the week.) 

Wednesday, Dr. Elisabeth is coming from Meiganga with Christine who has been teaching at the seminary there for three months.  It turns out we leave on the same flight Saturday!  They have already announced that they want to take me to lunch.  Sanda Elie is coming the same day for meetings and to say goodbye.

Do you notice that, as in the USA, most leave-takings involve food??  It helps to connect us. 

I am very appreciative of the kind gestures of those around me.  This is an emotionally difficult time for me but I am happy to be able to share it with many friends and colleagues. 

Soon it will be time for my Home Assignment visits and “Welcome Back” gatherings.  There will be lots more good food, I am sure!  (Maybe it is a good thing that traditional African skirts are wrap-around and that the dresses are full and loose!)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Youth Gathering

JEELCA (the youth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic) had their national youth gathering May 10 – 15, 2016 in Bohong.  (Yes, that means it is still going on until tomorrow, but I was only there for the first two days.)  The theme is “Wake up” from Ephesians 5:14. 
Pres. Ndanga-Toue

JEELCA Pres Martin Nouye
Imagine this:  six representatives from 28 districts (that are organized into seven regions) came with their leaders along with the choir from Temple Centre in Bouar (about 35 youth, several electric guitars, a drum set, a traditional drum or two, and the PA equipment).  Then add many of the leaders of programs/institutions of the EELRCA who presented, including President Samuel Ndanga-Toué.  Youth who come to these gatherings are generally between 15 and 35 years old.  (Many seemed to be at the older edge of this range.)

Activities were held in the Lutheran Church, Bohong Mbella which is at the edge of town.  We filled the church – with overflow crowds outside the windows and doors – especially the next generation of JEELCA members (those currently under 15 years old.)  It was standing room only at times (so that open space in the picture was filled, too).

Now imagine the area:  Bohong was hard hit during the “events” (evenements, as they are called here).  I have written about the town before; 75% of buildings in town were leveled.  Much of the destruction has been cleared away and new houses are being built (some with Lutheran Disaster Response support).  Youth stayed in the houses of church members; the president and I stayed in one of the EELRCA houses near the hospital with Naabeau Catherine.  In town there is no electricity or running water.  The telephone tower stopped working some time ago and has not been repaired so there is no cellphone service (and there have never been land lines…) nor internet.  If such a meeting were organized in the USA, young people would boycott, don’t you think!  But many came and were happy to be there; this is the first youth gathering in five years. 

Getting there was another challenge.  The road is not paved, although it is not horrible (just bad).  Some participants found their own way there but JEELCA arranged for some transport, too. Those coming from the south rented a large truck in Baboua and picked up others along the way.  Another small bus came from Bouar.  They filled the back – standing room only with  (unfortunately) a few hanging off the back.Fewer came from the north but they, too, rented a small bus.  Both vehicles broke down!  Because there were only eight coming from the north, organizers hired motorcycles from Bohong to go and get them.

When I was traveling from GB, we passed the larger truck.  I stopped in Bouar for lunch with Pres. Ndanga-Toué and a rest.  As our Land Cruiser started off to Bohong, we saw the truck again just past Maigaro (not far outside of Bouar and still 60 km./40 m, from Bohong).  This was not a flat tire, but something more major.  More than 50 youth were stranded as the driver and his assistant tried to repair the problem.  Our LC had seven people, but we picked up a few more. (A drop in the bucket.) 

Once we got to Bohong, our LC and the hospital ambulance went back for more stranded youth.  That’s a four-hour round trip starting at 6 p.m. as it was getting dark.  They couldn’t get everyone, though (since we refuse to have people riding on top or hanging off the back…)  Fortunately, the driver got the truck fixed and it, along with the rest of the youth, arrived at 3 a.m.  An exciting, or maybe just exhausting, start to the gathering for them!

I have to say, churches in the US need to learn about welcomes from Central Africans!  About half a mile before the church a group of people gathered to welcome our vehicle with songs and shouts.  Between there and the church were more people singing, waving, shouting, and even some waving palm branches.  (I got a clearer image of the original Palm Sunday.)  Once we got to the church, even more people were there with a welcome song.  We were surrounded with joy at our having arrived.  Here’s one small picture of that crowd.

It has been a long time since I have been to a youth gathering in the USA, but I imagine that this one was similar:  singing, a message from the national president and the president of JEELCA, bible studies, educational sessions, reports from regions (including the development of proposals that were voted on), and, of course, socializing, and singing.

Did I mention lots of singing?!  The program opened with various choirs singing: from Bouar, the hosting church, Women for Christ, Young Sisters for Christ, and the Sunday school of the hosting church!  No choir had fewer than 30 people and all sang with gusto accompanied by the guitars and drums.  This was a joyful time.  As is custom, to show their appreciation people brought coins and small bills to put on the singers’ foreheads as offerings of appreciation.  Two people also put something on my forehead as I danced with the others!  What a joyous start.  In the evenings singing and dancing continued after formal meetings were done.

My presentation’s theme was “Education Wakens the Soul.”  I fretted a little before beginning my preparation because there would be so many and I wasn’t sure what to say.  (I even put out an appeal on Facebook… and followed a couple of the suggestions given).  It turned out well.  First I told them that although I could understand a lot of the Sango, I couldn’t present in their language, so I would do it in English if that was OK with them.  They laughed so I said I would do it in French and a pastor would interpret into Sango.  (Many speak French, but since public schools have never been strong and have been close to nonexistent since the “trouble,” we wanted to be sure all understood – and had the courtesy of hearing the message in their own language.)  

We started with a simple song in English, though, “Praise Ye the Lord.”  This is one I remember from my days at Lutheran youth camp!  It was a great start.  Then I had them work in small groups to consider some questions like what education is, models of teaching found in the Bible, what they want to learn, and ways they can begin to learn, even if they can’t go to formal schools. The emphasis   We ended with another round of the song.  I was temporarily famous as I saw various cell phones recording me sing the song.  (Bohong may have no telephone network, but many other places in the country do.)  They gave leaders from Bouar small gifts (another tradition).  Here’s me with my orange basin – on my head (practicing traditional ways of carrying things…)
was on their working together to define challenges and then seeking local help to start to address them.

I was glad to have the chance to be with these young people who have such energy and many huge challenges to face – both as individuals and as a church and country.

VSP Dir. Service Abel
After lunch (by the way, I ate more manioc during this trip than I had for months – when in Rome…) a car full of us went back to Bouar. (Other church leaders headed to Bohong Fri.)  EELRCA organized a farewell gathering for me that moved me close to tears a couple of time.  Several people spoke  about my work and presented we with parting gifts which included two wooden plaques carved for me, a couple of dresses, decorated gourds, and a set of elephants. JEELCA presented the latter saying that one elephant faces the others.  That one is me, sharing my knowledge with them. 
This was a wonderful and bittersweet week.  I regret that I have not been able to be involved in more such gatherings and work in CAR.  At the same time, since I have had to live in Garoua Boulai, I have been able to work with many more church and program leaders.  Currently, many friends and colleagues are at a distance in the USA.  After next month, I will be closer to those people, but I now have other friends and colleagues who will still be at a distance – in CAR.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Working Myself Out of a Job

This is my last month in CAR/Cameroon!  I will see many of you in June or July.  Meanwhile I am
busy working myself out of a job!

Part of my goal before I leave is to have things in place so that the work I have been doing continues.  It is easy because I am here as an adviser and much of the work is being done by leaders of EELRCA (or EELC).  It is hard because one can never be sure that the training is enough or the arrangements of who is picking up responsibilities is clear enough. 

Last week I spent several days in N’gaoundéré (Cameroon).  I had a meeting with the National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon to thank him for the church’s hospitality, talk to him a bit about what I have been doing, and take my formal leave of him.  He also thanked me, of course.

While in town, I met with the Christian Education team and the man who is translating the Sunday school materials from English to French.  I handed over the documents I had organized, interviewed the team for an article that will be in Living Lutheran in July (watch for it!), and we reviewed the next steps and responsibilities of each person (Cameroonian and Central African).  I prepared a duplicate binder for the Central African team and had sent it to Baboua a couple of days earlier. 

This project is advancing well.  Translation of the first volume from English to French advances well.  Once that is done, Central Africans will begin working on French to Sango.  Two artists are drawing pictures. Hopefully by the end of the year, the N’gaoundéré team can get the French version and the illustrations printed.  We are hopeful, but continued good progress on the work and arrival of more financial gifts are also necessary!

Tomorrow I leave for Bohong, the town a couple of hours north of Bouar, CAR, for the churchwide youth gathering.  It has been 4-5 years since there has been enough security to permit people to travel to such a gathering.  I will be leading a presentation, “Education revives the Soul.”  I will also be saying good-bye to people there. 

I have already been working to insure (as best I can) that project leaders I have worked with will be able to sustain and advance the progress we have made.

Today, I taught my last class at the Bible School in Garoua Boulai.  Next week they prepare for exams (which start May 23).  Their graduation is June 5 (although I leave for the USA May 28).  I hope that some of the pedagogy and planning we have worked on for two years will be stuck in their heads
There is always more work to be done, but change is also inevitable.  I will be sad to leave, but am looking forward to the next step in God’s plan for me (whatever that is!)
Here’s hoping that peace has come back to CAR to stay.