Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Well done, good and faithful servant.

Our family had an old friend pass away last week.  It is sad, for sure – especially for his family.  But there is an underlying joy because of the fact that when I think of this guy and what he did with his life, I can’t help but picture that moment when he reached the glory of heaven and he heard the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We first met Larry Mills in the year 2000 in Pharr, Texas when we began attending Living Word Evangelical Free Church.  Larry was a guy that was very involved in the life of the church as a deacon, Sunday school teacher, AWANA leader, etc.  He was the type of guy that everyone sort of gravitated to as a friend.  He wasn’t a polarizing person and was very well respected.

About a year and a half after we met Larry, his wife Brenda, and their family, Larry and Brenda felt called into full-time ministry.  He became a missionary with Mid-America Mission and was going to Arkansas to run a Christian camp.  When he began his fundraising process, I remember vividly hearing Larry’s story and how his life was changed to become a powerful force for the Lord through extreme brokenness.  He lived for many years with a severely limiting heart condition – on the magnitude that, according to conventional medical explanations, he should not have even been alive when we met him in 2000.  But the Lord found it fit to defy convention and keep Larry around for a few more decades via a couple of sets of artificial heart valves.

So Larry left our church community in Texas to be a missionary to Arkansas…and then my connection to him became unique.  In the wake of Larry’s departure, there were many roles to be filled in the life of the church.  I became very familiar with the refrain of, “Hey Chris – Larry used to run the junior high AWANA group and we were wondering if you could take his place,” or, “Larry was leading this Sunday school class – could you take it over?”  I must have been approached about four different things to replace Larry’s roles in the church – some I accepted and some I didn’t feel qualified for.  I felt flattered to be seen as a replacement to a guy that everyone respected and depended on.  But at the same time, I didn’t feel like I measured up to be “Larry’s replacement,” having seen how his life was so in tune with the gospel.

I remember talking with Larry about a year or two after he had begun his ministry in Arkansas and hearing him talk of extreme discouragement at the start.  He was able to confess his need and not act as if he had it all under control.  That conversation made a strong impression on me.  I’m still trying find that level of humility in my life…I’m so not there yet.

Larry Mills was a fantastic family man and a missionary of very great substance.  His task of running a Christian camp in Arkansas evolved into other things throughout his decade and a half of ministry in Arkansas.  He took on administrative tasks for the ministry.  He spent a lot of time in pulpits, filling in as churches in the area had need.  He took on prison ministry in a few prison units in Arkansas. 

I must say that his prison ministry struck me the most.   Every week for the last four or so years, we would get an e-mail with prayer requests from prisoners that Larry was reaching out to, either in person or through correspondence Bible courses.  I’ll admit that I didn’t read the prayer requests every time.  But often reading them was an encouragement to me – seriously!  It wasn’t the, “Wow, their lives are so screwed up that it makes my problems look pretty small,” type of encouragement.  It was the, “Wow, Larry is putting it out there, being used mightily by God to reach the rejected and forgotten of society - against all odds,” type of encouragement.  Reading the words of those prisoners, many of whom were requesting more course materials and praising God for their spiritual growth, made me relearn every week how one gets used by God like Larry did.

Larry Mills wasn’t perfect and didn’t have it all figured out.  But his ability to confess that and rely on the Lord to lead him is what made him a good and faithful servant.  Well done, Larry.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

With My Tribe

The one part of our work that I [Chris] have positively loved the most since entering our ministry life, is our co-workers.  I’ve been amazed at some of their stories and have made some of the best friendships of my life in these last five years.  This past weekend, I had a reaffirmation of just how much I love the people I work with.

I went to Dallas for the Evangelical Missiological Society conference.  The event was held at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics, where we studied in 2012 in preparation for the field.  I had been asked to present during the conference and I also volunteered running sound and doing some photography at the conference.  It was a full visit in more ways than one.

In part, it was full because I was busy.  I was all around the conference taking photos whenever I wasn’t checking on projectors in the different presentation rooms.  I also ran the sound board a few times for some sessions.  In the middle of it all, I presented during a thirty-minute session.  I don’t think I did a very good job on my session, but so be it.  I like these things to marinate in my mind and I didn’t really have my topic fully “tenderized” in my head, so it was a little rough around the edges.

Even before the conference began, having arrived a day and a half early, I visited with two different longtime friends from Virginia that have relocated to Texas, in addition to seeing my sister and her family that live around the DFW area.  Also, when the conference ended, I was able to visit briefly with the church that we called home during our time of training in 2012.  Those visits were all fantastic and relationally rewarding.

But, with apologies to all, the greatest fullness from the weekend was from being “with my tribe…” my ethnoarts family.  I was able to spend at least a little bit of time with more than 15 of my ethnoarts colleagues during four days at the campus in Dallas and it was straight up joy.

For those of you that at some point in your life have been in love, do you remember the butterflies you got in your stomach when you were about to ring the doorbell to pick up your date?  The anticipation of the moment that you finally get to be with that someone special?  That’s the feeling I get whenever I’m about to be with my tribe.  I know it sounds silly, and maybe even foolish to describe it in those terms…but that’s the type of feelings I have when I’m with these folks.  They are just awesome to be around and I can’t get enough of their company.

One thing that has been really difficult to describe in our last few months of furlough is the closeness I have with my ethnoarts family and how it can be a bit taxing emotionally that some of us have such deep connections but are scattered far and wide around the world.  I have colleagues from different domains that I love very much and that work right beside me in Cameroon…but it’s just not quite like being with my tribe.


So now it’s back to Virginia, where there is only one of my ethnoarts family nearby instead of more than a dozen.  But be assured, my mind is always wandering to the big calendar in my head, thinking how long it is until the next time that I get to be with a large segment of the tribe…and the next time…and the next…even looking forward almost two years to various meetings and events where I will be enjoying some here and some there.  I truly work with the best and most fun people in the world.  You could say it’s bittersweet, but I don’t think that’s quite right:  they’re so good, so sweet, that they outclass the bitter.  Sweetbitter…that’s what we'll call it.

With mentors and colleagues Frank Fortunato, Robin Harris, and Brian Schrag.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Transitions, part II

The last blog entry detailed transitions that had already happened or were on the verge of happening. Those transitions were largely personal and had a bit about the family's transitions as well.  In this entry, I [Chris] would like to detail the transitions that we envision during our year of furlough in the United States, with a particular focus on the work side of life.

Retooling is a word that I've used a bit already in some of our presentations that we've done since being in the US.  As I understand the word, it means to update something.  Our retooling is not going to be updating in the form of a different focus, but will be more of an addition of capacities...more like development or growth of what we're able to do on the field for when we return to Cameroon.

One of the additions is going to be in the area of trauma healing.  I'm looking forward to taking a class entitled Arts & Trauma Healing at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics in Dallas during months of January/February.  Trauma healing is already happening in our location overseas, given the needs of people fleeing neighboring countries that are in the midst of terrible events.  I anticipate being able to add to the work in Cameroon with our special brand of trauma healing containing an arts component - sort of like art therapy.

Another transition that is going to happen is in my own professional growth.  About a year ago, I put together a growth plan with one of my mentors with the goal of attaining the status of Arts Consultant within our organization.  There are many pieces and parts to the process including some continuing education, some research, some publishing, some independent study, etc.

As I move toward consultant status, the work in Cameroon will change a bit as well.  In our next term overseas, I will be working in more areas of Cameroon and, potentially, the Central African region.  This will be done with an eye of transitioning toward the development of nationals to take up the work.  As an organization, our mission has the value of elevating people to do the work within their own communities.  With this in mind, one of my projects during our furlough is to get one of our key EthnoArts training classes set-up in French so that we can train and develop more Africans to continue arts ministry.  Our goal is to have local leaders developed so that things continue smoothly (hopefully even more smoothly) for decades after we have left the field.

Thank you for praying over our transitions, both past and future, personal and professional.  We expect to learn a lot and we want to have the eager expectation of seeing how the Lord will use transitions to teach and grow us a bit...or a lot.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Transtions, part I

It’s such a part of our life right now that I [Chris] really hate hearing the word transition anymore.  It’s one of those things where I know it’s real, but I would rather deny it than talk about it…because to talk about it in correct proportion to the amount of transition we’ve done, would be to talk about it constantly.  But alas, the monster must be confronted!

We’ve got transition everywhere in our lives right now.  The obvious is that we just transitioned from Cameroon to the United States and will transition back to Cameroon again in a year.  But there are so many more - transitions for the kids into US public schools for the first time, a transition in our sending church with a new senior pastor, transitions in leadership for our mission organization…the list could go on.

Transitions away from friends and pets were a bit difficult.

The bright side is that not all transition is bad and not all of it is filled with uncertainty.  We have some transition going on now that will be great for our work in Cameroon.

So in the spirit of detailing the “good, the bad, and the ugly,” we’ll fill you in on the transition that has happened and what’s ahead and what it means for us as we begin our year of furlough, or home assignment, in the United States.

There was much transition subtly happening in our lives in Cameroon, long before leaving the country.  We were reaching a level of ease and becoming much more functional within the culture.  I also was becoming more at ease with my work and thus more productive.  I feel as if I can look years down the road and construct a plan for my work rather than being tentative because of a lack of cultural savvy.  In our last few weeks before heading to the US, I was able to lead songwriting workshops more confidently, work on research projects with good direction, and see where it was going to lead.  Seeing marked progress in this subtle, slowly developing transition gave a sense of accomplishment before our leave began.

Above:  Working on an alphabet song in the Iyasa language
Below:  Workshop participants from Kwasio and Batanga language communities with certificates at the completion of a workshop in late May.

Lori and the children were also feeling this same sense of comfort in managing family life and school life.  The kids transitioned from feeling new in their schools to feeling as if they really belonged.  Lori had much of our life at home into a routine and life flowed much more smoothly than it did at our arrival two years before.


The "six-handed dishwasher" in Cameroon.
After we finished the school year and packed up for our year in the USA, we took a little side trip to “close up” some old transitions.  We made a 9 day stop in France during our travels.  We found air tickets that allowed this to happen and thoroughly enjoyed our stay.  We made a point to visit people and places that were important to us during our time of language study in France (2013-14).  We also visited a couple of places that we had wanted to visit back then, but had run out of time for.  

We saw the kids’ schools, walked past our old apartment, attended our church, ate with several friends, caught up with several of our French professors, etc.  It was fantastic and very cathartic, I think especially for the kids.  They put out a lot of effort to assimilate to school and learn the language during that year, only to leave shortly after finding their comfort zone.  My favorite memory was right at the beginning of our stay.  I was walking with Kristin (12) through Paris, searching for a bakery near a train station while waiting a few hours for our train to depart.  As we walked along the street, she said, “I don’t feel like a tourist here.  I feel like I belong here.”  She enjoyed knowing that at one time, it was a struggle to be in that environment, but was now at ease.  She also enjoyed that, even after two years away in Africa, she still felt confident in French culture.  I’m hoping that helped her turn some transition experiences in to positives that she can build on.


Reunited with our favorite breakfast and lunch options in France.

We still like to climb up to old buildings.
Albertville, our old 'hood!
Seeing snow for the first time in over two years...in June.
Seeing old friends in France.


Arriving in Virginia, a new transition awaited as we moved in with Lori’s mom in Lynchburg.  We’re learning to be more flexible with our family’s way of doing things versus Lori’s mom’s style of life (more of an issue after three years away in different cultures).  We even had to adjust to the feeling of being in air conditioning often.  It was a shock to find that air conditioning was not really pleasant at first and required some getting used to.  The living situation also requires adjustment to our typical schedule and tasks around the house.


A couple of days after our arrival in the US, we were at the 70th Sutton Family Reunion in Pennsylvania.
This is our branch of Lori's very large family.
For the kids, there is a huge new transition that looms and will probably be among the toughest challenges of this coming year:  school.  In the days immediately after our arrival, we began the process of getting the kids enrolled in their respective schools.  It was hard for us having to explain their educational background of the past few years, such as the conversation about Noah and his enrollment in foreign language classes:  “Yes, my 14 year old tenth-grader-to-be is well qualified for AP French and will quite likely be bored in the class - and also has a better accent than the teacher.”  There were also the shots and physicals.  Our kids have easily had twice as many shots as typical kids their age, but some were not accepted because of how and where they were administered.  Transition hurts in multiple ways sometimes!

When school starts, they’ll have the big social transition…again.  For the past two school years, they have been in a close-knit community of mostly expatriate kids in their international schools.  Before that, they were dropped into the French public schools with zero French language skills.  The year before that, they were in a charter school in Texas.  And the year before that, they were homeschooled in Virginia.  Honestly, I’m amazed that they’ve kept it together so well during all of that.  But I know this new transition will be a big challenge, even for seasoned transitionees.  They will need a copious amount of prayer as they learn a new educational system and new social rules.

Hiking Crabtree Falls in VA with longtime friend Peter.
The last of the transitions for this installment is transitioning relationships.  People change a lot when you’re away for three years.  Some of our friends have new children - some multiple new children!  Some of our friends have moved away.  Some of our friends have experienced break-up of their families.  Some of our friends have experienced tragic loss.  The joys and the sorrows are both draining for us as we renew our friendships because there are so many new realities to put together in our heads - honestly, it’s exhausting to process it all.  We’ve also learned that with some people, the friendship restarts as if there was never an interruption while others are slower to reignite.  The kicker here is that it is not necessarily relative to how deep or shallow the relationship had been…it seems quite random and hard to predict.

The other, less-anticipated relationship challenge was leaving friends in Cameroon.  In the missionary culture, we know that things can and do change quickly.  Sometimes a home assignment like ours marks the permanent end of a friendship due to people changing assignments, moving back to their passport countries, whatever.  There is an air of suspicion among our Cameroonian and expatriate friends of whether we will really return.  That too can be draining.

Goodbye picture with Abanda, the guard posted across the street from our home in Cameroon.
We thank you for your patience in this post that might seem like a series of complaints.  Our intention is to show what we’re struggling with and where the uncertainty in our lives is right now.  In another post to follow in a few days, we want to share the transitions that we envision during this year in the United States, mostly on the work front.  It will cover what our work looks like during this year in the US and how that will transition to more effective ministry in Cameroon beginning in 2017.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

On the Road...

Last week, I [Chris] had the opportunity to do a couple of songwriting workshops.  I did two short workshops of three days each.  They were in two different countries, conducted in two different languages and had two completely different types of participants.

The first stop was in Kribi, South Region, Cameroon.  Kribi is a popular destination for tourists (and sometimes expat missionaries).  It was a bit hard to convince my friends and colleagues that this time I was headed to Kribi to work.  The coordinator of our Scripture Engagement Department, Apolinaire, went with me to guide the first one.  He is a dynamic guy and bails me out when I get myself stuck in a corner with my French!  It was also the first time that Apolinaire had been so near the ocean, so we made sure to head out to the beach one day after our sessions.

(L-R) Apolinaire, local pastor Francois, and Georges, the mobilizer for the Kwasio language project.

We had 10 participants - 9 from the Kwasio language and 1 from Iyassa.  In these workshops, we guide them through the creative process and give hints on how to use scripture effectively, encourage them to use the true music of their culture, and then have them do some composition in groups.  At the end, we record the groups and give them their songs on an SD card so that they will remember what they created and be able to teach it to others in their communities/churches later.

Most of our participants in the Kribi workshop
After the workshop, Apolinaire headed back to Yaoundé, but I went south to Campo, at the far southwestern corner of Cameroon.  I drove down there with the Iyassa-speaking participant of the workshop, Adolphe.  We stopped in the village he grew up in and he introduced me to some of his extended family as well as showing me the sights of Ebodje.

Following Adolphe from his family home in the village down to the beach.

Miles of beautiful beach...

A culturally significant rock that the Iyassa call The Tortoise

In Campo, I stayed the night and left my truck at the home of my colleagues Wendy and Benis, linguists studying the Iyassa language.  The next morning, I boarded a small boat and went across the river into the country of Equatorial Guinea, where I was met by another colleague that has worked in EG for a couple of decades.

In Bata, Equatorial Guinea, we did another workshop.  The difference in this group was that the participants were more urban, with most living in Bata, which is a fairly large city.  But, it was interesting that many were originally from other parts of the country, as we had five different languages represented.  The music produced was more western influenced, but they all were interested in pulling in some elements from their home cultures as well.  This group also had some polished musicians, a few of which had produced professional recordings in the past.  What made this workshop easier was that I was able to teach in English!  Spanish is the language of wider communication in EG, so my colleagues that work there translated for me in addition to leading some of the discussions.

Some men of the Fang language getting help with vocal parts from Benga and Kombe women.

The results in EG were closer to finished products since these were more experienced musicians.  We took the opportunity to make some sample recordings of their new creations as well as some older songs that many of the musicians had.  This group also did something very unique: instead of recording a "rough draft" of their songs in progress, which is what we typically shoot for by the end of the third day, this group worked all together to add voice parts to each of the other groups in the other languages.  It was cool to see a trio of Fang-speaking men teaching a trio of Benga-speaking ladies the words to their songs so that they would have women's vocal parts included in their their songs.  And each group did the same, including all of the others in their music.  It was hard getting all of the participants comfortably into the small office we used to record, since we only intended to record 3-4 people at a time.  But they didn't seem to mind squeezing 11 or 12 into the space for the fuller sounds.


At the end of it all, Scott and Margaret (my colleagues based in EG), were thrilled to have the musicians of five different languages excited to write new music in their own languages and hear the finished products.  While hearing the participants singing scripture songs together in their mother tongues, they said, "This is what we came to EG for!"

My trip back to Yaoundé was a long one on Sunday.  I left Bata at 7am and was driven an hour and a half north to the river at Rio Campo, took the boat back across (not a fun experience this time, but that's another story for another day...), picked up my car at Wendy & Benis's house, and drove 6+ hours home to Yaoundé.

One of my fellow passengers on the boat back into Cameroon.  She and her friend make the crossing every Sunday from EG to go to their preferred church in Cameroon.

All in all, it was a successful trip.  I missed my family, but was glad to have some positive results in both Kribi and Bata.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Calm before the storm

That's probably not a very good title.  I [Chris] don't know necessarily that there's a storm (metaphorically speaking) headed this way...but we're definitely in a calm period before some change.  So it may or may not be appropriate.

If you see our newsletter, you probably know that we have a firm assignment with the Makaa language group.  If you care to know more, I'll provide the details that I know about how this will look.

Right now, the calm is that I'm doing administrative-type things.  Today I was working on creating paperwork to obtain a research permit.

The research permit is important for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it's a tool that allows us to do arts research.  One thing that I respect very much about SIL is that we're pretty thorough in what we do and try to do it to a high standard.  In the work of trying to understand local arts so that we can encourage its use in the church, we do our research in classic academic fashion.  Lots of folks from SIL publish their findings in linguistics and the arts in academic journals, present papers at conferences and the like.  I'm looking forward to that aspect of things, really.  In terms of arts research, there's some low-hanging fruit.  A lot of the artistic life in this region has not been thoroughly documented, so topics to bring to light are plentiful.

The other reason for the research permit is that it gives us an opportunity to give something valuable to the community.  In documenting their music and making it available to be understood and/or heard, it lends dignity to the cultures involved.  And that dignity can be a big step toward understanding the value of oneself as "made in the image of God."  We don't conceptualize this too well in North America, because we have a relatively homogenous culture and we value equality and pluralism.  But in Africa, some cultures really have identity issues that affect the self-perception of entire communities because of their status as a non-dominant culture in an area.  It's been demonstrated many times in our organization that when a culture is dignified by our presence and research, they often become open to hearing the gospel.

Anyway, I hope to have the research permit business done really soon.  I just need to polish it up a bit.

A Presbyterian Church building in the village of Bagbeze in the Makaa area...
…complete with a church bell.

The other part of the coming change is taking on language learning and finding a music teacher.  I'm going to start learning the Makaa language as soon as I get hooked up with a language helper.  A Makaa gentleman in a church I've been attending is trying to find someone for me.  I'm a bit intimidated by learning Makaa, because it has some difficult elements.  First of all, it is tonal.  That shouldn't be too tough because I'm a musician.  But it's different, so one never knows how tough it will be.  Second, I'm told that the language has about 10 noun classes.  And your next question (if you're not one of my linguist buddies) is, "what are noun classes?"  Well, take French, for example.  Nouns are either feminine or masculine, so there are two noun classes.  In German, there is feminine, masculine and neuter - three noun classes.  Definite articles (the), possessive adjectives (his, her, their, our, etc.) and other things may change depending on the noun class.  So I guess I'll eventually find out what the 10 noun classes in Makaa are based on, because it surely cannot only be gender or lack thereof.  I'm anxious to get started and find out!

Some typical tam-tams (or slit drums).


As an aside, you might ask, "Why do you need to learn the language?"  I'm not going to be translating or anything like that, true.  But I've always told people that in SIL we believe that "one doesn't learn a language; one learns a culture."  Well, that cuts both ways.  If my job is to learn the Makaa culture and music well, there are certain intangibles that one can learn through learning the language.

Finding a music teacher might be a bit more tricky, but in the end probably more fun.  I'm going to learn the instrument known as the tam-tam.  It's from a class of instruments known as idiophones - which basically means that the instrument itself is vibrating but without strings or a head of any sort.  The tam-tam is actually best described as a log drum.  Some call it a slit drum because of the opening on the top.  This instrument is at the core of a lot of Makaa music.  It also has had a communication role throughout African history.  Tam-tams were used to communicate messages over long distances (like several kilometers - village to village) by drumming out rhythms that evoked the tonality of the language.  I was joking with Lori that apparently Africa has had wireless communication for millenia!


And the last thing is a bit of traveling.  The Makaa zone is about a three hour drive to the largest town.  It's another few hours to get to some of the more remote areas where the culture is more "pure."  I'm planning on being out there 4-6 days per month.  I haven't planned my first trip yet, but I hope to get started soon.  I'm hoping on my first trip to find a tam-tam to buy.  I'm not so sure my neighbors are going to be happy about my owning an instrument that has the capability of being heard for miles!

So a little bit of change is coming, but mostly just for me.  The rest of the family is happy that we don't have to move and they will get stay in their schools and that their routines won't change much.

As I get some music recorded, I hope to be able to share some interesting things over the next several months.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, enjoy some more pictures of the past few months.

Meeting with a church leader in Campo, a village in the Iyassa language group.

Limbe, Southwest Region.  This is a much more beautiful beach than this picture lets on.

Lobé Falls, Kribi, South Region.  These small falls are one of the rare spots where a waterfall drops directly into the Atlantic Ocean.  It's hard to tell in this picture, but there is another 20-25 foot drop before this river reaches the ocean behind us.





Sunday, November 9, 2014

Adaptation

Cultural adaptation is a tricky thing.  We form habits and expectations as well as define “normal” in our minds from the day of our birth.  They become deeply ingrained in our being.  When sharp change comes and those norms are tested, it can be exciting, stressful, anger-inducing, frustrating, confusing – a whole range of emotions is possible.

After more than three months in Africa, we’ve seen progress in our process of adaptation.  We’re learning to adapt to new norms and redefine expectations daily.  It isn’t easy and the process is never complete, but by God’s provision of patience and wisdom, we can press on toward thriving in our new situation.

All in all, our first thirteen weeks have been quite tranquil.  Even so, there are adjustments to make.  I’ve made a list of a few of our little adjustments.  It is fun to notice how far we’ve come in our short time thus far in Cameroon.

We’ve lost water service in our neighborhood for parts or all of about 30 days since our arrival in the last week of July.  The longest continuous period without water has been almost 5 days.  The first time without was rather traumatic and nobody was happy.  We’re used to it now and know very well how to manage our reserves and function normally.  Heating up water in the tea-kettle and filling a bucket for a warm shower is no big deal anymore.

Lori has learned to observe the skies to decide whether it is best to hang the laundry outside or on the lines we’ve made inside.  Clothes dry faster outside if it’s sunny, but if rain looks imminent, it’s best to hang things around the house for a couple of days to dry.  We’re in the midst of a rainy season, so it looks like the house will be decorated with our clothing each day for a while longer.  It may seem like no big skill to discern if rain is imminent or not, but it’s a bit tricky here.  Big puffy clouds are always in the skies above us.  Learning to identify the potential for rain is not nearly as simple as it was while living 40 degrees north of the equator.

Storm clouds gathering over the mountains of the Northwest Province

Candles are always on our dinner table.  We don’t lose electricity all that often – maybe 2-3 times per week, usually not for more than an hour at a time.  But the candles are always there so that if the power goes out, we can continue eating without having to get up and look for them.  The solar-charged lantern isn’t far away either.

Fresh, natural food is very convenient in Cameroon, so we’ve learned to benefit from the many entrepreneurs in our community that hand-make different food items.  It can be confusing to remember who comes to the house with what on which days, but the fresh squeezed pineapple and guava juice that comes on Fridays is almost as heavenly as the freshly made bagels that come on Tuesdays and the cinnamon rolls and (still warm) bread that get delivered on Mondays.  It’s so cool to be able to eat excellent food, buy from local vendors, and go to the grocery store a little less often.  And this doesn’t even begin to address the guavas and avacados that fell from the trees in our yard each day for the first month we were here.  Yeah, we ate a lot of guacamole for awhile there.

We’re adapting to ambient noise.  We live less than 400 meters from a rather busy city street filled with taxis and other traffic.  The constant horn-honking doesn’t even phase us anymore.  And the roosters that begin at 3:30 AM don’t penetrate our sleep too often either.  Yes, we live in a place where urban traffic noise and rooster crows are perfectly normal together.

Neighborhood roosters along the road to Kristin & Ben's school

We’re getting used to being looked at a lot.  When we walk down the street, we look very different, so its only natural that people look at us closely.  Honestly, it does take a bit of getting used to.  Also, people might verbalize their observations in a way that society would consider inappropriate in America (Bonjour, les blancs/Hello, white people).  But we’ve learned that Cameroonians are gregarious and friendly on the whole and the comments/observations are generally good-natured.

Church is a different experience.  It makes sense that if people have a personal relationship with their God, they should worship in a way that expresses things most naturally for them.  This is actually a core principal of our work in EthnoArts.  It’s also cool to see it first hand.  We’re adapting to the animated worship style that reflects the personality of where we live.  But we also will take time once in awhile to refresh ourselves at an international church of expatriates where the style will be more like our home culture.

We’re learning that in Africa, relationships are more important than goals/tasks.  I (Chris) realized I was starting to live this when I looked at my watch and noticed that I had been talking with one of the security guards in the neighborhood about his family, kids’ schooling, and whatever else for about 30 minutes one afternoon.  I don’t think I would have done that a few months ago, but I’m slowly catching on.

For sure, there will be much more adaptation for us.  It’s actually a good thing for us to be stirred up a bit and relearn the need for our dependence on the Lord in our daily lives.

On the more newsy side of life, I (Chris) made a first trip out of Yaoundé to a village in the Northwest Province.  It was two days of driving.  The first day was six hours of highway driving with two hours of muddy dirt roads (see video below).  The second day was a physical four hours on rough roads heading to the village of Misaje.  I am thankful for the vehicle we were able to purchase and for the new tires that our staff mechanic advised us to put on it. 


In Misaje, I was helping out with a songwriting workshop that was held for six language groups of the surrounding area.  It was good to get a first taste of ethnoarts work and to live with/work with my ethnoarts colleague in Cameroon, Neil Zubot, and his family during the week.  The workshop participants were very eager and turned out some nice music in their indigenous styles and languages with Biblical texts.  One highlight of the workshop was when one of the participants decided to lead the group in a song that everyone knew in Pidgin, the trade language of the region that closely resembles English.  Their zeal in doing this song was pretty cool to watch.  I caught most of it on this video.

And at the same time, in the same building, some of our media specialists were recording voice tracks for the Jesus Film in a recently translated language of the region.  One day I looked around at lunch and noticed that I was only one of two Americans among the missionaries.  I was there in the village working with teammates from Canada, Costa Rica, Austria, The Netherlands, and Cameroon.  What a fun week to be with a great group of co-workers and enthusiastic workshop participants!  Enjoy some pictures below from the workshop.



Wonderful friends and co-workers: Kay (Costa Rica), Nathanael (USA), Neil (Canada), and Guy (Cameroon)

Editing song texts with workshop participants from the Naami language group

Participants and most of the staff from the October workshop

Teaching a workshop session

Photos don't do justice to the beautiful scenery in the Northwest Province