Carolyn with Pastor Antoinette
From February 15-26, 2008; I embarked in the challenging enterprise of facilitating a leadership travel for three companion synods. Six faithful but season travelers from Texas Louisiana Golf Cost, Western North Dakota and Eastern-North Dakota synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America responded to the “CAR 2,000 Challenge”. The challenge consisted in crossing 2,000 kms (1,000 each way) on dirt road from Douala (Cameroon) to Bouar (West of CAR); defying all odds, security risk and possible harassment at border crossing point to arrive on time at the dedication of both the women center and the newly renovated church in Bouar. To make the challenge more attractive, we also need to fit at least 8 people with their luggage and carry-on(s) in a Toyota Prado; stay healthy while responding to hospitality; visiting most of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the CAR ministries in a week while setting time aside to develop relationship and celebrate with the women and the church leadership.
In preparation of this trip, I’ve traveled two days ahead of scheduled arrival time of my companions from Dakar, Senegal to Douala, Cameroon via Lagos Nigeria. I spent one night in Douala and took a ride from my colleague
and friend Jim Noss and waited for the arrival of the six challengers that are arriving from the US via Brussels to Yaoundé Nsimalen International Airport. Great was my disappointment when I learned about the flight cancellation of my friends out of Chicago. Having to deal with six flight cancellations and the same amounts of delays in 2007, I started to believe that sort of things only happen to me and in West Africa. We finally united one day later than previously scheduled.
After three days of travel, one night in Yaoundé, and one night in Garoua Boulai, we finally arrive in Bouar where the reception was heartbreaking. The generosity and hospitality were unprecedented. Dance, music, and welcoming celebration resonate like a foretaste of our crossing over. The Lutheran church in the CAR shared with us the gifts of faith and friendship. The church offered prayers and praises, songs and music in celebration of our encounter and walking together.
Our journey has been exceptional. Our days were filled with concerns, joys and great theological reflections on accompaniment, companionship or simple thought on faith, Christian values, and Lutheran identity in the context of poverty, civil conflict, epidemics, hunger, and
village ed program
Through out the trip, four main principles have guided our path: (i) we are not in charge, God is; (ii) if we want to see any transformation and personnel growth from this challenge, we need to be open and stay flexible; (iii) and mission is not ours, it is God’s; (iv) we need to cross the challenge of "we and they" to embrace the inclusive language of us and we.
One amongst many highlights during this trip was the debriefing time with Pastor Deborah Troester, ELCA missionary in CAR. She brought great insight into the conversation. She helped us understand and interpret accompaniment in the context of a country thorn by war and civil conflict. One evening during our debriefing time that she facilitated, she took accompaniment out of the box in response to one of my comments which is also a question of the Nigerian Lutheran Theologian when I asked: " who is Jesus in the story on the road of Emmaus". She responded by saying: "Jesus will still be Jesus". She added: "In the accompaniment relationship none of the companions is Jesus. We are all friends, brothers and sisters on a journey. Often we hold
hands and push one another’s button. We also agonize, die, and resurrect together. It is a long journey of fear, misunderstanding, joy, and celebration. We walk together with the simple understanding that Jesus is watching over our missteps, shortcomings, but keep us centered on the cross”.
With humility and grace, we lived through the challenge to recount the tales and the faith stories. But the trip would have not been possible without the support of our many companions, friends and colleagues in Cameroon and CAR. God’s peace is upon you! We visited and met with the people of Bouar, Gallo, and Baboua.
Finally, God’s sense of humor is contagious! We have decided to travel trough Cameroon, the neighboring country, to minimize security risk on traveling long distance on unsafe roads due to banditries and rebel activities in the Central African Republic. The irony was that CAR turns out to be safer than Cameroon. We were almost stranded in Yaoundé caught in the middle of the civil disobedience in the country on our departure day.
To my dear friends: Carolyn, Dianne, Marlene, Nola, Ron, and Steve: Chapeau. You are great! I’ve conducted and coordinated many trips in the
On the road
Jim securing the load
past but this one was absolutely spirit filled, socially engaged, politically enlighten, and exceptionally stressful due to the insecurity issues and the riot in Cameroon on our way out. However, the participants have been exceptional. You made it so easy for me. God’s grace is upon. You are my saints.
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