I have a difficult time sleeping in a hot room. I mentioned in my previous post that the air conditioning wasn’t working, and the room was stifling hot when I arrived. Fortunately, it is the rainy season in Cameroon which means cooler temperatures. So, I slept with the windows open and got enough air circulation to sleep decently. Having awakened around 6:30am I endured a cold shower (or more like a rinse bath) and repacked my suitcases for our trip to Bafoussam. Then it was down to the hotel restaurant to meet my host Joseph Ngwani for breakfast.
Joseph is the pastor of Rehoboth Baptist Church in Yaoundé and is doing a great job as ITEM’s coordinator for Cameroon. He is an exceptionally bright young man, doctrinally solid, a faithful pastor, and has a passion to encourage and train pastors across Cameroon to advance the gospel through healthy and vibrant churches. Joseph also serves on the Cameroon Baptist Convention leadership team, and it was his influence that resulted in me being given the opportunity to serve as the keynote speaker at this year’s Cameroon Baptist Convention. Our hope is that this invitation will lead to more training opportunities in Cameroon.
I forgot to pack coffee with me this trip so I’m having to drink Nescafe, which is an insult to coffee. Nevertheless, some form of coffee is better than none, so I drank two cups while Joseph and I chatted and then it was off to Bafoussam. While walking to the vehicle, which was parked a few blocks away, about 25–30 members of the presidential security detail came riding by on horses. It was quite a scene. Once in the vehicle we were joined by three other pastors who were attending the convention and then we were off for the six-hour journey to Bafoussam.
Leaving the congestion and chaos of Yaoundé behind and ascending and descending through the lush and hilly terrain of the countryside I listened quietly as the pastors in the back seat chatted informally about life and ministry interspersing their conversation with hearty laughs. One thing I have always admired about Africans is that they tend to be a joyful people. Despite the poverty and corruption and injustice they endure, they keep laughing. The joy of the Lord is our strength.
About halfway to Bafoussam, we stopped at an open-air market, which serves as a popular spot to rest for travelers from Yaoundé to Bafoussam. Winding our way to the rear of the market, we found a table hidden in the shade where we sat and ordered plantain, tropical plums, and a bitter lemon soda (when there is no Coke Zero to be found, bitter lemon soda is a decent consolation prize). I’m normally not a fan of African plantains because they are not ripe and therefore not sweetened. I much prefer the fried Latin American/Caribbean plantains. However, these were the best I’ve had in Africa. I also tried some meat from the street for the first time. In my previous trips to Africa, I have always refrained from eating any meat prepared in the open market not knowing how it would affect my stomach. However, on this occasion, I figured I have been to Africa enough that my system could handle it. So, I ate the meat and left the market with my stomach happy and feeling like a real African.
We were only about eight miles from our destination when suddenly there was a whining sound coming from inside the hood and the car shut off. We drifted to the side of the road and came to a stop. Unfortunately, there was no shoulder to speak of so we were essentially sitting on the street located just after a curve so that cars could not see us until they were right up on us. When we broke down, I laughed internally thinking that I must be working on some sort of record with vehicle breakdowns since this is the third time in four trips, a vehicle I have been riding in has broken down beside the road. But this is Africa and is par for the course.
It is funny what happens when a car breaks down. One guy opens the hood, and all the other guys stand around and pontificate about what could be wrong with it. One guy says it’s the starter, and another guy thinks it’s the water pump. Keep in mind that we are all just guessing, but our man card explicitly states we must have an opinion and defend it. Unfortunately, there would be no good Samaritan mechanic showing up with a wrench and screwdriver to fix the vehicle as in Malawi. We would have to devise another plan. We were able to push the car onto a side pathway to get us out of the road.
After about 45 minutes of making calls and trying everything we could think of to start the car, we flagged down a big truck and asked for a tow. The driver seemed genuinely excited to tow us. Accordingly, he brought out his rope (yes, you heard that right, his rope), and tied the front end of the car to the back of his truck and towed the car into Bafoussam.
By the time we arrived in Bafoussam, the delegation from the Cameroon Baptist Convention (CBC) were in a frenzy because we were late for our meeting with the governor. A meeting with the governor? This was the first I had heard about it. But be instant in season and out of season, right?
So, I was whisked away to the hotel and instructed to change into a suit and hurry. Having topped my personal best changing time, I got back in the assigned vehicle with a rather haggard looking pastor who had been instructed to drive me and who also had been given the responsibility of handling all the logistics for the conference. I don’t know what this guy did to deserve the punishment of handling logistics for over one thousand pastors coming to the conference, but it must have been bad. In a stroke of irony, I discovered his name was Pastor Confidence. I hope he doesn’t lose his confidence during the conference.
Having arrived at the relatively palatial residence of the governor of the western region of Cameroon, we were ushered upstairs and into a formal sitting room where I joined about 10–15 others from the CBC who would be privileged to meet and interact with the governor. When the governor arrived, there were gifts and pronouncements given, a short homily from one of the pastors and the governor charged the CBC delegation to be faithful to their calling. I was impressed with the governor. He looked exhausted, as is understandable with the unrelenting civil war in Cameroon and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. However, he seemed to be a man of integrity and spiritual depth. After the obligatory genuflections and pictures, we were on our way out of the mansion and back to the hotel for dinner.
After a dinner of chicken, plantains, and rice, I checked email, worked on the day’s message for the convention, and did some writing. It’s been a full day full of surprises, challenges, adventure, and making new friends. But what else do you expect in Africa?