We would like to share about our World Team vision trip to Cameroon, Africa. We have posted other photos from our trip here.
We went to Cameroon February 11-27th, 2013. We were in Bamenda for 2 days, Big Bekondo for 7 and Kumba for 3…it all adds up if you count travel time. (map of the southwest area of Cameroon, which is where the English speaking area is, the rest of the country speaks French)
After 2 days of travel (with our 3 month old baby Talia), we arrived on Weds night into the Douala airport. The heat and humidity enveloped us like a warm hug (or like a “bear hug” as Nathan says) as we stepped off the plane. The Brussels airport, with its colorful lights and duty-free shops and seemingly endless corridors and escalators, had reminded me of a pretty, carnivorous plant-like maze; the Douala airport seemed grungy (ie, tiles missing from the floor) and chaotic in comparison. We had gotten a Facebook message the night before in Brussels that our contact had changed to Vincent, who would meet us at the airport, and Serge from one of the airlines might be able to help us get to Vincent. When we made it through customs on the way to baggage claim, we were mobbed by the eagerly helpful porters for hire…some of whom were overly eager. What a relief to be met by Serge, who shooed the porters away and got our bags for us, then directed us to where we could meet Vincent (who had been waving at us from the 2nd floor mezzanine). We loaded up and after a quick bakery stop for dinner food, settled into our very nice room at the Douala Baptist rest house. The next day we made it to Bamenda by the early afternoon, where we joined the homeschooling missions crowd during the last two days of their bi-annual 2 weeks of teaching get-together. This is where we met the other World Team missionaries who are homeschooling their children, and some other homeschooling missionary families. After a surfeit of strangeness, the homeschool conference was like a welcome reprieve as we were surrounded by like-minded (really neat, actually!) folks who are living the life we are aspiring to. The constant smell of burning trash, the haze of the smoke and dust of the end of the dry season, the endless unfamiliar faces, the shock of AFRICA, all faded into an acceptable background roar…
It was in Bamenda that we were first able to make contact with the other people we had travelled half-way around the world to meet. World Team is partnered with the Cameroon Baptist Convention, and so our first meeting was with the CBC head of missions. As Nathan is aspiring to teach at a CBC seminary, it was an important meeting since the educational wing of the CBC is under the missions head. Thankfully, we were given the “hand of welcome” and invited to continue discussions with the Kumba seminary. There is also a larger CBC seminary in Ndu, and we were open to considering serving there as well, but only had time to visit the Kumba seminary. After a wonderful 2 days of fellowship, we headed down from Bamenda to Big Bekondo with the Friesens, who were our WT hosts for the trip. They have been serving in Bible translation with the Oroko tribe in Big Bekondo for 15 years. On a side note, Cameroon has over 270 tribal languages and is one of the most dense places left in the world where Bible translation is a real need; the Oroko language was purely oral until the Friesens and their teammates the Scotts worked out a written system. Now almost half of the New Testament is translated into Oroko! A neat use of technology: Dan Friesen was able to send the audio file of the Oroko translation of Jonah via cell phones (in person) to many Oroko leaders at a regional meeting just before meeting us in Bamenda!
Back to our trip. We would be the only WT personnel working within the educational system of Cameroon if we ended up coming as missionaries, so our vision trip looked different than most others. Even so, we stayed in the village of Big Bekondo for the majority of our trip. Our first Sunday we worshipped with the Oroko people. Tuesday, Nathan and Dan headed into Kumba, about a 45 minute drive during the dry season, so that Nathan could attend classes at the seminary and meet various people. The trip went very well, except that wearing a tie gave Nathan heat rash around his neck! Talia and I stayed in the village. I found spending the week in one place to be just exactly what I needed. Talia did as well as a 3 month old baby can do, getting plunked into equatorial Africa while not feeling great from taking anti-malarials, but she still found it difficult to travel much. I have always, in every place I have visited (and the list is fairly long), preferred to get to know the people living there and taste life as it is…I am not the “a new tourist trap every 2 days” kind of girl.
The village. It’s more like a town in size, but felt like a village, especially as we were on the outskirts. Goats and chickens and children everywhere. I tried not to act terribly much like a gawking tourist, but we were so out of place…hearing “white man, white man!” everywhere we went…and then I discovered that the people actually _wanted_ me to take their photos! We had some great meetings with local lay leaders while there, and were able to taste life as the Friesens live it which is not too different from life in “town” (Kumba). We were spoiled rotten by their cook! Fresh pineapples, buns, chips, oh my!
But, all good things must come to an end, and the end of our week quickly came. To give us a better idea of what living in Kumba might be like, the Friesens took us into town the weekend before leaving and we all stayed with a Lutheran couple at their compound. We also visited a Swiss couple who were teaching at the Presbyterian seminary. Kumba is likened to the “wild west” and we expected it to seem wild, but after a week in the village we found that my prayer had been answered: God had given us eyes to see things as they were, not as a blinding disorienting kaleidoscope of stimuli. Instead of masses of strangers, we saw mothers, kids, shop owners, gas attendants…in other words, normal life being lived by normal people. Here’s a shot from a gas station:
We came to Cameroon because when we felt God calling us into teaching and missions, about 5 years ago, we knew that we wanted to go where the need is great for Biblical teaching. We wanted to serve an already existing national church by providing free (for them, of course we would need to raise support) theological support staff. We had narrowed our focus to either Asia or Africa, and after our RACE assessment with World Team, felt drawn to the Cameroon field. While actually in Cameroon, we were made aware that “You Are Welcome” – the greeting we heard over and over – is genuine and the need is real. The Kumba seminary we came to visit is short of staff and current professors are carrying very heavy loads. The Cameroon church is established but struggles with some issues. Our Big Bekondo pastor is trying to pastor 8 churches! There is no doubt that Nathan could be of use there both at the seminary and doing lay leadership seminar training; now it came down to the question, “Can we live here? Can we move our 5 children here and raise them as third-cuture kids?” We heard the news of the French family’s kidnapping in the north of Cameroon by Nigerian muslim militants, while we were there, almost as a warning (the family has yet to be released or found yet, weeks later). One of the words that comes easily to my lips when asked about our trip now is “sobering” – we feel that we saw the real difficulties and dangers of choosing to come to Cameroon as missionaries.
Yet that is not the entire story, nor even half of it. Cameroon is gorgeous. I love the tropics, so it isn’t hard for me to gush about fresh tropical fruits, warmth, opportunities and beauty. We would be working in Africa, where our hearts have led us, yet able to speak English. The people we met, even those who appeared stern at first, all gave us a uniform impression of welcome and friendliness. The teammates we would be working with, Cameroonian and other nationalities, all gave us the impression that it would be an honor to work with them (please don’t take my lack of names or specific mention of anyone as a slight; I have a high sense of privacy online and so I do not want to make public mention of others here without permission).
In the end, this picture feels like our answer. Cameroon is like the beautiful plant in the background; gorgeous but with thorns. Yet while working and living there might be hard, like the volcanic rock in my hand, the promise of the reward of following God where He is leading us is like the lily, growing out of rich volcanic soil…and that is why we have chosen to go to Cameroon as missionaries with World Team.