This is the puzzling question that I often get from friends and partners in ministry. My closest friends who know me as a rational individual, a passionate development practitioner, and an advocate for global justice would put it bluntly this way: “we know that you are an ELCA missionary in West Africa; so what exactly you do?” We understood what you did in the past but we are at lost with “this fostering relationship”.
I don't do... I walk with people. We live in an era of changing role for missionaries where lay people like me is being called and sent by the church to serve in various capacities. My church is very active in mission work, in teaching, preaching, and healing ministries for sake of the Gospel. The makeup of our involvement has changed. Missionaries are becoming life-long learners, bridge builders and facilitators instead of doers. I do work as a bridge to foster relationship of my church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with the companion churches in the Western and Central Africa. My role is to pause in order to listen and to accompany when I am invited.
For my dear friends, fostering relationship sounds like
Nyiwe, Goyek and Golike
Leaders of the 3 Lutheran churches in Cameroon and CAR.
a fancy word that hides the real deal. Or this word is too inclusive and broad that it does not translate the meaning of efficiency and effectiveness that are expected in the work environment, or does not convey the measurable or provides the benchmarking and landscape that we are familiar with in the western culture. Our theology of time and efficiency has little room for evasiveness and unwritten rules. To tell you frankly, my friends, I am often lost and entrapped in that logic.
However, I understood when I joined Global Mission Unit of the ELCA three years ago that I am invited into a relationship that is shaped by the cross and the redeeming grace of God. In this relationship, I am not called to be the doer; I am rather invited to walk on the modern road of Emmaus with my brothers and sisters in the region. I am invited to struggle and thrive; to cross-over but to come back; to share and receive a glimpse of the theology of life and relationship that the African churches want to gracefully share with us and the rest of the world.
I am also invited into a celebration
of friendship where I had to live my diplomas, fames, egos, and my perceived superiority (because I represent a big and a rich church in a powerful country) at the door. I am called to celebrate God’s infinite grace through relationship. In the Western and Central African contexts, accompaniment shines beautifully and takes new meaning:
“Accompaniment is more than an exclusive contract between two or more companion churches. It is a walking together in Jesus Christ of two or more churches in companionship and in service in God’s mission. In the walking together on the road to Emmaus, the Lord reveals himself to his companions. While walking together, each of the two disciples’ and Jesus’ stories become interlocked. Their three stories become intertwined. As the stories come together, God’s plan in Jesus’ resurrection becomes clearer. A new community, the church, begins to emerge in Jerusalem. In sharing a meal the companions recognize the presence of Jesus with them.
Accompaniment emphasizes relationship before resources. Development of programs and allocation of resources flow from how companions relate, rather than vice versa. Accompaniment is valued for its own sake as well as for its results. It is open-ended with no foregone
conclusions. The companions learn together in the journey. Accompaniment binds companions more closely to their Lord and further informs their mission”. (Extract from Global Mission in 21st Century, page 6-7)
As in any relationship, I discovered that I was also called to mourn and weep. I realized that Global Mission Staff did not want to scare me away. Like the prophet Nehemiah: when I hear and see that the people of Central African Republic, Liberia, Chad, Sudan and Sierra Leone are in great distress, their countries are ravaged by war, genocide, and mass killings , I also “sat down and wept. For days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven” (see Nehemiah 1: 1-4). The learning first hand about these situations which include the atrocities of warfare, the challenges of healing and rebuilding gives me a personal accountability for the need of justice, peace, reconciliation, and reconstruction of these countries and the life of these peoples. Meeting that need is a shared responsibility with friends, family member, my home congregation, my synod, my sponsors, partners in ministry and the ELCA as a whole.
In fostering relationship, I realize that I need also to understand
the true notion spatial environment and cling to my faith foundation as my holy ground. Getting to know the communities that I live in and interacting with people from different background and faith experiences have been a great blessings to me. In the Muslim context, hold fast to your faith is source of great respect. By holding to your Christian faith and values, you would earn the right for a franc dialogue with the moderate and strong Muslims scholars. This learning has provided impetus and mutual respect in my encounters with Muslim clerics. During these encounters with Muslim scholars and Theologians in Nigeria and Senegal, I’ve learned I am not the only depository of God’s grace and also that God doesn’t live in a box. In Senegal, God is in the middle of the street with the sheep, goats, and the cows. In Nigeria and Cameroon, God has given us permission to pray on the deck of the boat, in the middle of the street, in the middle of the market place, in the middle of the university ground, under the sun, in the shade, in the sand, with camel and dromedary. These words that I read in the GM21
have profound meaning when they are placed in the Muslim context of Nigeria and Senegal. It read: “Humanity, male and female, is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and is intended to live in community with God and one another and in relationship to the whole creation. Each human being is of infinite worth and is to be honored and respected as a bearer of the image of God. As bearers of this image, humanity is called to participate in God’s creative and life-sustaining work. Every human heart bears the imprint of the law and wisdom of God (Romans 2:15) and all people are called to protect and preserve creation. God’s life-endowed creation is marred and destroyed by human irresponsibility and rebelliousness, and by the powers of sin, evil, and death. Yet God continues to accompany, renew and liberate the creation that groans in its bondage to decay. God reclaims us for life-giving relationships with God, each other, and all creation. God works in the hearts of all people, preparing them for the Good News of God’s re-creation of life in Jesus Christ who “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians:1.15).” Because
of these encounters and relationships, I will never be the same. I aspire to become a better Christian.
You probably still don’t understand what I really do. You are probably more confused. Yes, I walk with Christians and Muslims alike. In that walk, I represent my church, the ELCA, in this life-giving relationship with the African companion churches. In the face and tragedy of human sufferings with hunger, health crisis like HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and political violence I am often helpless. I stumble and strive, but I remain hopeful in the Lord. Very often I receive tremendous gifts of friendship and love. I had the privilege to experiencing hospitality and witnessing God’s presence through the faith of many people. Once in a while, I am invited to share my faith and my God’s given gifts in planning, management, financial analysis, critical thinking, and program design which I do with great passion and respect for the companion church and the country.
Are you still confused? Let take it simple: fostering relationship in this region is braving the odds of travel and walking in love and mutual respect with companions in Central African Republic, Cameroon, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and
President Nyuwe and Rev. Fruisou
Worship Service in Garoua, Cameroon
Sierra Leone knowing that mission is not ours but God’s.
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