Monday, November 15, 2004

Waking Up in Douala

I woke up in a small hotel room on Sunday morning. Light filtered into the room through orange curtains. It took me a few minutes to remember where I was … Have the last three months simply been a dream?

I stood up, walked to the window and threw back the curtain. Spread out before me was a dingy, gray seaside city. This was Douala, Cameroon’s main port. I stepped out onto the balcony from my fourth-floor room, but quickly stepped back in – the humidity took my breath away.

Douala is the second-largest city in the country; only Yaounde is larger. In terms of industrial and economic significance, Douala may be a more important city than Yaounde. In fact, we have four churches in Douala, one of which is English-speaking.

I had arrived in town the previous afternoon to lead my first Church Council meeting. First UMC Douala had recently lost their senior pastor, who left with his wife and family to take a teaching position at a Christian school in China. For the present, the assistant pastor, a young man named Victor Essama, has taken over pastoral duties. In our meeting, I reaffirmed this decision for the immediate future.

First UMC Douala is one of the strongest United Methodist churches in the entire country. For one, it has an active, solid Church Council, led by Ferdinand Boula, who is President of the Department of Transportation Employees Union. (An article written by Boula appears in the Sept/Oct 2004 issue of New World Outlook, the mission magazine of the General Board of Global Ministries.) There are also officers for Family Ministry, Youth Ministry, and Social Outreach.

What is most encouraging about this church is that it has a number of active ministries ongoing, led and spurred on by laypeople. For one thing, the church’s United Methodist Women’s group has purchased three sewing machines (with their own money!) in order to start sewing lessons for neighborhood women. The goal is to help these women become economically self-sufficient.

The church also recently bought a ping-pong table for their youth ministry. And they have a large box in the back of their building, in which they keep a small food and clothing pantry.
All this from a church of no more than 50 or 60 regular worshippers! All this from a church which collects an offering plate full of coins, not bills!

I stretched my arms and began my Sunday morning prayers. I had been asked to preach this morning. I dug out an old sermon, and rewrote it to fit the situation.

It was based on the sermon I’d preached at least 10 times during the summer, “The Last Door.” This sermon had been based on Acts 12, the escape of Peter from prison. In my sermon, I argued that the church had a mission to open doors of hope, joy, and love to those in need, in captivity, and in fear. I sensed that the people of First UMC Douala were ready to hear this message … indeed, they have already begun to live it.