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.
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.
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!
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 +