A letter from Leisa Wagstaff in Cameroon
December 1, 2009
Dear Partners in mission,
Greetings once again from Cameroon!
It is hard to believe that in three short weeks the first term of study will end. It seems like a few days ago that school reopened amidst students’ screams of excitement, haphazard chatter of catching up, energetic hugs of joy at meeting one another again and in good health, and the mad rush to welcome mates by carrying their luggage. At one moment, I closed my eyes and was certain I was on the campus of any typical American boarding high school or college, with the exception, for sure, of the English accent, the French speaking, and scores of mother tongues: Meta, Bafut, Bayangie, Ngyie, Bassa, Bayangie, Awing, Ngemba, Lamnso, Moghamo and Tikari, just to name a few.
Another difference was the students’ modes of arrival: packed tightly in small hatchback taxis — seven plus the driver! — with cargo loaded on the roof, hanging from the hood and in the opened hatchback. Or riding up to two passengers per motorcycle with the luggage roped to the tail end.
Each year, the difference that humbles me the most, however, is the amount of luggage brought by these students. Unlike the “mountains and mountains of things” American students cannot live without, each student’s sole trunk bore his/her needs for the term and even for the school year: a set of white bed sheets; a pillow and blanket; one or two official, daily and prep (study hall) uniforms; a few pairs of undies and white socks; textbooks from the previous years of study and writing materials; toiletries and a bathing bucket; a hand broom and work tools; two additional sets of clothing; a bush kerosene lamp or flashlight; some snacks and a plate, cup, and set of eating utensils.
Not surprisingly, at the top of these compulsory items and alongside a foam mattress, are the Holy Bible and the church’s hymnal and Book of Divine Services. Without these three items, a student is not considered prepared for successful study, since each weekday and Saturday begins with worship at 6:45 a.m. and ends with 9:00 p.m. prayers.
As in Cameroon and many countries throughout Africa, primary, secondary and even colleges and universities operate under the auspices of churches. Thus, individual and corporate worship is at the epicenter of education.
The first Sunday after reopening was the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with preparatory service the prior evening. Soon thereafter, the newly recruited and returning staff members were dedicated and rededicated, respectively, to the ministry of teaching and caring for students. This was a reminder of the task entrusted to us, the commitment needed to carry out this task, and the gifts that have been freely bestowed upon us by God.
Then, Harvest Thanksgiving: a time of joyous celebration when the staff, students and some members of their families gathered in groups (and “sub-groups”) according to year of study, school, dorm, region, gender, family, choir association, laity group, friends and every other group you can imagine in order to give thanks for the uncountable blessings showered upon the community. All of those assembled danced forward singing in their respective groups with their humble offers of praise and thanksgiving: money, pencils and pens, soap, harvested maize, yams and sugarcane, cooked food and so on. (Except for the money, all the items were later auctioned.)
The PC(USA)/American delegation was led by yours truly (the only PC(USA) representative and the only American present) and was supported financially, morally, spiritually, and physically by almost all of the 250 plus in attendance — a sign of the fellowship with their Christian brothers and sisters, especially the PC(USA), and the hope and prayer to be truly one in Christ.
As part of this community, I also danced forward (on two left feet) and supported the more than 30 groups as your representative, your mission co-worker and the embodiment of your desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ in every corner of the earth. Thank you so much for this transforming opportunity.
Leisa Tonie Wagstaff
The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 30