Friday, February 19, 2016

How Beautiful Upon the Mountains

It is hard to climb mountains. Here in Kumbo, we have plenty of mountains, but in Cameroon one literally rises above the rest. Mt. Cameroon is the highest peak in the country, and in fact it is the highest point in Sub-Saharan West Africa. It is an active volcano, last erupting not too long ago. Most people reach the top by trekking from nearby Buea over several days, but once a year there is a foot race to the top and back. For some crazy reason, I got it into my head that this would be a good thing to try, and I've been training for quite some time. The race is almost-but-not-quite-marathon-length, around 24 miles round trip. That's 12 miles up up up up, and then 12 down down down down.

No, I've never run a marathon before. No, running wasn't a particular hobby of mine until I began training last year. Why am I running? I have been asking myself the same question on my long training runs. My elder brother was an accomplished ultramarathon runner and a mountain climber, and this race would very much appeal to him. In part, I'm running to understand and honor the memory of my brother. I'm also running for myself and my family, to live a healthier lifestyle. I'm running to be a part of the community, greeting everyone I see and observing life here. I try to explain to the village children who call to me "Father! Father!" that no, they shouldn't call me Father because I'm not the Filipino priest from their village mission station, I'm just a regular white man who teaches at SAC. It doesn't work. Incidentally, I have by observation discovered my neighborhood. That is, I know where people know me and call me Pa James or Tanyi, and then I cross an invisible border and I'm a stranger and just "white man."

About the race: So many things about this race are very Cameroonian. There's the almost-but-not-quite-marathon-length distance, which could easily be a marathon if they modified the course. Why bother, when the course and objective are so clear cut and neat? Start at the grandstand, run up to the top of that big mountain over there, and return to the starting line. Second, I've been warned about the water at the aid stations, that I shouldn't be the first to drink there because the water may be poisoned and/or cursed. Well, I don't think I have to worry about being the first in! For the record, it was a Westerner that warned me about the poison and cursing. I'll be careful, anyway. Then, there is the date of the race... originally scheduled for Feb 13, until the organizers realized there was a conflict with a National holiday (Youth Day) on Feb 11. Well, they couldn't get all the participants in town and do the health check-ups and all the prep work when everyone was in their hometowns celebrating this day full of displays of national unity. So, the actual date of the race will be the 27th. Maybe. You never can know.

I look forward to the challenge and the experience of climbing the mountain, of doing something a little bit crazy and ridiculous. So, please pray that all goes well, and smoothly.
After the readings last weekend, I've been thinking about this passage from the Old Testament:

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings" -Isaiah 52:7

In last Sunday's epistle, Paul makes references this passage, and it has been turning over in my heart and in my head. I have been thinking about mission, our reason for being here, what we are doing, all those very deep and important questions that are easy to forget when your most immediate problem is trying to get your class of napping pre-teens to sit up and pay attention. As a metaphor for evangelization, this is a difficult and challenging verse. We are called to bear the good news... Across the mountains! The way is winding, hard, steep, fraught with dangers... it is much much easier to keep the news to yourself and stay at home than it is to traverse the mountains just to bring that news to strangers.

This mission has certainly been hard for us. We don't always write about the hard stuff, especially the really hard stuff. But it has also certainly been beautiful! Sometimes it is hard to see the beautiful, and recently we've been experiencing that difficulty. That's why I'm grateful God gives us the readings we need in the liturgy, so that now instead of wallowing in my own stress and the anxiety of our upcoming re-entry into America, my spirits are buoyed by the words of Isaiah, who thinks I have beautiful feet. :)


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