Friday, June 12, 2015

All Nations

In Kumbo, we literally live in the middle of nowhere. We are a second rate city in an ignored region of a forgotten country in the middle of a neglected and abused continent. If you look at a map of Cameroon, the “good roads” end before you reach Kumbo. If you look at a map of the major shipping lanes of the world, you'll noticed that most of them are trying to go AROUND Africa, to link up Asia with the West. We're nobody, we're nothing, we're just trying to scratch out a living from the earth. We're just living life, one day at a time, trying to live long enough to praise the Lord and maybe be remembered by our children's children. Lamnso' is a living but threatened language. There may be problems with our country, as there are problems with all countries, but at least we have peace.

Look around you. In America, there are many Cameroonians. They diagnose your ailments and administer your IV's. They make plays in the NFL. They give homilies and hear confessions. They pray for you while on retreat. They sell you houses and bag your groceries and rent your meeting spaces. They listen to your lectures. They deliver your babies.

We have discovered there is a large population of Cameroonians abroad, and even a large population of diaspora Nso'. They say that in Cameroon there is an Nso' man in every town and city. I wouldn't doubt that is true about every major city in America.

So what's the deal? Why are we living here, in their place? Why are they living there, in our place? What are we doing?

I think there is a value in the global exchange of people, ideas, and culture. There is a beauty to recognizing the universal human experience. But there's an even higher and more important reason. Christ commanded us to preach the good news to all Nations, and so here we are. Living and working and watching and being watched. But Christians here have the same command, so they go out, if they can, and live their lives in other nations. Maybe we can watch and learn from them and other immigrants as they bear witness to Christ and preach the Gospel to us.

God knows we need some Good News.


Monday, June 1, 2015

The Last Day of School

The last day of the term is always crazy, and the last day of school even more so. This year, things went relatively smoothly, all things considered. The administrative staff worked very hard in the previous 48 hours. While things were done at the last minute, they got done.
Exams: the quietest the students ever get
This is the first year that Saint Augustine College has used a computer to record and track students' marks. The software we use is a school management program written by a Cameroonian. It is interesting because it is tailor made for the Cameroonian school system, but it is also very clunky, kludge-y, and not user friendly. It is lacking a surprising number of useful features. But it works, if barely, so we use it. It sure beats entering all the marks by hand on giant spreadsheets, and calculating each student's average by hand, and writing report cards by hand. (I'm not sure if it beats a simple spreadsheet program like Excel.)

I am half-trained on the school management software, so this term it fell to me to enter most of the marks while the computer teacher, Mr. Fred, who usually enters the marks, was away preparing and administering the practical portion of the GCE Computer exam. Being where we are (i.e. Cameroon) I didn't know I was going to have this duty until I myself went up to turn in my marks on Tuesday. After I was through entering, Mr. Fred said, “OK, I need to go to town to inspect an examination site. You can stay here and enter marks, I will be back in two hours.” That was the last I saw him for several days. The data entry isn't too difficult, and I hope that other teachers will be trained to do it, to lessen the burden on any one individual. Over two days, I spent 8 or 9 hours in the staff room, entering marks. I think the computer teacher was pleased to return and find almost all of his work finished.
Teachers working fast and furious to get it done.
 The class council the next day started at “9 AM,” which really turned out to be 11. By now, we know how to deal with the boring and pointless tedium, so it was OK. Our kids at home enjoyed watching an endless stream of movies. After the class council, the report cards were taken into town to be printed, and then the principal and some others spent forever signing and stamping them. Then, in the morning the students are all packed up and the teachers put packets together with the book list for next year and a letter home and the report cards, everything is distributed, and everyone goes home.
"Please, for our report cards, sir!"
 One fun thing to note was the camaraderie and support between the students when the report cards were distributed. One of the Form I students went to primary school in the village and so came to secondary school with no English skills whatsoever. He is always near the bottom of the class, but the other students rejoiced when they saw that he had been “promoted on trial.” He didn't pass, but he didn't TOTALLY fail, so congratulations were in order.

We also took this as an opportunity to pass out holy cards and say good-bye to the students. We saw a new treat being sold that we had never seen before, something similar to peanut brittle. I asked what it was called, and there was some “who's on first” humor as the vendor told me the name: it is not sweet. I know it's not sweet, but what is the name? It is not sweet. Oh, the name of the treat is, “It is not sweet.” Yes.

In fact, it is sweet. What else is sweet? Having another year under our belt.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Who Am I and What Is My Mission?

We are so forgetful, aren't we? It's easy to forget who we are and what our mission is.

As other teachers know, there are days when students just get under your skin. I was having just such a day with my Form II students. The first class of the day had been rude, rowdy, rambunctious, any of a number of r-words. And they were the “good” class of the two! I walked into the next class with a grey cloud over my head. The first student who crosses me, I thought, is going to get it. It didn't take long, and I stormed over to his seat, and put him in my crosshairs. Nose to nose, I suddenly thought, what am I doing? I am a missionary! I am here in Cameroon ostensibly because of my love of Christ and my desire to spread the Gospel by word and witness! What a horrible witness to the Love of the Father I am now giving, flying off the handle with no patience at all. I am sure my students were surprised when the next words out of my mouth were not harsh, were not punishment, but were rather, “Jesus loves you.” I added a small note about the need to behave, blah blah blah, but the moment had passed, the situation defused, and I was back to remembering who I was and what my mission is.

As Christians, our mission is the same as the Church's, given by Christ at the end of the Gospel of Matthew:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

As individuals, our personal sins damage our ability to carry out our mission, and in turn cripple the mission of the Church. We take ourselves further and further out of the game with every lie and lust, and the evil one sits back and enjoys the show. We forget our baptism, and we succumb to temptation. It's amazing how a little temptation can, with our necessary assent, transform into a debilitating sin.

God, in his wisdom and providence, is able to use all of us clowns to bring about something good. All it takes is for us to remember just what it is we are through our baptism and the dignity that entails: Members of one body, whose head is Christ.

I've never really had much luck with shrugging off temptation. It is always there, always beckoning. I want it, I am attracted to its glamour. Even in the mission field, sin and temptation are present and promising. It looks like fun! And really, it IS kind of fun, at least in the moment. I see people sinning and I want to sin, too. I covet sin!

We can't just quit sinning, not without God's grace and not without some reason to convince our fallen intellect to override our appetite. We covet sin, and how do we covet? We begin by coveting what we see every day. The solution is not to try to quit sin cold turkey, to will ourselves to cease sinning and resist temptation. Rather, the solution is to begin to desire, or “covet,” so to speak, something else. When we see something else, something that is better than sin for both the person and society, we will begin to want that something else. When I read the lives of the saints, I am inspired to be like them. When I read Scripture, I am floored by the beauty and wisdom and truth within. When I am with holy and virtuous friends, I want to be holy and virtuous, too. When I see the innocent generosity of children, I want to be generous, too. There is an inner light, a joy that the living saints have, and I want it!

Obviously we can't retreat entirely from the world and all that is messed up inside of it. But we can add some peace to the chaos, some contemplative silence to the noise, and try to fill our lives with truth, beauty, and virtue.

We covet what we see. To fulfill our baptismal promises and turn away from sin, let's look to Christ and the saints, especially Mary, and “covet” their holy living!