Well, it has been busy. With the start of school, we have been busy. The kids are playing soccer and cheerleading. Eila also attended the homecoming dance. We visited with family at Old Man’s Cave in Ohio, and have been returning to local favorites like cider mills.
And, the weather is getting cold. We all need extra layers.
When we left Michigan for France I brought this empty key ring with me. I figured I would need something to keep my keys on, so when I took the last key off the ring, I put it in my pocket. This was the night before we boarded our plane in December 2016.
And, as expected, I put keys on it. The key to our apartment, and the key to the garage where we kept our bikes. It was full for a while, but then it came time to leave France after we finished language school. It was empty again.
During our arrival in Cameroon, it filled again. Keys to our house, to my office. Periodically I would attach a car key to this ring.
But, as we were leaving Cameroon about a month ago, I stared down at this key ring again.
It was empty.
It was waiting for what was next.
I didn’t realize it when I left, but I was bringing with me a very tangible representation of transition.
Loved ones are removed, new friends are added.
Emptied and filled.
You can’t live overseas without a terrible hole in your heart from having to leave those you love behind. At the same time you also know that loved ones are waiting on the other side, family, old friends, or even those you haven’t met yet.
One of the things that recently caught my mind was the fact that since we sold our house in Michigan we’ve never really known where we were going to live. We’ve never been homeless. But at times we’ve felt houseless.
Soon after that we were leaving for France to study and learn language skills. We had a rough idea of where we were living — but then a week before we departed we found out there was an off-campus apartment that had become available. It was less expensive and might be a good fit for our family.
That’s all we knew. We said yes.
When we were ready to arrive in Cameroon, we were told we would be living in #3. I didn’t realize immediately, but we ended up in #22. #22 was another family’s place — so whenever they returned we would have to move.
Their return was always “soon”. So we expected to have to leave at any time. We waited, but they continued to be delayed.
Now we’re heading back to Michigan and don’t have an idea of where we’ll be living long term.
God has been faithful so far and we will find a place.
Once we return to Cameroon, we don’t have a place.
But we will.
It’s been hard to never get a chance to settle, or feel that sure about what’s to come.
Sometimes it is hard to find what I’m looking for, even when I have a map. But it is especially hard for me when it is someplace new and there is no address to enter into Google. When we first arrived in Yaounde, we wondered how anyone knew where they were, as there were no visible streets signs. But it turns out those street signs, though shiny and clearly visible now, are not how we get around. Mostly, it seems navigation is by neighborhood or intersection and common landmarks. It may be that the common landmark is no longer in the place it once was and that can be tricky for newcomers. But, not to worry, people are happy to help point you in the general direction.
I came across an article recently which resonated with me as this practice of drawing your address is typical in Cameroon as well. Drawing a simple map is also very common on death/funeral announcements, except that those maps generally cover huge areas and specify only one intersection in the village and the direction of the major city. It seems like the best practice is to ask for directions, in which case, the answer will surely be a helpful hand pointing “It’s just right over there.”
I’m on my way. This is what we hear often from those who are expected to be somewhere but are not there yet. They are certainly coming and are on their way. They may have already left and might actually be on the road very close. Or, they might still be at their previous location, thinking about heading out soon, but not really planning to arrive for a while. Either way, they are coming and will make it to the destination eventually. There is no need to worry, but just to be ready and be patient.
I was recently reminded that I could see the return of Jesus with this same mentality. Jesus is certainly coming and will eventually arrive, but only God knows when. We should be ready for His arrival at any time, but not be too put off it if is taking longer than we expect.
One of the things that we see a lot in the developing world is development. Someone explained that if they have money, they will be obliged to spend it on their family and friends to provide for their needs and wants and all the money will get used up, but if they spend all their cash on building, they can honestly say that they don’t have any money. So, we see a lot of houses and buildings at various stages of construction. When someone has money to build a wall or two, they do it. And then the project will sit and wait until the funds for the next part are available, which can take years.
Shannon was recently able to take a weekend by herself to go to a monastery and one of the places that she went to pray during that weekend, was next to the partially constructed cathedral. During the many hours spent in that location, she was really struck by the “under construction” nature of people as well. We are all in various stages of being built and while some of us are looking pretty good from the outside, but there is still a lot of work to do inside. But for all of us, God is not finished with us yet.
It turns out for us, this is true. Last month, Shannon wanted to bake a cake for a party for a friend and she eventually found out the preference was for German Chocolate Cake. No problem.
Except that we didn’t have cake pans to make a round cake. No problem there either. When you can only bring what you can fit in a few suitcases — you often are missing certain household items: especially those things you don’t use every day. As is customary, Shannon posted a WhatsApp question to find out which of our neighbors had cake pans.
Well, in this case, no family had more than one cake pan of the same size so the cake was baked using pans from three separate households.
Together, we all have a complete kitchen.
Together, we get by each day.
This experience reminds of the Cameroonian proverb: “One hand cannot tie a bundle”. Or another one: Si tu manges seul, tu bagarre seul. “If you eat alone, you struggle alone.”
Sometimes I miss having cake pans, or a pasta maker, or other items I left behind in a basement back in Michigan. But I think what I’ve found here in the community around us is pretty good.
Everyone knows it’s hard enough just to get by on your own. They know that going back to the store after you just spent hours driving through town because you forgot something is too much. So you ask, and people understand.
I enjoy running, especially in the neighborhood. Other people don’t enjoy running out on the roads for various reasons, one of which is that there could be things, like trash or mud, in the way. But for me, running on the road (even by the dumpster or passing the roadside dump) is a regular reminder that when I look at my feet and focus on what is ugly or stinky or in the way, I might be missing out. When I look up, I see amazing clouds and beautiful flowers, and I am reassured that this world is more than just what my feet and hands touch, so much more. The bigger perspective is a gift that I get each time I step outside and look up at God rather than down at this broken world.
Included in this site is a short video that include many people saying in their mother language “My Language Matters”. Please watch it.
As a mother-tongue speaker of a language of wide communication, English, it’s difficult to understand how it feels to speak a lesser-known language as your mother tongue. One thing that has been clear to me, however, after arriving in Cameroon is that people react to their mother tongue: visibly and emotionally.
Just the other day I was at a celebration, and I witnessed a man come across a small booklet in his mother tongue, a Cameroonian language. The excitement was clear on his face as he began reading it. His connection with the words of his own language could be felt. His joy was pouring out in his words.
His language matters.
Your language matters.
We all matter to God.
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