Friday, October 26, 2007

Opening Gateway, Part One

Pastor Simeon has been bugging me for over a year to start a new church. Last September, when I asked him to move to Yaounde to attend seminary, I told him that we would be able to open a new congregation in the building where our new office is located.

Simeon immediately was excited – he named it Gateway UMC, after a church we’d visited near Houston, Texas. He began making plans, assembling a music team, and thinking about what kind of equipment we needed.

But things dragged … the building took longer than expected to be finished, then I was out of the country during the summer.

We also didn’t quite agree on the proper strategy for a new church start. Simeon has the “if you build it, open it, and turn up the sound real loud, they will come’ attitude toward church starts.

I emphasized the importance of building a core team first. In fact, when I left for the States, I asked him to start gathering a prayer group once a week. Then I gave him a sheet of paper, numbered one to twelve and, “When you have filled this list with people who are committed to attending this church, then we’ll start.” Then I added the proviso, “And none of these people can be related to you or to me!”

By the time I had returned at the end of August, he had seventeen names on the list.

We finally set the official Gateway opening for this Sunday, October 28. But there are festivities scheduled for the entire weekend.

For example, we kicked off things on Thursday evening with a showing of the Jesus Film on the front lawn of the office building. Simeon has friends at Campus Crusade for Christ of Cameroon. For a tiny fee, they'll come to your location with their own generator, screen, loudspeakers, and 16mm movie projector and show the film.

I sat and watched the film with at least sixty people, all of whom were neighbors who had been attracted by the noise and excitement. Simeon and I arranged rows of plastic chairs for people to watch the film comfortably.

But there were at least another fifteen to twenty people who watched from the roadside. Even a few motorcycle taxis slowed down to watch!

A few observations while watching the Jesus Film:

… For several reasons, this kind of evangelistic event wouldn’t fly in most American neighborhoods, though it's a big hit in Cameroon. For one, the movie is badly dated and it’s not all that great. Let’s face it – the life of Jesus doesn’t quite stack up against Spiderman 3 or whatever else is showing at the local Cineplex. Second, the picture and sound quality of most American home entertainment systems is far superior to what we watched outdoors last night. Third, most people prefer watching in the privacy of their own living rooms, with easy access to the refrigerator and bathroom. And fourth, there was a bald evangelistic invitation at the end of the film. The invitation was not to attend church, nor was it to take a free book or gift – it was an invitation to repent and accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. And yes, five children came forward to do just that.

… During the three reel changes, one of the Campus Crusade presenters preached to the gathered crowd about the meaning of the life of Jesus for them. Of course, it was a standard evangelistic call, but I noticed that there was a great emphasis on the healing and deliverance miracles of Jesus. This prompted me to reflect on the fact that Africans resonate more with this part of the story of Jesus than do Americans. American evangelists focus on salvation from “sin,” but Africans emphasize Jesus’ power over sickness and demons.

… My favorite part of the evening came at the end of the film when a smiling, risen Jesus appears to his disciples. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause. I was filled with an unspeakable joy; clapping for Jesus in Cameroon … That’s what it’s all about for me!