Monday, October 29, 2007

Opening Gateway, Part Four

Simbok is a new neighborhood in Yaounde, which is one of the reasons why Simeon and I thought it’d be a great place to start a new congregation. You might even call it the leading edge of urban growth. New houses are being built in every direction from the church.

But new housing developments also have their drawbacks. For one, nothing in Simbok is paved yet. Even when it’s dry, driving to Gateway UMC is an adventure. Four-wheel drive is not a necessity, but almost.

There are other problems in Simbok, too; the electric company hasn’t exactly figured out how to keep the lights on 24/7. We have a generator in the back room, but it is temperamental.

I arrived at the church an hour and a half early on Sunday morning. It had rained throughout the early morning hours, and I expected our grand opening to be … sloppy. And it was!

Sure enough, the power was off, and we couldn’t get the generator started. But a crowd was gathering.

Simeon’s feelings were torn. He desperately wanted to be able to show off the new microphones and soundboard we’d purchased for the church – he wanted things to be loud!! But he was also determined not to start the service too late.

So at five minutes after ten, two guitarists and two worship leaders started singing choruses in the sanctuary. After a few songs, four of us (Simeon, myself, Rev. John Thornburg and Pastor Solomon Mbwoge) processed down the middle aisle and took our places. (John and Solomon are in town for a meeting of the hymnal editorial team – more on that later!)

Simeon was the liturgist for the service, with help from John and Solomon for various other pieces of the service. We heard a beautiful version of “Jesus is the Answer for the World Today” in French from one of Simeon’s seminary classmates.

I preached from the second chapter of Joel. I spoke about the beauty of “new things” and the fact that Jesus Christ is in the business of making all things new, now and forever.

And following the service, we did the most “Methodist” of things … we ate together! Simeon’s wife, Therese, oversaw the meal of chicken, fish, ndole, sanga, bread, baton, plantains and sweet cake.

Other observations from the morning:

… Pastor Solomon leads our congregation in Kumba. He was asked to pray before the scripture readings, and he gave an interesting twist to the story of Wesley’s Aldersgate conversion. In the middle of his prayer, Solomon said, “God, give to us the experience that John Wesley had when he heard your Word proclaimed and felt his heart cooled…” Of course, Wesley claims to have had a “strangely warmed” heart, not a cooled one, but then again, Wesley didn’t live in a warm climate!

I never was able to get an official attendance count, because people were still entering the building as we were singing our final hymn! But midway through the service, I counted over 60 people.

… More important than the number of people present was the spirit in the room. The service was upbeat, friendly, and -- sorry, Solomon! – warm.

… I still don’t know if this will be an English-speaking or French-speaking congregation. We translated everything into both languages on Sunday, just to cover our bases. But in the future, it will be interesting to see what kind of people gather on a regular basis. My experience in Cameroon thus far indicates that it is very difficult to incorporate Francophone and Anglophone Cameroonians into the same church; it appears to be better to offer two separate worship services.