Mission is Alive and Jesus Christ Proclaims it on this Continent: A View from Cameroon

October 22, 2012

In September, the Reverend Canon Petero Sabune, The Episcopal Church’s Partnership Officer for Africa, attended the triennial meeting of the Francophone Network of the Anglican Communion in Douala, Cameroon. He reflected on the importance of the Francophone Network’s presence there and the future of mission in Francophone Africa with his colleague Lynnaia Main, Global Relations Officer.

Canon Sabune with, L to R, Lynnaia Main, Global Relations Officer, TEC; Bishop Dibo Elango, Bishop of the Diocese of Cameroon and Mrs. Estelle Elango, wife of Bishop Elango and president of the Anglican Women’s Fellowship in the Diocese of Cameroon.

Lynnaia: This is Lynnaia Main from Global Partnerships. I’m here in Douala, Cameroon, on Tuesday, September 11th with Reverend Canon Petero Sabune, Partnership Officer for Africa in Global Partnerships, Mission Department of The Episcopal Church.  I’m here to ask him a few questions about his experience at the Francophone network meeting that we’ve been [attending] for the last few days in Douala. Canon Petero, tell me, what has brought you to the Francophone network meeting in particular? How does it connect to your work in Africa?

Petero: It connects to my work in Africa because it’s the bridge between Central Africa and West Africa. For Cameroon, with Gabon, Congo, Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea are the bridge to West Africa and Central Africa. So it’s very important, very critical, very critical to be joined. And it’s somewhat marginalized because they speak French, so they’re marginalized by the Anglican, English-speaking crowd, because they can’t speak English. So maybe there should be other networks, a Portuguese network, so it’s very important…Because the people from Angola, Mozambique, Brazil speak Portuguese. Why can’t we have a multilingual Communion? So it was very important for me to come and to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Cameroon who are in the Francophone [network]. And others also who have joined them: Burundi, [Democratic Republic of] Congo, Congo Brazza[ville], Mauritius, Seychelles…So it is very important that we met here.

Delegates gather for a “family photo” at the end of the Francophone meeting in Douala.

Lynnaia: What kinds of issues have been discussed the last few days and what kinds of projects have come out of this, both in terms of what has been wrapped up and what’s coming ahead in the future?

Petero: The next meeting three years from now will be in Bujumbura in Burundi. But between now and then, they have decided to focus on mission. Which to me, is exactly where we need to be. Instead of focusing on our own issues, focus outside – to grow the church in Congo Brazza[ville], where there’s no Anglican church, officially; there are six congregations but no official presence. They are under the Kinshasa jurisdiction. So they are going to have the first Anglican bishop in Brazzaville, so that’s exciting. Focus on mission, growing, building, evangelism, proclaiming the gospel, the Good News, that’s one. And also looking at Congo’s conflict. Quite interesting that the francophone delegations all agreed to focus on the continuing conflict in Congo. They have asked for prayer. So all of us are going to have to pray for our brothers and sisters in DRC, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who have had years and years of conflict, unending conflicts – that we are going to pray for them and we are going to be in solidarity with them and we are going to act to make sure that peace prevails in the Congo. So that’s mission, ministry, looking outside of ourselves, not [focused] on our own issues…I think that was very exciting.

Lynnaia: It’s wonderful that it’s been held here in Francophone Africa.  Do you know whether that was an intentional decision?

A few members of the Executive Committee of the Francophone network, re-elected at the meeting. Left to right: The Reverend Canon Marie-Hélène Dolan, TEC, Secretary; Bishop Pierre Whalon, President and Bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe; Bishop Dibo Thomas-Babyngton Elango, Diocese of Cameroon and elected Counselor of the Executive Committee at the meeting; the Venerable David Oliver, Anglican Church of Canada,Treasurer.

Petero: Yes it was, I think. The last one was in Mauritius. There have been attempts to have it on the African continent. So it was very important that it be held here because that’s the majority of the people here, according to some of the research being done. This region not only holds the Congo basin, the Congo forest basin, which feeds almost the lungs of West Africa in this region. So it was very important environmentally that we meet here; it’s very important to look at the whole Communion. We had representatives from Montreal here, and of course from Paris – the Chair is Pierre, the Bishop of the Convocation of Churches in Europe. So it was very important to have it on the African continent because that’s where the church is, that’s where the church is strongest, that’s where the church is growing, with all its problems. With war, and poverty, and instability, still, mission is alive and Jesus Christ proclaims it on this continent, so it was very important that we met here in Cameroon.

Lynnaia: And did you learn anything about the Diocese of Cameroon or the country of Cameroon that you didn’t know already?

Petero: Yes, I did. I did. I learned that it’s 80% French-speaking – the southwest and the northwest are the two that speak English, so it’s very important that we focus and grow on those. I was intrigued by the clergy here that are committed to growing. There are 13 clergy in the Diocese of Cameroon. And of course, I was here before, with Reading Camp, I was in Tiko about 2 ½ hours from here. I have been here before, so for me this was the second visit to look at how the Anglican church is proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they’re willing to risk moving the boundaries, going out of their comfort zone. It’s so easy to just settle and do what you do every day instead of, you know, Sunday School and evangelism and choir, and all that is so wonderful, but what about the people around you who are looking, who are searching for? The other thing I learned about Cameroon, it has a lot of people from outside, from other countries who are here. So that was very interesting. I didn’t know that.

Lynnaia: Wonderful. So it’s been a good experience for you.

Petero: Yes, it has. I learned a lot. Worship, music, praying and sharing. When people come together it’s like bringing sparks together: something happens. So it was an incredible experience being here and sharing with the brothers and sisters from Mauritius, Seychelles, Burundi, Congo Brazzaville, Congo DRC, Montreal and of course from Paris, from France. And so, it was.

Lynnaia: And what are the next steps from here for you?

Petero: Well, I came here from Ghana, and I was hoping to go to Guinea. Bishop Gomez didn’t come, so I don’t know how that is going to work out. But I’m going to see one of our young people in Yaoundé tomorrow. Carolyn is one of the Reading Camp teachers. She is at Yaoundé University, so I am going to spend time with her and see if I can get hold of Bishop Gomez. If not, I will not go to Guinea. Bishop Lynch is away from Sierra Town…West Africa is electing the primate at the end of this month, so that’s another interesting development that I learned …[car approaches] We don’t want to get run over by a car!

Lynnaia: Canon Sabune, we thank you for your time.

Petero: Thank you so much.

Lynnaia: We’re just about to be run over and left behind in Cameroon! So we’ll say goodbye to you now, thank you so much.  God bless you in your ministry across the whole of Africa. We know that more of Africa has become closer to Christ because of your ministry. God bless you.