Sunday, April 26, 2015

4/26/2015 - Baptisms, Branch Division, Temporal Affairs, Building, Piano, Conf.

This week has been about a month long.  So much joy and progress has been packed into it that it is hard to believe that it just started 7 days ago.  I decided that I had better put titles on the paragraphs.

Baptisms are picking up!  Two converts were baptized in the Douala Branch Friday morning: Wos Salomon and Pokam Suzelle Flore.  We held the baptism at our apartment with our newly repaired pool.
I forgot to mention the Bonaberi Branch baptism last week of Benga Epo Benjamin Blaise.  We had to be at the airport and missed it but we were glad to see Benjamin finally join the Church.
Elder Legerski, President Mbenge, Wos Salomon, Flore, Elder Mwehu

I sat down with the brand new Douala branch presidency and we hammered out details of the branch division.  We finally got the application finished and submitted it on Friday.  We proposed making 3 branches out of one and expect to organize a district shortly thereafter.  Now begins the three-month wait for approval.  We are so excited about this!

We hosted the regional facilities manager, Marius Von Mollendorff, and gave him a grand tour of our facilities.  He explained how facilities maintenance is supposed to work, with work orders, accountability, communication, checks and balances.  There is a rational system!  We no longer have to just make a phone call and hope something happens.  Now all of the branch presidents and building people know the system and we have high hopes that this will lead to all of our building problems being resolved in a timely manner.  Our happiness level just went way up!
Marius von Mollendorff with us at Bonaberi

We had our first test of the system by requesting an emergency work order for a projector for General Conference.  Sure enough, we got one the next day, just in time for the scheduled viewing.  We had been waiting for about 2 weeks.

The branches always show General Conference 3 weeks after the event using DVDs that the Church sends.  This time they accidentally came in NTSC format, but I guess the players can handle that these days.  Turnout was good, even on Saturday.  Both branches had snacks between sessions and swept and mopped at the end.  This is the first time we’ve seen that in the Douala Branch for General Conference.  Progress!
Douala Branch watching General Conference

Kids on the front rows - note 4 girls on 2 chairs

A light cleaning after watching Conference on Sunday

Brother Von Mollendorff also said that he didn’t think the container-based building that they were planning for our city would work well, due to the heat and noise.  So he is going to recommend a real brick building for Douala!  That will be wonderful!  It will be simple and basic but designed for LDS services and belonging to us instead of our current method of trying to adapt a house to our needs and dealing with landlord issues.

Vinick (15) and his sister Ivye (about 10) have both completed the beginning piano course.  Vinick was approved by the Harmon Foundation to be given a piano, so we gave it to him Thursday at piano lessons.  Vinick taught the class once when we couldn’t be there.  They are both talented students and it is fun to watch cheerful little Ivye huddled over a keyboard, engrossed in a new piece.  With a piano in their home they could both go far musically.

We had to quit work until the low water pressure issue is resolved.  I researched water pumps and found that everything sold here is among the cheapest models available from China.  TIA.  Though I found 5 or 6 pumps in 4 stores I couldn’t match the deal that Romeo got.  We should soon have it installed and the toilets finally working, though I never had a spare hour this week to visit the site.

As we were saying goodbye to the mission president at the airport I asked him once again if he would consider letting us take the Elders on a P-Day field trip to Limbe.  He said it would be ok!  So, next time you will hear how that went.

Transfer letters came and we are losing 3 of our best Elders to the Congo next week.

I got stopped by a cop who surprised me by only wanting one thing: to make a copy of my list of fines.  I had some shopping to do right where he stopped me so I loaned him the 7-page list and he photocopied it while I shopped.  He was the same cop who stopped me on the other side of town a while ago and tried to bamboozle me until I pulled out the list.  As I drove away there was a group of cops huddled over the copy, apparently planning new ways of threatening the citizenry.  Maybe I shouldn’t have shared the info, but I figure he should have that info anyway and I can always use another friend.

There was a big anti-malaria campaign yesterday with a big march and speeches.  They have a lot of those but malaria just won’t go away.  Who would have guessed.

We decided to give up teaching most classes to focus more on visiting members.  We have completed most of our courses and have had low or no attendance at the two that remained.  Four students showed up for the last Teacher Training class so we taught the last four lessons in one.  We will still teach piano and conducting courses and train leaders.
Our employees cut all this fabric for a humanitarian project.
 It is illegal to take photos of soldiers but this group was running past our apartment and "accidentally" got in my photo of our street.  This is the group I often run and work out with that I call "The Judges."  It was smaller than usual on this day.  Note how they run in the street and cars are just expected to go around.  That is why I like to run with a group.
Military Judiciary employees on a morning run

Sunday, April 19, 2015

4/19/2015 - New Branch Presidency, Progress on School, Witch Doctor

Today was the most extraordinary Sunday I’ve ever experienced and we are thrilled.  The Douala Branch got new leadership, a new clerk, 8 new Melchizedek priesthood holders, some temple recommends, and lots of training.  Even though we had no scheduled speakers Sacrament Meeting went 30 minutes overtime with a lot of singing, counsel by the mission president, and sustainings.

The mission president, President Monga, arrived Saturday afternoon, interviewed about 20 people, and called a new presidency of the Douala Branch.  The new president is Victor Mbengue, with first counselor Dadi Sylvain, second counselor Tentchou Rodrigue, and clerk Ouanku Raoul.  We are very impressed with the new leadership and will be working closely with them to solve the numerous problems that have been holding the branch back. 

During the sustainings in Sacrament Meeting, one nay vote was cast.  President Monga asked me to take the EQ president and the brother aside and find out why.  We stepped outside where he said that he and many others felt that the entire branch presidency was corrupt and needed to be changed.  I counseled him briefly and reported back to President Monga, who then announced what he said to the congregation and spoke about it, saying that the callings come from the Lord and would stand and we all need to help out and be supportive.

President Monga also interviewed several people for temple recommends and approved 8 men for ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood.  One was Jean Marie Su, whom I had baptized and confirmed.  He asked me to ordain him.  He was subsequently called and set apart as Sunday School president.  Our leadership pool is expanding and the first order of business is applying for permission to divide the branch.  The membership clerk counted 180 people in Sacrament Meeting, although I’m sure there weren’t more than 140.  More training needed.

The school project has expanded and now includes a septic tank, toilets, a sink, faucets, 4 new doors, a covered drainage ditch, floor repairs, roof repairs, a basketball court, a wall, and paint.  The only paid labor is the well-digger who dug the septic tank 7 meters deep.  We hired him because few people are brave enough to work in a skinny hole 24 feet below ground.  The professionals here come from the north, where all wells have to be deep, so they are accustomed to it.
The well-digger working on the lid.
 You can see in the photo, the well-digger putting banana tree stalks in the hole.  After they pour the concrete the banana stalks shrink and they can pull them out.  African ingenuity.
The PTA president tamping dirt

The sink area before...

And after!

They mix concrete by hand in a hole in a pile.

Elders Larson and Van Ausdal with Romeo

Then on Friday we found that the water pressure at the school is too low for the water to climb up to the toilets, which are about 6 feet higher than the water meter.  We are looking into installing a booster pump.  I asked the plumbing store owner the name of the person who baptized him and found that he was never baptized, so he isn’t really a branch member.  But he said that he used to go to our church, so that is why he said he is a member.  I invited him to come back and he said that he would.

Wednesday Movie Night in the Douala Branch there were about 40 people and they all seemed to enjoy it.  But the second film, 17 Miracles, didn’t play smoothly on our small auxiliary computer so I had to run home and get a different laptop.  We started again about 30 minutes late.  One of the investigators is an old blind man.  Halfway through the second film he said that he needed taxi fare to get home (40 cents).  How can people travel across town without means of getting home, just relying on friends and strangers to give them cash when they need it?  We see it again and again but I still can’t imagine doing that myself.  On the other hand, nobody ever dies of being out in the cold here.

I was stopped by cops again, this time for passing a traffic jam on the left side of the road.  I thought I might have to pay, even though a lot of other drivers were doing it.  (The real infraction was “driving while white,” implying that I have money.)  But I said that I’m a missionary and don’t pay bribes so they let me go.

Our temporal affairs mechanic, Michel Olinga installed new chalkboards, fixed the hymn number displays, replaced some locks and promised everything else that I requested.  I have high hopes that he will eventually get our new building in order.

The rest of the week was crammed with working at the school, working on finances, meeting with Romeo, running errands, swapping lots of email to plan meetings, getting visas for Elders, buying plumbing and other stuff for the school, and running more errands.
Some cute neighbor kids fascinated by our piano.  The boy on the left is Debbie.

Cute hair style

The new clerk, Ouanku Raoul, and his family

This alley is across from the church.  I've got to check it out...

Who needs a jack?  Just lean the car way over and hold it up with a stick.

Here is the popcorn cart where we buy it for movie night.

Witch Doctor
 Let me explain the above photo.  We have seen this guy all over town, usually without pants, sometimes totally naked.  I asked someone why people tolerate this behavior and was told that people believe guys like him have magic power, and they are afraid of him.  So we call him our local witch doctor.  When I took this photo through our car windshield he had no pants, so I had to crop the photo.
We found an amusement park.  Bumper cars $1.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

4/12/2015 - School Project, Moving a Member, Activity Increasing

Good things are happening here and it seems like they are coming faster now.  The Douala Branch has the internet and electricity (legally), leadership problems are being resolved, activity is picking up, and members are helping each other.  If you want to serve a mission where you will really feel needed, loved and appreciated, come to Africa.

We started our humanitarian project!  On Monday we met with the school PTA president, one of the directors, the branch presidents, and assorted parents and church members.  On Tuesday we bought tons of cement, gravel, sand, and other supplies to repair the classroom floors.  We hired professionals to dig the 7 meter deep septic tank.  On Wednesday work began in earnest and about 50 people came to help, mostly from the families of students.  They worked until midnight and got 2 classroom floors and a large part of the septic tank done the first day.  By Friday most of the concrete work was done.  Romeo Dim is directing the effort and it is going great.
Digging a Deep Septic Tank

Elders Kabasele & West working on concrete

Classroom floor finished and desks back in place
Some of the volunteers from the neighborhood

We helped Gregoire Ele’s family of four move from a small 5-room home to a 1-room home.  It took five loads in our covered pickup to move all of their stuff.  It makes you realize how little is really needed.  They are a happy family and don’t need much.  They cook with a dutch oven on a tiny wood stove on their front porch.  Their bathroom is the brush next door.  I asked how they would move if we weren’t there with a pickup.  They would rent handcarts.
Moving the family of Gregoire Ele (facing)

Gregoire Ele's kids, Messie & Yweh

Their new one-room home

All of the neighborhood kids wanted to help
 One of the neighborhood kids about 8 years old asked if he could ride in the truck.  When I saw the bigger kids pushing him to the back of the group trying to get in, I announced that there is room for everyone in the back seat.  Then I made sure that nobody got left out.  There were 8 in the back seat and one on the tailgate for the slow 1.5 km ride.
8 kids in the back seat

Several less active families & members are coming back to church in the Douala Branch including the families Dim (Romeo), Yamen (Hippolyte), and Samgwa’a (Samuel).  Joseph was there with Rosine preparing to get sealed in the temple and even Bema Anne showed up.  Attendance was 140 which is higher than usual.  We’re excited.

Piano lessons are getting crowded in the Douala Branch.  The brighter building, the new location, the new leader, we don’t know exactly why but we love it.
Piano Lessons in Douala (part of the group)

Sister Coleman gets a hug from star student Samuel

Movie night was well attended in Bonaberi.  We counted at least 48, our best attendance so far, with several investigators.
Elders Mandefu & Sperry and Wilfred

Tuesday night the city hall in Douala caught fire due to an electrical problem.  A large portion was gutted and the building shut down.  People are bemoaning the loss of all of those government records.
City Hall before the fire

City Hall after the fire

Wendesday we were informed that the Church could not build a meetinghouse unless we turned in two overdue reports that day.  We frantically worked with the Douala Branch leaders to gather the information and cobbled both reports together just in time.  We are hoping to get construction going on that soon.

This week was crazy busy but full of blessings.
Worker carrying 100kg (220 lbs) of cement on his head

Transporting a ladder & compressor

Africans are very patient and perceive time differently than westerners and that is reflected in their French expressions.  Here are some common examples:
J’arrive (I am arriving): I will arrive eventually but might have some things to do first.
Je suis à cote (I am next to you): I am within a mile or two.
Je suis la (I am there): I will be there soon, maybe in 10 minutes.
On a commencé (We have started): We will start soon, probably before you get here.
Ça commence a quatorze heures (It starts at 2 pm):  It starts about 4 pm.
Ça commence a quatorze heures précis (It starts at precisely 2 pm):  It starts about 2:30 or 3.
Soyez à l’heure (Be on time):  [This is a nonsense phrase.]