Finding Success From Sticking to Basics
In an age when Americans read books and attend seminars on how to simplify, many parts of the world never lost touch with the basics. Take, for instance, the African country of Cameroon.
Yaounde, its capital, ranks as the second-largest city in the republic. Yet here, in the heart of urban life, a blacksmith forges a hoe over an open fire in front of his house. Around the corner, an herbalist combines herbs and plants into concoctions to treat illnesses, employing both book knowledge and family traditions.
Out on the street, a young mother walks by, balancing a large basket of fruit on her head. A baby rides in a bright scarf tied around her waist and behind her back.
Like the mother, the herbalist and the blacksmith, Campus Crusade for Christ staff members in Cameroon stick to the basics: in this case, the basics of Campus Crusade -- winning people to Christ, building them in their faith and sending them out to do the same.
And the basics are working. What started with two foreign missionary couples in 1992 now includes a staff team of 59 Cameroonians.
"In Africa, the ministry typically has begun in the community, perhaps with a church or a pastor," says Rev. Kassoum Keita, who directs Campus Crusade in the French-speaking countries of Africa. "Cameroon is the only country that began on the campus, and when it started, it started with real growth."
Across town from the blacksmith, third-year university student Ibrahim Ndzesop scales the hilly campus of Yaounde I University to talk with people about Jesus Christ. He walks up the steps of a dormitory stairwell to the beat of a basketball bouncing on a nearby court.
After answering the knock at door C109, Eric and his roommate, Macdonald, introduce themselves to Ibrahim with a handshake, punctuated by a Cameroonian finger snap.
The two men agree to talk for a few minutes about Christianity. Using the evangelistic Four Spiritual Laws booklet as a springboard, Ibrahim peppers the discussion with questions in both French and English (in bilingual Cameroon, conversations often flip-flop between languages).
Philosophy soon gives way to personal need, and Eric invites Ibrahim into his dark, narrow room. Soon the young Cameroonian opens his life to Jesus Christ through a prayer of confession. Ibrahim prays with his new friend, then invites him to an upcoming Campus Crusade meeting.
Three hours west by bus, past forests of eucalyptus, banana and bamboo, Emmanuel Lingome represents Campus Crusade in Douala.
Although this port city boasts the largest population in Cameroon, Emmanuel works alone. Last year, the 30-year-old staff member had invited his pastor to attend classes on how to explain the gospel to others. He had merely hoped that the class might inspire his pastor to eventually host training classes at their church.
Rev. Martin Minyem shocked the young staff member three weeks later when he announced from the pulpit that, during Emmanuel's basic training class, he had given his life to Christ for the first time. Then he invited the whole church to do the same.
"I could not imagine that he had not invited Jesus into his life," says Emmanuel. "We have too many people who have not accepted Christ but go to church."
"It is often the case," he goes on, "that [people] will pray and not understand what they have done. I don't always realize it at the time, but when we are doing follow-up lessons it is easy to see." Staff member Victorine Tambe, 32, and Eunice Ngang meet together for just such a purpose on Saturdays and Mondays.
This morning, after singing a hymn in harmony, Victorine quizzes her 41-year-old friend on Scripture memory.
Eunice, who just recently became a Christian, struggles to recall the passage from Ephesians, fidgeting with the green journal and Bible in her lap. Afterward, the two women turn to a lesson from "Beginning Your New Life in Christ" -- today they discuss how to read Scripture.
Like Eunice, professor David Bekolle also wants to be built in his faith. The head of the mathematics department at one of Yaounde's universities meets with staff member Augustin Tchenkoua for 90 minutes each week. "I am supposed to be a Christian, but things were not so clear before I attended Campus Crusade for Christ," the bespectacled man explains.
Professor Bekolle also attends the Campus Crusade-sponsored community prayer meeting. Baptists, Presbyterians and charismatics leave behind their differences and unite for prayer.
"This is not an ecumenical service," says Cameroon's national director Gabriel Takoudjou. "This is discipleship. Community ministry has mobilized people to pray."
Mobilization ranks as the third basic principle of Campus Crusade. Last year, seven Cameroonians traveled to the arid country of Mali to join the staff of Campus Crusade. During the standard nine-month training course for new staff members, nine countries were represented from Francophone (French-speaking) Africa. However, Cameroonians comprised one-quarter of the class.
"Since 1997, Cameroon has always had the largest representation of trainees," says Emmanuel Ngeh Ngafansi, a full-time trainer at the program and himself a Cameroonian. "For the past five years, it has been progressively increasing in number."
One reason for the increase: staff members train others to go. Seven college students involved in Campus Crusade at Dschang University went on a mission trip last spring to Cameroon's University Games. This annual, Olympic-spirited event occurs among all six college campuses within the republic.
The mission trip came at a sacrificial cost: Funding added up to more than half a year's school fees for the students hailing from western Cameroon. The journey alone included a 16-hour train ride to the northern city of Ngaoundere, with standing room only at times.
But in the minds of each believer from Dschang, the benefits outweighed the costs. Since athletes carry great influence on their campuses, the students applied basic strategy to the University Games: reach the athletes with the message of Jesus, and they can help reach even more people back on campus.
Each of the seven Christian students asked God for 50 opportunities to talk about their faith-10 discussions per day over the five days of the event. The aggressive goal stemmed from a passion to reach lost people, and an effort to redeem the time.
"All religious activity on our campus is forbidden," explains one student. Then she clarifies, "Well, we are not permitted to do Christian evangelism. But the Muslims can meet."
The threat of Northern Africa's Muslim influence seeping into Francophone Africa constantly reminds the Christians of Cameroon that time could be short.
Even now, evangelical Christian activity on campuses has officially been shut down by Cameroon's minister of education, according to Kennedy Nsom, national campus coordinator.
"They are arbitrary orders at this point," Kennedy says, "and rarely met with punitive measures." Unwilling to ignore the signs, however, Kennedy cites a Nigerian proverb to explain the ministry's response. "Since men have learned to shoot without missing," he says, "birds have learned to fly without perching."
Flying lessons have come a long way in 10 short years. Kamate and Kavira Basolene, from Democratic Republic of the Congo, along with American couple Bill and Mary Beauvais, started the ministry in Cameroon on the college campus back in 1992.
"We were two couples at the beginning," remembers Kamate's wife, Kavira, "but soon we were one couple -- my husband and I. Even if they call you national coordinator -- coordinator of what? My husband was coordinating me!"
She laughs, and then points out that now Cameroonians continue the ministry, carrying the vision of discipleship to others.
Traditional African religions, featuring ancestral worship, create a major obstacle to that vision, however. Even the national anthem of the country pays tribute to it, and more than half of the population in Cameroon practices these religions.
Staff member Efi Walters Tembon created quite a controversy last year at his father's funeral when he refused to participate in the traditional rituals performed at the ceremony.
"They have to do sacrifices to the ancestors," Efi says, "chant incantations and rub the blood of the sacrifices on everyone's heads." With the extended family gathered, Efi stood up and confronted them: "I said, 'What you people are doing is quite wrong and against God. We were in church yesterday to worship God and today you are going back to worship demons.'
"Some of them know that it is wrong but they are afraid," says Efi, "even somebody who has a Ph.D. in medicine like my elder brother."
Despite Efi's protests, his family carried out the rituals at the ceremony.
Efi's mother, Tenguh, had told him that his beliefs would cut him off from her, and she had followed that threat with four days of silence. Yet when Tenguh and Efi spoke for the first time after the funeral, he again showed his mother the Scripture verses condemning ancestor worship.
Gently, Efi asked her whether she knew she would go to heaven when she died, and proceeded to read the Four Spiritual Laws booklet again.
"There before my eyes," Efi says, "my mother prayed and received Jesus Christ. It was quite touching and I praise God." It all goes back to the basics.