Sunday, January 21, 2007

Finding a Church for Missionary Kids

This morning, I preached to an unusual congregation … the International Christian Church of Yaounde (ICCY). It’s an interdenominational fellowship that meets in a second-floor conference room at the Hilton in downtown. We know most of the people at the church from Rachel’s school and the rest of the SIL community.

When one of the elders discovered I was a preacher, they asked if I would occasionally come and preach. This Sunday was open, so I agreed to come and preach, sans interpreter! I loved the experience -- it’s a nice break to be able to preach to people who share the same cultural references.

The ICCY also happens to be the church that the girls usually attend on Sunday mornings, which brings up an interesting dilemma that many missionaries face – where to attend church!

Yes, we live in Cameroon, and our mission is to support, build up, and even start, United Methodist congregations in the country. We are missionaries to, and with, the people of Cameroon.

For the first several months in-country, we dragged the children along with us to our various United Methodist churches, in and out of the city. But they began to resist – and resent – the church experience. After all, going to church in Africa is a radically different event than in the States. The services can be extremely long; they are always in a foreign language; the weather can be unpleasantly hot and sticky; and children with blond hair become the focus of a lot of attention!

We talked to other missionaries about our dilemma, and they reported the same problem with their own children. We knew we would have to find one church to attend on a regular basis. But which church? Our Yaounde-area Methodist church, which was strictly French-speaking, and which the children found extremely uncomfortable? Or something else?

One other option was the international, English-language church at the Hilton.

We resisted this option for awhile, since it felt like we would be betraying the very people we had come to serve. Why would we want to separate ourselves on Sunday mornings from the people we had come to serve?

But over time, we could tell that the children were learning to hate church. They began to cry and complain, no matter where we took them. It became quite a struggle to get them into the car!

So we made the decision to try the Hilton. It was an instant success. The kids loved their Sunday School classes, got to make new friends, and hear and sing some of their favorite praise and worship songs.

Ever since we discovered the Hilton church, we go our separate ways on Sundays. I head to a United Methodist church, where I preach or serve Communion, while Leah and the girls head across town to the Hilton.

For now, it is the best way for our family to make sure that our kids are growing spiritually and finding Christian fellowship, even though it still seems a bit odd. But our prayer and hope is, that as our churches grow and mature, our family will find its place in one of our own United Methodist churches, so that we can be as supportive and helpful as possible.