While in Cameroon recently I was able to show of skills that previously have never been witnessed by humanity. In Philemon’s classroom the ceiling fans decided to not work after the switch literally melted and burned up. They brought in a fan that unfortunately did not work due to the wires were no longer attached to the actual plug. That is where I come in. I realized I actually knew how to fix the plug and went about using a pen and some little, tiny scoop thingy from my translator’s key chain to accomplish the task. The whole time Philemon looked at me with a face that clearly had little hope. In the end, I plugged it in and it worked perfectly.
In victory I jumped up with my arms raised, his class gave me a rousing ovation, and I declared that forever more I shall be known and Matthew the Electrician. Then a couple days later we had the final class and that means a lot of ceremony where gifts are given to the teachers and letters are read and speeches are made. It is an African thing, most certainly not an American thing. However, when my letter of appreciation was read (in French) I was called the Reverend Doctor Matthew Henry.
At that moment I looked at Philemon and we both knew what was coming. My new title is now and forever (until another letter is read to me in French) as Reverend Doctor Matthew Henry, the Electrician. You may all bow now. Or send checks. Both are acceptable.
This was my final day of teaching at the seminary here in Douala, Cameroon. We finished up both Hermeneutics and Biblical Theology with a bit of time to spare so I thought we could spend a good amount of time dealing with the application of what was learned. I posed one question to the class, “What is the goal of preaching?” The answers were varied, but also most were a bit discouraging. Even the good answers lacked scriptural backing; rather they simply had the right words present without the meaning or convictions.
One man in my class has consistently shown a reluctance to actually submit himself to the curriculum or me. There was a lot of push back and I noticed that he had a couple of other students who looked to him for leadership and affirmation. Great. His answer to the question was one of the better ones though and that was a bit surprising to me. It was essentially: “To proclaim God’s Word with the goal of forming Christ more fully in the person.” Not bad and certainly better than most of the answers.
I decided to use his answer as our point of discussion so I asked him what passages were driving his statement about preaching. In other words, what was the biblical framework that he used to come up with this answer. His answer was puzzling, he said it was Joshua 1:8. I just stared blankly at him for a second. Men around him were nodding sagely like that was a great answer All my brain would come up with for an answer was, “Huh?” What does any part of Joshua 1:8 have in connection to his stated reason for preaching?
This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. (Joshua 1:8)
His answer was very telling when I asked him to explain the connection between the statement and the passage. He said Christ became poor that we might become rich. Therefore, Christ is really rich and wants us to be rich too. So the more fully formed Christ is in us the more rich and successful we shall become. God said that if the Word does not leave my mouth that I will be prosperous and successful. So, I preach that people, including me, might be rich and successful by having Jesus more fully formed in us.
Oh, that makes sense now. A third of the class was nodding and I was dumbfounded. Here is a classroom filled with men and women, none of whom is remotely rich, except, perhaps that one man (and only comfortable by Cameroonian standards) thinking that this is the purpose of preaching. But this is what affects many of the churches today in Cameroon, and in much of the rest of Africa. A pursuit of prosperity through Jesus.
Never mind that the promise in Joshua 1:8 speaks only to Joshua himself. And don’t bother your mind to recognize that the context shows that the prosperity and success was not in money but in success in taking the Promised Land from the Canaanites. Hey, those little things are not what is important. It is also too much to expect that the promise itself is firmly rooted in the promise of the Old Covenant and the blessing of God to those who are faithful to the covenant. Nope, just details that cause us to miss the glorious point that God wants us to be rich.
For the next hour I took the class through the principles taught them over the last several days and made them work through the validity of this man’s claim. The problems are many but the core issue is a common one. The failure to grasp that we are aliens and strangers in this age. We are a people who are part of the new creation and we await the fulfillment of that day, this is the essence of 2 Corinthians 4-5. Our riches is the grace given to us through Christ. Our inheritance is Jesus and the blessings that come with being in Christ. But as long as there is still “Today” there shall be men who shall dangle to empty baubles of gold and silver before the eyes of the unsuspecting all with the singular goal to draw their eyes away from the glory of God in the gospel.
Another reminder given to me in the hard land of Africa.
Tomorrow shall be the final day of teaching and then on Friday we will administer our exams and I will head to the airport for the long flight home. The teaching has been long and mentally tiring but physically my body has handled it very well. I was reminded yet again that in Cameroon everything is hard and this trip was no different. The students in my class have been a challenge at times and my ability to read them and help them is a constant question is a constant question in my mind. Philemon had to remind me yet again that I can only seek to be faithful and leave the rest to God. He is right. I know he is right. He knows that I know that he is right. But it doesn’t change that constant nagging thought that somehow I am cheating my students.
I preached in a church this Sunday and was blessed to do so. It is pastored by a man trained by Philemon and who planted this church as a result of a challenge that Philemon gave at a conference about seven years ago. It is the same size, if not bigger, as Missio and is solid in its doctrine. It is a shining example of what solid doctrine, faithfully taught, can do. I administered the Lord’s Supper as well and discovered that whatever they call ‘wine’ is something else and the only word I can use to describe it is “nasty.” But Baptists will be Baptists and so true wine shall have to wait until the New Heavens and Earth with Jesus.
The class I teach is a mix of Cameroonians and Central Africans, but since they speak French I could not tell who was what. However, today I found out that the class is evenly split. The Central Africans tend to be much more softer spoken and willing to hear you out than the Cameroonians. The reason why is not clear, but it is notable as you teach.
Philemon and I just finished a meeting with the president of the Cameroon Baptist Convention as well. The topics were varied, but all of them tended to focus on the future and how best to honor God in it. This man needs our prayers as he has a heavy load to bear and he needs the wisdom of Solomon to lead it. However, he was a former student of Philemon and has a solid theological footing to stand upon and that is a good beginning. Things are starting to unwind for the evening, my eyes are getting sleepy and my mind is quite numb. But at least you have an update.
The last two days have been somewhat of a grind, yet a good grind. Yesterday we taught a solid eight hours to our students. At some point your brain just becomes tired but the Lord was kind to keep us both strong. Our days start at 6:30-ish and mine usually ends after midnight. In between the is only a little time to rest, though a pool at where we are staying is a nice place to draw the heat out of the body.
The students seem to accept me. Many of them are older than me and so I need to really earn their respect. Almost every one of them have been in the pastoral ministry for quite some time so I must always remind myself that they are not your typical seminary student. When these people ask questions there is much behind them and wisdom is needed to discern what drives the questions. Sometimes what I learn is a surprise.
As an example, I taught on the inspiration of Scripture and they received it well. However one man pressed a question on if my statement “all Scripture” was valid. I kept pointing him back to the Scripture. Finally he changed his question to a statement. It was something like, “So you believe that the witch doctor’s writing are inspired of God.” It was not an accusation, it was merely a statement and most certainly not one I expected. I asked a lot of questions (American seminary does not prepare you for this sort of statement) and found that the witch doctors call their words and writing scripture too. They also tend to mix in actual verses during their incantations. Therefore, since they are called scripture and “All” scripture is inspired, their words are inspired too. The result led to a very interesting excursis that was quite animated. Eventually all was resolved and back to the syllabus we went.
Today we only had a half day of teaching so that was nice. Then we went to Philemon’s family’s house to meet a young lady’s parents. They wanted to honor me for the support my church has given to her as she pursues a doctorate in the USA. That was a blessing, though uncomfortable. They gave me a special garment with various symbolism on it that conveys a message. Also they gave me a special had made from a plastic twine-like substance. Very unique but it is also very kind. I promised them I would wear it before the church and preach from it. So my church has a great opportunity to chuckle very soon.
Tomorrow I preach at some church a few hours away and then I visit other churches. It sounds like a lot of bouncing and bumping but also quite fun.
We are at Charles de Gaulle airport relaxing after the long flight over. In a short bit we head down over Africa to land in Douala, Cameroon. It is this second leg that is the hardest since they use older planes to go to Africa, there is that African smell that often floats through the air, and you are just plain tired. I just read that France’s new government is going to tax the rich at 75%, I am sure that will fix everything that is broken over here. Really.
Nice thing about this place though are the croissants and the coffee. Just enjoyed a fresh croissant with a double espresso and looked over at Philemon and saw he was doing the same. We are enjoying the comforts of Delta Sky Lounges this trip, it was worth the 90.00 investment. I cannot wait to sit in a clean, air conditioned room in Douala when it is time to leave. It certainly makes the drudgery of travel less so.
I did not get as much reading as I wanted since it was a red-eye flight. Only got one-third of the way through the book on the Trinity that I was wanting to finish. Perhaps on the way to Douala, perhaps not. My eyes are still shutting on their own accord and there seems to be no way to stop it. I am on my way for my 4th double espresso just to give myself a fighting chance.