Day 7 – Wednesday 23rd November

Today is my final full day in Buea, I fly back to the UK at 5.30am tomorrow morning from Douala Airport. I am left in the hotel complex for the morning. Whilst Buea is relatively safe there has been a killing in the town during my stay. The authorities are unclear if this was a terrorist attack or gang related. Terrorist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa (ISWA) are active in many parts of the country, but mainly in the north region. The opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement, hold protests in Yaounde and Douala and in July a IED was detonated in the main market in Yaounde. Since my arrival security and my welfare has been the PCC main concern. The PCC offices are not that far away but still unsafe for me to walk, the hotel is in a gated compound. Since my arrival several other “White” Europeans have been here, UNCEF, WHO and other NGO’s. As the only “white” I standout in the crowd as we have visited places, however we have not been stopped at the various police and army checkpoints along the roads we have travelled, and I have never been concerned about my safety.

The morning view from my hotel window. Most of the cooking is done outside, this is the hotels kitchen with BBQ

Check out time is 12noon but I’m not collected until 1.30pm – Susan and Yobet my driver has done a great job looking after me.

We drive in Buea, traffic is busy, school children are returning home. School normally starts at 7.30am, and a staggered finishing time depending on your age.

We drive to Douala along some of the back routes to avoid traffic aiming to arrive early evening, conversations follow about whether I should be dropped at the Airport very early, or have Dinner or stay at a “safe” hotel and be taken to the airport in a hotel car. We decide to go for the latter, this enables Susan and Yobet to return in the relative safety of late evening rather than in the early hours of Thursday morning.

A roadside stall selling fuel (Petrol etc) – which is sold by the bottle and poured into car petrol tanks by a home made funnel – a bit of hosepipe and a plastic squash bottle.

Street food is available everywhere – corn on the cob or chicken strips on skewers amonst other things. You typically see old car wheels being used as makeshift BBQ. Puff puff – are fluffy fried doughnuts and very tasty! – although not to eaten from street vendors.

A final stop to purchase a traditional handmade African tunic. (photo of me wearing it has been censored!)

Early evening we arrive in Douala, I check in and we have a final meal together before saying our farewells. The room has aircon which is fortunate as the temperature is well in to 33c even though it night time. The hotel taxi will collect me at 2.30am to take me to the airport about 10 minutes away. It was a good decision as I can take a shower, have some rest before the morning.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day!

The hotel reception ring through to say that they are ready to take me to the airport, UK here I come

Day 8 – Thursday 24th November

3am Arrive at the airport, scarcely anyone around, but manage to find my way to the boarding gate and wait for my flight to be called at 5.30am.

A short stop in Casablanca, before flying into heathrow and catching the coach and train back to Banbury. So Whats your story……..?

Day 6 – Tuesday 22nd November

Today I am meeting with various project leaders, the day starts with meeting the Moderator, Revd Fonki Forba and Synod Clerk, Revd Miki Abia and Synod Financial Secretary, Mr Ngola Mosuka to discuss the shape of the twinning between the Northampton Methodist District and the PCC. Some of the questions discussed includes, aims and purposes, who should go, timings. There was a general consenus that whilst it might be appropriate for senior clergy to be involved Lay people should also be considered. Those who might be involved could possibly those who are in their “early years” of ministry to that they maximise the experience. It was felt that it would also be an opportunity to have some kind of “Youth Exchange” as well. In my limited experience I know how such visits have shaped my ministry, the opportunity to experience different cultures first hand gives one new perspectives and insights especially when churches are growing and have confidence in the future. The Church in Britian has grown tired and weary – trying to hold it’s own with an aging population – the PCC is looking up to the hills and drawing on the words of the pilgrim of Psalm 121 as the Psalmist travels to celebrate in the Temple in Jerusalem, along a dangerous path. He can see the outline of his destination in the distance but comes to understand that God is also travelling with him.

My reflection on our meeting was that with the good will on both sides this could be mutually beneficial – a comment when asked by Revd Forba as to what people might do when visiting the UK, I said that we could take them to Oxford – one of the sites of the beginning of Methodism and a place of learning and view some of the work we are doing. His reply was interesting, “In the West you always want to show us things, we would like to have space to experience” – It was an interesting comment which I will come back to.

I also met Mrs Jessy Mpwate, Development secretary. It was a surprise and a joy that women had

several senior leadership roles within the church. Women had been ordained since the 1990’s and whilst men still held the majority of senior positions this is slowly changing – if we are honest in the Methodist Church it has taken far too long to get a gender balance in our leadership structures.

Jessy was keen that I should spend the afternoon visiting the various projects run by the PCC that support the church and communities in which they serve. (An interesting comment in light of the previous conversation!)

However we set off to visit the workshop of PresWood. A training centre for young people many of whom are “displaced” (ie have come into the towns and cities because their villages and homes have been destroyed through terrorist attacks)/ This was an impressive opperation – I met with Mr Mboe Walson the manager who showed me around. Much of the woodwood, from doors to furniture at the new Synod Offices had been made here. They train up to 20 apprentices each year, although currently they have 15. Star pupils are offered full time work at the centre and to help pass on their skills. Those who are not offered work take with them a qualification but also a bag of basic tools to enable them to set up their own workshops or work with others. Mboe told me that often apprentices start training but due to travel and housing costs drop out, he would like to see a hostel on site where they could stay and indeed be kept safe.

A new office desk being constructed for the new Synod Offices.

The PresWood staff team

We moved on to visit PresPrint – The largest printing centres in the Cameroon, who have just won an government award for the quality of their work. They have big plans to be the best and biggest printers in Africa. They offer general printing to anyone and everyone, churches, shcools, government documents, but can also screenprint on fabric, bags they also offer mugs, pens – everything you would expect from a local printing company in the UK. They are in the process of completing digitisation of what they can offer and were expecting new printing presses from India after Christmas.

Dr Ntoko Henry A – Manager showing me the new digital printer that cuts the stencils for the main printing machines.

We moved on to the Head Office of PresBooks – one of the “outlets” for PresPrint material amongst other things. Supplying books to schools, hymn books stationary amongst other things. At the Head Office they also run a small supermarket and have out sourced land to enable a small cafe to be be set up.

Regretably many of the staff were on their break when we arrived. However we were shown round by the manager Mr Lemba Christopher Bobga. They hold stocks of all the major teaching books for schools, and would like to expand their opperations – possibly open bookshops and convenience stores accross the country. Susan iuntroduced me to “Tiger Nuts” – which had a coconut flavour.

Day 5 – Monday 21st November

Another beautiful morning my hotel room looks out to Mount Cameroon, and is set in the national park. I join in with morning payers in the grounds of the- PCC being held in the original church building. A feature of all the projects is that they have a prayer room and staff are expected to attend prayers.

Breakfast of all those attending the Synod committee is held in their hospitality complex, currently being refurbished. The Synod committees is the executive leadership of the church, where both lay and ordained meet, each region can put questions or requests for approval. Some of the issues discussed included the attire that minister should wear, including the colour and type of shoes, matters of discipline requests for clergy, comments from the Moderator and Synod clerk about the health and vision of the church. I am still getting to grips with the language – coffee beak means “lunch” and “lunch” means evening meal! I tend to eat when the occasion arises not being sure when the timing of next meal will happen. I was invited to give a short presentation to the meeting. I presented the Moderator, Synod Clerk and Synod Treasurer gifts on behalf of the Methodist Banbury Circuit and Northampton District.

It was a full day and we didn’t finish until 6pm. The views of the MC in Britian was ask on several occassions and I felt that I made a contribution to the meeting. A traditional Cameroon “Lunch” followed, before people departed some staying overnight at my hotel. My reflection on the day was that the PCC are facing similar issues that the MC in Britian face: Economic and financial problems, People being dissatified with the church and leaving to either join fringe churches or setting up their own; accountability – it was good that this has high profile within the church. Accounts are signed off by external examiners, Domestic Abuse, identity, lack of ministers for Parishes, ageing congregations, terrorism and political instability. Whilst we might be struggling and withdrawing from areas of ministry, the PCC approach is to push forward to grow the church, not only as a gospel imperitive butt he only way to solve the church problems. The new Synod Office building is to show to the wider community that the church is still there as a beacon of love and hope. “If the church is to be taken seriouslys by other agencies and government then we must both look the part and had the abilitity to deliver”.

The PCC in its current format is only 65 years old, since being given its independence from the Basel missionaries. They are full of hope I think we have much to learn from this, and they have something to learn from our past mistakes, which maybe investing to much in our buildings. Time will tell.

Below view from hotel room,

Day 4 – Sunday 20th November

An early start today as we set off for the opening of the new Synod Offices police and army were present for both protection of such a large gathering of 2000 people. A two hour delayed start as we wait for govenment officials to take part in the opening of Synod committees (Snod only meets alternative years) and the complex. 60 extra people made up their delegation. What a joyous occassion it was, choirs, sermons and singing. We made our way for the stone laying and I was privilaged to help “cement” the foundation stone in place, although I was part of the ribbon cutting ceremony I did not have the armed guards that the government officials enjoyed to get through the crowd! I managed however to meet up with Miriam – Aboseh daughter on route.

The new building (named the ARK) has about 45 offices and 25 toilets will now house the offices of the Synod Office and the former structure will be transformed into a Hospital Complex to serve the Buea population and environs.

The Moderator was also decorated and given a Bakweri title by the various chiefs who were present.

Formal Receiption:The President of the Republic of Cameroon was personally represented by the Minister of Territorial Administration – Minister Paul Atanga Nji. Also present were the Minister Delegate at the Presidency in Charge of Supreme State Audit, Minister Mbah Acha née Fomumdam Rose Ngwari, the Governor of the South West region Governor Bernard Okalia B., the Mayor of Buea municipality. The Moderator, Synod Clerk and Synod Treasurer

After Dinner Dancing.

Day 3 – Saturday 19th November

Setting off today to the coastal port of Limbe traffic isn’t so heavy being a Saturday it still takes just under an hour. Set on the bay of the Gulf of Guinea, it has beautiful palm vistas. Limbe was called 2Victoria” by Baptist missionaries who asked a naval engineer Alfred Saker to purchase land around Ambas Bay from the Bimbia tribe who also gave sanctuary from slaves escaping from Ghana and Liberia. Renamed Limbe in 1982.

Our first stop was to visit “beach” congregational church, a large building with a congregation of over 2000. The new building started 20 years ago, the top floor and offices still needing completion. We also visited the orginal church, a few hundred yards away, now used as a retreat centre and for small weddings.

Lunch was taken in one of the resurants next to the fishing fleet. Our meal caught and landed a few moments before our arrival was BBQ and eaten – you could not fresher fish – using our right hands as is the custom. I will be revisiting Limbe to visit various projects next week.

Tomorrow is the big event, with the opening of the new Synod offices, but the hotel have three large weddings taking place so not much rest tonight!

Day 2 – Friday 18th November

A delayed start to the day, It is still on hands on deck to prepare the new complex for the opening on Sunday. When I arrived on site, funture was being tansferred from the old building to the new as paint was still being applied to the walls. It took me back to when we opened the new church complex in Chippenham, if only we had more hours in the day. It seems that it a gobal problem with new builds.

A trip to some of the PCC projects around Buea followed.

First stop to the IT training Centre. This fully equipt building provides training and IT support for all ages, whilst the building is in need of an upgrade in provides esential support to many people. They are running windows 10 etc so the equipment is similar to that in the UK.

Second trip was to one of the four educational bookshops/centres that PCC own and run. This in one outlet for their printing press/publishing house. regretabably due to traffic it proved impossible to get to see the publishing house itself. The bookshop is open to the public, school books have to be purchased by families, along with other supplies. It appears that the educational system is similar to the UK, with O & A levels being the norm. School starts at 8pm with pulpils expected to arrive at 7.30pm. Buea has a university, founded in 1992. the bookshop is wellplaced to serve this student market.

The first floor of the building houses the offices of the PCC finances, this includes a credit union style banking service. I was impresed that they have their own banking app. This allows those in rural areas to acess a full range of banking services and transferring funds without coming into Buea. When there aim is to support small buisnesses they also try to acheive economies of scale by grouping similar businesses into groups – I guess similar to our cooperatives. It takes me back to pre-minstry days when I was part of the business development team for a high St bank. A recent development is offering insurance through its own company, this includes travel, health and car insurance. I was impressed with the professionalism of the set up and the controls in place. Credit Unions are an effective way of supporting small ventures and buisnesses with profits reinvested to help others.

The third floor houses the Freemind Youth Centre, unfortunately the office was closed when we arrived. It provides health education, support for secondary, and High School students. It is a safe space for young people to share experiences and offers a training programmes for teachers/schools and parents, breaking some of regional taboos regarding health and sexual practices.

The final visit of the day was to the church that my friend and colleague Revd Aboseh Ngwana was minster of, before he came to the UK under the World Church SALT programme to study for a Phd. He is currently serving in Bristol but his church in the Cameroon was the second building to be built by the PCC. It was great to drop in to the Women’s fellowship and meet the church minister who earrived earlier this year. Conversations followed about the construction of a new community hall that is being built, this will provide a much needed income stream to support the Sunday collection. It seems that we are not alone in the k looking for ways to suppliment our collections.

It is interesting to note that Solar panels do not seem to in evidence as I move around – although I get a 4G mobile phone signal, an there seems a willingness to embrace current technology. It might be that set up costs are too expensive for this to happen. A question to be asked.

Tomorrow I set off for the costal town of Limba.

Day 1.5 Thursday 17th November

After leaving Banbury yesterday morning at 10.30am, the flight out of Heathrow was delayed, it didn’t seem to be a problem – a short stop to tranfer at Casablanca could have been slightly longer than the 15 minutes compared to the hour allotted, and a rush to get through customs. However I arrived in the Cameroon 10 minutes earlier than expected albeit at 5.20am. All in all a very easy flight with some lovely food.

The lovely Susan Obi met me at the airport, and took me to Buea, the first stop was the campus of The Presbyterian Church to meet Bishop Fonki for coffee and have a tour of the site, including both old and new buildings. Sawdust and building material everywhere but the foreman of the build assured me that it will be finished by Sunday! – it looks great. They tell me that the decision to rebuild was taken in 2020!

The original church, and sunday school hall

The “old offices” below will be refurbished into a new hospital

Cameroon Travels

 I have been invited by the Methodist Church Global Relationship team to spend a week with the Synod of the Presbyterian Church in the Cameroon.

Yesterday I had my jabs and today a trip to London to obtain a visa for the trip.

Follow me on my journey

  • The early history of this rapidly growing church can be traced as far back as 1843 when the Alfred Saker of the English Baptist Missionaries Society started work in Fernandopo, which is today and integral part of the Republic of Equitorial Guinea. However, the PCC dates back to the 23rd December 1886 with the arrival of the Basel Missionaries. On the 13th November 1957 in Bali of the North West Province of Cameroon, the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC) was born and the 1st Synod was constituted. As is the case with any organization to succeed, there must be a governing body to oversee its affairs.
  • The Synod of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon is the supreme governing body of the Community of Christians called The Presbyterian Church In Cameroon. Today the Synod offices are located in Buea, the Provincial head quarters of the South West Province of Cameroon. 
  • The Methodist Church have been partners with PCC for over a hundred years.

Children’s Mental Health Week 2021

Children’s Mental Health week (1st February) highlights the growing concern about the affect that the pandemic is having on children and Young People.

The following resources are offered to help parents and teachers support children especially during home learning. Whilst these resources are off the peg, they include some lovely activities and ideas that you might jot have thought of.

Please also check out: https://www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk/ for lots more resources, and earliers posts for Well Being Resources.

November Lockdown Guidance

Following the Government’s guidance on 31st October the country will again be in lockdown from 5th November until 3rd December.

Government guidance states, Places of Worship will be closed, unless they are being used for:

– individual, private mid-week prayer                           

– to broadcast an act of worship                               

 – formal Early Years settings such as pre-schools or where the building is part of a school                   

–  essential voluntary and public services, such as  blood donors or foodbanks

  – Formal Support groups such as AA & NA                                   

Please remember that during this period you must stay at home as much as possible and not meet up with others indoors, including family and friends, unless they are part of your support bubble. People can meet outdoors with 1 person from another household.

We will post updates to this guidance as more information becomes available.

Please check with your local church for more information about on-line services and events and re-opening. We continue to encourage members  to keep in touch with each other and our staff through e-mail and Social Media.