Tuesday, Regional Bishop Djidere Nguembe Djidere Nestor invited me to attend the local meeting of Women for Christ (Femmes pour Christ – FPC). Groups of women from the ten Lutheran churches of Garoua Boulai met at Mbé Duka Church for the morning. I agreed to go although I didn’t really understand what I was getting into!
On the way, I stopped for fuel and the bishop got change from the attendant so he had a bunch of 500 cfa bills. That was a signal; not that I understood it at the time. (I’ll let you I on the purpose upfront…) These district meetings take place once a quarter and the hosting congregation rotates. The main purpose is to raise money which is given to the hosting congregation. The women use it to complete some project. The last group bought cement so that the dirt floor in the church could be paved. They also made a small Women for Christ building. In the process of raising money, the women danced a lot, sharing laughter, money, food, and song.
The whole event began pretty much as usual; people were to arrive at 8 a.m. and the meeting to start at 8:30. Of course, it was at 8:15 that the bishop stopped at my house to invite me. We got ready and left about 8:30; with the stop at the gas station, we arrived about 9 a.m. Late? Not really. Some women were practicing nearby, but the church itself was empty. Things did get underway about 9:25…
In the meantime, I chatted with the bishop and Mbé Duka’s catechist. This is a congregation which has taken a lot on initiative. The members raised money themselves to build the church and pay for the metal roof (and its installation). Just recently they also painted the church inside (blue-green – It is impressive when a congregation takes full responsibility for its construction projects. (I know congregations in the USA do it, but they can borrow money from a bank to help them and pay it over time. That doesn’t happen here in the cash-based economy.) I believe they are also building a guest house beside the church and on the other side already have the catechist’s house.look for it in later pictures) and out (a warm, sandy color pictured here).
Normally at the start of the Sunday service, one of the choirs processes into the church singing and dancing. For this meeting, each church group entered singing and dancing. Another tradition here is to put a coin or bill on the forehead of a singer or dancer that you appreciate. You might even dance your way up to do it. This is one of the fund-raising aspects of this gathering. Women with baskets (plastic colanders to me…) stood near the singers and put the coins into it as singers where honored. It took about 50 minutes for all the groups to enter and be seated. (This is why the bishop got change. Fortunately, I had a bunch already.)
A small group of leaders from the hosting church sat at a table up front to accept and count the offerings for each group, keeping track in a notebook. The secretary (pictured here) was also the mistress of ceremonies. Once all groups were seated, she led the the women in singing the national I am going to try to post the video in the blog, but it is too big to attach to an email, so here’s a still picture.hymn that was written for FPC.
Next there was a brief part of the liturgy with a message from the bishop (about 7 minutes). By the way, 95% of that happened was in Gbaya. I was feeling pleased that I could generally follow what was happen – I knew enough of the key words of the liturgy and could follow when a few French words and church names were thrown in. I have to admit that I didn’t understand the sermon…
Then it was time for offerings. Each congregation had collected money before coming ranging from several thousand cfa ($5) to 34,000 ($68) – a lot for people here. There was, of course, some processing and dancing as these were presented.
Oh, I forgot to mention an important part. About five women acted a “soldiers” to direct the groups and individuals. They were dressed differently than the other women and carried rough approximations of rifles made of wood. (I guess at some time in the past, they carried real guns, but don’t do that anymore). They each also had a whistle which they blew to keep time. (That part got to be annoying to me.) There was also a young man who played two drums.
Invited guests went to the catechist’s house to have tea, bread, and bananas. Some had some porridge, too. One of the guests commented that no matter which song a group started to sing, all the women of all the groups knew it and joined in. He wondered when they practiced and how they all knew all the songs! I wonder, too; no one used song sheets or hymnals!
The others stayed in the church and ate/drank there. At the end of this time, as we headed back to the church, the bishop said to me that we only had the closing and then we would go home. Well, maybe, but what a closing… It lasted almost two more hours!
This is the part where I was pretty lost. There was no one near me I could ask for a translation. I found out later, that it is involved word play and challenges. Individual women would stand up and encourage another church or an individual to give more. One woman stood in front of me and spoke. At the end I said, “Mi zii na – I don’t understand,” but no one translated. Still, I figured it was a challenge for me to give more, too. So, I stood up and address them in English! I said that I couldn’t understand the words, but I could figure out a challenge when it was presented, so I held up a bill and gave it to the collectors. The women cheered; one even said “thank you.”
After a long time, the challenges ended and the secretary read out the amounts given by each congregation. The total was about 200,000 cfa ($400) – not bad since most of the collecting came in the form of 100 (20¢) or 500 ($1) cfa coins/bills put on many different foreheads!
Women from each church had dresses made of the same material. Some use the cloth made for FPC, but others picked other cloth. I spent some time enjoying the wide range of style of dresses made from the same cloth.
Most participants at this gathering were women although there were a handful of men: the bishop, catechist, the local traditional chief, a young man who played the drums, a photographer, a few other invited guests, and a few who came with women from one of the ten congregations. The picture on the left is the traditional chief and bishop. The one on the right is the drummer – along with the regional representative of FPC. With great joy, she joined in the drumming for one song.
The program ended after the next site and date were selected, prayers were said, and the Regional Bishop gave the benediction. But, it was not time to leave. Invited guests went back to the catechist’s house where we were served lunch. I got home about 2 p.m. and had had a great morning!
Porch update: I bought two lavender plastic chairs to go on my new enclosed porch. For the moment, I moved a wooden table out there, too. (I won’t be able to leave it out there once the rains come back because the wind is likely to blow rain in during heavy storms, but I don’t have to think about that for another month or so.) Here’s a picture. It is true that the color of the chairs is not the best choice given the color cloth I have had on the table. Still, it is nice to read on the porch and have a place to put the book (Kindle) or glass as I am relaxing. Want to come have a coffee on my porch? (By the way, “café” is used to mean, coffee, tea, or hot milk. So you can have your choice…)