Could I find my church when coming from or going to Africa?

A tour of African countries I lived and worked in and the churches I found there.

When your body relocates, your mind and conviction has to follow.

By Ato Bob*

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Introduction

Relocating, transferring or moving to another country is a radically intervening affair. The language, people, climate, work or housing will be different. Moreover as a believer, you must find a church or other place, where you can practice your conviction, your belief and enjoy fellowship with likeminded people. What did I find?

I am a Christian and have changed my church many times, mostly due to relocation from one country to the other. I was born into the Dutch Reformed Church in the small town of Meppel. There I gave my life to Christ and soon after left for Africa in 1966 to work for SNV the Dutch volunteer organization. Searching my memory, I must have attended almost a dozen different churches over a 40-odd years.

It was first the Anglican Church in Kisumu Kenya, a 35 km, from Kibigori, where I lived and worked assisting sugarcane farmers to form a cooperative. Kisumu was the place where I and the other volunteers went for shopping or a movie. Leaving for Kisumu early on Sunday morning, it was just me and Dutch friend Paul. I found the Anglicans too Roman Catholic, but it was in English, as my Swahili was rudimentary back then.

Back to my hometown Meppel in May 1969 I was teaching in the ‘School with the Bible’ in the nearby village of Dwingeloo. I attended my former Gereformeerde Kerk Meppel, but my heart kept longing for Africa and within half year I jumped at the chance to go back.

From Meppel I was sent by SNV to Kumba in Cameroon, where I was an adviser in Adult Education and attended the Presbyterian Church Kumba Town. Kumba is a bustling town in the South West Forest region of Cameroon. My work was to promote adult education and I travelled throughout to almost all villages to speak to village chiefs and headmasters to get them to open another ‘adult school’. I learned to speak ‘Pidgin English’ the lingua franca among the many different tribes of English speaking Cameroon. I learned to ‘nack a panable’ use a parable to underline a point.

The old Presbyterian Church was a small picturesque white painted building on the Station Road and in the early 70s always packed beyond capacity. I was, as mostly the only ‘whiteman’, a conspicuous worshipper, but got quickly familiar with members of the congregation. This continued up to the point where I married one of the choristers, Esther a midwife from Bali Nyonga in Cameroon. Read more about that in the May 2016 issue of The African Bulletin.

From Cameroon I was sent by SNV to Tanzania where I was to set up an In-Country Training Centre for initially Dutch, but later also German, English, Danish, and Canadian Volunteers. The Centre was set on the Teachers Training College (TTC) at Morogoro, just below the foothills of the Uluguru Mountains. Tanzania was in the heydays of the Ujamaa politics, a very exciting time with the Chinese building the Tazara railway. Esther and I found the small Lutheran Church of the Lutheran Training Centre, which had English services once a month.

From Tanzania it was back to Cameroon, where I became the Teamleader of the SNV for Western Cameroon, stationed in Buea. Buea lays on the southern slope of Mount Cameroon, also called Fako of Buea Mountain, a dormant volcano. It has an interesting climate with cool fresh air in the dry season and in the rainy season often covered in the clouds or constant drizzling rain. We attended the Presbyterian Church Buea, to satisfy our spiritual needs and found a mixed community of worshippers.

From Cameroon I first went back to Holland, before again going to Tanzania. In The Hague I worked at the headquarters of the Netherlands Volunteers, interviewing and selecting and placing volunteers in Africa. We found the Scots Church in the city centre of Rotterdam quite suitable as it also had a sizable English speaking African community.

In Tanzania I became the Teamleader of Netherlands Volunteers in the Southern part of the country, which again involved a lot of traveling. Tucked away between road crossings, near the Ocean Bridge we found St. Columba’s an English language church attended mostly by members of the International Community.

From Tanzania I was posted as Country Director of SNV for the Republic of Benin, a French speaking country and based at Cotonou. There were many Nigerians, mostly Ibo’s, who were still called ‘Biafrans’ having fled Nigeria’s civil war. We could not find an English speaking protestant church but attended at times the Biafrans’ English Service.

From Cotonou, it was back to Holland and to the Scots Church, while I worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in The Hague. I was sent to Tanzania for the third time, though now as a Diplomat at the Netherlands Embassy in Dar es Salaam. We went back to St. Columba’s.

From Tanzania I was posted to the Dutch Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where I started attending the Evangelical Lutheran Church. This I also found a mixed community, many foreigners, but also from the local population looking for an English speaking protestant church.

Finally when I was posted from Addis Ababa to the Dutch Embassy in Accra, Ghana I came upon the Police Church. Now before you start wondering, this church started as a small prayer group in the police housing compound and grew out to a church with a few hundred worshippers every Sunday morning. The church was in form close to the Presbyterians, but used the Methodist liturgy. I found it a very pleasant church of whom met many members in my work, who then greeted me with ‘love’, while I responded ‘and help each other’.

From Ghana I came back to Holland and was (unfortunately) retired and as you may guess became a strong member of the Scots International Church Rotterdam.

No conclusion, this time I leave that to you, write to me please!

*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on atobobhensen@hotmail.com

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