I’m not an evangelist; frankly I’m no good at changing people’s minds. By best gift is as a problem solver, but sometimes I can encourage by helping someone get what they already believe back into perspective. Here are two recent stories that go together.
One of my best Cameroonian friends is in military training. Last week, he was in Yaoundé for one night only, but with a late arrival and early departure, it wasn’t possible to see him. As it turned out, even when his family showed up at the base as instructed, they couldn’t get in to see him.
Backstory on Boris: Boris comes from a Christian family, and the father and oldest brother are mature Christians firmly grounded in the word. Boris took a different route. I met Boris outside of a health-and-wealth megachurch because, in his zeal, he wanted to evangelize a white guy. We became friends, and over the years, Boris has matured a lot. (It occurs to me that that sounds rather condescending…but I’m not saying I didn’t also have maturing to do, just that my change over time has been less marked.) Several times, Boris’ impulsiveness has gotten himself and others into challenging spots, but I don’t doubt his heart for the Lord.
A few days after this quick visit, Boris’ older brother came to visit me to show some photos that had been taken the last time they saw him. I was impressed and touched that his brother came all the way out here to show them to me. He showed the photos of Boris, and then moved on to some photos of his own work as a headmaster. He spoke about how he would teach the children to pray alongside the studies…and then moved on to how he wanted to be a missionary. He then spoke of how hard it is to find/found the partnerships in Cameroon needed to be a full-time missionary. Every large church here claims to have a parish in Paris or DC to get some legitimacy, but even he doubts that these links exist. The members of these churches can’t imagine the system we have where one would go to college, then a few years of seminary, and then have to be “approved” by the denomination to be a pastor.
I could tell he was disappointed that he was not doing greater things in his life…not fulfilling the mission that he felt in his heart. I shared with him how events that I couldn’t have connected before became valuable formative experiences leading me to my duties here in Cameroon. He is young, a couple of years younger than me, but feels outside pressure to get married and this inside pressure to accomplish something great that is yet to be defined. I had the opportunity to encourage him that, by his own testimony from moments before, he was not only getting training and experience that may help further his future goals, but he was in a unique position to impact the future leaders of Cameroon.
When he left, we had both been encouraged.
As you may have seen here: https://www.facebook.com/SmartScripturePhones, recent workshops have focused on getting scripture onto smartphones, so my boss, Doug, went downtown to the market to see which Smartphones were on sale here. He breezed past the insistent and noisy vendors and picked out one in the back that was calmer, Derick. They talked for half an hour, and only then did Doug start to discuss phones. Of course…and Doug knew this, the prices once you have a relationship, a vendor is more likely to help you out. (This is the reason why buying your first batch of tomatoes in the market could either be an expensive proposition or an all-morning affair.
The next day, Doug had Derick come to our center for those that were interested in phones for the course. Doug had chosen models that he was familiar with, and Derick just sat in a corner while Doug did the work of explaining features and benefits. Scott went over to talk to him, and Scott ended up offering to share some recorded sermons on a flash drive. I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him that day, but one of the phones turned out to have a bum battery, so he came back the day after Doug left with a replacement.
The way our center works, if you bring a guest onto the center, he or she is your responsibility until they leave. We had to wait a while until the woman with the bad phone was available, so I sat with him. (He knew that I wasn’t in the market for a phone, so this wasn’t business.) He plans to leave this behind, with whatever money he has at the time and go to seminary, knowing that he wants to be better grounded in the Lord so that he can make a greater impact. His long-term dream is to open an orphanage, and the phone sales are just something to enable that dream.
He also is feeling social pressure to get married, but isn’t sure if that will slow down reaching his goals. He asked questions about how Westerners could leave so much behind for a mission, and expressed that that was something that he really respected. He asked questions about how my finances worked, but the most pressing questions were less practical and more personal.
Derick asked “How in the world can you bear to live here where things are so much more difficult?”, and I told him about how the Lord had prepared me for challenges as well as adventure before arriving, and how much encouragement I get from the relationships that have formed with Cameroonians. Then he asked “How did you find a wife that would accept this life too?” and I explained that Teresa had more experience with overseas missions than I had when I joined Wycliffe and that she knew that marrying me probably meant working overseas. I also told him about calling her father to ask for his blessing.
Lastly, he asked a touchingly sensitive question: “Are you sure she’s content here?”. As I thought about it, I realized that while it is very early to be sure of the long term, Teresa seems more content here in Cameroon than she did in Switzerland. I managed to encourage myself with that one!
This conversation had been more balanced encouragement, but I hope that we will keep this dialogue up. I’m interested in following his progress and maybe one day seeing the orphanage that he will build with the Lord.