It was an interesting night to say the least. Beside my hotel is a huge bus station. In front of the hotel is a taxi stand along with several food vendors. Then there is a DJ who brings his van and parks in the bus lot and blasts music pretty much all night. Though to his credit, he is quite an animated DJ. It’s hard to describe the perfect storm of traffic and noise that converge at this hotel. Perhaps the most annoying thing is the unrelenting fury of horns blaring from vehicles because the entrances are blocked with taxis and boda-bodas. Fortunately, I was so exhausted I fell asleep right away despite the wall of noise.
I awakened before dawn to the cacophony of sounds endemic to Africa: roosters crowing (yes, even in the city), horns blaring from traffic that is already congested, and people shouting. After dragging myself out of the bed, I started my morning routine and mindlessly turned on the faucet only to realize that there was no running water! This was a first for me. I’ve been in many hotels in Africa where the water drips, but I’ve never been in one where there is no running water at all. But no worries, in the corner of the bathroom there was a large pale filled with water that I suspected was for bathing. The problem was I did not know how long the water had been in that pale. I was not about to find out. Fortunately, I use bottled water to brush my teeth so at least my mouth felt fresh and minty.
After getting dressed and imbibing some fake coffee, we were off to the first day of the Cameroon National Baptist Minister’s Convention, where I had been invited to preach the keynote message each day. When I first accepted the invitation, I thought there may be a few hundred pastors present. Imagine my surprise when my host Pastor Joseph Ngwani told me over 1,000 pastors had registered.
The convention is being held in the open-air on the grounds of a facility owned by the Cameroon Baptist Convention. The program began at 8:00am with singing interspersed with announcements and reports. Come to find out, this convention was big deal because it was the first time the pastors from all over Cameroon had been able to gather since 2019 due to Covid and the Civil War. In typical African fashion, we were dressed in our Sunday best, with most Cameroonian pastors wearing clerical collars. This might be confusing for some Americans because in the West it is primarily the mainline church clergy who wear clerical collars (i.e., Catholics, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Methodists, etc.). However, the clerical collars provide the benefit of helping pastors who live here to pass through roadblocks without much of a hassle. When the police see the collar, they tend to wave the car through.
When my time to preach arrived, I stepped up to the platform and took my place behind the pulpit. A large umbrella flanked the pulpit held by a young man who was responsible for providing shade for me. My bald head was very grateful. I also had a pastor on my right who provided the French translation of the message.
The theme of the conference is “Fulfilling Your Ministerial Calling All the Time.” I was given the text of 2 Timothy 4:1–5 as the theme for all three messages. Normally, I would preach those five verses in one sermon. But I stretched them out for this conference. My first message was a clarion call to simply “Preach the Word!” The greatest need in Africa is not resource development, it is not political stabilization, it is not economic aid, it is the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word. In fact, our ITEM coordinator for Cameroon and my host Pastor Joseph Ngwani said to me that the greatest problem he sees in Cameroon are false prophets entering into towns and villages leading people astray through false teaching. These false prophets can amass a large following in no time preying upon the people’s ignorance. The big idea of the message was simply that preaching the Word is a serious call that demands a supreme conviction. I encouraged the pastors to give themselves wholeheartedly to the study of Scripture and to put the Bible in the driver’s seat of their ministry. I concluded with a reminder that God’s Word creates and sustains life and through the faithful preaching and teaching of Scripture, Christ builds and edifies and expands His church.
When we broke for lunch, I was told media wanted to interview me along with the Executive Vice President. Before I knew it, I was whisked away to a corner and microphones and cell phones were placed in front of me and reporters from the Bafoussam news media were asking me to comment on my observations of Cameroon and how pastors could work for change in Cameroon. By God’s grace, I was able to give some credible answers and didn’t say anything stupid or offensive, for which I’m grateful.
Finally, we were able to begin meandering our way through the teeming mass of pastors for lunch. Having arrived in the appointed room, I was given a plate of fufu, which is a staple in West Africa. Essentially, fufu is cassava which has been boiled, pounded, and rounded into balls. The balls are then used very similarly to the way in which Americans use bread, to sop up the greens and drippings from the meat. Fufu looks like mashed potatoes, has the consistency of grits that have glommed together, and has a rather bland taste. Not my favorite. But there are much worse things I’ve eaten in Africa.
On the way out of the facility, I happened to meet a pastor who told me that he was in the very first group that our founder and director Dr. Steve Van Horn trained in Cameroon in 2007. I was so encouraged to meet this brother and to see he was still pressing on faithfully in the ministry. Our encounter got me to thinking of the many lives that have been impacted by ITEM over the
past twenty years. When we train pastors in our seminars, we often lose track of them as time marches on. However, it is always a great joy to be reacquainted and to hear about the difference ITEM has made in their ministries.
As I mentioned in the last post, it is the rainy season in Cameroon. While the morning sessions were filled with sun, as soon as lunch was finished the rains came and did not let up, which led to quite a bit of chaos as the sound system shorted out leaving the afternoon speaker to try to speak without a microphone and pastors who had been standing outside to try to squeeze underneath the various tents, which were already bursting at the seams with bodies.
Once the conference concluded for the day, several members of the CBC executive team came to my hotel to see my room and to fellowship. They were very gracious in expressing their excitement about the morning message and even more importantly they expressed a desire to develop a relationship with ITEM to train their pastors in Cameroon! The Lord continues to open many doors for ITEM to train pastors. May God help us be faithful to seize these opportunities.
By the way, the search for a Coke Zero is still on. I can normally find one in a larger city. However, I’ve had no such luck in Bafoussam. First world problem.
Until tomorrow . . .