Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lutherans at 500

Lutherans celebrate Reformation Sunday the last Sunday of October because it was October 31, 1517 that Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. 498 years ago. As you might imagine, there are all kinds of celebrations and commemorations as we approach the 500th anniversary. This well-known painting of Martin Luther was painted by Cranach in about 1515.

First, a brief summary of the “reformation.” Martin Luther was a monk who studied and taught theology. He wanted to be a good Christian, which at the time meant a good Catholic. He never wanted to leave the Catholic Church but, from his study of the Bible, he thought the church was mistaken in some of its teachings and sought to correct the error. Catholics believe the when we die, good people go straight to heaven, bad to hell, and most everyone goes to purgatory – a place in between where they wait to become good enough for heaven. Prayers and masses for the dead can speed up that process. In Luther's time, the church taught that good works on earth and those done by others on our behalf could also help. Good works often involved giving money to the church. This was a time of major cathedral building which was very expensive. In 1516 the pope offered the sale of indulgences to help fund the construction of cathedral. Indulgences were certificates bought to get souls out of purgatory.

Luther wrote a scholarly paper entitled, "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" asking for clarification and correction of theological teachings that were not bibilically based. (He may or may not have ever posted this document, which is better know as the 95 theses, on the door of the church in Whittenberg.) The result of his paper and its dessimination was a split with the church (in time) as Luther was ex-communicated, or thrown out of the church. The protestors became protestants. Luthers followers eventually became Lutherans – the first of many protestants.

(Note: Luther presented a theological challenge leading to a split. Previously, “from 1378 to 1417, several men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. Driven by politics rather than any theological disagreement, the schism was ended by the Council of Constance (1414–1418).”

Luther's challenge and split became widely known because the printing press had recently been invented. Copies of the 95 theses were printed in 1518 and were widely circulated. The printing press also greatly aided Luther's work as he translated the Bible into German (and others translated it into other languages).

Nowadays, we acknowledge that Luther was a product of his times. He was, for example, vocally anti-semitic – maybe even more than those around him. Hitler used this part of his teaching to justify his actions during World War II. Still, Luther's main theses are as important and clear today as they were 500 years ago: people are saved by grace alone (not good works), that we must trust in faith alone, and the Bible is the only yardstick by which we measure all teachings and actions. Words of hope. Teachings of inclusion.

Other practices became common place because of Luther: the mass or liturgy in the language of the people, Bibles translated into the languages of the people, other teaching materials, such as the large and small catechisms, written and used (in the people's languages), the belief that people could go directly to God in prayer without the intermediary of a priest, priests (later called pastors) who were/are permitted to marry, etc.

So, it is little surprise that Lutherans worldwide, and especially in Germany, are commemorating the 500th anniversary of the reformation (or the start of it...). Lutherans in Germany are celebrating the decade of the reformation from 2008 to 2017. “Exhibitions, concerts, church services, festivals and theatre productions will highlight the importance of the Reformation and the role Martin Luther played in the places he lived and worked." Each year has a theme. ( Luther can also now be purchased as a small action figure!

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is sponsoring a project to get women to tell their stories – about the past reformation and the ongoing one. See for more information.
Many tourists are visiting Wittenberg and other sites that were important in Luther's life. Lots of restoration and renovation has/is happening. Did you know that Wittenberg is in what was formerly known as Eastern Germany and was for many years "behind the iron curtain"?

I started thinking about the reformation not only because of the Sunday we use to remember it but because of President Ndanga-Toué's visit to Europe. As the newly elected president of the EEL-RCA the Lutheran World Federation invited him and other new church leaders to meetings/seminars in Geneva. Part of this program included visits to some sites in Germany. Churches and organizations worldwide are planting 500 trees to commorate the 500th anniversary of the reformation. The Evangelical Lutheran Church – Central African Republic has sponsored tree number 293 in Luthergarten in Wittenberg. Here are some pictures of President Ndanga-Toué planting and watering the tree along with the certificate he received. (I heard the story in Garoua Boulai as the president was headed back to Bouar, CAR. He agreed that I could help spread the word about his trip and their tree.)

President Ndanga-Toué stayed in Germany after the LWF event to meet with EEL-RCA's partner OLM (the German Lutheran Church). He said he got to see even more sites important in Luther's life and work.

Reformation work still continues. Human arrogance and error tends to distort beliefs as they are turned into “religion” and institutionalized. We need to continue to go to the Bible as we work to correct all errors – even Luther's.

Happy 500th anniversary! (almost)

Update: I am in Yaoundé to apply for a new passport and am taking advantage of the time to buy supplies for myself and others. My new screen door in Garoua Boulai is made and installed. I am adapting to my borrowed computer (and have installed programs and updated everything I could think of). Life is going back to normal, whatever that is.

The security situation in CAR is still difficult, in fact, worse in Bangui. Travel on the roads is a challenge although it is better between Garoua Boulai and Bouar if travelers go with the UN military escort. Elections have be re-rescheduled for December and January (first and second rounds). However, peace and security need to be much more firmly established for them to be successful.

Plans are moving ahead for Pope Francis' visit to Bangui in November. Maybe his presence will add weight to the peace work being done by Central African religions leaders – Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Learning from Thefts

Have you ever been robbed?  I have and as I reflect on it, I have been robbed more than my share of times over my lifetime. Since it happened again last week, I decided to write about what I have learned. Maybe you can take advantage of my experiences!

Who gets robbed? Someone who has something of value, or perceived value, to someone else. The first time a thief found me was when I was studying in Paris in 1976. I had gone to the park with some fellow students and we didn't watch our stuff well enough. The person took my wallet – which had my passport in it too. I had to go through the hassle of getting a new passport – then, a month later, my old passport found its way back to me. Obviously what interested the thief was my money. From that, I learned to keep my money separate – in a separate wallet with id buried deeper in the purse and harder to get to.

That lesson served me well when I was traveling at the end of my studies. In the press to get on a train, a thief took my wallet out of my backpack – which was on my back. A pickpocket in the crush of the crowd. At least he only got some money! Lesson learned: keep your backpack locked and/or in front of you. I know someone can cut a backpack easily enough or take the whole thing, but pickpockets look for easy touches. Let them find someone else! I still travel with a small padlock on my backpack and even use it sometimes.

I want to state upfront that I am cautious of my “stuff” by nature. I have lived in big cities most of my life so none of this leaving the door open or unlocked when I am not near that door. Still, shortly after I bought the house I still own in Pittsburgh, I was robbed – twice. The house is on the corner of a main street and an alley. My side porch, on the alley, is set in such a way that no one can see the porch except those in the alley and someone in the kitchen of the house across the street. (I often took advantage of that – lying in a hammock on that porch looking up at the neighbor's trees imagining I was in a park...) But, this arrangement means that a thief can be on the side porch and few will notice. One day while I was at work, my neighbor saw suspecious activity on my porch. She called the police who came. They would not go into the house, though, since I was not home and they could see nothing – except a shovel in the living room. (That's what the thief used to break the window lock and get in.) Nothing taken then, but not long after the thief was back. We think he was after money for drugs, but never caught him to ask. There was no money to steal at my house, so he took what he could sell easily (not much) and left on the bicycle that was in the front hall.

Immediately afterwards, we made wooden pieces to stop the windows from being opened from the outside and had grillwork put on the window on the side porch. No more problems. Later, I had grillwork put on the front windows to match so that I could leave the windows open in the summer and get a great cross breeze with no danger of unwanted intrusion. If you make the grillwork fancy, it doesn't feel like a prison... Security has its price.

Do you count it as being robbed if the thief leaves you something?? Another time, in Pittsburgh, about an hour after I left for work, someone put a car in my garage, stripped off the tires and left it on blocks. The garage I used at the time was a stand-alone across the alley that had no door (despite the lack of door, it kept the car out of the weather). How do you get a car out of such a garage when it has no wheels? I think the police or tow people had to bring tires/wheels. It was probably stolen from a nearby university, but I never found out for sure! The garage owner installed cheap particle board doors, but at least you couldn't see if there was a car there or not – or leave someone else's stolen car... (Not too long after that, I had my own garage rebuilt to make it usable (with a main car door) and including a door directly into the basement – a great advantage in the winter and rain.)

The most recent theft happened at my house in Garoua Boulai on Thursday, October 15. (It had been more than 20 years since the last theft.) This house has grillwork on the windows. There are two screen doors that allow for great ventilation, but they both have latches so people can't just walk in. Most of Thursday, I was working at the house, preparing food in the kitchen, doing dishes, working at the living room (office) table, etc. About 2:45 I took a break to do some things in the bedroom. Half an hour later I came out to get something from my purse and couldn't find it where it usually is. Strange. I thought maybe I had left it at a friend's where I had visited earlier so I looked for my phone to call and ask. I couldn't find it either. When I walked into the living room and saw my computer gone, I knew I had been robbed. I am thankful that I didn't come out of the bedroom while he was in the house. He had torn the screen and reached into unlatch the door. In all, I guess he was not in the house more than five minutes.

As in the US, one has to make a police report. Here, we went to the station and they sent a man to look at the situation. Then I had to go back to the station twice the next day. They are trying. I got a call yesterday saying they had found a computer. Unfortunately, it wasn't mine.

What I am most bothered by is the fact that all of my work on the computer is gone. Not only that, he also took the external hard drive I got in August to back up my work! All of my documents, photos, etc. - gone. And, because he took my purse – to look for money later, I am sure, he also got my passport, residency card, camera...

So the lesson from this theft? Back up your work! I know, I had backed it up and lost that, too, but I have since realized that I have the old USB flash drive backups that I left in Philadelphia. It will take a month or two for me to get them (flash drives are not something you can send in the mail and expect them to arrive), but I will have 80% of my work or more. All my photos, blog entries, work documents, reports received... A huge relief, even if I have to wait a while to get them. So redundancy is good. Back things up several places! It is a pain to do and to remember to do, but if you have a theft like I did, you will know that it is worth it. (Oh, and don't keep the backups in the same place as the computer. Another room is good – or a safe...)

It is also worth getting renter's (or home owner's) insurance. There is paperwork to fill out (more) and I am still waiting for an estimate, but it looks like the company will pay for most everything (minus my deductible). They don't pay for time lost getting everything back in order, but getting new stuff is a relief!

Also, living in the digital age makes a huge difference. I had put copies of my passport and other important documents up in the “cloud.” I had also saved a list of my frequently used sites and passwords up there. I could also get back many documents sent or received by email from the last month (from my sent mail and trash). All is not lost – it just takes a long time to sift through and get it back.

We are now working to replace the screen door – more grillwork – so that even if the screen is cut, no person can enter. It will operate with a key so that reaching in will not enable the person to open the door. The grillwork is not a fancy or pretty as what I had in Pittsburgh, but it will do its job.

Meanwhile, I have borrowed a computer and a camera that church programs in the CAR had ordered. They have been waiting until they could safely cross the border and get to Bouar. (See the picture with computer and a new smart phone I bought and haven't yet figured out how to use.) Catherine Naabeau has generously given me permission to use the computer until I can get another. (She benefits, too, because I am installing programs and updating what is needed.) The computer is in French, though. I could put the programs in English, but then would have to switch them back when I get my own machine. This process of adjusting to a new machine is a pain. I know some things the computer is supposed to do, but can't find how this one will do them. And, this word-processing program keeps jumping the cursor back a line or highlights and erases a line when I don't what it to. Plus, 2 of the 3 USB ports won't read. I can't find the dictionary that will run spell-check in English. (Please excuse the increased number of typos.) All of these are details that can be worked out (especially because the computer tech for EELC is working at the hospital in GB. He has already helped me once and I am compiling a list of questions to see him again.

Yesterday, I went to N'gaoundere to apply for a replacement residency card. Next week, I go to Yaounde to the embassy to apply for a new passport. (I delayed hoping that the passport would be thrown on the ground and found by someone who would return it to me. No luck yet.)

Over the years, my losses seem to have come in pairs. Hopefully not this time...

P.S. No pictures this time. How can you take pictures of what is gone?? And, since most of my saved pictures are gone... (Sigh)  I had 3 pictures ready to insert, but the internet connection is VERY slow and the phone networks have been bad.  I figure it's better to get the news out and do pictures some other time...

Interesting note: I have often heard the expression that something smells like rotten eggs – you know that sulfur smell? I realized yesterday that I had never actually smelled a real rotten egg. The smell is 10 or 20 times as bad as they say! I had two eggs in a bowl. One was in some liquid so I decided to break it open to check it – even though I did smell the bad smell a little. Mistake! When I tapped the shell, it sort of exploded. The yolk was black ahd the smell intense. (So, even though the shell was not cracked, I guess the rotten stuff can leak through. Who knew??) I cleaned things up, took out the trash with both eggs – the second unopened, and was glad I would be away for 24 hours so that the smell could dissapate! I have a new understanding of the smell of rotten eggs...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


As I sit down to write this entry a storm is brewing – lots of wind, the beginning of raindrops falling,
the scent of wet earth in the air, and there’s the first thunder – still pretty far away.  Yep, it’s the end of the rainy season when there is LOTS of rain and thunderstorms!  I know I have said this in past years, but it still surprises me that rains increase as the dry season comes.  My “common sense” expects the rains to taper off and then stop.  Not here!  Can anyone explain this weather phenomenon?  I need to update my common sense.

I love to listen to the rain and to watch the storms, but first I’d better get ready:
            Unplug the microwave – check (I keep it unplugged when not in use anyway.)
            Unplug the computer and printer – check (I can still work with the battery.)
            Check the windows where rain is likely to come in – check (The curtains are blowing, sometimes straight out!  But I shouldn’t get wet because the porch protects these windows.)
            Oops.  Just heard the front door slam.  I forgot to prop it open or close it myself.  The back door is propped open so I can better see the rain.  (The same porch makes it so the rain doesn’t get in.) 

This region of Cameroon and the Central African Republic has one of the highest number of lightning strikes in the world.  This storm is just gearing up.  Sunday evening, though, we had a serious storm.  Same build-up, but a little faster.  Then as the lighting and thunder got closer suddenly there was a lightning strike with thunder at the same time.  Bam!  It made me jump even though I knew it was coming.  And, at the same time, the electricity went out.  This has happened before. 

Fortunately, there is a huge circuit breaker for the house that helps protect me.  It popped.  (Even with this protection, everything should be unplugged.  I have heard stories of a lightning strike travelling down wires and jumping several feet to fry computers.  This is strong stuff.)  This time, something else popped, too.  I don’t know where the lightning hit, but electricity for our neighborhood went out.  The next day I found out it went out for most for the whole town, too.  Get out the candles and battery lamps. 
Siting in the candlelight watching the storm is inspiring.  (Notice the mixture of candlelight and technology.  Living without electricity, but not really….)  These storms make me think of the power of God.  At times destructive, but not malicious.  At the same time, life bringing. 

Did you every try to take pictures of rain?  It’s much harder than photographing snow although in one picture I took the moisture on the camera lens makes it look a little like snow…  The other picture is to show the mud forming, but it doesn’t do that very well, either.  Oh, well.  You’ll just have to come experience this for yourself when you get a chance!

Sunday, the electricity came back at 10:30 p.m. – after three hours.  (After the storm passed, I reset the circuit breaker so that when electricity came back on, it came into the house, too.  The appliances were still unplugged so they would be no problem if the electricity surges when coming back on.) Then it was out again when I woke up, but back by 7 a.m.

No wonder it is hard to keep the grass cut at this time of year.  With daily hard rains that can last hours, grass grows as you watch it (almost) and mud is everywhere.  Watch out, much of the “dirt” is clay based and slippery when wet. 

I stared writing this just before 3 p.m., and I thought that I might or might not get to the Bible Study in the student housing camp at 4:30.  If it is raining, everyone knows that activities are postponed.  Well, by the time I got the pictures ready, the rain had tapered off.  Maybe I’ll get this uploaded and still get to the Bible Study on time!  We are reading the book of Genesis – Chapter 3 today.  Want to join us?  Send commentary, comments, and questions.  I’ll share them with the students (next week).

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Periodically, we in the "field" are visited by others from ELCA Global Missions. We were pleased to welcome Rev. Dr. Andrea Walker, Regional Program Director (based in Chicago), Anne Langdji, Regional Representative based in Yaoundé, and Dana Dutcher, the woman in charge of Synod-local church relations (sorry, Dana, I don’t remember your official title!) who is also based in Chicago.  They spent a couple of weeks in Cameroon, but given the continuing (and sometimes worsening) insecurity in the Central African Republic they could not even consider going there.

These visitors visited Yaoundé, N’gaoundéré and Garoua Boulai with a couple of other places in between.  I was with them in GB and Nandangue.  Lots of visits and conversation. 

We went to visit the Bible School Friday afternoon.  All the students and professors welcomed us with a couple of hymns in Gbaya.  This included the catechists-to-be, their spouses, the Director and both other teachers of the student-catechists as well as their wives who teach the spouses.  We had formal introductions and some conversation.  Here’s a picture of the visitors, teachers, and students of the Bible School.  The second is the teachers and visitors.


Saturday morning, we went to the palm oil plantation that the Bible School has started to help fund the institution.  The palm plants won’t produce oil until Year 4.  (They are now starting Year 3.)  In addition, though, they plant some food crops to help feed the students (and teachers) and to sell.  Here are some palm plants that will replace some that didn’t make it the first two years and a cricket we saw in the field.  These are edible, although a little bitter and not the preferred cricket for eating!  It’s pretty though…

The team then visited the hospital with Drs. Solofo and Joely Rakotoarivelo.  I have been there (living next door!) so I went to the market to get some veggies for lunch.  They had a great time seeing changes and talking with people there.

During the rest of the day, Andrea met with missionaries individually, including Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Johnson who came for the day from Meiganga.  In the evening the hospital hosted a dinner.  They gave Andrea, Anne, and Dana a gift of material and we had wonderful food.

Sunday, the visitors headed back to Yaoundé but the plan was to stop in Nandangue (½ hour from GB) for the church service.  The regional bishop and I went along as did the Mayor of GB.  She is a Lutheran and very supportive of the church.  (This is also her home village.)  What an eventful stop!  For this day, the four ELCA women wore “Femme pour Christ” – women for Christ material.  Since I don’t any, Dana lent me a pagne. 

First of all, as is usual in Gbaya culture, we were met and invited into the house next to the church (I am not sure if it is for the catechist, evangelist or pastor).  We were offered coffee or tea (which I expected), but also scrambled eggs and bread!  (We had had some at my house, too…)  Church leaders were with those of us coming from Garoua Boulai.  What a warm welcome!

The liturgy began, also as usual, with the choirs processing in with church leaders and visitors following behind.  Palms were woven with leaves of another plant to form the decorations around the entry.  We found out later that 400 people participated.  The service was in a mixture of French and Gbaya.  Normally, it would be only Gbaya, but they added the French for us.  The church is set up with three groups of benches for the congregation, some benches upfront on the sides for choirs, and chairs further in the front on the sides for important people.  The regional bishop and his assistant (who was liturgist) sat behind the altar facing the people.  (All of this is typical.)
It is also typical in October to have lots of rain storms.  It is one of the signs of the approaching dry season.  Still, in GB we have been having heavy rains in the afternoon, night and early mornings.  This Sunday, the heavy rains came about 11 a.m. in the middle of our service.  The church is beautiful with a corrugated tin roof that ELCA congregations from South Dakota helped fund, but they don’t yet have windows.  There are openings, but not shutter type windows.  This is an important detail when strong rains with high winds begin.  Suddenly the choir on the right of the altar brought a bench and sat on the other side (sharing some benches and using the one they brought).  Then, the faithful sitting on the right pews/benches moved to the middle.  The rain was coming sideways into the building.  Soon after that, the people in the middle all moved to the left!  Now people were in the last section and the aisle.  Even those of us upfront on the left could feel the mists of rain!  In addition, rain on a tin roof is very loud.  It was impossible for us to hear in our corner.  I think some people could hear; I only know that the liturgist was speaking Gbaya.

After about 20 minutes, the rains abated; now falling straight down at a much slower rate.  We could hear again.  The children were sent back to the right (wet) benches to clear the aisles and worship continued with communion.  After the service we visitors were given gifts of cloth.

After the service as we left the sanctuary, there was a lake outside where there had only been dirt upon our arrival. We picked our way back to the house where we were given lunch.  Fish, beef, rice, manioc…  prepared by different women of the church.  Andrea,
Anne, and Dana left for Yaoundé with at least seven and a half hours to drive (somewhat later than anticipated, but they made it safely).  The mayor left for GB with her children.  The regional bishop and I stayed a bit longer to let the people know that their hospitality was welcome and to chat.

As we left, we discovered a problem.  We had all parked under a huge mango tree as is the custom when it is sunny; it provides great shade.  Of course, we hadn’t anticipated the storm.  The high winds knocked a branch out of the tree onto the Land Cruiser I was driving.  There is now a small dent in the hood and a huge network of cracks in the windshield.  It will have to be replaced – maybe in N’gaoundéré – three hours away – or maybe in Yaoundé eight hours away.  (Yes, we made it back to Garoua Boulai with no difficulty.)  And, now the battery in the Cameroonian truck I have has gone dead.  There is a slight chance we can find a good one here, if not, it will again be N’gaoundéré or Yaoundé.  Little is easy, but much is possible. 

Still, overall, we had a great visit. All is well that ends well.