Before this trip to Cameroon I made a request of God: a personal musical renaissance. Music was a huge part of my life from sixth grade to college. Trumpet, French Horn, singing, jazz, concert, marching band, competitions and auditions were paramount. I was one of the highest incoming music scholarship recipients at University of Northern Iowa and I was a complete head case. My lip would tremble, I got cotton mouth or froze up playing or singing for audiences. After five days as a music major, I dropped it altogether. I feared resenting music if I remained in the major.
Arriving at Faith Bible College (FBC) Pastor Bennett Chah, Coordinator at FBC, was eager to find a way to get me involved with courses. Needless to say I am not qualified to teach anything, especially theology. When he mentioned music I hesitantly offered to think about it. I knew enough music performance and theory to be dangerous but having forgotten my request of God I planned to politely decline. After praying about it, an undeniable green light to proceed gripped me. I wanted to cry thinking about the first class of “Introduction to Music” drawing near. I was out of my league preparing curriculum! Where do you begin?! Teaching church leaders and other adults in another country how to read basic music is like trying to drink the ocean through a straw without getting wet.
By no other means than divine intervention, the outline came together, syllabus and finally day one. I was terrified. The language barrier was fresh. Everyone speaks English but differently than Americans. Simple conversation has different rhythm, word selection and cultural context. I got lots of blank stares and questions but after 13 weeks we were in unison. The funniest example of the barrier was grading a quiz; the word “measure” and “major” had been learned interchangeably because they did not hear a difference when I spoke the two! (Nor did I when they spoke them.) They knew the meaning of both but I had to regrade a lot of quizzes and explain myself. We had a good laugh!
In Cameroon, teachers are addressed as “Madame-” or “Professor-“. Since I did not know what to expect never having been a teacher, I was shocked by the first quiz – they were learning! Then I recalled my request, a personal musical renaissance. Do you make requests of God with an expectation of how it should go? I did. And this was NOT it. But boy did God deliver. It was so rewarding to watch them progress! Forty adult students eager to learn, and I was their fearless (clueless) leader.
Necessity is the best teacher. It warms my heart to recall God’s answer because it was not what I expected. I strained my brain three hours every Saturday for 13 weeks in a foreign country on a subject I retired from nearly a decade prior. Additionally, I transposed music (rusty), played piano (rustier), developed them as worship leaders, as individual musicians, as a choir AND sang in front of them (stage fright). I was in over my head so deep it was undeniable Christ alone was guiding my unqualified wind pipes every step of the way. I never choked up or blanked on an answer. I learned to pray a LOT. God qualifies the called; he does not only call the qualified. This was no exception. His grace was sufficient for me. His strength was made perfect in my weakness as a teacher!
Aside from learning to read music, our purpose was to glorify God by developing our worship-leading abilities for students’ respective churches. Reading music is not required to praise God! There were no music lessons for Psalmists beside the divine inspiration of God! Their hearts simply had to be sincere to receive God’s word, not be trained in music.
Our final project was to sing Psalm 121 C and 100 A. I modified 100 A to sing in a traditional African worship rhythm. Psalm 121 C was done true to its prose. The music is from the Reformed Presbyterian Psalter (book of Psalms put to music) a capella (no instrumental accompaniment), in mixed (male and female), four-part (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) harmony. And that we did.
I suppose I should mention this whole build-up was for the graduation of four students completing the three year intensive Bible school at FBC. The college is under Win Our Nations ministry which the Children’s Home is also under.
This is a long story for a long day but NOT the best part! Each graduate had a reception afterward. In Cameroon, each expects you to eat a full meal. The first was a music students’, Matthias. His reception at his church, the size of a three car garage, was packed with his friends and family. In the center, a large dining table boasting so many tasty Cameroonian dishes you could not see the tablecloth. Jake and I were ushered to the front of the church to sit on the platform as honored guests. I felt awkward but certainly honored! Of course then we had to eat first. The pastor teased us we would pay a fine for not eating a full meal since they needed repairs on their church! We follow orders.
Next we went to a fellow church member’s reception at his family home. His wife is a phenomenal cook so round two of a hearty meal (greens, fufu corn, plantains, fried bread, soda). I got seconds.
Third we simply stopped to pick up another graduate to take her with us to the last stop on the outskirts out of town but in good Cameroonian fashion, she fed us. Fresh shredded chicken basking in tomato sauce emblazoned with hot pepper or “pepe” on rice. Homemade banana muffins for dessert soothed our scorched mouths!
We intended to add one but added three passengers to our final soirée. This one was in a “home group” outreach focused on a somewhat rural part of town, if you will. We entered the dirt floor, mud block, zinc roof structure for the celebration. In Cameroon, where two or more are gathered…it becomes a church service in a hurry. I got to hear an entire message in Pidgin from the front row with a plate of achu (like mashed potato bowl filled with a cold, curry spice soup) in my lap. You eat with your fingers, one finger if you are a pro. Yes I am a pro at eating in Cameroon, just ask the buttons on my trousers.
“Yu di go fa heaven o yu di go fa hell. Na yu choose. Yu wan go fa heaven? Den yu di ask fa Jesus to com fa ya heart. He di save yu from de hell faiya an give yu life o plenty. Na time dis fo to be free from de devil. Praise Jeesus!”
Read it out loud. Pretend you are a spunky, middle-aged, Holy Spirit-led, Cameroonian woman bursting at the seams with joy of the gospel. That is as close as I can get to bringing you with me. It was enchanting. Pidgin is viewed as a “primitive” language in many settings like schools, office buildings or some churches. Pidgin, like music, when not hindered by expectations, is pure and satisfying to the ears.
The day left me with a full stomach and full heart. It was my favorite day in Cameroon so far and will be one of the most cherished memories of my life. This story is for you to hear but mostly to serve as a catalyst in my memory. I never want it to fade!
I am so proud of God for being so cool, proud of my class, proud of the graduates, and honored to have been a part of the celebration that day! Praise God from whom all blessings flow – especially ones with lots of food, friends and music!