Ceremonies and celebrations

July 27, 2017

It is almost the end of July already. How is that possible? Life and work have been extremely busy these last few months. I will start with work…

Another academic year has come to a close. They seem to go by faster and faster every year! At the end of May, graduation ceremonies were held for the students of the Institute’s special program to train evangelists to be pastors at the Bible school at Meng (250 km west of Meiganga). Thirty students (29 men and 1 woman) graduated from this program. They will now begin two years of internship under the supervision of an experienced pastor before being approved for ordination.


Graduates of the program at Meng

Our academic year at the Institute in Meiganga lasted a bit longer. After final exams, it was time once again for “soutenances” (oral defense of final papers and master’s theses). I was the director for the final papers of three students in our licence program and the thesis of one student in our master’s program, so the workload was pretty intense. I am happy to say that all of the students finished well.

Graduation ceremonies for the Institute were held Sunday, July 2. Nine students (8 men, 1 woman) graduated with the licence degree and one with a master’s degree. Three of the licence students and the master’s student were already ordained pastors who came back to the Institute for further study, so they are heading back to their ministries. The others will start two years of internship.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon held its bi-annual “Synode Général” (churchwide assembly) in late June in Poli, which is in the northwest region of Cameroon. Bishop Ruben Ngozo was elected to a second four-year term as national bishop, and Pastor Adolph Tellesam to a second term as assistant to the national bishop.


Beautiful landscape in the Poli region

My colleague Anne Langdji (ELCA Global Mission regional representative for West/Central Africa and Madagascar) and I attended the synod only for a day because of security concerns in the region. Even though the time was short, we were able to meet with the women pastors in the EELC (10 already ordained, plus one who will be ordained very soon). They are planning a spiritual retreat for women pastors, with generous aid from the Manitoba/Northern Ontario Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. It has only been five years now since the first women were ordained in the EELC, and like all pioneers, they face many challenges. So we are looking forward to a time of mutual encouragement at the retreat in January 2018.


Women pastors of the EELC

Three Elisabeths… and one Lelo
Last year (January 2016) I was honored when one of my students and his wife named their newborn girl after me. She is now 18 months old. She is in the photo below (top left), taken after our graduation ceremonies a few weeks ago, where her father was one of the graduates. Then in January of this year, the son and daughter-in-law of my cook and housekeeper, Marie, had a baby girl, and they too decided to name her Elisabeth. Here is the second baby Elisabeth with her parents (bottom left) and with me in April.

Then in May this year, another student and his wife named their baby girl – you guessed it – Elisabeth. They also asked me to be her godmother, which of course is a great honor. She was baptized on July 16. She is in the two photos below on the left with her parents and with me on her baptism day. I was equally honored to be asked to be the godmother of another little girl named Lelo, (pronounced lay-low), also the daughter of a student. She was born in July 2016 and baptized on Easter Sunday this year. Here is Lelo with her mother and sister and with me on the day of her baptism (two photos below right).

Having all of these little girls in my life is truly a blessing!

But wait, there’s more…..

Introducing Schekina, David, and Etienne

My husband Eric has a lovely, smart 14-year-old daughter named Schekina (photo below, left), whom I am officially adopting, and Eric and I are also adopting two little boys! Their names are David and Etienne. They are both orphans but not related to each other. Both were born in similar sad circumstances : in both cases, the mother died shortly after giving birth, and no father or other family member came to claim the baby, so they have been in foster care ever since. Eric knows the social worker assigned to their cases, and he has been visiting them both since they were babies. The adoption is already complete on the Cameroonian side, so now we begin the US process. We are hoping that will go smoothly.

In the photos below, Etienne is on the left and David on the right. It is difficult to get them both to look at the camera at the same time!

We are also hoping that the company Eric works for will transfer him very soon to Ngaoundéré (160 km from Meiganga), so that we will be much closer together and at least able to spend weekends together. We have postponed the church blessing of our marriage until December. At that time David and Etienne will also be baptized, so it will be a grand celebration! We thank God for bringing us together, and we are looking forward to forming a family with David, Etienne, and Schekina.

Thank you for checking in. I am always grateful for your prayers, especially in this time of major life transitions!

+ Grace and peace +

A brief addendum: On Sunday, July 30, I had the honor of participating in the ordination of one of our former students, Rachel Asta, who is now the 11th woman to be ordained as a pastor in the EELC.

Big news!

March 6, 2017

Once again, I am long overdue for an update and will need to catch up on several months of events. But first, the most important event in my personal life: on January 30, I got married! My husband’s name is Eric Toudze, he is Cameroonian, and we have known each other for over four years. We first met in Ngaoundéré, where I studied French my first year in Cameroon, but Eric lives and works in Yaoundé (the capital of Cameroon, about 680 km from Meiganga, where I live now), so we don’t get to see each other very often. We keep hoping that will change, but at Christmas time we made the decision to go ahead and get married, even if we can’t live in the same place right now.

A civil marriage ceremony is required to legalize a marriage in Cameroon, so we did that in January and are planning a church blessing ceremony in July. We had the civil service in a city south of Yaoundé called Ebolowa, where Eric’s cousin is an attorney and was able to help us with all the legal paperwork. The church blessing will be in Ngaoundéré, where Eric’s parents and many of his relatives live. Here are a couple photos from the civil ceremony.

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I spent Christmas in Ngaoundéré with Eric and his family. Leading up to Christmas, there were many Christmas programs and concerts here in Meiganga, both at the seminary and at the local congregation. For the past couple years, I have been working as a volunteer advisor for the Sunday school teachers of the French-speaking congregation. We have some very committed young adults who teach the Sunday school and work with the children in preparing their Christmas program. They do an amazing job! If my internet connection were better, I would add some video of their concert, but a couple photos will have to do.

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Back in October, I wrote about my dog, Lady, who died. There was definitely a void in the house without her, so in January I adopted a new puppy. Marie, my cook, gave him the name Gamo (Gah-mo), which means “peace” in the local Gbaya language, because she said he brought peace to our hearts after the loss of Lady. He is about 4 months old now and is growing very quickly. Here is a photo of him in early January, at about 2 months:


Many of you may know that soccer (what the rest of the world calls football) is huge in Africa. Every two years is the African Cup of Nations tournament. The women’s tournament was held here in Cameroon in November and December, and our Cameroonian women made it all the way to the finals. They lost 1-0 to Nigeria in the final match, but the country was very proud! Then in January, the men’s tournament started in Gabon. Much to everyone’s surprise, the Cameroonian men’s team also made it to the finals, and on February 5, they won 2-1 over Egypt! It had been many years since Cameroon had won the championship, and they had been beaten by Egypt several times, so it was truly an upset. The whole country was in a pandemonium of celebration.

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Cameroonian women’s team (les “Lionnes”) and men’s team (les “Lions”)

[Photos courtesy of : http://www.cafonline.com/en-us/competitions/10theditionwomensafcon-cameroon2016/photos/AlbumImages, and http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/match-reports/egypt-1-2-cameroon-indomitable-9763648.]

 The celebration continued that week, as February 11 was the annual “Festival of Youth” national holiday here in Cameroon. As usual, our students from the seminary marched in the parade here in Meiganga. Now everyone is getting ready for the next celebration – International Women’s Day on March 8.


Students of the Lutheran Institute of Theology in Meiganga marching in the Festival of Youth parade February 11.


In the midst of all these special events, of course, the daily life of teaching and learning at the seminary continues, and I continue to be blessed and enriched by my interactions with students and colleagues.

 + Grace and peace +


Home from home assignment

October 30, 2016

It is already the end of October, and I am long overdue for an update…

I’ll start where I left off, at the end of the last academic year. The month of June was a flurry of end-of-the-school-year activity. After final exams the first week in June, we had a week of “soutenances.” A “soutenance” is an oral defense of a paper or thesis written at the end of a degree program in the French educational system. The papers and theses at the Institute cover a range of topics in the traditional fields of theological study – biblical studies, church history, systematic theology, and practical theology – and often include an effort to contextualize the subject, that is, to discuss its relevance in the African context.  Each paper is read by a jury of two professors (or three for the master’s students). The jury reaches a preliminary decision for a grade based on the written work, then after the soutenance, the jury deliberates and decides on a final grade. Then there is great relief and celebration!


Simon-Pierre (center) is one of the students whose thesis I directed, and he received the highest grade ever given for a thesis at the Institute! His topic was “God and the Stranger,” a work of biblical theology in light of the situation of Central African refugees in Cameroon. At right is his assessor and the Dean of the Institute, Dr. Jean Koulagna.

Our graduation ceremonies were held June 26. One historic aspect of this year’s events was that the graduating class included the first-ever master’s degrees awarded by the Institute – one in theology, and two in Islamo-Christian dialogue.

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Graduates with the LIcence degree at left, and with the Master’s degree at right.

In between the soutenances and graduation, on World Refugee Day (June 20), I had the opportunity to attend the festivities at the Ngam refugee site (about 60 km east of Meiganga) with a team from the Lutheran World Federation. The Lutheran World Federation is working with refugees from the Central African Republic in several areas: helping them develop new livelihoods, coordinating education efforts for refugee children, and coordinating peace-making initiatives among the refugees and between the refugees and native Cameroonians. The situation of refugees is indeed very sad, but it was encouraging on this day to gain a sense of the strength and resiliency of refugees.

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Top left: Members of the Lutheran World Federation team; top right: refugees displaying clothes that they made; bottom left and right: beautiful refugee children.

At the beginning of July, I was off to the U.S.  for “home assignment,” where I had the opportunity to visit many of my sponsoring congregations in Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. It is always good to make face-to-face connections with the faithful people who make this work possible! Another highlight of home assignment is the Summer Missionary Conference for all ELCA missionaries who are in the U.S. It is a great opportunity to connect with colleagues and learn how God’s mission is being carried out in our partner churches in every corner of the globe.


ELCA Global Mission Summer Missionary Conference: the West-Central Africa/Madagascar team (missing Brian Palmer and Chad, Natalie, Paul Michael and Luke Rimmer)

Of course, I also had the opportunity to spend some much-treasured time with family and friends while I was in the U.S., to have medical check-ups, to eat my favorite U.S. foods, and basically to be refreshed and fortified for another year abroad.

I returned to Cameroon in mid-September, and the first semester at the Institute started the first week in October. We have 23 new students this year, 13 in the Baccalaureate program and 10 in the Licence program. With the returning students in the Licence and Master’s programs, we have about 50 students altogether.


Beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year at the Lutheran Institute of Theology in Meiganga

Unfortunately, there have been some very sad events since my return. I think I have written before about our special program at the Bible school in Meng (250 km west of Meiganga) to give evangelists additional training to become pastors. We had two women in this program of 31 students, and sadly, one of them died on October 11 after a short illness. Sylvie was only 39 years old and leaves behind a husband and five children. It is, needless to say, an unimaginable loss for her family, for her classmates and teachers at Meng, and for the church as a whole. While I did not know her well, as I have spent only a couple of weeks teaching at Meng, I know that she was very well respected and will be deeply missed. I attended her funeral in Garoua-Boulaï (her home town) along with several professors and students from the Institute. I ask you to keep her family and the community at Meng in your prayers.

Then on October 21, my dog Lady died suddenly. I had taken her to Ngaoundéré for surgery to have a tumor removed two weeks earlier, and she seemed to be recovering well, but then suddenly she was gone. She was a very loyal, friendly, intelligent dog, and she is dearly missed, especially by Marie (my cook) and me. We buried her in the back yard with a brief ceremony, and many students came to express their condolences and to grieve with us. Lady was well-known and loved on campus!

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Left: Marie, her granddaughters Madeleine and Chiffra with Lady on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2016; right: Marie at Lady’s grave.

That same day, October 21, was truly a tragic day here in Cameroon. A passenger train derailed between Yaoundé and Doula, the two largest cities in Cameroon. The latest official estimates are that more than 90 people died, with around 600 injured, but many witnesses claim that the number of deaths is actually much higher. More than a week later, it seems that there are still bodies that have not been recovered. Again, I ask for your prayers for all those affected by this tragedy.


Photo of the train derailment from the Cameroon Daily Journal

+ Grace and peace +


The rainy season and other events

May 22, 2016

The months are flying by, and it is time for another update.

We are well into the rainy season now, and the world is green again! The dust that I talked about in my last post has greatly diminished. Now we have plenty of mud. 🙂

I celebrated Easter in Ngaoundéré. The week after Easter, the Lutheran Institute of Theology in Meiganga and OSEELC (Oeuvre de Santé of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon) held our third annual seminar on palliative care. Palliative care is a holistic approach to relieving suffering and enhancing quality of life for terminally-ill patients.  This approach has been around for a long time already in Europe and in the U.S. (where we call it hospice care), but in Africa, it is still relatively new, and it is much needed! There are not yet very many hospitals in Cameroon with professionals trained in this approach, so it is good that the Lutheran church here is taking the lead. (They are able to do this with substantial help from partners in Norway at the hospital of the University of Trondheim).

The setting for the seminar this year was at the Lutheran hospital in Ngaoundéré, with teaching sessions held in the church building of the hospital congregation. It was a very interesting and enriching event, with participants including doctors, nurses, and chaplains from the church’s health care system, along with our students from the Institute and from the Bible school in Meng.

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Presenters of the seminar on palliative care / some students with their certificates of completion

In other news…. Since the beginning of March, I have been blessed to have an American colleague here in Meiganga, the Rev. Dr. Kristine Ruffatto. She teaches Old Testament at the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Saskatoon, Canada, and decided to spend her sabbatical semester teaching here at the Institute through the ELCA’s global sabbatical program. She and her husband, Scott, were missionaries in the Central African Republic in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s, so she already spoke French fluently and was familiar with this part of Africa. She will be leaving us this week to go back to the U.S., and then back to Canada. We will miss her, but we are very grateful for the time she has been able to spend with us.

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Kristine with her husband Scott, who came for a visit after Easter / Kristine teaching

The second semester is winding down, but there is still much work to do… This week is the last week of classes, then there is a week of preparation for exams, then final exams, then finishing students will have an oral defense of their “mémoires” (like senior papers). The graduation ceremony will be June 26.

Soon after that I will be heading back to the U.S. for “home assignment,” during which I will have the opportunity to visit many of the congregations who sponsor me, as well as spend some time with family and friends. I am looking forward to it, and hope to see many of you who read this blog soon!

+ Grace and peace +


Lenten Dust

March 12, 2016

At the beginning of Lent, at Ash Wednesday worship services, we receive a cross of ashes on our foreheads with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Here in this part of Cameroon, Lent falls during the hottest, driest, dustiest part of the year. Dust is everywhere! It gets into one’s eyes and settles on every surface imaginable. It is almost impossible to keep anything clean for very long unless it is in a sealed container. While I find this very annoying, I have decided to try to let the ever-present dust be a reminder to me of that Ash Wednesday mandate: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

This mandate that we receive with the ashes on our foreheads, of course, is to remind us of our mortality and our utter dependence on God. Here in Cameroon, it seems that reminders of mortality are as ever-present as the dust. Hardly a week passes during which I do not hear of a death of a family member or friend of someone I know. And all too often, these deaths are premature. (The average life expectancy in Cameroon is only 56 years.) Last week, for example, one of the women who cleans at the Institute lost her 26-year-old daughter. Last month, our groundskeeper lost both his father-in-law and a nephew, and one of our night guards lost his sister-in-law, who died just days after giving birth to her fourth child.

Poverty and a scarcity of health care professionals create a perilous situation. Many people do not seek medical treatment because they do not have the means to pay the basic charges for an appointment and/or the cost of transportation to a hospital or clinic. When people do seek treatment, they may not have access to a doctor, or they may not have the means to pay for the treatment prescribed.

When someone dies, an autopsy is rarely performed. So the question of why a person has died is often unresolved. Some people resort to mystical explanations – i.e., that sorcery was involved. Sadly, this can lead to all kinds of accusations and tensions among the person’s loved ones.

Many people find comfort in theological explanations – i.e., that it was God’s will that the person die. Honestly, I have a hard time believing that God wants so many people to die so young of diseases that are treatable. I think it comes down to a question of justice, or rather, injustice – the injustice of so many people living in poverty with such inadequate health care systems. This is a country that is rich in natural resources, but unfortunately, most of those resources are exploited by foreigners, and the profits that do come back to the country are hoarded by people in power rather than invested in developing the country. I find this systemic corruption infuriating, yet I feel powerless to do anything about it.

IMG_3895 (2)Of course, the cycle of life continues. The last week in January, during the week of exams for the first semester, one of our students’ wives gave birth to a baby girl. To my great surprise, they decided to name the baby after me. Here she is, the newborn Elisabeth Ann.

In other news, Cameroon celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “Fête de la Jeunesse” (Festival of Youth) on February 11. Once again, the students from the Institute marched in the parade, this time in suits and clerical shirts. They also had a special banner made with a prayer for security and peace in Cameroon. The far north of Cameroon continues to be attacked by the terrorist group Boko Haram, so I ask you also to keep the security of this region in your prayers. Please pray also for peace and stability to be reestablished in the Central African Republic, our neighbors to the east. Presidential elections were completed there last month, and the newly elected president will be sworn in soon.

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+ Grace and peace +


Joyeux Noël !

December 28, 2015

Merry Christmas from Cameroon!

I don’t have much news to report, but I thought I would simply post some photos to give a flavor of what Christmas celebrations are like here.

The Sunday school Christmas program of the French-speaking congregation in Meiganga follows much the same format as traditional programs in the U.S.: children recite Bibles verses, reenact the Christmas story, and sing Christmas songs.


Christmas concerts are big here! I think I have mentioned before that many congregations have four or five choirs. They all perform concerts at Christmas time, and here in Meiganga, the Sunday school children give a concert as well. These kids know how to sing and dance!


We have our own Christmas program at the Lutheran Institute of Theology for students, faculty, and their families. It is part worship service and part Christmas variety show, with singing, skits, and comedy. (The comedy part is largely comprised of students doing imitations of professors – ouch!)



Above: the student choir singing; below: children of students singing.

Of course, there are also Christmas worship services. Christmas Day is generally the most attended service, and usually includes baptisms and confirmations – lots of them!


This young girl is one of 30 children (and 6 adults) baptized on Christmas day in one congregation. 18 youth were also confirmed.

So there you have it – a few snapshots of Christmas in Cameroon. There are not nearly as many lights, decorations, and presents as we tend to have in the U.S. But the good news of Christmas, that a Savior is born for the world, is proclaimed bright and clear. Our world needs this good news more than ever these days.

May the good news of Christmas shine in your life and bring love, joy, and peace to you and to all those around you.

+ Grace and peace +

Back to School

October 25, 2015

Hello! I’m back again. I had a nice month-long vacation in the U.S. from mid-August to mid-September. It was great to spend some time with family and friends, and it went by very quickly!

Almost immediately after arriving back in Meiganga, I took off again for a few days at Meng, the location of one of the church’s Bible schools. The purpose of this trip was a pedagogical seminar for the professors of the Bible school and the Lutheran Institute of Theology. It was taught by my ELCA colleague Susan Smith, who has a PhD in education and is called to work as an educational advisor for the Lutheran church in the Central African Republic. Unfortunately, because of the instability in CAR, she has not been able to do much of her work there and has been staying in Garoua Boulai, Cameroon (on the border with CAR). Anyway, we have been taking advantage of her expertise here in Cameroon.  We had some very fruitful learning and discussion at the seminar about how we can improve our effectiveness as teachers and better reach our objectives as educational institutions of the church.

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My colleagues, Dr. Susan Smith and Dr. Jean Koulagna, at Meng / Susan leading us in a discussion about educational objectives

The last week in September, I started teaching Greek to the incoming class of students, and the regular semester of courses began October 5th. Each academic year is kicked off with an opening worship service. Here are some photos of that service on Friday, October 2nd.

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Dr. Koulagna, Dean of the Institute, speaking at the opening worship service for the academic year 2015-2016

It is good to be teaching again. This is now my third year teaching New Testament at the Institute, and each year I can see that I am growing in confidence and competence, much of that related to my ability to speak French, but also to having more time to hone the content and teaching strategy of my courses. When I look back now at my first year teaching, I feel a little sorry for my students at that time, as I was really struggling to keep my head above water. There is always much room for improvement, of course (that was the purpose of our pedagogical seminar), but in general, I feel much better about the work I am doing now.

Daily life: power and water

One of the ongoing struggles of life in Meiganga is that there are frequent power outages. This is especially a problem during the rainy season (April – October) when there are frequent storms. I have a generator at my house that I usually start when it gets dark and the power is out. The Institute also has a generator for the main building (provided by the ELCA), but to save money, it is only run when it is essential to have power, and that generator does not connect to the campus housing. That means that on evenings when there is no power, my house sometimes becomes the “recharging station” for cell phones and laptops.

I have written before about the water situation here. The city water service seems not to work much of the time, at least not in our neighborhood. In the spring of 2014, I was making weekly trips to a local borehole with students to fill water containers, an effort which was very time-consuming. I realized recently that I neglected to write about the improvement that came soon after that. In May 2014, retired missionary Jim Noss was visiting, and with ELCA funds, he was able to get the Institute’s back-up water system working again. He and his team installed a new pump for our borehole, fixed several broken pipes, and got our water tower back into working condition. So now we can pump water up to the water tower and supply water to the campus.

The only catch is that this system is expensive to run because it requires using the Institute’s generator to pump the water. So to save money, we have set times when the water runs and everyone fills up their containers.  I also have a rain barrel on my back porch to catch rain water, which gets used for house cleaning purposes and for filling up buckets for flushing the toilet when the water is not running. 

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Two essentials of my existence in Meiganga – my generator (with its own little “house” to protect it from the elements), and my rain barrel.

Needless to say, this process is also a bit time consuming. But it is better than making trips to a well or borehole, which is what many people here do every day, making the trips on foot and carrying the water home on their heads. (Have I mentioned how heavy water is?!) In an area where the majority of people do not have indoor plumbing at all, I have it pretty easy, relatively speaking.

An addition to the household

Another thing I neglected to write about before: At the end of May of this year, I received a dog, Lady, from another missionary family. She originally belonged to my ELCA colleagues, Deborah and Joe Troester, who were working in CAR. When they started a new position in Tanzania two years ago, they left Lady with a family in Yaoundé. In June of this year, the family with whom Lady was staying was returning to the U.S., so Lady came to live with me. She is a black lab mix with a very sweet temperament, but also a ferocious sounding bark for scaring away any potential intruders. In other words, she is a great companion and watch dog. She is very good with children, and my cook’s grandchildren love her, as you can see in the photo below.


Finally, speaking of children, I was invited recently to speak to the Sunday school children at the local Lutheran church. Sunday school is conducted differently here than in the U.S. Generally, churches do not have an “education wing” with multiple classrooms, so Sunday school is held in one room with all the children together. Here there were only two teachers, but I was quite impressed with how well they were able to keep order and keep the children engaged. I leave you with this photo of me with the Sunday school children of the French-speaking Lutheran congregation in Meiganga (there are also Gbaya-speaking and Fulfulde-speaking Lutheran congregations in Meiganga).


+ Grace and peace +


July 10, 2015

Time flies! I can hardly believe that another academic year has come and gone.

The last couple months have been filled with special events. The “Synode Général” (like the Churchwide Assembly) took place May 6-10 in Bertoua. At the closing worship service, six new pastors were ordained. These are students who graduated from the Lutheran Institute of Theology in Meiganga two years ago. The way the ordination process works here is that after graduation, students spend about two years as a “candidate for pastoral ministry” working with a supervisor; then, if all goes well, they are ordained. Although these students graduated before I started teaching at the Institute, I was present for their graduation and have gotten to know a few of them, so it was a joy to be present for their ordination. In late May and early June, several had special services of thanksgiving at the congregations where they have been serving, which I also attended, and even preached for one of them.

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Newly ordained pastors with the national bishop, Ruben Ngozo (left) / Preaching at the service of thanksgiving for one of the newly ordained (preaching in French with the evangelist translating into the local language of Fulfulde).

June was filled with activities for the end of the academic year. In addition to final exams, students finishing the “licence” degree (equivalent of a B.A.) also submit a “mémoire,” which is like a senior research paper, only they have an oral defense of their mémoire, like a defense for a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. For every mémoire, one faculty member serves as director and another as assessor – a jury of two who question the candidate during the oral defense and then decide on the final grade. It is an intense but also rewarding experience.

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Relief and joy after successful defense of mémoires

Our graduation ceremony was held June 20. It was a small group graduating this year, but a joyous occasion nonetheless.


Graduation : June 20, 2015

Now we (the faculty) are in the midst of recruiting students for next year. In addition to new classes of licence and master’s degree students here in Meiganga, we are recruiting for a special program that will take place at the Bible school at Meng. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon has four Bible schools for training catechists and evangelists and one seminary (the Institute) for training pastors. Here at the Institute, we accept candidates for three degree programs: the Baccalaureate degree or “Bac” (roughly the equivalent of a high school degree + one year), the Licence (equivalent of a bachelor’s degree), and the Master’s degree.

At the Bible schools, students enter with various levels of education, but most have not finished high school. The program for catechists lasts two years, and for evangelists, three years. Because the need for pastors is so great, the church has decided to offer a special opportunity those already trained as evangelists to be trained as pastors at the Bible school at Meng. But because there are far more candidates than there are places available at the school, we are holding a “concours,” a competition of sorts that involves written exams and interviews. As of now the written exams are finished and graded, and those who qualified on the basis of the written exams will be invited for interviews.

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The Bible school at Meng / Worship in a congregation near Meiganga (The pastor in the photo, Pastor Timothée, is responsible for seven congregations.)

To illustrate the need for pastors: Here, it is not uncommon for a pastor to be responsible for seven, eight, nine, ten congregations. And since most do not own cars, they travel from congregation to congregation by motorcycle or on foot. Needless to say, they cannot be at every congregation every week, so it is the evangelists and catechists who lead worship, preach, teach, and do pastoral care when the pastor is not there. In some of the very small congregations, the catechist is a volunteer who does not have any formal training. This often means that church members are not very well taught even the basics of the faith. So there is a need for trained church workers at every level. The harvest is plentiful, but the (trained) laborers are few!

This is why I find my work here so rewarding. It is a privilege to be part of educating pastors and leaders for the church, especially where the need is so great.

+ Grace and peace +


Change of Seasons

April 18, 2015

In the church year, the season of Easter has arrived, a time to celebrate the promise of the resurrection and new life in Christ. Blessed Easter to all!

In this part of Cameroon, the rainy season is also beginning. Even though there is no winter here, the dry season is a little like winter in that the grass and many other plants wither and die. OK, just a little like winter, because the end of the dry season is also the hottest time of the year, with high temperatures regularly in the 90’s. It is a relief when the rainy season begins and the extreme heat and pervasive dust start to subside, and the world becomes green again. We have had some good rains in the last couple weeks, which have brought much-need moisture. The flamboyant trees in my back yard are in full bloom, and the mangoes on the mango trees in my front yard are ripening. Yum!

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Being Nassara

In many of my blog posts so far, I have talked about special events. I have decided to try and write a little more about what daily life is like here, and of course, I can only write about that from my perspective as a foreigner.

The first thing to note is that, as a foreigner with white skin, I am called nassara. The word nassara comes from the Fulfulde language, the dominant language in northern Cameroon, and ultimately from Arabic. In the Koran, nassara is the word used to describe followers of Jesus, the Nazarene. In common parlance here, the word has come to mean simply a white foreigner. I am guessing that evolution came about because the first Christian missionaries were white; thus being a follower of Jesus became associated with white skin.

I don’t know to what extent people are aware of the origins of the word. It is used by Christians and Muslims alike, and by people of all different tribes, to refer to white people. There is actually a bar here in Meiganga called “Nassara Club,” and on the sign there is a picture of Mickey Mouse, as well as a bottle of wine. So the word has obviously taken on other connotations!


In any case, in spite of there being a “Nassara Club” in town, there are not many of us nassara living here, and I am still something of a curiosity in Meiganga. Everywhere I go outside of the Institute, in the market or walking around the neighborhood, I am greeted by people shouting, “nassara!” This is a friendly greeting, a way of saying, “Welcome, stranger!” Or at least that is how I interpret it since it is usually said with a friendly smile. Children are usually the first to shout “nassara!” and point me out to their family and friends. Sometimes they will approach me to shake my hand or give me a hug. Sometimes they will just stand at a distance and stare. Sometimes they will try to practice their English and say, “Good morning!” (no matter what time of the day it is) and “How are you?” And when I respond, they often giggle.

One thing that was a surprise to me at first is that children of toddler age are often scared of me. I guess they have reached the age where awareness of “stranger danger” sets in, and to them, I am a very strange stranger! Sometimes when I approach or greet a small child, they start to cry. No amount of reassuring words seems to help in these cases, so I have learned it is better just to back away.

Children who have gotten over this fear are generally very curious. Often they will shake my hand or touch my arm, and then look at their own hand to see if any of the white stuff has rubbed off on them. Recently the young daughter of a student asked me why I was no longer black. She thought that I must have changed my skin somehow. I tried to explain to her that I was born this way. 🙂


Madeleine and Chifra, the two beautiful granddaughters of my cook, Marie. To them I am more than “nassara.” I am “Tante Elisabeth” (Aunt Elisabeth).

I have to admit that I am envious of the beauty of dark skin. It offers natural protection from the sun and it doesn’t show blemishes like light skin does. And yet there are products advertised and sold here – especially for women – to lighten skin, something that is perplexing to me. It is widely known that these products have potentially harmful side effects, and yet that doesn’t seem to stop many from using them. I suppose it is like light-skinned people sunbathing to have darker skin, even though we know there are harmful side effects from that as well.

Why can’t we be satisfied with the skin color God gave us? Of course, the answer to that is complicated. It has to do with a history of western colonialism and racism which has devalued darker skin. (I am not sure what explains the passion for sun-bathing among light-skinned people, which seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon in human history.)

As I have been following the news in the U.S. and thinking about the ongoing struggle for racial equality, it makes me sad to think that any one of my Cameroonian friends might be discriminated against in the U.S. because of their skin color. And considering the xenophobic rhetoric that is often heard, they might be discriminated against for their accent as well, even if they speak excellent English, along with two or three other languages.

In contrast, as a nassara here in Cameroon, I can’t say that I have felt discriminated against – misunderstood at times, perhaps – but not discriminated against. In general, I have been welcomed very warmly and treated as an honored guest. And people have been very patient with my American-accented French!

Other happenings…

There have been a few special events in the past couple months. The annual events of the Festival of Youth (February 11) and International Women’s Day (March 8) took place with the usual colorful parades and festivities.

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Students from the Institute marching in the Festival of Youth parade / International Women’s Day parade

At the Institute, we had “Interdisciplinary Days” March 19-21, which is a conference about a certain topic in which specialists from many different disciplines participate. The theme this year was “The Origins of Life,” and we heard very interesting presentations from a biologist, a paleontologist, an Old Testament scholar, a professor of Islam, a specialist in African traditional religions, and an ethicist, each addressing the topic from the perspective of their discipline. It was a very enriching event.

This coming week we faculty and students of the Institute will be traveling to Garoua Boulaï (about 60 miles east of Meiganga) for a few days to join workers in the church’s health care system for a seminar on palliative care.

That’s all for now. Once again, blessed Easter season to all!

+ Grace and peace +

New Year 2015

January 20, 2015

Happy new year to all!

The holidays have come and gone, during which I enjoyed a little time off to celebrate and relax. I have now passed three holiday seasons (Christmas-New Year’s) in Cameroon. Many people have asked me how Christmas is celebrated here. I would have to say that there are much fewer of the “trappings” of Christmas that are so prevalent in the U.S. – lights, decorations, gifts, etc. – and more focus on the essentials. Most Christian families celebrate simply by going to church and gathering with family for a meal. Families try very hard to buy new clothes for their children to wear to church on Christmas, and if they are a little better off, the children might also receive a toy or two – but nothing like the mountains of gifts children tend to receive in the U.S.

There are worship services here on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but those on Christmas Day are generally much better attended. Baptisms and confirmations are often celebrated at the Christmas Day service. The service I attended in Ngaoundéré included about 20 baptisms and the confirmation of 12 youth.

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Christmas Day, 2014 : Newly baptized infant and family (left) and newly confirmed youth (right).

La saison sèche (the dry season)

We are now almost at the end of the first semester at the Lutheran Institute of Theology at Meiganga. Final exams are the last week in January. Then we will have a week-long break before the second semester begins. (The students will have a break, anyway. For the faculty it is grading time.)

We are now also in the middle of the dry season in this part of Cameroon, which generally lasts from November to March. Whereas the humidity is often in the 90% range during the rainy season, in the dry season it drops dramatically to around 10 to 20%. Temperatures generally reach the high 80’s or 90’s during the day, but it cools down to the 60’s or even 50’s at night – which people here think is really cold! It is all relative, I guess. Even I have put an extra cover on my bed, which may be a sign that I am acclimating.

During this season a strong wind called the harmattan blows down from the Sahara Desert, contributing to the dryness. The biggest downside of this season is the dust. As most roads here are dirt roads, it gets very dusty very quickly. Even without any windows open in my house, the dust accumulates on everything. On the positive side, however, there is no lack of sunshine. Another interesting thing about this time of year is that while the grass dies and the leaves fall from certain types of trees, many flowering trees and bushes bloom, which adds delightful bursts of color to the dry landscape.

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Several people have asked recently about the security situation here. I want to assure you that I am very safe here in Meiganga. Recently there has been an escalation of attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. They have slaughtered thousands in their own country, and have also attacked several villages and military installations in the extreme north of Cameroon. This is several hundred miles from where I am. Again, I am safe, but I ask you to keep the people who live in that area (on both sides of the border) in your prayers. Many are suffering horribly. Please pray for the terror be stopped, and for comfort and healing for those who have been affected.

+ Grace and peace +