Sunday, February 26, 2006

Making Ashu's Day

Timothy Ashu is a lanky, energetic, fifty-something year old man who lives in a village called Kembong, which is only few kilometers from the Nigerian border in the Southwest Province. For the last year or so, he’s been holding worship services on Sunday mornings in the front sitting room of a tiny house on the main street.

He’s not an “authorized” pastor, but he calls his fellowship a “United Methodist” church. Every once in a while, he sits down and writes me a lengthy letter, begging me to come visit him and give my blessing to his efforts. I’ve seen his letters, but I had no idea who he was or what he was trying to do.

His small church had grown as large as fifty people, but over time, they drifted away. As he put it, they simply didn’t believe that he was a part of any “official” church. He kept telling them, “We have a missionary in Yaounde,” but since the missionary never showed up in dusty Kembong, people didn’t pay him any mind.

Pastor Ashu just kept trying, and praying, and meeting.

It just turned out that I was near Kembong last week, while in the Southwest Province. My traveling companion, Pastor Solomon Mbwoge, knows Timothy Ashu personally. He turned to me and said, “You know, we ought to visit Pastor Ashu in Kembong. He’s been writing me letters begging us to visit.”

“He’s been writing you, too?” I said. “That settles it. We need to go see him.”

So on Saturday afternoon, we pulled into Kembong and started asking people on the street if they knew someone named Timothy who was a pastor and sold aloe vera soap (that’s what he does for a living!). Sure enough, we located him in his tiny two-room living quarters. He came bursting out of his house, leaping and jumping. He couldn’t believe I had come!

After he greeted us, he ran back into the house to get dressed. Then he took us on a grand tour of the village. He introduced us to everyone he knew, which was practically everyone … I shook hands with old men with glass eyes, young women with babies, little kids, even prayed with a family that was in the midst of a funeral ritual.

Timothy Ashu was positively aglow. He kept saying, “The church is going to grow now! The church is going to take off! Now everyone knows that I was telling the truth! I told them I had a missionary!”

As the sun began to set in Kembong, I bought a round of Cokes for Timothy, Solomon, and a few members of his small fellowship. Then Solomon and I hopped back into the Toyota for the drive back to Mamfe.

When we drove off, I remarked to Solomon that I didn’t think I’d ever seen such a happy man. He said, “He won’t be able to sleep tonight. He is expecting a large crowd at church tomorrow.”

I asked, “All because I came to visit?”

Solomon nodded. “Yes. They know he’s serious now.”

I still don’t know how to feel about that comment. Of course, it’s a little pathetic that it takes a visit from an American missionary to lend legitimacy to a church endeavor.

On the other hand, I made Timothy’s day. That’s a good feeling, and one that I won’t discard quickly and lightly.