Sunday, August 29, 2004

Going To Bethlehem

We accompanied Bill and Grace to Bethlehem UMC in Yaounde, located in a storefront on a crowded street, just a block or two down from a national prison. Outside the prison, snaked a long line of women holding sacks of food. Bill explained that prisoners are not fed while incarcerated; family members must care for the needs of their own while imprisoned. For this reason, Bill said he also thought this was a good location for a Methodist church!

Pastor Rosalee, the country’s only female Methodist pastor, welcomed us into the building, while a choir of eight young people warmed up in the porch area.

We were given printed orders of worship, with a familiar red and black cross and flame on the front. The service, conducted in French, was similar to American Methodist worship, except for two things. First, there is a portion of the service which is uniquely African, in which the worship leader leads the congregation in a high-spirited, free-form sort of call-and-response praise time. It’s quite a joy to see this first-hand when it’s happening at top-speed – hands clapping, voices shouted, lots of “Hallelujahs” and “Amens,” smiles all around.

Second, African offertories are extremely participatory! There are no plates, passed by stiffly-smiling ushers. People have to bring their gifts up front and place them in the basket at the altar!

Pastor Rosalee’s sermon was a stirring call to humility, and the need for Christians to “humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord.” Her text was Jesus’ sayings in Luke 14, when he recommended that his followers sit at the lower seats when invited to banquets; “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” All this seemed a bit disconcerting, since I myself was sitting in the seat of honor, at the front of the sanctuary space!

I could tell that she was a strong pastoral presence, and a good preacher. Unfortunately, Grace translated her sermon into English for the Magruder family, which caused Pastor Rosalee’s cadence to be broken and stilted unnaturally. She has the heart of a nurturing pastor, though, and I look forward to getting to know her and her husband, Jean Claude.

The Warnocks then treated us to lunch at the Hilton in downtown Yaounde. We took advantage of the time and laughed together. They are fast becoming good friends, which is important considering how dependent we are upon them at this point.

The rest of the day was a wash – I have come down with some sort of sinus infection (from the plane, I suspect), and feel lousy. So I slept most of the rest of the day.