I have had nine hours of Gbaya language study in the past week or so – with the third teacher, Paapi. I have had a total of about 40 hours so far – not so many for learning a new language – especially when they have been in different towns, with different teachers, and spread out with no study in between!
Paapi invited me to go to the Gbaya service at his church today and I agreed. First, it POURED rain this morning. It started sometime in the night, so there was a lot of rain and water. When that happens, church doesn’t start on time – it gets delayed. So, the service that was to start at 9 started about 10 – sort of like a snow delay!
|church name embroidered in communion cloth|
The church, Sɂ Tɂa (God Spoke), is in the town of Beka Hossere, about 13 km. from the Lutheran Station where I am staying. Paapi and I met in town so that he could go with me to find the place. I am not bad at following directions, but am greatly hindered here by the fact that there are few street signs and I know few of the land marks!
As we arrived, the congregation was singing songs – warming up and announcing to those still coming that they should hurry up that the service was starting soon.
Some of the leaders of this congregation are also active with the Gbaya Cultural Center in N’gaoundéré. One project has been to put together a revised songbook for congregations to use. They are using the relatively new spellings that have been adopted. They sell it for 2,000 cfa ($4). That doesn’t cover the cost of producing it, but they don’t want set the price too high or no one will be able to afford to buy it.
|young women of a choir|
As the service starts, one choir (yes, most churches here have more than one – the more members, the more choirs! Eat your heart out ELLC…) and those leading the liturgy enter to a song. Most music is a capella with drum accompaniment sometimes. I was pleased that three of the songs they sang were to tunes I knew: “Rock of Ages,” ”Abide with Me,” and “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” (Not that I didn’t have trouble singing and understanding…)
As with many churches here, a pastor doesn’t lead the liturgy each week – there are not yet enough pastors to go around. Here, the pastor comes the last Sunday of each month so there is also communion.
Paapi is in charge of recording information about the service in a bound book. I can’t say exactly what he wrote (since it was, of course, in Gbaya!), but I know he recorded attendance – number of men, women, and children. Most children were not in this service. They attend Sunday School at the same time in another building. Paapi was also the one to make announcements. Always during this time, new people stand up and introduce themselves. There were two of us today. I was able to say the four sentences I had prepared. I thought I had done it pretty well, but wondered when Paapi repeated the information when I was done… Oh, well, more work to be done!
After two weeks of study, I attended a Gbaya service in Garoua Boulai. I think I understood about 10 words then. This time, I may have understood about 20%. It helps a great deal that I understand the liturgy, had read the gospel lesson ahead of time (in English and Gbaya), and that the leaders of this liturgy spoke and read very clearly. I was impressed that they also spoke fairly slowly. Now, I understood words, but never very many in a row! I can’t say that I understood what was being said, but I could follow along with the written words to a large extent. As I say, still lots of work to do to learn this language!
|Susan, Paapi, Suzanne with baby|
After the service, I meet Suzanne, Paapi’s wife, and their son. Numerous other people also greeted me – including a women who sells fruits and vegetables around the guest houses. She is originally from CAR and greeted me in Sango!
I had a chance to sit with leaders to ask and answer questions. This congregation was started in July 2011. They said there had been no church in their village even though most members were already church-goers. They now have a very nice building. We talked about my work and some of the projects they want to initiate.
I felt very welcome in the church. Maybe I’ll go back once I learn more Gbaya and when I am in town for a visit.
Update: I am leaving N’gaoundéré for Garoua Boulai tomorrow morning. That is the Cameroonian town on the border with the Central African Republic. It is also the town where I spent about six weeks earlier this year.
I am going because I can better support the leadership teams I work with. I cannot go to CAR, but they can come to GB so that we can work and plan together. Also, if we need to send documents back and forth, there are more people who go between Baboua and GB since they are only 50 km. apart.
Exactly when (or how often) Central Africans can come to me and my schedule are not yet clear, but I hope that I can soon start Gbaya lessons again soon. Meanwhile, I am well – healthy and basically happy. I would, of course, be much happier if peace would return to CAR. My heart breaks each time I think about all the displaced people and problems there. Please continue to pray for peace.