Monday, May 26, 2014

5/25 - Preaching to Kings & a Government Official

It is hard to believe all that happened this week.  D&C 1:23 says that the weak and simple will proclaim the gospel to kings and rulers, so I guess I am weak and simple.

Since the mission president’s flight was cancelled, he came the next day and was here only 17 hours before his early morning bus.  We rearranged all of his appointments and squeezed in Zone Conference and about 10 interviews.  He and his wife were busy every second and didn’t get much sleep.  Sister Coleman did a great job feeding all 10 missionaries and the Cooks and providing snacks for various other guests.
Zone Conference

The next day Sister Coleman was ill with some kind of flu.  Elder Ndonda also reported that he was extremely ill.  I checked with Dr. Cook and started him on anti-malaria meds.  He admitted that hasn’t been taking the doxycycline that all missionaries are supposed to take daily to prevent malaria.

On Wednesday Princess Tchamgoue Bernadette Stephanie took us to meet a village chief (or king), Majesté Tchatchoua Tchande Clemence Emmanuel.  Chiefs really are treated like kings except without the authority to tax.  We had a nice visit with him, one of his daughters and two nephews that he calls his adopted sons.  His home is decorated with an impressive array of photos of him with various VIPs, such as Jesse Jackson, Desmond Tutu, and numerous Cameroon leaders.  He once had an audience with the pope and is friends with Jacques Chirac.  Many of his family members live in Minnesota.  He asked how our church differs from his Catholic Church.  We gave him most of the first discussion and presented him with a Book of Mormon.  He wanted it endorsed so I wrote my testimony and we signed it.  Then he wanted out phone numbers here and in California so we wrote them, too.  After 2 hours we asked to be excused to get home for piano students, so he insisted that we come again for 2 more hours the next day.  That appointment was cancelled when his daughter gave birth.
Chief Tchouchoua, Wife, Princess Stephanie

He also said that we have to come to his village, Bafang, for the burial of a former chief, who is the princess’ grandfather.  I called President Cook and got permission.  More on that below.

After that visit Princess Stephanie said that she wanted us to meet with another Christian.  Since Sister Coleman had students I had to go alone.  I hate leaving my companion but was glad that I didn’t miss this meeting.  The Christian turned out to be the Commandant of the Gendarmerie, who is an ordained Pentecostal minister and wants to start his own church.  He started our meeting with a prayer and we had a good time talking about how Jesus changes hearts.  I briefly explained the Book of Mormon and presented him a copy with my testimony.  He promised to read it and seemed anxious to get started.  I noticed a piano keyboard and asked about it.  He wants lessons so I offered Sister Coleman’s free services.  His office is only about 4 blocks away so I think he will come.  He asked me to call him next week after Wednesday.

He gave me a business card and wrote on the back “BV laisser circuler cet ami de Cameroun” (kindly let this friend of Cameroon pass), signed it, and said that if we have any problems with the police we can call him.  Hooray!  I have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card!  I plan to carry a laminated copy of it everywhere. 

I got stopped by cops three times Wednesday.  The first guy said that he recognized me and that he wouldn’t stop me again, but his buddy 40 feet down the road told us to pull over.  I said that we just talked to the guy back there so we let us go.  Then 5 minutes later as we were coming back we got stopped on the other side of the street.  We had the princess in the back seat and she rolled down her window and chewed him out in royal style for the 30 seconds it took him to check our papers.  Next time I’ll have my special card.

Tuesday was May 20th, National Unification Day, kind of like our 4th of July.  Almost everything was closed and there was a spectacular fireworks display in the evening, launched from an overpass on the highway.  Because it was Tuesday, Monday was also treated like a holiday, making a 4-day weekend.  On Wednesday the line to pay water bills at the water company had about 100 people.  It didn’t seem to be moving, and then someone said that the machine is broken so I left.  I still had a day before it is overdue.

Since Monday was Zone Conference, the Douala Elders postponed grocery shopping until Tuesday.  Then they found everything closed so they asked if we could spare some food since they were out.  We invited them over and fed them leftovers from the Zone Conference and the Cooks’ visit.  Lucky for them the Cook’s visit was abbreviated so we had extra.  We don’t usually keep food for six people on hand because with the heat and small refrigerator it is tough to keep it fresh.

I went to pay our electric bill and found an incredibly long line.  I asked the guard at the door if I could just print my bill on the computer since it wasn’t being used.  Instead, he sent me into the managers’ office where I was greeted by a Christian woman that we had met on a previous visit.  She really took a liking to us and took care of me in VIP fashion, sending a courier to pay our bill.  I felt guilty not waiting in line, but was much relieved, because I really didn’t have the time.

Paying our water bill was another adventure.  We went back several times because 1. The power was out, 2. They closed at 3pm, 3. The line was incredibly long, 4. The machine was broken.  Finally I asked Romeo and he said to skip the line and ask for help in the offices.  So I asked the lady at the information booth and she said she would pay it for me.  I handed over the bills and my money, got nothing in writing, and trusted "Madame Jo" to pay it.  I’ll go back tomorrow for the receipt.

Thursday evening at 9pm we had to mediate a disagreement in an apartment between Elders.

Friday, with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect, we took an overnight trip to Bafang for the funeral of a King (Chief of a village).  It is a 200km drive each way through beautiful hills, valleys, farms, and villages.  There were 2 tolls and about 100 ridiculously large speed bumps so the drive took about 4 hours.  Our goal was to meet and share the gospel with kings and village nobility and anyone else.  We took 40 copies of the BoM and hundreds of brochures.  The key, of course, was that we brought Princess Stephanie to introduce us, and we are friends with Majesté Tchouchoua.  We expected him to be there but he missed it.
View of Bafang from our Hotel Window

 The princess made hotel reservations for us which were much cheaper than we expected, at $30.  After arriving and getting settled she took us to meet the highest, level 1, superior chief of Banka who is over all of the other chiefs in the area.  He was in the “Sacred Room” and declined to meet with us.  Then she took us to meet the Catholic Bishop but he was away so I just said a few words to him on the telephone.  By then it was dark so Princess Stephanie recommended that we skip the deuil (wake) because the road is too difficult.  We dropped her off at her sister’s home.

The next morning she and her princess sister took us back to the highest chief where we were told to come back at 1:00.  
Carvings in Chefferie Gateway

Ceremonial Gazebo

Building in Chefferie
E.T. Visited Cameroon

Next we went to the burial of Chief Thomas Tcheuko Ngalee Sengape.  We went about 10 miles down a difficult dirt road through the jungle, glad to be in a 4WD truck.  The usher gave us plastic chairs in the front of the crowd of about 500 under awnings and tall elm-like trees in the village common area.  The site would have made a great campground for those who want to get away from it all, although they do have electricity and water.  The scenery was beautiful with lush foliage everywhere around the buildings, which were decorated with intricate wood carvings.  Although we were an hour late it seemed that the Catholic Mass had just begun and continued for another hour.  A lot was in the local language, but it was interesting to see the elegant African clothes, watch the proceedings, and examine the insects and spiders in the grass at our feet.  Then was a series of eulogies for another hour followed by a meal.
Sister Coleman by Casket Holding Purse She Made
Finally, as we were leaving, the princess started introducing us to the nobility and her relatives.  Nobody seemed interested in us so we left nothing behind except a few gifts that the princess insisted upon.  At least they know that we didn’t come to take anything from them.  And in case you were wondering, nobody got buried at the burial.  The chief was actually buried a month ago.
Mingling With Nobility at the Burial
Woman with Sticks on her Head

The Road to Bafang

A View of the Landscape

Amazing Scenery

Our next stop was the local king, Majesté Tchappi Tcheukam Joseph, Chef Supérieur.  We followed him from the funeral to his chefferie (palace.)  The 2 princesses gained entry and we had a short visit.  We gave him a BoM and some brochures, testified of the BoM, and said that we hope to someday have a church branch there.  He wanted to discuss it with his council and wanted 20 books so we gave them to him.  I asked what we could do for him and he asked for roads.  The princesses explained that women often give birth in the fields because the roads are so bad they can’t get to a hospital.  I promised to look into it but said it is outside the scope of what the Church normally does.  Most of the conversation was in the local dialect with the princesses interpreting because the chief doesn’t speak French well.  One of his aides brought the book and brochures from me to him as he sat on his throne.

As we left I asked for a photo so he led us to the road to pose.  The princess whispered that it is customary to pay so we gave his aide $10 and took some photos with him.  If you have ever wished for decorating tips for your royal palace, just fill the room with poster-sized photos of yourself.  That is the latest style.
Princess Stephanie, Majesté Tchappi, Princess Deva Glory

Entrance to Chefferie

Courtyard at Chefferie

We went back to town and tried once more unsuccessfully to see the highest chief.  His aide apologized and blamed it on youth, since the chief is in his 20’s.
Statues in Front of High Chief's Palace

After the long drive back to Douala we were glad to get home.  We dropped off the princess with her luggage in a dark, dirt alley downtown where she said she knows someone.  Of course, most streets are dark, dirt alleys, so she didn’t fear for her life.

On Sunday I spoke in Bonaberi Sacrament Meeting on “The Church Today.”  After the meeting block I got a message that the entire Douala branch had been invited to our pool for a child baptism because the branch font sprang a leak.  We raced home, arranged chairs, and invited the gathering crowd inside for the service.  It was the biggest crowd in our home yet with about 40 people.  The family (Hippolyte) brought lunch for everyone.  By the time everyone left it was about 5pm and we were late for dinner with the Nkong family, but they weren’t ready for us, so it was no problem.  The more we get to know President Nkong the more impressed I am with his wisdom and kindness.
The 3 Billy Goats Gruff walked past the Bonaberi Chapel

That's our week.  What did you do this week?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

5/18 - New Elders, A Princess, Mass

The adventure continued this week with a packed schedule and more new experiences.  Every day that we get time to share the Gospel or spend time with branch members is an uplifting day.  And the missionaries are so inspirational that it is great to work with them.  We preached, taught, and welcomed new missionaries.  It has been a great week.

We looked at 2 houses as possible temporary chapels with the Hyppolites.  Since we will probably have to leave our building before we can build a chapel we are looking for a suitable site.  Unfortunately, those we saw don’t have room to seat 150 people.

We met with the Dims and got some issues resolved.  There will always be problems in a branch as young as ours, but increasing charity in the branch will resolve all.

Sister Coleman gave some more marriage counseling to Soeur Alvine.  She specifically wanted to know why she told her that men don’t change after marriage but women do.

Our Wednesday schedule was packed.  I picked up 4 new Elders (Bybee, Waite, Simmons, & Tucker) fresh from the Ghana MTC on Wednesday.  Their plane was late, although an hour after it was supposed to arrive the monitor said it was “on time.”  Then the display switched to “landing.”  Maybe an hour late is considered “on time” here.  But I had a good discussion with a man in the airport (Jacques) about religion, the BoM, tribes, villages, and traditions.  We swapped phone numbers and he promised to call.
New Elders Bybee & Waite
I took the Elders to the police station and we got delayed there so while we waited I preached to a tribal princess for a while, and then an English-speaking family.  Since none of the new Elders could converse in French very well, I called them over and introduced them and we had a great visit in English.  It was interrupted when the deputy police chief called us all into his office.  There was no problem; he just wanted to find out why all these Americans are here.  Then he shared with us for a few minutes his feelings on brotherly love and sent us on our way.  Those new Elders got a quick lesson on how easy it is to share the gospel here.  We sent 2 on the bus to Yaounde and got the other 2 settled in the Bonaberi apartment.
Coucou Checking Elder Bybee's Camera
Gabriella, Sister Coleman, and Laura

Later that day the princess (Princess Stephanie of Bamileke Bafong Fombele, a BakothDji woman if I copied it right) called me to arrange a meeting.  We arranged it for the next day.  The next day we met her at the cathedral, but she seemed mostly interested in bringing our business to her travel agency.  She invited us to mass so on Sunday we attended the 6:30am Catholic mass with her.  Afterward, we took her to our church but she said that she couldn’t stay and will come next week.
Princess Stephanie (left) at her House

The mass was interesting.  The cathedral is very nice and would fit well anywhere, as cathedrals go.  The mass seemed fairly standard, with priests, nuns, altar boys & girls, incense, reciting, communion, etc.  But the songs were totally African in style.  The pipe organ was unused.  There were 3 marimbas, 2 bongo drums, some rattles and a cowbell.  The singing was mostly in some dialect that I don’t know with a lot of clapping and swaying in the choir.  Afterwards I bought the CD.  Princess Stephanie introduced us to her tribal chief, who invited us to his home.  He lives near us and we made an appointment for Wednesday morning.

Thursday was even busier than Wednesday.  We left early and met with a souvenir salesman near our home and taught most of the first discussion.  2 other men joined in and probably got more out of it than he did although they are just visiting Cameroon.  Then we had our meeting with the princess.  After visiting 3 places about shipments and running other errands we made it to a meeting with the Elders and a less-active family (Frere Eboa) and had a good visit.  We failed at paying the water bills because the water company electricity was out.
Elder Ndonda, Frere Eboa, Sister Coleman with girl, Elder Okon
Then we taught piano lessons and headed back out with the Elders to an investigator family.  It had rained and we had to drive through a lot of mud and water.  The house appeared to be in a swamp but the water was only a few inches deep, so I just drove up to it.  We had another great visit with them.  And after scraping a fender on a wall I learned that in Nigerian English “OK” means “STOP!”
Path to House Surrounded by Water

We all had to get out on this side.

It is such a good feeling to share the gospel.  People here like to talk and aren’t afraid of discussing religion, as are most people in more developed countries.

Friday we went looking for some items at some marches.  We mainly wanted a used piano keyboard (for a student) and some large water storage jugs.  How do you find a piano for sale in a city of 2 million with no yellow pages, nothing on the internet, no classified ads, and no street names?  You ask people.  Africa is like a giant swap meet.  In Marché Deido someone told us to try Marché Central.  In Marché Central we were told to try Marché Congo.  In Marché Congo we were told to look in Bonaberi.  We didn’t find a piano but we bought some water jugs, some malaria meds (for our guard), and some produce.
Marché Deido, aka Where's Waldo 

A Muddy Lane in Marché Central

As we were giving up and heading out someone tried to pick my pocket, I think.  Two men sandwiched me on the crowded sidewalk and squeezed me more than necessary.  I started yelling, “Monsieur, qu’est ce vous faites! (Sir, what are you doing!)” while covering my pockets and they walked away.  Nothing was missing from my pockets so I just let it go.  I’m sure that they didn’t want to be caught and risk swift tribal justice, which can be harsh I’m told.

On Friday we got a strange delivery at DHL.  It was a Children’s Friend in English and nothing else.  We were puzzled and set it aside.  Then we got a phone call asking us to pick up a large check at DHL to pay a year’s rent on the Bonaberi chapel.  As we were about to go to DHL I had a sudden thought.  I flipped through the Children’s Friend and found the check.  Clever packaging, but I would prefer that they tell me these things.

Saturday I did some more clerk training but the internet was still out at the chapel so we were very limited in what we could do.

Later that day, Noah came over followed by the missionaries for a lesson.  It was his birthday so we had ice cream and little cakes.  His baptism had to be postponed for two weeks, but he asked me to baptize him. 
Elder Ntambwe, Noah, & Elder Baker

Sunday I taught a mini-lesson in Priesthood Meeting on how to home teach, and gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting on loving and not judging.  I volunteered for both to try to help with some problems that we perceive in the branch.
The Bonaberi Branch asked me to speak in their Sacrament Meeting next week but the topic is different.

Sunday afternoon was Mother’s Day Skype time since the internet went down on the real Mother’s Day.  President Cook was scheduled to arrive at 5pm for a zone conference tomorrow but his flight was cancelled (common here) so we had to rearrange all of his appointments.
Elder Brockbank Skyping with Mom

Bonaberi Kids Sweeping Church Steps

Motorcycle with Umbrella (they're everywhere)

Monday, May 12, 2014

5-12 - The Natives are Restless but Tracting Can Be Fun

This week has seen more excitement and intrigue.  Excitement in the ease of sharing the gospel.  Intrigue in the complicated problems of the branch members.  But we're enjoying the challenges and still hoping to make a positive difference among this incredible people.

Monday morning we went tracting with Romeo Dim.  We passed out brochures and gave the first lesson to a woman in a boutique, a man at a stand, about 10 men working in an outdoor shoe shop, and a man and several women on a front porch.  Then we had to take a break because we were out of brochures.  It was our first time tracting and I underestimated the level of interest we would encounter.  Every place we went Romeo would give a brief introduction and then I would preach.  NOBODY said that they weren’t interested.  EVERYONE wanted to hear our message and talk about it.  Most said that they would read and call or come to the church.  We got one appointment for Tuesday evening at our home.  WHAT A COUNTRY!
Near evening that day we went out again and a couple of the people didn’t want to talk.  But we prayed with a blind woman and taught a few people, including a group that gathered on a porch.
We felt kind of like the missionaries must have felt in the early days of the Church, walking down dusty dirt roads, preaching to individuals and groups along the way in a land in which nobody has heard of the restored gospel.
The Road Where We Went Tracting

Romeo shared another vision that he had, in which Joseph Smith appeared to him and explained some things.  Afterwards, he couldn’t remember what he had been told, but the memory of the vision was strong.  He is a visionary man.

Noah came over for another lesson and visit.  His baptismal date is May 17, this Saturday.  He would really like to study in America, and has high hopes that we can help him get a visa, despite our denials.  Visas are allotted to Africans by a lottery system.  He has a friend, Etienne, who is studying in San Diego, so we called him up and he chatted a while.  Etienne told me that he studied with the missionaries but then got too busy, but gave the ok to pass his number to the missionaries, so I sent it to the missionary couple living in our house.

We invited Noah and the Dim family over for dinner and they brought two friends so we had 12 people around our table.  It was fun and we had some interesting gospel discussions.  I found it interesting that we ran out of rice.  Given a choice of barbecue pork, fruit salad, green salad, and rice, the Africans go for the familiar, boring, white rice.  But nobody turned down ice cream.  The girls  insisted on doing all of the dishes, so Sister Coleman taught them our method of rinsing them in bleach water.  They seemed to take great joy in working together in the kitchen.
The Dim Family & Noah at Our Table

The Elders had a zone meeting in our house and enjoyed some of the leftovers from dinner.

We got stopped by cops again just to check our papers.  I grinned and said, “You stopped me about 5 days ago.  Do you remember me?”  He just glanced at the papers and let us go.

“The natives are restless,” as the saying goes.  We were invited to a home where we were treated to an hour of three members complaining about the branch leadership.  The complaints were rather vague and I don’t think that anyone will leave the church over it, but it shows some of the difficulties of a very inexperienced group of people coming together to form a church unit.  Another family (Hyppolite) invited us over and shared with us that they became inactive because of a lack of love in the branch.  The problems here seem similar to those of the early church in America.  Everyone has different ideas about how the branch should be run, while rumors and innuendo spread through the grapevine.  We’re starting to see where our biggest challenges will be. 
The Hyppolite Family & Missionaries

I had a long talk with President Nkong about some of the issues and how he might deal with them.    I also had a long talk with the Douala EQ president (President Momo) about home teaching.  We went over the handbook and some other material.  I’m hoping to boost the home teaching up from the 0% that it is now.

On Mother’s Day we attended the Bonaberi Branch, which showed General Conference.  They showed the Saturday sessions on Saturday, so on Sunday they showed the morning session, then served sandwiches and drinks, then showed the Women’s and Sunday afternoon sessions.  It was a well done and a good social event.

Then we went home and found the power off.  After 3 hours and a few on and off events, power finally came back on before the Elders arrived to video chat with their mothers.  But the internet remained off for the rest of Sunday and almost all of Monday, so they all made brief phone calls to explain and reschedule for next Sunday.  And of course, that is why this blog post is a day late.
One of the Ubiquitous Handcarts Navigating a Traffic Jam

President Nkong & Alain Dieudonne Trimming Ivy by Baptismal Font
Boniberi Primary Members on Patio Ready for Lunch at Conference