Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Cameroominations: The Good News

Despite all the doom and gloom I tossed out in the first half of this post, there are good things about Cameroon that I hope portend good things for the future of the church there.
First, of course, the people are made in the image of God, the same as everywhere else. They are no less rebels against God than I or anyone else, but they are no worse either. God has promised to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory, and Jesus has promised to build and equip his church to storm the gates of hell. While it seems like the church in Cameroon is hundreds of miles wide and half an inch deep, the same can be said of the church in the US (actually it’s wider), and of all of us as individuals at some time or another.
While in Cameroon we heard four guest preachers at four different churches. At none of these churches did we hear in so many words the plain gospel, that Jesus died to do what only he could do, to save hopeless sinners from the just punishment of their rebellion, reconcile them to God, and give them eternal life. While this is a serious omission, and 0-for-4 is a good indication that the message doesn’t get preached enough, what was preached in all cases seemed to be a sincere and informed attempt to apply Scriptural wisdom to people’s lives where they were. I should also add that the gospel was an important component of the commencement address given at the graduation ceremony at the Baptist seminary at Kumba, so it has not been left behind.
It is easy to concentrate on how we are to apply the gospel and forget to “know nothing but Christ and him crucified” – I have done it myself – but the good news is that as these preachers call their flocks to the obedience that is supposed to open the floodgates to blessings and miracles, they at least seem to have their noses in Scripture enough that they should be in a place where God can remind them why obedience is important, which will lead them back to who it is they must obey, including what he has done for them first.

After I’d been in Bekondo a couple of weeks, I realized I had not seen anyone smoke tobacco in the village, nor had I seen a police uniform. Because so many of the signs announce “Government Pre-School” or “Government Clinic” or government this or that, I didn’t think to wonder about the police, but no, the nearest police station was – I don’t know where, maybe a couple of dozen kilometers (and close to an hour’s drive) away in Kumba. Thievery is not unknown: many of those wealthy enough to afford cinder block houses had metal bars on their windows, and people saved money for large investments and rainy days by buying cinder blocks (to save up for houses) or giving gifts to incur obligation (as insurance). But people know their neighbors, for good or for ill, and they look out for each other.
In fact, we visited the studio of a well-known evangelist and musician in Kumba and were surprised to see – well, see if you can see what surprised us. Here’s some of his recording kit.

Not exactly ready to record Justin Bieber or Beyoncé, but not replaceable with pocket change either.
Now check out the entry to his studio. It’s the former “Cafe Resto” on the left.

Do you see the front door? “Door” is more like it. It’s just a cloth. There’s nothing solid to put a key to.
I asked him how he kept his kit from walking off when he was home or traveling. His reply was that the folks at the Common Wealth Institute of Natural Medicine (whoever they are now) would keep the wrong people out of his studio. Also, the area between his studio and the main road is a large bus and taxi park (lot), and any larceny would have many witnesses. So he wasn't worried. "Uniform? We don't need no stinkin' uniform!"
Another hopeful sign is that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive among great and small.
Kids in the US open lemonade stands. In Cameroon, they smoke snails and sell them out of buckets to whoever is going past.

No "real" gas station nearby? No problem. Open your own. Gas, diesel, kerosene, you name it.

it would seem that few hoops separate an aspiring motorcycle taxi driver from starting his business. There is, says my host, "a whole wing of the hospital dedicated to motorcycle taxi injuries," but the roads are full of them. For some reason, they all need gas when the rain comes, but don't anymore once the rain stops.

Nor do aspiring restauranteurs face high bureaucratic hurdles. (The small customer base weeds out lesser contenders.)

This last picture needs some explanation. I live in Pennsylvania, where the powers that be are afraid that all hell will break loose if beer, let alone wine or distilled spirits, is sold in grocery stores. (Actually, they’ve been bought off by crony capitalists and labor unions, but that doesn’t sound as noble.) In the Club 116 grocery store in Kumba, someone whose arms are a bit longer than mine could literally touch a new whiskey bottle full of whiskey and a previously used whiskey bottle full of peanuts roasted in palm oil by a home-based entrepreneur at the same time. Twice I have walked into the convenience store attached to a gas station and found a group of people standing at a counter in the middle of the store enjoying beer bought from that store’s refrigerator. (Beer in Cameroon is, I understand, twice as potent as it is in the US, and the bottles are twice the size of bottles in the US, so it isn't as though the stuff is harmless.)
Is drunkenness a problem in some places? Absolutely. Alcohol is de rigeur at many social engagements, and many hard-working cocoa farmers relax after a long, hot day with more palm wine and moonshine than would be healthy. I’ve even seen a guy in Bekondo staggering around before “the third hour.” But most people seem able to avoid both drunkenness and tobacco. The common sense needed to survive in the village is a strong antidote to the baby bird mentality that accompanies the nationalization of life.

If life is like a journey, driving in Cameroon is a much better analogy for it than driving in the US is. In the US, we assume everything will be smooth, with all procedures and hazards well marked. (Except for speed traps, of which I saw or heard of none while I was in Cameroon.) By contrast, in Cameroon, the assumption is ruts, traffic going every direction at once, and unmarked hazards.

As my host while I was there likes to say, “driving in Cameroon is a conversation.” When you’re on a narrow, slick, muddy road and a motorcycle is approaching from the other direction and another is stopped near the right side of the road, you need to decide who is going to pass the stopped motorcycle first, or even if there is enough room between him (they are always driven by males) and the ditch on the left for you to pass at all. Do that almost every minute of every trip, and you get a lot of practice in negotiating, looking out for others, and taking responsibility for your own welfare, not necessarily in that order.
It’s possible to be a jerk in such an environment, but in a face-to-face culture in which “money in the bank” is in the form of obligations you have built up from others, the wise learn prudence.
It is this grassroots common sense, surrendered to Jesus and sanctified by the Word and the Spirit, that I think will build the church in Cameroon. I think and hope and pray that the result will look like Quill Pigism. We’ll see if God takes things that way.

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