Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sunday blessings

I typed this up May 20th to describe the events of my day. Sometimes I forget how different my daily activities are compared to what I would do in the U.S.

As has happened often these days, there was no running water when I woke up at 7 this morning. To get a hot shower, I would have needed to get up an hour earlier, and taking a warm bucket bath wasn’t enough hardship for me to sacrifice some precious weekend shut-eye. I spent a few minutes reading through Romans while my kettle heated my bathwater, then got ready for the day, dressing carefully in a new brightly patterned top and skirt, tying a magenta headscarf over my braided hair. Breakfast was a fried egg on a wheat roll with black coffee. Just as I finished my preparations, my colleague and upstairs neighbor Ellen knocked on my door. I slipped on my shoes and we struck out for church, meeting up with another colleague.

After twenty minutes of brisk walking on dirt, gravel, and paved roads, we arrived a few minutes late for the nine am service. We easily found seats on the woods benches, with Cameroonians in front and behind us, singing and dancing to God. It only took a minute to find the rhythm so I could clap and dance along; the words were a bit harder. A hundred voices with percussion have an incredible sound, but it can obscure the individual syllables, especially when we sing in Cameroonian Pidgin or in French. After several upbeat praise songs, the worship leader paused and moved into a slower chorus, still in French. We sang one of my favorites, “You are the Most High,” in both English and French. The service continued with announcements, Scripture reading, pastoral prayer, and the sermon.

Ellen, Kristi, and I hung around after church to greet some people, including two women, Mercy and Patience, who have been partners in the children’s ministry for the last year. Patience greeted me warmly and asked if I’d like some boiled corn, recently picked from the farm of another sister at the church. I accepted, biting the fresh kernels off the cob on the hot, sunny walk home. Arriving, I unlocked my door, exhaling with relief as I stepped into my cool, tiled apartment. After a change of clothes, a frozen mango smoothie, and a few minutes with a Spanish Kindle book, I felt cool enough to make some pasta for lunch. I hate eating alone, so I grabbed my bowl and starting wandering through my apartment building, stopping at the door of a nurse-in-French-study named Lynette. She offered me a glass of water and some deep conversation about culture and identity to accompany my meal. After an hour-long chat, I finally made myself go wash dishes in preparation for my visitors, the children of a friend from church.

I had asked them to come “around 3,” so I wasn’t too panicked that I was starting to wash dishes at 2:55. As expected, they arrived at quarter to four, when I had finished the dishes and was halfway through cooking a pot of rice with beef and herbs for my guests. Emmanuel, who is about 8 years old, slipped off his shoes and walked right past me, so I turned to him in joking offense to say “You’re not going to greet me?” His sister Jennie, who is 12, responded by giving me one hug, then another to make up for Emmanuel’s forgetfulness, which was followed by a warm hug by Marvelous, age 6, and another from penitent Emmanuel. They plopped into chairs and I brought out cold water and peanuts for a quick snack. Today was special because I had a movie for them; my dad purchased “An American Tail” for me while I was in Michigan, and I’ve been wanting to watch it with some Cameroonian friends for a few months now. The two older children locked into the plot almost immediately; when Fievel fell overboard, Emmanuel wrinkled his brow in concern and cried plaintively “What’s going to happen?” They were content that Fievel found his family by the end, and then asked to watch it in French, then in Spanish, so I played clips in both languages. I served up rice while they watched, hoping to fill them up for a little while to give their mother a reprieve from the appetites of growing children.

After the movie, Marvelous insisted that we go swing at the apartment complex next door, and as I was putting on my shoes, Emmanuel looked up at my with big, earnest eyes and said “Please for plastic,” which in Cameroonian English means “Please, can I have a plastic bag?” I asked why he needed them, and he replied that he wanted to look for snails. My compound is home to several dozen snails the width of my hand, and a girl that’s staying with Emmanuel’s family knows how to wash and cook them. They always want to search the damp drainage ditches near my apartment for this extra protein, especially now that money is tight. A half dozen snails fell prey to the hunt and were carried off to the swingset in the plastic bag. Seated on a swing, Marvelous called out for me to push her, so I did, with her urging me on “No, powerful!”

As the day waned, I remembered that I can’t drive here and it’s hard to get taxis on Sunday evenings. I asked the children to follow me out to the road so I could make sure they got home before dark. While we were waiting for a taxi to come, the clouds darkened and a few cool drops fell, a foreboding sign in a land of tropical rains. The first few taxis refused them and the drops came faster, reminding me that my braided hair isn’t supposed to get wet. Soon a taxi picked up the children and I bolted across the street and up the road to my apartment, clamping my teeth down on flying grit. I brushed the sand off my face, amused, and served myself some leftover rice for dinner. After eating, it was nearly time to Skype with my mom and then my sister, receiving news from home to end the day, satisfied.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ice cream and foot washing

The Cameroon branch had a conference and retreat a couple weeks ago. One of my favorite parts was hearing members' three-minute shares, short stories or testimonies about everything under the sun. I thought you might also want to hear mine, so here it is:

John 13: 1 says “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” The story goes on to say, that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.

On the last evening before I came to Cameroon, my little brother turned to me and said “Let’s go out for ice cream.” When I told him I would go get my wallet, he surprised me by saying, “No, I’ll pay.” You see, my brother didn’t throw around his money. He was an accounting student for good reason. When he said “I’ll pay,” I knew that he wanted to do something special for me. We went out and shared the sweetest bowl of ice cream I will ever eat. The next day, I got on a plane to Yaoundé. I never saw him again. He died in December. But I will always savor the taste of that small act of love.

In turn, I’d like to share a small act of love with all of you. “Let’s go out for ice cream. I’ll pay.”

Then, taking the concept of "sharing" literally, a few friends of mine passed out small packets of ice cream that I had prepared for the 100+ people in the room.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Home and the Heartland

I've joined the RFIS choir this semester, and this week we had a journal assignment about one of our songs, entitled "Home and Heartland." I wrote the following:

As I was preparing to move to Cameroon, one of my trainers told us he was about to ask something very difficult of us. At his instructions, we stood, closed our eyes, and pictured “home.” My mind flew over several state borders and back in time, and I gazed up at an orange mesh bag encasing several yellow onions and a head of garlic. I knew the location well—on top of my family’s refrigerator, illuminated by the warm electric light in my mother’s kitchen. A second image came crowded with a smell, the raw onion scent wafting out of a minivan as my mother picked me up from school. Suddenly tears came to my eyes, not the stinging drops that find me when I slice the flavorful white roots, but an aching sadness that poured out as I knew I was leaving the place I had called home for most of my life.

I am not a third culture kid. My answer to the question “Where are you from?” is simply “Michigan.” I lived for my first eighteen years in the same city. We moved one time, only a couple neighborhoods over. I attended the same school district from kindergarten until my high school graduation. At the age of eighteen, I left for Michigan State University, where I discovered a new kind of home. Living in the dormitories was quite the adjustment, but my twin sister was there, and sharing the first-year transition with her helped a lot. I went through some hard semesters, especially when my sister and I first lived in separate buildings, but the longer I stayed, the more Michigan State felt like home. By my last year, as I walked around campus, I invariably greeted people that I knew from classes, my college ministry, international events, or dormitories I had lived in. My heart felt like the hub of a wheel, connected to other hearts by conversations, shared meals, and common interests.

When I graduated, I had to move back to what I now considered “my family’s house.” While the setting was familiar, I had lost most of my connections there because of my long absence. During the year that I lived there, I tried to build these up again, even knowing that I hoped to leave after, to work internationally. Still, it was a lonely time, working almost constantly at my teaching internship and missing the kindred spirits I had come to love on my university campus.

And then I came to Cameroon. Nobody here knew me before I arrived. The cushion afforded by going to university with my twin sister, or returning “home” to live with my parents was gone. Praise God that the community was full of compassionate people. Both Westerners and Cameroonians took me in, little by little, teaching me a French phrase here and there, sharing unfamiliar foods with me, bringing me into their homes, showing me their favorite hangout spots. I took to greeting the women along my road, to trying to bring a smile to my students’ faces, until slowly, gradually, my heart started to feel like a hub again, snugly connected to the people around me. When my aunt recently asked me if I was looking forward to coming home at the end of my term, my response was guarded. “Yes, I’ll be happy to see the people I love in Michigan. But it will also be hard to leave because I’ve grown to love so many people here in Cameroon.”

Another song says “If my heart was a house, you’d be home.” Maybe it is that simple. What if home has very little to do with geography, food, or language? What if we are home whenever our hearts connect to those around us? Can we not say to those we love “Your heart is my house; I am home.”?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sad News

Journal Entry 12-16-11 For 22 years we had him. My only brother, my parents’ only son. He loved me in his own way, teasing, searching for music, sharing his thoughts. The last night I saw him, he took me out for ice cream. And then we had breakfast, the four of us, mom, dad, Josh, and me, and I got on a plane and left. And when I go back there will be no ice cream, no unicycling or juggling, no little-known music.

Oh Josh, I miss you. Maybe I didn’t write often or talk to you often, but I thought of you. Told people about you. I was proud of you, just for being who you are, my funny but responsible brother.

I don't understand. Well, a little. The feeling that you’re not going to make it, and that there’s no reason to fight anymore. That it would be better to be at rest with Jesus. But we would have done anything. If you had just asked, I would have come home. But you wouldn’t ask that. Didn’t want to be a burden, thought maybe we were too busy. I’m sorry if you thought that. I thought it about you. Didn’t want to be a pesky older sister, always trying to talk to her younger brother.

Oh Jesus, help us! He’s with you now. Please comfort us, since he’s not with us anymore.

For 22 years, I had a brother, here, on this earth. I have him still, but I won’t see him for a while. Just a little while. Please, make it fly.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

You are Daddy

This is one of my favorite Cameroonian worship songs. We sing it in French, so I've provided a translation. If you'd like to hear it, send me an e-mail and I can attach a recording of myself singing it. Dieu d'amour, Tu es Papa. Le Tout-Puissant est Papa. Le créateur est mon Père. Dieu d'amour, Tu es Papa. Mon Dieu je t'aime. (3x) Tu es mon Papa. God of love, You are Daddy. The Almighty is Daddy. The creator is my Father. God of love, You are Daddy. My God I love you (3x) You are my Daddy.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why manna's only good today

Every week before our staff meeting, we have devotions. This week, one of my colleagues shared a blog post from one of his favorite Christian singers. You can read it here. The post is about God's provision of manna for the Israelites. Every day, he sent food for them, and they just had to gather it. They had strict instructions to only gather enough for that day--just their "daily bread" (except for the day before the Sabbath, when they gathered for two days). Despite that warning, the Israelites sometimes tried to gather extra. Just in case. Perhaps they thought that God was generous and trustworthy that day, but maybe he wouldn't be tomorrow. The problem was, manna wasn't just manna, and their reactions weren't only a sign of physical need. What they did with what God gave them showed their underlying beliefs about God. Gathering enough for one day showed they believed God was an everyday God, the Father who would cared for the sparrows and would certainly feed them. Gathering ahead warned of a belief that God was capricious, changeable. Ironically, when they tried to gather ahead, the manna rotted the second day--so much for trying to out-plan God. God doesn't give me literal manna. I have to send my househelp to market for the delicious starches here--plantain, sweet potatoes, rice, potatoes. But he does provide for me through the partnership of my brothers and sisters back home, who support me financially. Even though I know that, I'm not that different from the Israelites. Sometimes I realize how few things I actually own. I live in a furnished, rented apartment. Even most of my kitchen tools are rented. I don't have a house or a car. This makes me more mobile, more willing and able to accept ministry positions anywhere in the world. But sometimes it's also unsettling. Bingo. That's what makes me a sister to the Israelites. Like them, I have a tendency to rely on created things rather than the Creator. To trust in my cattle, rather than the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills. To think that through my work, perhaps I can sustain myself, even store up a bit for the future. Not that it's bad to plan or to save. But God says to seek first his kingdom, and the things that we need will be added to us. Please pray for me, that my heart would seek the kingdom of God and trust him to provide my daily bread.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hello baby Nina!

This little girl, Essama Crossley Ann Nina, was just born to two of my best Cameroonian friends, Essama Alain Didier and his wife Chimaine. During her last two months of pregnancy, the doctors put Chimaine on bed rest, so many people prayed fervently for a safe delivery. Our prayers were answered on Tuesday, and this beautiful baby arrived. Yesterday I visited her and was amazed at her tiny perfection. She and her mother will come home on Monday. Thank you to everyone who prayed for her and her mother. Please continue praying that God will bless this family with his love and provision.