by Kelsie Lourie
As I sit here at a Coffeehouse in Tacoma, WA, and reflect on my recent participation in the October 2007 OCMC Cameroon mission trip, I can’t help but acknowledge how wealthy our society is. Even our homeless and destitute have more opportunity for a better life than many in third world countries. During the Mission Team experience and now in the days following my return, I am plagued by wondering why and how our mindsets, attitudes, and perspectives are so different. I could interpret the events and individual actions I saw in Africa in certain, negative ways, but even my interpretation is a reflection of my American upbringing.
Nevertheless, behind all of the “higher” musings there remains a simple fact: humans are human no matter where they grow up. The people our team met in the extreme north of Cameroon and in the southern area bordering Chad were just as excited about Orthodoxy as any new convert or spiritually focused person in America. They enjoyed dancing and singing as much as we do. They love family, friends and good humor, and they cherish it all. The children were innocent, the youth were eager to learn, and the elders were wise. They were entrepreneurial, good at networking, flexible and patient in the face of change. They were hospitable, kind, respectful, giving and friendly.
As we traveled, children would come running from houses or schoolyards, throwing their arms in the air, smiling wide, their brilliant white teeth glowing in stark contrast with their beautiful ebony faces, shouting in glee as we barreled past. We would wave and smile back from the bed of our pickup truck. The children multiplied daily as word of white foreigners that were traveling back and forth down the dirt roads connecting the remote villages spread. We were certain the locals knew more about our schedule than we did…people of all ages came out of the “bush” no matter where we were visiting. It was said that “the grass had eyes.”
Every day we went to another parish or mission community, seeing every stage in the growth of a church: communities without a church, newly purchased land, groundbreakings, foundations, construction shells, a consecration, young churches, old churches, a cathedral…in the veritable heart of Africa. It is literally jaw-dropping to be crashing down a pot-holed dirt road or a bare-foot-beaten path, riding tall in the open pickup truck bed, flying around a bush or tree, ducking under the branches, smashing through a millet field and suddenly screech to a halt in front of a massive and beautiful Orthodox church! We were usually met with a portion of the parish singing, dancing, playing the drums and the rattle to the tune of the Praises in the local African dialect of Tipouri, the contingent growing by the minute. Villagers clad in bright fabrics and white tee shirts, joyfully greeted Metropolitan GREGORIOS, the visiting clergy and our team with smiles and ecstatic high-pitched screams. Everyone, from toddlers to elders, warmly shook our hands. Our broken French and Tipouri were hardly a barrier to the non-verbal communication of smiles, clasping hands, clapping and dancing to their music, gazing in awe at their churches, revering their priests as they do ours, crossing ourselves identically, laughing at each others’ antics, taking pictures together and showing them the digital print of their existence. I am almost in tears over the remembrance!
In our 19-day stay in Cameroon (and one visit to Chad) we visited over 10 churches, a school, a seminary, a new financial venture (beef farm), new offices for the Metropolitan’s headquarters…and we only saw part of 2 of the 6 countries under the Metropolitan! There is so much work currently being done and so much more to do. Fr Michael Miklos, our team leader, kept the call to missions before us and our Cameroonian brothers and sisters at all times. Metropolitan GREGORIOS pointed out to us how even the poorest of the poor give to “the poor” when the collection is taken in church. What a humbling experience!
In spite of our cultural differences, we found the faith of the people who call Africa home incredibly inspiring. In many ways they do not need you…you need them. Be a part of an Orthodox Mission Team. Share in a journey of faith.