During a missions course I took in Bible School I started to think about becoming a missionary. I felt guilty with how much I had here in Canada compared with people in other parts of the world. There were some strikes against me, though. First, I’m horrible with languages. After finishing grade ten French with 21% I never took another language course, other than a very elementary “Biblical Language” course in seminary that I managed to scrape through. I also like traveling in my mind much more than on foot. My favorite part of a vacation is coming home and sleeping in my own bed. I’m a hobbit by nature. Let it rain outside while I hole up inside with a good book, warm fire and cup of tea, and I’m pretty much in heaven.
God has continued to convict me about the needs around the world. We all have a part to play in helping out, especially those of us who have plenty. My gifts are in the area of preaching and teaching and I realize that I’ve had numerous resources and opportunities to be well educated. I’ve spent 27 of my 40 years of existence in school!
I remember reading a commentary on Romans by John Stott where he was dealing with the spiritual gifts in chapter twelve. Stott went on to say that, with the vast explosion of Christianity in the past number of decades (mostly south of the equator) the greatest gift the church is in need of today is teachers. So many church leaders around the world have no education or resources for their ministry. And uneducated clergy lead to uneducated congregations. And uneducated congregations are easy prey for false teachers, cults and superstitions that have serious consequences. Stott’s words stuck with me and since then Nancy and I have been involved in building up the libraries of pastors and seminaries around the world.
While I was a pastor at Greenfield, working on my doctorate we had a member of our congregation from the African country of Cameroon. He was in Canada attending Edmonton Baptist Seminary and working on a Master’s program. Johnson and I got to know each other well. I even supervised the internship he did at our church. His plan was to graduate and then go back to the Cameroon Baptist Seminary and teach and train pastors. Through our conversations Johnson would regularly encourage me to come and teach in Cameroon and so I made a deal with him that I would come and teach in Cameroon once I graduated with my doctorate. A few years later Johnson was teaching back in Cameroon and I contacted him. Shortly thereafter I was on a plane keeping my word. That was to be the first of four trips. Each time I go for a few weeks and teach a class of about 50 pastors and pastors in training. And every time I’m there I know that this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life.
To give you a taste of my trips, the following excerpts are reports back to my home church (Bethany), written during my fourth trip. I went with a team of twelve. I taught while the rest were involved in a variety of other projects around the seminary and surrounding hospitals.
Bethany Baptist Cameroon Update 1 - Sunday, Jan. 5, 10:02pm (local time)
One hour to Seattle. Nine hours to France. Seven hours to Cameroon. Move the clocks ahead nine hours. Lose one night of sleep. Read approximately 350 pages. And we’ve arrived!!! That is, we’ve arrived in Cameroon. We still need to drive to our final destination.
I sat next to some interesting people on the flights. From Seattle to Paris I conversed with a lady who is a teacher at a boarding school in Germany for missionary kids. Then, on my way from Paris to Cameroon, I sat next a guy from Switzerland who has been living in Cameroon for two years as a community project developer with the government. One of the more hilarious moments on that flight was the stewardess’s French to English translation warning us that “those smoking in the toilet would be persecuted.”
After landing in Cameroon at 8pm on Saturday night (local time) we discovered that two of our bags were missing. After putting in our claim at the airport we left and were greeted by our missionaries Gord and Denise Erickson (they run a school for missionary kids in Cameroon) who brought us to their house for a light snack and much needed sleep.
On Saturday morning we started our seven hour trip to Bamenda where we met up with another one of our missionary couples, Cal and Susie Hohn. Cal is the field Director of the Cameroon Baptist Convention. There at the guest house we had supper and attended an orientation session. Tomorrow we make the final four hour jaunt to the seminary in Ndu. Once there we will begin our two weeks of service projects.
The team has been bonding, laughing, and enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the Cameroonian culture during our road trip. Like Eric said, “I’ve seen lots of this stuff in documentaries, but it is totally different to actually be in it.”
Bethany Baptist Cameroon Update 2 - Tuesday, Jan. 7, 1:44pm (local time)
Five more hours of travel from Bamenda to Ndu and we finally arrived at our destination after four days and twenty-two hours of travel. This last stretch had some interesting road conditions where we had to exit the van and walk so that our driver could navigate the many holes. Other times we all leaned to one side of the van to assist our driver in keeping things upright. We got to listen to the bottom of the van scrape along the road as other Cameroonians had filled in the pot holes with rocks to help us along the way. The bumps, twists and turns did a number on us and Toby lost his lunch out the window a few times. Once we were even yelled at as Toby puked on an area of road a crew was working on. But we made it. That night, after supper, we met with the president and vice president of the seminary and were warmly greeted.
Tuesday morning breakfast was at 7am followed by chapel at 7:30am. We enjoyed the singing, clapping and rhythm of the African drums. This was followed by a message and then an official team greeting. My class started at 8:30am with 53 students. The rest of the team got a tour of the seminary grounds. During lunch the team reported back and were astonished at the appalling and unsanitary conditions of the male dorms at the seminary, where up to five sleep in a room about the size of my church office. They also had an eye opener visiting a health center nearby where nothing is sterilized and they only have a doctor on site once a week.
This afternoon everybody is beginning to learn about their areas of assistance with the library, computers, construction and hospital. Horst is dealing with a number of stomach problems today and is taking it easy, but Toby is back on his feet. Our two missing bags have been found and will be sent to us on Thursday.
Bethany Baptist Cameroon Update 3 - Friday, Jan. 10, 1:08pm (local time)
Our team just finished lunch and while eating, supper was slaughtered before us. I couldn’t watch the poor chicken get her head severed from her body, but Toby and Terry videoed the whole affair. This after Toby was petting the chicken and named her Emilie. Hopefully Emilie will taste good tonight. I’ve heard we’re having her in tomato sauce.
My class has been going well, but there is a great variance in the students’ abilities. 17 people failed their first assignment, 13 people excelled, and the other half of the class were somewhere in the middle. A few of my students challenged our mission’s team to a volleyball game on Saturday morning at 8am and we accepted.
Bethany Baptist Cameroon Update 4 - Sunday, Jan. 12, 1:31pm (local time)
We went to church today to experience a typical African Baptist worship service, which is usually three hours long. (Longer when they have guests or do communion). If you want something shorter you will have to go to a Catholic service that follows the liturgy and is usually only an hour.
As people come to church they start by filling up the first bench (and that is all they are, wooden benches with no backs) and then the next one, front to back. Everyone sits packed together. Much of the service went back and forth between English and Pigeon English which was then translated into the people’s local language. There were about 600 adults in attendance and another 400 children that met in a separate building. About an hour into the service they greeted us by calling us on stage. I brought greetings from Canada and shared a short encouragement from Romans 12:9-12.
The announcements were definitely a community event. Everything from the upcoming Sunday school classes, vaccinations at the health center and “talk to the pastor after the service if you are interested in joining the Cameroonian army” were given.
The service consisted of a lot of singing and dancing. Little children in the back spun to the music and grandpas bobbed up and down as they danced to the front and put their offering into a baskets on the stage. Not everyone had money and so others brought garden produce or animals to be auctioned off to the highest bidder later in the service. All the money collected became part of the Sunday morning offering. Carrots, peas, beans, yams, potatoes and a live chicken were auctioned. The chicken was snatched up for the equivalent of eight Canadian dollars. The total Sunday morning offering (including the money from the auction) came to about sixty dollars Canadian. When I watched the people go forward and give their few pennies, I couldn’t help but think of what Jesus said to his disciples as they watched the crowds drop their offerings at the Temple.
“I tell you that this poor widow put in more than all the others. For the others offered their gifts from what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, gave all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3-4, GNB).
This story always fascinates me because the widow had two pennies. Even if she would have dropped in one she would have given a 50% tithe. Instead, she gave everything she had.
Bethany Baptist Cameroon Update 5 - Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2:38pm (local time)
53 students, 6 assignments, 3 pages per assignment = 954 pages of reading and marking. That has been most of my life in the afternoons. The next couple of days I will be marking my students on their in-class mini-sermons. The rest of the team has been able to get more sun by working outside with the construction or the elementary school kids. I preached in the morning chapel on Monday and Tuesday.
Anyone who thinks that following Jesus amounts to the same as following any other religious belief should sit through my preaching classes and listen to my student’s stories. A common theme is dealing with issues of demon possession, witch doctors and sorcery. In fact, during one of these discussions we saw some Ju Jus dancing in the street just outside of the seminary compound. The Ju Jus are witchdoctors who work themselves into a possessed frenzy and then dance and twitch while waving their spears in traditional African garb. Most people are afraid of them and you are supposed to bow down to them when they pass by. Most do, but a few of my students told me stories of how they refused to bow to the Ju Jus while the Ju Jus were poking them in the chest with their spears. Sometimes the Ju Jus will even try and disrupt a Christian worship service. There is also the Night Ju Ju who put a curse on anyone they see at night. Many people live in fear of evil spirits and have seen things that we in North America simply try to explain away. The pastors in my class are trying to teach their people not to go to the witchdoctors when they get sick, not to bow to the Ju Ju, and to refuse to wear the magic charms and amulets that are supposed to protect you, but only keep you in bondage to fear. Could you imagine if all the Christians threw away their charms and refused to go to the witchdoctor? What would happen to the Ju Jus if the crowds simply laughed at them rather than bowed to them? It reminds me of what the people of Ephesus feared from Paul’s preaching. (Acts 19:23-27).
Bethany Baptist Cameroon Update 6 - Sunday, Jan. 19, 10:29pm (local time)
We are taking today to rest at the Baptist Guest House in Bamenda. Yesterday we packed the bus and left Ndu. A number of the kids we have gotten to know came to see us off and give us notes and drawings they had personally made. Many hugs and tears were shed. I completed all of my grading and handed it in to the president before I left. The final marks of my students ranged from a 47% to a 94%. The time was enjoyable, but after 40 hours of teaching and 1000 pages of marking I’m pretty exhausted. Toby did better on our trip back to Bamenda thanks to Gravol. The team met this morning to have our own little church service. Tonight we will debrief. Tomorrow we’re off to Yaounde where we will spend a bit of time with Gord and Denise Erickson (and hopefully have a chance to shower) before we head to the airport to catch our 11:55pm flight. Three flights later we will be back in Vancouver on Tuesday at 4:18pm.