Tuesday, December 26, 2006

We Are Together

One of my favorite expressions in Cameroon is, “We are together!” or, in French, “On est ensemble!”

This is used frequently after meeting someone for the first time. For example, I may meet a person on the street, who wants to know who I am and why I’m in Cameroon. After a short conversation and perhaps an exchange of phone numbers, as we prepare to part, the person will say, “We are together!”

It’s a way of saying, “We’re friends now, and if you need something, call me!” And, contrary to American practice of not promising anything to a stranger, it’s a true extension of hospitality. My cell phone is full of numbers of people whom I don’t know very well, but could call at a moment’s notice if I needed something. Occasionally, they even call me out of the blue, just to wish me a good day!

Ebede, my office assistant, tells me that the practice of hospitality is dying somewhat in Cameroon. He tells me that his father used to walk to Yaounde from a village hundreds of kilometers away. Along the way, as the father passed through villages close to dusk, he would be welcomed inside strangers’ homes for meals and overnight lodging.

This always makes me think of the Biblical stories, where hospitality crops up as a way of life, and as a foretaste of God’s kingdom. I remember Abraham welcoming the strangers outside his tent, and Laban offering Jacob a place to stay. When Jesus ate with sinners, and telling the story of the Good Samaritan, I think he was reminding us that God is essentially hospitable and kind.

Or, to put it another way, Jesus is saying, “We are together.”

This is a powerful theological statement. And during this holiday season, I am reminded that, thanks to the power of the Internet, I am together with you, too, wherever you might be in the world. Thanks for being with us, in prayer and in memory.

We are together.