Visiting six communities in about 10 days, our trip cross Cameroon had us make a slim loop, going east from Banyo to Ngaoundere (Ng’dere) by one road, and back west by another. It seems to me that we have been “prayed through” all along, since the police/soldiers/gendarmes at the various check-stops have hardly been an issue with us – a truly remarkable thing on a trip this long. The terrain changes substantially west to east, with the vegetation changing along with it. This means if you want mangoes (for instance) you’ll need to buy them near G’dere because you can’t get them in the west.
As well, as you get further from the major centers, life becomes more primitive. I measure these things by the latrines: in a little community north of G’dere the latrine is a lean-to on the side of the small guesthouse; it has a ceiling about 5’ high, so you cannot really stand up straight in it. It does, however, have a cement floor. Three hours west of that, the latrine has no ceiling, so you can stand up, but the floor is dirt. Three hours west again, the latrine is actually like an ensuite, being in the house, and having a nice floor and so on.
Some of the villages we saw were along the main road, or fairly close, while others required a drive through 3-5 km of rough paths (to call them ‘roads’ would be to give them too high a status). Two of communities were new to us, but at the rest we were visiting friends we have met before. In every case, the hospitality was very gracious and generous.
Sonya and I had been tasked by the F*lbe leaders with making assessments of twelve F*lbe communities, both in Cameroon and in Nigeria (as I write this, we are in the middle of the trip, with Nigeria yet to come). The assessment is to cover things like each community’s capacity for education, vocational development, fellowship, visitor accommodation, medical outreach, and whatever else we think might be relevant. In other words, we want to know if the children are going to school, if people are learning (or open to learning) new trades, if there is room when guests come, and so on.
Some of the people we met have been settled in their areas for several years (ten being about the longest), but many are quite new. In various places we saw evidence of the United Nations at work, since many of the people are refugees coming from the Central African Republic, which has been ravaged by civil war and rampant banditry.
A very basic, and common, need is for technical knowledge, especially as it relates to farming. F*lbe are traditionally nomadic cattle herders, and the transition to settled farming is a huge paradigm shift for all of them. (We have been working on a short video about “People in Transition,” so if you are on our Prayer Update list you may get a copy of that sent to you – internet connection permitting.) One community in Nigeria has successfully made the transition, so we know it can be done, but their situation is unique (they have been living among farming peoples for about thirty years now), and their brothers and sisters in Cameroon are on the steep learning curve of the hill.
One great temptation that all missionaries and visitors face is to try to “help” by solving every problem or situation that we encounter. This is a good, compassionate, impulse, but most often it must be resisted. Most issues that people face here are interconnected – meaning that to make a change in area “A” will cause unexpected consequences down in area “F.” The best people to effect successful change are the F*lbe themselves. There is much that westerners can contribute – and we trust that many of our readers will be willing to be part of the solutions that arise – but the leaders of the process must be the F*lbe themselves.
My own evaluation tells me that successful change will come with wise, dedicated, godly leadership. Not all leaders are created equal. On our trip east and back, we have met some extremely capable leaders. These men and women are building up those around them; they are humble enough to receive help and advice; they are committed to making their communities better in every way they can; they understand that spiritual health is the key to every other kind of progress.
On the other hand, we have also seen traditional leaders – men (traditional leaders generally do not allow women power to effect change) – who do not have the best interests of the community in mind; men who are out for their own short-term gain; men who know that giving Lordship to Christ will diminish their own corrupted power base. It would be wonderful to say there are no such leaders among the believing communities, but sadly we have met some in one community. They have been recognized by the government, and the believers are virtually powerless to evict them from their position.
So, they work through/around/in spite of them as best they can. The women in that village have been meeting weekly, praying together, sharing needs, and collecting funds. The Jauro (village leader) asked them to lend him the money. When they refused (because they knew he would not pay it back), he told them they could no longer meet in the House of Worship, and that any time they did meet he was to be notified and invited. And so it goes. Our part in this little melee was to encourage the women in their faith, and in their determination to continue seeking to bless their community in face of this opposition.
Still, the picture is overall an encouraging one. Jesus Christ has come into these people’s lives, and He is the difference maker. This work among the F*lbe is a pioneer work, and walking among them is akin to walking through the Book of Acts, and the letters of St Paul. Many hardships, much persecution, significant challenges; but at the same time, faith, hope, and love working through the people. They do need help to come from the larger body of Christ, but they are showing that they have resources of their own.