Tunde at The International Conference on Missions in Cameroon. 8/09

Channels of Hope facilitator, 'Tunde Fowe, represented CABSA in Cameroon in August 2009

The weather was unusually bright and traffic unexpectedly light when I made my way to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos on Wednesday the 5th of August, 2009 for a planned trip to Douala in Cameroon for an International Conference on Missions. The flight this bright afternoon was a combined flight to Douala, Cameroon and Libreville, Gabon and it was the only one flying the route that day. As expected, it was full to capacity. I was pretty fortunate to get a seat on this “overbooked” flight.

When I got to the airport, it became obvious to me that apart from those of us who were going for a short trip or probably returning from a conference in Nigeria, this flight was a choice flight for Nigerian businessmen who have interests in the West Africa sub-region. I could tell this from the heavy luggages that were being checked in at the counter.

Time was short, so I made my way quickly through the immigration to the boarding gate and then onto the plane. The less than two hours flight afforded me the opportunity to take a well-deserved nap in the middle of a “crazy” week. The bright clouds completed the picture and I had a sweet dream. I dreamt of a transformed Africa. I dreamt of a continent freed from the shackles of systemic poverty, gender discrimination and social injustice. I dreamt of empowered communities that could adequately respond to the issues of drought and massive erosions. Sweetest of all, I dreamt of a continent where HIV and AIDS was no longer a challenge. In the midst of this came the voice of the captain over the loudspeakers, instructing the cabin crew to prepare us for landing. I felt upset. I wished the flight were longer. Before I could think of a way back into my dream, the plane landed at the Douala International Airport.

BernardWe were welcomed at the airport by a young vibrant man by the name of Bernard. I got to learn that there were three of us from Nigeria on that flight who were headed for the conference. The first is an American professor teaching in a Nigerian University, the other a pastor of a Church in central Lagos and my humble self. We were huddled into a saloon car and started off a four-hour journey to Yaounde, the Cameroonian capital where the conference was billed to hold.  

The conference started off on that Thursday morning on the campus of the Protestant University in Yaounde on a beautiful note, with participants streaming in from all over Cameroon. The conference was attended by over Participants200 persons who are pastors, missionaries and evangelists. We learnt this is the first time that Protestants and Pentecostals would meet together under the same roof. This we believe is a new beginning for the Church in Cameroon. This first day featured talks from different speakers (only one delivered his talk in English, the others in French) on the theme of the Conference, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields…” (John 4:35).

I was originally billed to speak that first day but due to an unfortunate mix-up, it did not happen. So, my talk was shifted to the next day (8:30-10:00am). Friday morning came and I mounted the dais. I started off by introducing CABSA and what she does. Next, I sampled the understanding of the participants on the subject of HIV and AIDS and its mode of transmission. I got some enlightened responses, but there was one that elicited a mixture of shock and laughter. A pastor who incidentally is a “deliverance minister” explained that HIV is a spell cast on a person or family. He went on to recall a vivid experience he had while “ministering deliverance” to an entire family including a newly-born child that was afflicted by this spell, leaving the man of the house dead. The climax of his story was when he described what happened during the “deliverance session”. He claimed that the “demon” responsible for this spell called HIV spoke up through a family member and identified itself. The demon, according to him, was promptly dealt with and cast out thus leaving the other members of the family safe from further afflictions. I realised that there was still an entrenched ignorance about HIV and its transmission even in that audience.

Next, I asked them to describe their feelings and reactions to the word, AIDS. I got some very horrible expressions like, “the worst kind of sin”, “reward for marital unfaithfulness”, “a just punishment from God” and so on. I was however glad when two participants mentioned words like, “compassion” and “dignity”.

This set the stage for me to do the “hypothetical scenario” exercise. Because of the large number, I demarcated the hall into three, introduced my three potential patients to them and asked them to “vote” for any of them as they deemed fit by moving to the corner designated for the names. After each round, I asked for opinions from those who moved and those who did not. Though it was not an ideal setting, the exercise surfaced a number of assumptions and ingrained prejudices.

I rounded off the session with a brief talk based on John 4 (where the Conference theme was drawn), on the encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria. I pointed out that Jesus broke a number of barriers to minister to that woman by the well. He broke a racial barrier (Judah and Samaria), a religious barrier (Jewish and Samaritan), a gender barrier (man and woman), a moral barrier (a righteous religious leader and a “prostitute”) and a social barrier (a respected personality and a “recluse”). I briefly showed how Jesus broke these existing barriers and prejudices and challenged them as religious leaders to do the same in the context of HIV and AIDS.

The scene that followed is better experienced than explained. An atmosphere of sobriety and calmness fell upon the hall as the leaders went before God in repentance. I called on a Church leader to round off the session in prayer. I felt much fulfilled after the session especially as I saw people who came to ask me more about CABSA and expressing their desire to become better equipped to adequately respond to the issues of HIV and AIDS on their return home.

My impression is that it was a good thing CABSA got involved in this epoch-making conference. There’s no doubting the fact that this is a good investment in the Cameroon Church.

My return journey back home is an experience I do not wish to recall. I missed my flight due to no fault of mine, was virtually stranded in Douala, and was left at the mercy of touts. Thankfully, there was another flight 26 hours after on Saturday. The return trip appeared to take longer than the previous one. The “ride” was bumpy. I felt uncomfortable putting on the same clothes I wore the previous day. I was tired but dared not sleep. I wanted to monitor the flight so that it does not take me beyond my destination. This time I could not dream.

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