Sunday, August 13, 2006

Horns on the Hillside

As I sit at my computer tonight, I am serenaded by the sound of … a brass band practicing somewhere in the valley behind the house.

It’s an odd sound, sort of the last thing one would expect to hear in West Africa. Drums, percussion, even the repetitive and addicting pop music from Congo -- those are the things I've come to expect to hear wafting in through the window. But at least twice a week, the sound of trumpets and tubas can be heard in Biyem-Assi, Yaounde.

I often have these moments in which I am overwhelmed by incongruous sights and sounds. For example, on top of a hill in the middle of Yaounde, sits the grand Palais de Congress, a white administrative, government complex. Sometimes I take the girls there on the weekend to ride their bikes.

But behind the Palais, there is a bright, multicolored ferris wheel. I’ve never seen it working. Yet there it is, in all its purple, pink and red glory. At some point, someone decided that the Palais de Congress needed a ferris wheel. And they got one. I have no idea why. Everytime I see it, I am reminded that I am "not in Kansas anymore."

And then there was the time I was traveling in the East Province. We stopped for lunch at a roadside market, and bought some cokes at a small bar. The loudspeakers in the bar were blaring the hits of Don Williams. While sitting there, my ears told me that I was in Oklahoma, but as I munched my plantains, my tongue reminded me that I was on a different planet.

Then it happened a few weeks ago, at our pastors’ training session. In between classes, I looked out at the ten pastors who were sitting in the room, and I thought to myself, “What in the world are we doing here? What right do we have to think that we are doing something worthwhile in the name of Jesus Christ?”

It suddenly hit me that we were trying to plant a forest, when all we have are a few hand shovels and a couple of tiny seeds. It seems humanly impossible, and just a little ridiculous.

Truly, this Mission is small potatoes compared to what other churches, other ministries, other organizations do. We have a handful of churches, which meet in a variety of broken-down, humble buildings. Our pastors don’t have seminary educations; they struggle to keep their families fed. And there’s a couple of missionaries here, who can’t even speak street French.

Every time I think about the vision which the Mission has, I shrink in embarrassment. We actually dare to think that we can “make disciples for Jesus Christ” here. We have the audacity to think that, like John Wesley, we can “reform the nation, and spread scriptural holiness across the land.”

That’s the way we talk, and think, and pray. We’re even making plans to branch out into new areas; the pastors are talking about doing evangelism in other parts of the country.

And I think to myself, “How in the world are we going to pull this off? Yeah, I believe in prayer, but this is miracle-working kind of stuff!”

It’s fairly ridiculous, if you think about it, kind of like the sound of a brass band blaring away in the middle of an African city. It seems a little out-of-place at first, but maybe one day, it’ll be a familiar -- and deafening! -- sound.