Stories from the Global Church

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

Troesters are moving to Tanzania

Posted on November 7, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Joe and Deborah Troester, long-time ELCA missionaries in the Central African Republic, are taking a new assignment in Tanzania. You can read more about their work in their blog, “African Water Log.” To support the Troesters, or another of the ELCA’s over 240 missionaries in the global church, go to www.ELCA.org/globalchurch/donate.

troesters-map-11-5-13We’re moving! Because of the continued insecurity in the Central African Republic, Deborah and I have accepted a new assignment in Arusha, Tanzania. We will be the East Africa regional representatives of the ELCA, helping to oversee projects in Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

While we miss the Central African Republic, and especially our friends and colleagues in the Lutheran church there, we look forward to establishing relationships with new friends and colleagues in the East Africa region. This is an exciting time to be working in Africa. Churches here are growing faster than in almost any other part of the world; there are even more Lutherans in Tanzania than in the ELCA!

We are grateful to those of you who have continued to support us throughout this transition by your prayers, gifts and words of encouragement. Due to the uncertainty of our plans this summer, we were unable to visit many of our supporting congregations. We hope to make up for this on our next visit to the U.S. and thank you for your understanding.

We welcome your continued support through ELCA Global Mission. However, if you prefer to support another missionary working in the Central African Republic, or with another project, we certainly understand. For more information on sponsoring us, or other missionaries in the ELCA, contact the Rev. Lanny Westphal at Lanny.Westphal@elca.org. Rev. Westphal can also give you information about specific projects supported by the ELCA in Africa and around the world.

We look forward to writing more blogs from the East Africa Region, so stay tuned!

Joe and Deborah Troester
ELCA missionaries to East Africa

School program fills a void

Posted on June 18, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Susan Smith, an ELCA missionary to the Central African Republic, worked for more than 30 years for the Pittsburgh public school system. As a missionary, part of her work is supporting and assisting the Village School Program. In the program’s June newsletter she gave on overview of the program, which the ELCA helps support. Due to political unrest in the country, she is currently based in Garoua Boulai, Cameroon. To support Susan, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries in the global church, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

Students use a classroom provided by the Village School Program.

Students use a classroom provided by the Village School Program.

The Village School Program started about a dozen years ago to help fill a gap in the national education system. Not every town has an elementary school even though the law says that all children must attend school. There is just not enough money to build all the necessary schools and to hire the teachers. So, in response to these needs, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic created schools in towns that did not have a government school.

Starting with five schools, there are now 20 primary schools that begin with kindergarten and continue for six years. Classes are generally large — ranging from 20 to 95 students per classroom. Teachers also generally teach two grades, so each school usually has three teachers. Classes follow the curriculum used in public schools and developed by the national education office for primary education. The Village School Program supports the schools and teachers by helping them to organize parent organizations, visiting classrooms to give teachers feedback on their work, providing exams each quarter (used in all schools), compiling the results of those exams, and generally helping run the schools.

Parents pay half of the teachers’ salaries and the Village School Program pays the rest. Parents are also responsible for building temporary classrooms (which have wooden supports and a straw roof.) The goal is also to build permanent buildings. While the ELCA will provide much of the funding for construction, parents are responsible for collecting stones and sand. They also make mud bricks.

So, in all, the Village School Program educates over 3,000 students. The schools often have a better reputation for quality than the nearby government schools.

The Central African Republic: What about the future?

Posted on May 21, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Deborah and Joe Troester are ELCA missionaries in the Central African Republic. Due to the current political situation in that country, they have temporarily relocated to Ngaoundéré, Cameroon. To support the Troesters, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries in the global church, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

CAR graphic_5-21-13Two months ago, on March 24, 2013, the government of the Central African Republic was overthrown by a coup. All the Lutheran missionaries evacuated to neighboring Cameroon. We left, but the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic is still there. Western Central African Republic (where the Lutheran church is most active) has been spared the worst effects of the coup, but still there has been some looting of both personal and church property. The former German station in Bouar, now used as rental property by the church, was looted. A pickup truck used for vaccination campaigns and a computer were taken from the Lutheran Health Center at Gallo. Homes of personnel and guest housing at the Bohong and Gallo Health Centers were looted.

Because of fear and the insecurity, people have fled to their home villages and often stay in their fields at night, instead of in their houses. Fuel is difficult to find. The banks are closed, so money cannot be transferred into the country and salaries cannot be paid. Without much of a functioning government, there are bandits on the road, just like in the Old West. Consequently travel is both difficult and dangerous.

Still the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic continues to work. Students and professors of the Bible school and seminary are continuing classes. The Catholic girls school at Maigaro, where the ELCA sponsors over a dozen scholarships, has moved into Bouar for security; their classes are continuing at a youth center there. Some of the Lutheran village schools  are in operation but without transportation, no one can actually check on them. The health programs continue, but people have great difficulty getting to the clinics. Other projects, such as the Water Management Project, that rely more on fuel for transportation, are having difficulty accomplishing some of their objectives.

Today, the church in the Central African Republic needs our prayers and support more than ever. One of their biggest fears is being abandoned: by their church partners and friends in the West. We ELCA missionaries have reassured them that we will be back as soon as it is safe, and that the ELCA stands ready to help them in any way possible. Please pray for the church in the Central African Republic. Pray for the government of the Central African Republic. Pray for peace and stability, so that the work of the church can continue and grow there. Thanks!

Joe and Deborah Troester

Hoping for lasting peace in Central African Republic

Posted on January 15, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Susan Smith is serving in the Central African Republic as an education adviser. To follow her work and life in CAR, go to her blog. To support Susan, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Susan Smith

Susan Smith

So, did you hear the good news?  The Central African Republic government officials and the rebels have signed an agreement. There is a cease-fire and a plan to form a coalition government. The prime minister and cabinet were decommissioned – fired – and the opposition will name the new prime minister! All good news.

I will not be going back to the Central African Republic until some time has passed to be sure that the agreement holds and peace has truly returned to the country, but I am encouraged and hopeful. Meanwhile, I will be moving to Garoua Boulai. This is a Cameroonian town just on the border with the Central African Republic. The directors of the programs I work with will be able to travel (by motorcycle) the 50 kilometers between the two towns so we can have planning meetings and advance our work. We will work that way until the national Lutheran churches in the Central African Republic and the U.S. agree that it is safe for us to return to Baboua.

In the meantime, I am still in N’gaoundéré. I have had three lessons in the Gbaya language. Although Sango (the language that I am already studying) is the national African language in the country, the ethnic group in the area around Baboua is the Gbaya, and I want to be able to understand some of what they say. I will only get a start here, but am glad for that because Gbaya is a tonal and often nasal language and my ear doesn’t easily hear the difference among the vowel sounds! This will take time.

I am also collecting and reading materials that have been developed for Sunday school lessons. Pastors in the Central African Repubic have expressed a need for lessons in Sango that suit different age levels instead of one-size-fits-all that they now have. I have been talking to the man in charge of Christian education in Cameroon and a Norwegian missionary who has some materials we may be able to adapt. The Christian education program director, some pastors and I will look at these materials and others they have collected to develop a plan for the Lutheran church in the Central African Republic.

One language among many

Posted on September 25, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Susan Smith is a new ELCA missionary in the Central African Republic. She supports education programs run by the ELCA and the Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic. Here is an excerpt from a recent posting on her blog. To support Susan, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Susan Smith on on a main street of N'gaoundere, Cameroon.

Susan Smith on on a main street of N’gaoundere, Cameroon.

Sept. 23, 2012

I will be going to Bohong shortly to learn Sango. Bohong is a small town about 35 kilometers north of Bouar, which is two hours east of Baboua (my town).

So why do I need to learn Sango when I already speak French?

French is the colonial language. That means that a lot of government business, secondary schools, and other businesses use French. It is an official language in the Central African Republic. People, however, don’t learn French until they go to school. Most primary schools begin instruction in Sango and students then learn French. Too many children, though, never get the chance to go to school, so they don’t learn French.  The literacy rate is between 50 and 60 percent (depending on which reference you check).  That means almost half the population cannot read and write in any language and are unlikely to know French. This number includes a disproportionate number of girls and women.

Also, Sango is the national African language in CAR. It is rare in Africa that there is one African language in a country that most everyone speaks and can be an official language. I have been told that since Sango was the language of commerce even before the French came, everyone learned to speak it.

Now imagine this: Children are born and begin to learn their maternal language (the one for their ethnic group). Not too long after that, they learn Sango. All of these languages are oral, by the way. They have now been written down as missionaries worked to translate the Bible into their languages. If there are other ethnic groups in the area, children also learn those. Then, if they have the chance, children go to school and learn French.  If they continue beyond elementary school, they study English or some other European language! (And, we from the U.S. are resistant to learning any language other than English!)

I am learning Sango, therefore, to be able to talk to people in their own language — to better understand their world view. In working with the directors of the education programs of the church and even in working with teachers, I will speak French, for the most part. But, when working with parents and leaders in villages, Sango will be essential. Also, when I have the opportunity to be in elementary classrooms, the primary language will be Sango.

I am also going to another town to have more contact with Central Africans.  I hope, too, by being immersed in the culture for a month, I will be able to learn other cultural aspects, especially nonverbal communication.  I will keep my ears open, but also my eyes and all my other senses.

New Gbaya Bible editions bring joy

Posted on July 24, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Anne and Willie Langdji are ELCA missionaries in Cameroon. They serve in the areas of health ministries and sustainable development and are also Western Africa regional representatives. To support them, or another of the ELCA’s 225 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Recently ordained Pastor Rita and her husband.

Recently ordained Pastor Rita and her husband.

There are around 250 languages spoken in Cameroon. Since their arrival in the 1920s, American Lutheran missionaries have been involved in translating the Bible into Gbaya, an important language in the region where they were working. The first edition of the Bible was dedicated in 1996. But on June 9 this year in Garoua-Boulai, a second edition and a first edition with the deutero-canonical books were dedicated, to much celebration. Present were local church leaders from both Cameroon and the Central African Republic, but also Dr. Philip Noss, a Lutheran missionary kid and prominent linguist who oversaw this translation work, as well as a 92-year-old priest from France who has made this his life’s work. The Spirit will use this event and the availability of new Gbaya Bibles to work for reconciliation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon, which is still struggling with internal unrest.

The next morning, the EELC’s Bible School in Garoua-Boulai  graduated 21 new lay catechists, including one woman. And the new Gbaya Bible was proudly open on the laps of members, catechists and pastors during the service.

The local congregation almost blew the roof off the church when National Bishop Thomas Nyiwe introduced Pastor Rita, one of the first three women ordained by the EELC at the beginning of May.

Joy, joy, joy!

Thanks for your continuing support and prayers!

One of the lucky ones

Posted on May 1, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The ELCA Malaria Campaign is seeking to expand its work to Liberia, where 30 percent of hospital deaths are from the disease. The campaign is already at work in 10 African countries, where malaria kills a child every 45 seconds. You can donate to the campaign at its website. Deborah Troester, an ELCA missionary with her husband, Joseph, in the Central African Republic, gives here her perspective on the deadly but preventable disease. To support the Troesters, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Medical treatment saved Agrippa from malaria.

Medical treatment saved Agrippa from malaria.

The ELCA is already working here in the Central African Republic to combat malaria. Two rural clinics and a village health program provide malaria education and treatment. The story of little Agrippa (named after King Agrippa in the New Testament book of Acts) is typical. At 14  months, Agrippa had already suffered numerous bouts of malaria. After several illnesses, many people develop partial immunity to malaria, but the parasite remains in their blood, where it continues to destroy red blood cells. Without enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body, the victims often die – especially infants and small children, who are more susceptible than adults.

In Agrippa’s case, the malaria parasite had destroyed over half of his red blood cells and left him vulnerable to possibly fatal anemia. Fortunately, his mother took him to the Emmanuel Health Center, a project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the CAR, with sponsorship from the ELCA, Global Health Ministries, Lutheran Partners in Global Mission and other donors. There Agrippa received a life-saving blood transfusion and treatment to kill the remaining parasites in his blood.

Many children here in CAR aren’t as lucky. They live in small villages with no medical facilities and no one to take their photos or to hear their stories. I happen to know about Agrippa because his father and mother are my students at the Lutheran seminary here in Baboua. In a country where thousands of babies and children die needlessly every year, it’s nice to know of one baby who will live. Please consider helping with the ELCA Malaria Campaign.

Thanks,
Deborah Troester
Baboua, Central African Republic

 

Infant and women’s health care in CAR

Posted on March 10, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Joe and Deborah Troester are ELCA missionaries in Baboua, Central African Republic. Pastor Deborah teaches at the Theological School in Baboua. Joe is a technical adviser for PASE, which provides clean drinking water and promotes good hygiene and sanitation to villagers. To support the Troesters, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

A mother and her 9-month-old child, who is being treated for malnutrition, at the Emmanuel Health Center in Gallo, CAR.

A mother and her 9-month-old child, who is being treated for malnutrition, at the Emmanuel Health Center in Gallo, CAR.

March 8 was International Women’s Day – a good time to reflect on the needs of maternal and infant health care throughout the world.

Here in the Central African Republic, one out of five children will not live to see their fifth birthday. The CAR has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, with 1,355 deaths per 100,000 live births. Women usually give birth at home in unsanitary conditions, with the help of family members or local birth attendants with little or no formal training. If there are any complications, the mother or child, or both, often die.

A bright spot in this sad picture is the Emmanuel Health Center, where a team of health workers provides pre- and post-natal care, safe deliveries and pediatric care, including treatment of malnourished infants and children. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of CAR runs two such clinics: Emmanuel Health Center in Gallo in western CAR, and the Maternal and Infant Health Clinic in Bohong in northwestern CAR. The church also sponsors a community health program, which sends health workers into villages to give vaccines and provides pre-natal counseling and follow-up care for newborns and their mothers.

In other news, thanks to an ELCA grant, we just installed a VSAT system that allows us broadband Internet access. This will make a tremendous difference in our work, allowing us access to information and websites that we could not access with our old system. Deborah has already found information on the Internet that has helped her students at the seminary.

Many people think that everyone has broadband, but this is not so. The Central African Republic is on the other side of the digital divide, and that divide has only broadened during our four years in this country. Most Central Africans do not even have electricity or running water, much less access to the internet.

Thanks ELCA for your help. And thanks to all of you who contribute to ELCA-Global Mission!

Deborah and Joe Troester
Baboua, Central African Republic

 

A new sister in Christ

Posted on December 6, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Philip Nelson works with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic. June Nelson is a nurse in the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeon’s clinic. To support the Nelsons, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Philip and June Nelson

Philip and June Nelson

Dear Friends,

A young woman recently desired to be baptized. Her husband is one of a growing group of people in her ethnic group who have chosen to follow Jesus. She is a woman with traditional values. When she came to my house to be baptized, she couldn’t go against her upbringing and speak to someone as seemingly imposing as myself. I discreetly went into the kitchen and prepared some coffee while Pastor Abdulahi Jean and her husband spoke with her about why she had chosen to be baptized.

Eves dropping from the kitchen, I heard her tell Pastor Abdulahi that she had seen a difference in her husband after he was baptized, and that when she was sick here at the Ngaoundéré hospital, the Christians, especially Pastor Abdulahi, were so kind to her. She wanted to be a part of what she had heard about Jesus.

After I came out of the kitchen I asked her if she knew what the cross was and why it was important to Christians. Embarrassed she looked at her hands that were zipping and unzipping her small pocket book and shook her head indicating that she didn’t. After I explained the significance of the cross to Christians, we laughed together about her being embarrassed to talk directly to me. Our house worker and cook, Eve, then arrived with a longtime friend of the family, Tobi. These two women helped put the young lady more at ease.

Pastor Abdulahi started the service around our dining room table and had me read from the 28th chapter of Matthew where Jesus commands the disciples to go into the world and make disciples of all nations first baptizing them. Pastor Abdulahi baptized her with Eve holding the bowl of water. Our new sister left this morning with a smile and a cross to remember what Jesus did for her and for us.

This is the reason that I find joy in the work that we have been called to participate in here in Cameroon and Central African Republic. God is indeed wonderful and more powerful in our lives than any force or coercion. I do not give you her name because she is now vulnerable to others of her ethnic group who do not agree with her choices.

Phil

Clean hands do make a difference

Posted on October 29, 2011 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Deborah and Joe Troester are ELCA missionaries in Baboua, Central African Republic. Joe is a technical adviser for PASE, which provides clean drinking water and promotes good hygiene and sanitation to villagers. Deborah teaches at the Theological School in Baboua. Their daughter, Christa, attends ninth grade at Rain Forest International School in Yaoundé, Cameroon. To support the Troesters, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Marie Gbayina pours water for Rodrigue Koulagne to wash his hands.

Marie Gbayina pours water for Rodrigue Koulagne to wash his hands.

October 15 was Global Hand Washing Day.  Why have a day dedicated to the prosaic act of washing one’s hands? Hand washing holds the key to preventing many serious diseases both at home and around the world. Remember when your mom told you to wash your hands before eating? It was good advice.  According to the International Water Institute in Stockholm, diarrheal illnesses could be reduced by 45 percent by washing hands with soap after using the toilet and before eating. Many other diseases can be passed from one person to another by people who don’t wash their hands. Hand washing is an important defense against the spread of cholera, typhoid, and even the common flu virus, among other diseases.

PASE, the Water Management Project of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic (CAR), is working to provide clean drinking water to villages in CAR and also to teach good hygiene practices to villagers, such as the importance of hand washing. Providing clean water is only one part of preventing water-borne diseases. Hand washing is a crucial element in the equation.

This year PASE will be constructing latrines and hand-washing stations at schools and health centers in CAR in order help the “hand washing habit” take root.

Joe Troester