A Day of Fellowship

Wednesday, February 07, 2018
Douala, Littoral, Cameroon
Today was an extremely full day. Armel arrived to pick me up at 8:30 for the drive to the Menfis (probably no connection to Egypt or to Tennessee). We walked from the hotel to the left reaching the Avenue du Général de Gaulle to flag down a taxi. It was a rolling wreck like most taxis are. Street taxis usually take multiple passengers at a time each going different places. The driver maps a route in his head and decides whether to accept the passenger or not. I wanted the whole taxi for us, for which we would pay a slight bit extra. One taxi driver slowed and asked where we were going. He already had a passenger with him, but when heard where we were going and that we wanted to whole car, he told his passenger to get out and find another ride…. It happens.
Traffic was heavy and wild as usual, the drive took about 30 minutes. We arrived at the hotel and walked inside, through the courtyard, through the bar to a meeting room we had reserved. It was overpriced, but then meeting rooms all seem to be so in Douala, and in the French world in general. It was cavernous, dim, and noisy (there must have been a school full of screaming children next door), but at least it was air conditioned.
Here had gathered twenty people including 5 children who are either members or attend regularly with our association. There are a few others who were not able to come, but most came, this was like a mini Feast of Tabernacles one member told me. A decent hotel, good meals and the chance to fellowship during the visit of the minister. They were all happy to be there. The event was colored by tragedy though. Ten days ago a two-and-a-half-year-old boy, son of a baptized member here died of complications from malaria. Little Alain Nguenec, showed signs of a cold, was taken to the hospital and treated then sent home. Within a few days he was taken back to the hospital with a high fever. He was treated again and released. The fever came back quickly, and never abated. He was treated again, using the medicines most often effective for malaria in young children, but he died.
This happens with painful regularity. Of course child mortality happens everywhere, I’ve known numerous cases in the western world too, but the frequency is nothing like it is in the global south. The family involved was still mourning of course and all the members are moved.
Once we get settled, and everyone was present, I asked God’s blessing on our day together and on our study of the Bible. We sang a hymn, and I then talked for an hour or so about the Christian view of death and mourning, and how we can help those who are mourning. We looked at the scriptures showing how knowledge from the Bible changes our view of death, we can understand what happens, and while still terribly painful, we are not hopeless as those are who don’t know that truth. We looked at biblical examples of mourning. And toward the end I gave some practical, do-and-don’t suggestions on how to help those who grieve.
We took what was to be a 15 minute break so we could plug my laptop into the screen on the wall for the next presentations. It ended up being 45 minutes because even with the cable connected we couldn’t get the screen to show my screen. While the technicians were working on this, several members thanked me for the first presentation; they told me it had been very helpful in replacing events in context.
Finally giving up on the wall screen, we used a small external monitor, only slightly larger than my laptop screen which sat on the table in front of me, and I showed a PowerPoint presentation on our church association, so the members here many of whom are very new to our group, could “meet” so to speak our administrators and see our office staff. It also included an overview of our work in French-speaking areas in the world.
Afterward they had questions of course:
Q. Why do women attend Foundation Institute if only men are ordained into the ministry?
My answer: Foundation Institute is not training for the ministry per se but in the Bible and this is important for all young people.
Q. Can people from outside the US attend Foundation Institute?
My answer: the US government is now allowing us to qualify for student visas, which makes it virtually impossible for people from outside the US to attend.
Q. What is being done to make that education available to people who cannot attend in person?
My answer: we are gradually posting more and more classes online available to everyone. We hope to be able to translate them into French in time.
Q. Is it fair that this education is only available to people in the US? What is being done to ensure others have a fair chance? (The topic of fairness comes up fairly often in multiple contexts – life seems quite unfair to many people here).
My answer: the world is what it is, we cannot change it, yet. We do the best we can with the means God gives us, but we can do no more.
Then there were questions not associated with my presentation. One I had never been asked before was: Were Cain and Abel twins? Genesis 4:1-2 says Eve conceived and bore Cain, then she “bore again” Abel, with no mention of another conception.)
My answer: based on context and Eve’s comments in between the births of her sons, there is no convincing reason to believe they were twins.
Sometimes questions are asked that are very obvious, most everyone would know the answer. These questions are usually asked by a member who knows the answer but believe someone else needs to hear the answer from the minister. That happens quite a bit here.
After about 45 minutes of Q&A, I called a pause so that I could make my third presentation, another PowerPoint presentation on the geography of the Bible, showing on maps where Bible events occurred starting with the Garden of Eden in what is today Iraq. We followed Abraham’s migration, and Israel’s wandering, it time in the Promised Land and then it’s deportations. We covered the four kingdom’s Daniel explained and how the world of Jesus’ human time was under the Roman Empire. I included photos that I had taken during my travels in Israel, Jordan, Greece, Turkey and Italy. It was the first time they had seen something like that and most found it quite taking. I made it interactive, asking them to contribute what they could as we went along, which they also enjoyed.
Finally at 2:30 we finished the formal presentations. Lunch had been ordered for that time, although it didn’t finally arrive until 3:15. In the mean while there were more questions. 
One young woman, new to the church, ask a series of questions I recognized immediately. She had written down the title and opening blurb to about 10 LifeHopeAndTruth articles (in French of course), they are all a series of questions that introduce the articles. She read the title, the opening questions and then asked me to answer them. I suggested that she read the articles, that’s where the answers are given. But she wanted me to answer them for her. “The articles are often hard to understand” she said “you are easier to understand.”  I briefly answered a few of her questions, but encouraged her to tackle the articles themselves. She would get a more complete answer, and reading is an important discipline that helps us think more clearly and in an organized way. It’s very important for Christians to learn to read logically and analytically.  Research shows that reading actually changes the brain in very positive ways. But it is work and it takes practice to master.
Some members had gone back to their rooms to rest (and revel in the luxury of a hotel room, much nicer than their homes), but when the food finally arrived, everyone filed back in. The meal was served in the meeting room: raw vegetable salad, chicken and rice, fish filets and spaghetti. They had purchased a few bottles of wine (in keeping with the Feast of Tabernacles parallel) so the adults could have a glass or two with the meal.
We took our time eating. A stomach full of good food and wine is a rare occasion and not anything to be rushed. Toward the end of the meal, there was just a contented silence for several minutes with an occasional joke punctuating the pleasure.
We took a group photo outside, then returned inside for personal concerns.
I anointed two children, one who was just getting over malaria and seemed to be doing well, and the other who apparently has some side-effects still with him. I hoped it wasn’t damage to the brain, but it appeared to be that. He convulses his mother told me, and I could see his arms constricted at odd angles. How sad to have that happen at age five or six.
I anointed several adult members too for various ailments.
Other members asked me to pray about their financial problems, very common here. One young man asked me to pray that he could find the money to reenter school. I gathered from what he said that he had goofed off enough that his parents decided the school fees were being wasted. Now he wanted to go back to school, and the money was no longer there.
As always a few wanted the church to “finance their project”, which I gently decline. Able-bodied men need to go to God for help in working out their finances, like everywhere in the world. If God gives a man responsibilities to his family, I explain, God will not leave you in the impossibility to fulfill them. But we need to go to Him for help and guidance, not immediately to the Church, which is tempting because it is easy. In the Bible, Church assistance is directed toward widows and orphans. There are sometimes exceptions or course, but exceptions should be exceptional.
After about an hour of this, I finally said goodbye to everyone. We flagged down another taxi and did the herky-jerky back to the hotel. I was accompanied by Armel and a young lady who is counselling for baptism. She and I sat out on the pool deck among other hotel clients and talked quietly to help her in her understanding and self-examination. This went on until after 7:30.
I saw them off at the door of the hotel and had a light dinner. It’s been something like an 11 hour day with almost no break. I’m quite tired, now and I should sleep well.
Tomorrow will be another full day culminating in a midnight flight to Paris.

Comments

Mary Hendren
2018-02-08

Glad you had such a busy and fulfilling day, with teaching, lunch, counseling. So sad about little Alain, also sad living under the cloud of life being unfair. Someday it will all be made well! Hope you have a safe and uneventful flight home.

2019-10-16