Monday, April 28, 2014


Students preparing for class
Grade 3
Grade 5
Last week I went to Pittsburgh, my “home” town.  (I have to say, it is strange to be in Pennsylvania without being in Pittsburgh, the city where I lived for 30 years before moving to CAR/Cameroon.  I am, however, now based in Mechanicsburg, with Mom.  It is only 3 ½-4 hours away, but it’s not the same!)  I went to visit friends and the school where I worked.

Two 1st grade classes combined
Phillips Elementary is a Spanish Emphasis School which means students study Spanish in addition to the regular curriculum.  This gives students a somewhat different perspective since they study another language and cultures other than their own.  The principal and teachers welcomed me to visit their classes where students and I compared their lives with those of children in Garoua Boulai.  (I visited 7 classrooms and 9 classes on Wednesday.)

Here are some of the points that seemed to impress the children:

  • In some ways they are the same as children in Cameroon/CAR, but in many aspects their lives are different.
  • They have trouble believing that there are no video games readily available. 
  • They also expressed regret that the snack foods they find everywhere are not easy to come by there.
  • Class sized in Cameroon/CAR are generally much larger than theirs. 
  • They compared chores and discovered that children in both cultures help out. 

 During and after the Power Point presentation, the students in Pittsburgh also asked very intelligent questions.  We had wonderful discussions.  In one class they even got to try wearing pagnes, skirts for women and girls.

It was a little strange for me to be in a building where I worked for a dozen years, but at the same time, it was comfortable and welcoming.  A good place to start sharing some of my experiences.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spring, Rainy Season, and Grief

I love spring.  Everything is coming back alive.  The trees wear their leaves of spring (yellow) green.  By extension, I like the arrival of the rainy season in Cameroon/CAR.  Again, plants are coming back to life, turning green, growing quickly.

What a time of hope.  What a paradoxical time to be experiencing grief.  If you haven’t already heard, I am back in Pennsylvania; I came because my father was ill. (I was here in March, but he seemed to be making such positive progress, so I went back to Garoua Boulai.)  His health took a turn for the worse and he died April 8, 2014.  How can I rejoice in the new life of spring/rainy season when someone who has been an integral part of my life is gone?  But, on the other hand, how can I not? 

This is also Holy Week.  I have to say that I have not been paying much attention to Lent this year.  Too many other concerns…  So, Holy Week seems unreal.  It “snuck up on me.”  Tonight is the night we commemorate the last supper.  And tomorrow the crucifixion.  Jesus died so we could live.  So my father could live with Him.  How can I be sad when Dad is beyond pain and living in joy with Christ?

Of course, we who are left behind feel sadness and grief.  It is our loss in this earthly life.  It made me very sad to remove Dad’s name from the distribution list for this blog.  I am staying with Mom and as she said, Dad is everywhere in this house.  We miss him terribly.

But, I could go for a walk this morning and revel in the sunshine, the forsythia, the early spring flowers, the buds on the trees, and in the renewal of life.  Death is a normal part of life – even when it is hard for us individually. 

News from CAR continues to be difficult to hear – and even harder to live, I am sure.  I want to be in Garoua Boulai to help.  I was working at a distance from CAR while in GB.  Now I am working at an even greater distance!  I can’t meet with people, but we can talk on the phone.  I will do what I can.

Two songs keep coming to mind, so I want to share them with you.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above, ye Heavenly Hosts.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Oh, the Lord is good to me,
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun and the rain and the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me.
Amen.  Amen. Amen, amen, amen.

May we remember God’s presence and goodness at all time.

P. S.  I will be writing less often while I am in the States with Mom and then visiting churches for my Home Assignment.  Please continue to pray for the Central African Republic.  Prayers for my family would also be welcome.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Rev. Kemane
Sunday School Teacher
I had the opportunity to observe an  EcoDim this morning. EcoDim is short for École de Dimanche or Sunday school.  I went with Rev. Maurice Kemane, Director of Christian Education in CAR, Rev. Pierre Hamboa, Assistant Director, and Rev. Lucien Gbawi, a local pastor who attends that church. 

The first question is what time to go.  They all assured me that Sunday school starts at 7:30 a.m. before the 9 a.m. liturgy.  OK.  We were to arrive at 7.  I met Pastor Lucien at 7 so he could show me where the church is, meaning we got there about 7:15.  (See, I am getting a little better at the flexible time stuff.) 
Local tradition dictates that guests enter the house, sit down, and be offered something to drink.  So, we went into the house of the pastor of the church (who couldn’t be present because he was in another village for the day).  We waited.  And waited – just the two of us.  There were women outside wishing dishes – seated on small stools and using basins.  You can seem them through the doorway in the picture that shows my view as I sat in the living room and waited.  (I like the idea of having a gauzy cloth on the doorway to provide some privacy but allowing for a breeze.  I suppose it would also keep out a few of the bugs…)
Pastors Maurice and Pierre arrived at 8 a.m., so much for a 7:30 start.  I was told that part of the late start was because the congregation was not notified far enough ahead so they hadn’t had enough time to prepare.  What did they prepare?  Well, first, tea (very sweet) and bottled water (for me) then rice prepared with some macaroni, onions, and probably Cubes Maggi (bouillon used in most everything). It was actually very good.  We ate that dish before Sunday school and again after it before the liturgy.  After church we had pieces of meat in a sauce with manioc (cassava) – and a separate bowl with rice for me in case I don’t eat manioc.  Another delicious dish – but by now I have had breakfast at home (probably a mistake on my part) and 3 meals, all before 11:30 a.m.!)  To complete the hospitality topic: after lunch (the third one), we were invited to the house of the President of the local district of
Women for Christ.  After we all entered her living room and waited for a bit, she offered us wine.  Meat and wine are relatively expensive and are, therefore, good items to offer guests to show that they are valued.

But, wait!  I supposed to be talking about Sunday school!  As we entered the church, children and youth sat on benches on one side of the church.  Toward the front on benches that were perpendicular, sat the Sunday School Mothers and a few children.  About 160 children were present.  They are all together for the children’s liturgy.  Much of it is call and response.  That is, the lead teacher says a line and the children repeat (often with great energy).  They did the Apostles’ Creed this way and a couple of part of the liturgy that I didn’t recognize.  At other times, the leader said a line and the children responded with another line that they knew.  They also sang some songs – sometimes with hand motions (as in the picture).  It was impressive.
At the end children came up to put their offering in the basket that one of the mothers was holding.  Their Sunday school is so active and generous that they have contributed to buying five sacks of cement and sand to aid in the construction of a new, larger church building.  (See the pictures.)

After the official liturgy, they went outside to play some games.  Because of the late start, they got to do only about 10 minutes today.  (Sorry kids!)  I am learning one of the chants that involves hand clapping and having people go into the center of the circle to dance.  (Yes, the made me go in with the Assistant Director!  No pictures – whew!)

After a short break (to eat rice – see above!), we went back into the church for the regular liturgy.  I was impressed that it started very close to the 9 a.m. start time.  Any delay was because of us, it seems. 

 Honoring guests continues in the EcoDim and liturgy.  We got to sit in plastic chairs instead of benches.  (I prefer that since they have backs; yes, I’m spoiled in that way…)  The chairs were upfront: for the EcoDim, we were in front of the altar rail which is still in front of where the children and teacher were; for the liturgy, we were behind the altar rail and even behind the altar.  It is an honor, but one I could do without!  First of all, I am there as a fellow worshiper.  But, more than that, it is hard to see and hear from there.  From these honor seats, I can’t see the board with the Bible readings either.  The picture on the right shows the congregation (probably about 250 people) when I was standing up and the second my view when I sat down. 

Hearing is also an issue because of “modern technology.”  Many congregations, including this one, now have drum sets, electric guitars, sound board, microphones, and HUGE speakers.  My problem is that very loud often comes with distortion.  They have a fancy-looking sound board, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. 

Have you ever paid attention to the fact that when listening to (or reading) something in your first language, you can often fill in small parts that you miss (or are distorted)?  Well, I can do that somewhat in French, but not in Sango (and since I only get about 15% in Gbaya, not at all in that language!)

The congregation we visited is mostly Central Africans, so the activities were in Sango.  In theory, I can understand about 80% of what is said in that language.  The sermon was preached in Gbaya and interpreted into Sango, so that was harder to follow.  But, when the microphone/speaker distortion was added, I lost more than I would like to admit.  I may have even drifted off during the sermon. (Maybe it was a good thing I was hidden by the altar…) 

The President of the local district of Women for Christ preached.  I learned a folktale about why the lizard bobs his head a lot.  (OK, I admit I only really understood it when someone told me a shortened version later.)  He is saying, “That’s true! That’s true!” after having seen something for himself.  She compared it to us Christians who can’t believe unless we have seen evidence with our eyes.  (Please don’t ask me for a fuller explanation of the sermon!)

I had a wonderful time and was greatly enriched by the Sunday school and liturgy.  It will also help me in my work with Christian Education – and I may have a new game to teach children I visit on Home Assignment in a couple of months!

Update on my FatherAs many of you know, when my father was in the hospital in March, I went to Pennsylvania to visit him.  Heseemed to be making good progress, so I came back to Garoua Boulai.  I found out today that he has taken a turn for the worse.  It has been a day of waiting – waiting to hear from my family, but even more waiting for time to pass so it would be a good time to call – considering the 5-hour time difference.  I still have only limited news.  (I am using the writing of this blog as a way to pass the time while waiting.  Distraction.We don’t know what will happen.  Please pray for my family.