Mini Bible Conference
According to the schedule, the conference started sometime on Friday. The sound system made some noise that day but I don't think much happened till Saturday when Becky and I attended the morning session. The teaching session was supposed to start at 9, the message be given around 10:30, followed by greetings, and choir numbers ending just before lunch at 12:00. We arrived after 10--the session hadn't started yet. I snuck out after the sermon (around 1:30), wolfed down some lunch before bringing the girls back to sing our "English choir" numbers shortly before the congregation adjourned for lunch break just after 2. The afternoon session-rescheduled to start at 3 instead of 2 as the program dictated-started a good hour late and ended later.
Interestingly, there was a designated "time-keeper" for the conference. I don't understand what role he played there given that nothing started on time. But I've been surprised by the extent of rule-following I've observed in the Baptist church here.
One of the stereotypes I've held, an assumption I made about the church in Africa-and African cultures in general-is that with the lesser value placed on efficiency, the less "business-minded" approach to faith and life, and the emphasis on community over individual, people would be more "led by the Spirit"; there would be less concern with rules and standards of behaviour, more freedom to live according to the standards set by God, rather than people, and that with fewer material possessions to distract from what is truly important, people would have a more vibrant faith.
I suppose I'm merely switching fallacies if-based on my experience with the Baptist church in Big Bekondo-I now say there is tons of legalism in the African church. So I shan't comment on the trend, only say that in my experience here, the church is full of rules, demands for money, and often leaves people's lives untouched.
Not two words you'd expect to go together at a church convention. I had to check it out.
I arrived on the scene around 8 on Saturday evening (for the first time, the only white person in a crowd of Cameroonians). A huge crowd was gathered, the generator was running and lights were on, but nothing formal started until almost 9. The mic hadn't been working well in the morning session which is perhaps why they didn't use it all in the evening. Thus, between the thick accent, the pidgin English, and the lack of amplification, I could hardly understand a word anyone said the entire evening.
The two choirs came in singing, drumming and not so much dancing as marching in time. They sang a few numbers then marched out. The Bekondo youth (20s-40s) did a skit which was mostly inaudible due to the noise of the crowd, and more than partially out of my line of vision due to people standing up. Apparently it was funny, though. The three testimonies which followed were equally inaudible.
Now things really began to descend into chaos. I tried to just enjoy the experience, but by the third random song offering-from a girl with a very small voice and less-than-remarkable musical skill-which was completely drowned out by people commenting loudly on her small voice, I decided I had *experienced* enough. Furthermore, I suspected I was being eaten alive.
At the service the next day, points were actually awarded to the choirs on the basis of uniform, procession, song choice and unity. The top mark was given and both groups were congratulated and reminded to pay their entrance fee. (There's that money again.)
Some 10 people of varying ages were baptized in a stream Sunday morning. The girls and I trekked out to partake in the spectacle. The ordained minister, guest speaker at the conference, in black clothes and clerical collar, dunked them one by one in shallow stream, after which a white-robed deacon of some sort wrapped the "new Christians" in a white sheet to escort them from the water. A bystander burst into song (usually the same one) after every new creation emerged from the water. Apparently in the Baptist church you're not a Christian until you've been baptized.
Ah, announcements; the sticky problem for every worship committee. Hope Baptist Church in Big Bekondo has the Sunday School report (a dull recitation of statistics usually read poorly in a soft, garbled voice) just after the opening music followed by an announcement or two, usually on assigned speaker, worship leader and song leader for the next Sunday (there's no bulletin, of course). But at the conference, there was one special announcement; a sort of public service announcement, taking advantage, I suppose, of the large crowd assembled. It was a lengthy and strongly worded message about malaria-"a killer as bad as AIDS. Please go to the clinic to get medicine if you or your children are running a fever. It takes so little to do so much."
How does a tiny church host such a large gathering in the village? Who needs to rent a tent when you've got all the materials right there! Bamboo poles held up by wooden 2x4s formed the roof frame and palm leaves laid on top protected from the sun, if not the rain. Too much sun coming in? No problem! Just walk to the nearest palm tree, cut some more leaves and throw them on top.
With no electricity, how did they run lights and loudspeakers? A gas-powered generator. Unfortunately there's a trade-off: in exchange for amplicification, you have to compete with the noise of the generator.