Sunday, June 1, 2014

6/1 - Baptism, Dinner with a Congresswoman, a King Comes to Church

Another week full of excitement: My first request to perform a baptism, visits with dignitaries, a chief (king) attends church, a dead baby buried in a cardboard box, and numerous other cultural experiences.

I baptized Noah Patrick Francky on Saturday and confirmed him Sunday!  We met him the day we arrived in Cameroon at which time Sister Cook, the mission president’s wife, gave him a brochure with our phone number.  He called us 2 weeks later and started taking lessons.  He’s a great young man of 27 years and bore his testimony in church after his confirmation.

Noah's Baptism

This was transfers week with 3 of our 8 Elders leaving.  Another is changing districts and another goes home next week.  We had a nice end-of-mission farewell party for Elder Baker with dinner and a great testimony meeting.  Fortunately, all of the flights and bus trips went fairly smoothly.  However, security at the airport has been tightened in the war on the Boko Haram terrorist organization.  Only people actually flying were allowed past the parking lot.  Fortunately, Sister Coleman was able to get in and help our departing Elders, because one had overweight luggage and no money to pay for it.  Next time we might not be so lucky.
End-of-Mission Farewell Party for Elder Baker

One morning when I went for my usual run I encountered a group of about 20 soldiers running the same direction.  They motioned for me to join in the middle, so I did and ran about 6 miles.  They were singing some kind of African cadence in a language that I didn’t know but I tried to sing along.  Of course, all traffic stopped for them.  That was fun.  I had to turn around when they entered their base but they said they do that twice a week so maybe I’ll catch them again.

We went shopping in Marché Congo and had to pay a bribe when we found that we had parked in front of an unmarked gate.  The guy showed his ID and said it would cost us $240 but he would settle for $140.  I held out for $32, which was what I had handy, and he finally gave in and took it.  I probably could have talked him down further, but you never know.  He seemed to not care about my Commandant card, probably because he worked for parking enforcement, a different department.

Later, we got stopped for taking a phone call while driving.  That time my Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card worked and he let us off with a warning.

On Wednesday another crisis erupted.  Our Bonaberi meetinghouse rent check bounced and the landlord came demanding a new check.  I explained that the bank had called the District President to verify the check but he didn’t have the check number and amount handy, and if he resubmitted the check it would clear, but he wouldn’t believe it.  He ranted for a while.  I drove him to his bank where the manager said not to worry, that happened all of the time.  I paid the $40 fee to resubmit the check and he was satisfied.  Then he told me that he is the chief (king) of all of Bonaberi.  That explained how he was able to gain entry to the bank after hours.  It doesn’t explain why he is so ignorant of banking.

We were thrilled at piano lessons in Douala when the commandant showed up to learn.  Sister Coleman taught him and the other students while I attended the branch council meeting.

The Douala Branch council meeting lasted almost 3 hours and included lively debates which ignored Robert’s Rules of Order.  President Nkong tried to keep the Spirit and keep the group focused but the group seemed too inexperienced in this type of meeting.

The Dims invited us to chat at lunchtime and served a fancy lunch of pork, flavored rice, manioc, rolls and sodas.  Then the Hyppolites showed up and joined in.  A lively discussion ensued about all of the things previous missionary couples had done and what we could do to advance the work.  It was very informative but puzzling that nobody at the table asked for our input on what we should do.  I told Romeo on the way to the car that we don’t care about “making our mark,” just following the Spirit.

Earlier, I asked Romeo privately what he thought we could do to combat superstition in the Church.  That went nowhere because he believes in it.  Since he spent many years in France and seems European in many ways I thought he would be more logical about it.  All of the Christian churches in Africa have been fighting the practice of “magic” here with little success.

Bonaberi piano lessons (11 students) were followed by a meeting with Frère Totto at his restaurant.  Two years ago he found himself out of work so he taught himself to bake.  Now he bakes rolls, beignets, and other small breads in a large dutch oven over a wood fire in a wooden shed next to his wooden house.  (Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!)  His wife makes crêpes and other food in a tiny rustic restaurant.  They served us ham sandwiches and crepes, which tasted exceptionally good.  They were closed so we bought all of the breads they had left ($1.80) for our breakfast.  Their industry and entrepreneurship is impressive.

Our neighbor, the village chief Majesté Tchachoua took us out to lunch and asked how to join our church.  I told him that it wasn’t easy.  We don’t baptize people unless they understand the gospel, have a testimony from God, and are truly willing to follow Christ and show it through making and keeping commitments.  He said later that he was really impressed by that, because Cameroonians seldom know how to keep commitments.  He said that he wants to help our church.  He drove us to the meetinghouse so he could see it and said that he would come to church on Sunday.  At the moment we arrived the branch president came out of a meeting and we had a great visit with the king, the princess, a prince, the branch president, the clerk, and 4 missionaries who showed up.  I am awestruck by the Lord’s planning.
Restaurant where we ate with Chief

Majesté Tchachoua said that he was going to introduce us to a lot of important people.  True to his word, he arranged a meeting with Honorable Maître Fotso Kamdem Fostine, a congresswoman in the national assembly, at her home.  Just after we sat down in her living room she got a call.  Her hairdresser had just done her hair and gone home to find one of her twin babies dead.  So we jumped into the car with the congresswoman and the village chief, and Prince Frank drove us to the hairdresser’s house. 

We went in to the very humble home and were offered a seat on the sofa.  The electricity was out and it was dark so I almost sat on the dead baby.  She was 7 weeks old and beautiful, looking like she was asleep, but her skin was too cool to be alive.  We waited 10 minutes while Maitre Fostine took her to the hospital to be officially pronounced dead of unknown infection.  When they got back I was invited to say a prayer.  Then we drove 3 blocks to the cemetery, another pastor said a prayer, and we buried her.  It was about 3 hours after death.  She was dressed in a sleeper, wrapped in a sheet, and buried in a cardboard box in a small hole about 3 feet deep.  Two men with shovels did the digging and when the grave was covered they marked it with a few chunks of cement that they found.  The family is very poor.
Congresswoman handing dead baby to pastor

Placing baby in cardboard box for burial

We returned from the burial to the congresswoman’s house and met her husband, Lucas Fotso, an electrical engineer.  We visited for a while, presented them with a copy of the Book of Mormon and testified of its truth.  Then they served us dinner with  koki (kind of a spicy bean loaf), kidney chunks, rice, fish, and pineapple.  It was all good, although we didn’t have room for the fish.
L-R: Prince Frank, Congresswoman, Chief, Sister Coleman, Lucas

They asked what the church does to help others, so I told them about some of the welfare projects that we do in Africa, and that we are currently looking for something similar to do in Cameroon.  We had a good time talking about their kids, our big bike ride, missionary work, Cameroon, and public service.  They found it incredible that we walked in just at the moment we were needed to comfort the grieving mother.  They asked for another copy of the Book of Mormon so they could each study it, and we brought it the next day.

After Prince Frank drove us home he asked if we could talk about him going to study electronics in America.  I gave him our number and said we can get together sometime.  Later we made a Monday appointment.

True to his word, the chief and prince showed up for Fast & Testimony meeting in his traditional robe and cap and carrying his scepter.  It was a good meeting although it went 45 minutes overtime to get all of the testimonies in.  The chief said that it was good and he felt edified.  He also said that he wanted to bear his testimony about our arriving just in time to comfort the grieving mother, but there wasn’t enough time in the meeting, so he would have to do that next month.  Two new members were confirmed, a newly returned missionary (Elder Njampou) bore his testimony, the spirit was there, the meeting was nearly full, and everyone socialized for a long time afterward.

We’re now wondering what the Lord will do next?  Is it possible for a village chief to join the church in this society?  It is still a long ways off but we don’t know the answer.

Since Sister Coleman is officially Sister Alvine’s maraine, she was asked to organize a combined choir for Alvine’s wedding.  We piled almost the whole Douala Branch choir into our truck after church and drove to Bonaberi.  Then we rehearsed for over an hour.  When we finished, it was about 3:15, everyone had been at church since 9:00, it was fast Sunday, and nobody was inclined to go home.  Africans love to socialize and never seem to be in a hurry.
Choir members in the back of our pickup truck

Among our other little joys:
We helped a non-member mother contact her son who is serving a mission in the Ivory Coast.  She came 3 hours from her village to find us at the church and ask for help, since she hadn’t heard from him in a year.  It was such a joy when she called and said that he had called her.

We love this mission!

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