On September 12, I moved from Yaoundé (in the Central region of Cameroon) to Bamenda (in the Northwest region of Cameroon). I moved from a Francophone region, French speaking, to an Anglophone region, English speaking.
My first Sunday in Bamenda, I worshipped at Nkwen Baptist Church. Nkwen church is a large church with two Sunday services, two mass choirs, the English mass choir and the Vernacular choir, a praise team and several other choirs that sing in various native dialects. In fact, this is the largest building, outside of the Catholic church in Yaoundé I have worshipped in since leaving my home church of Oakdale Covenant Church in Chicago.
The members of the church greet me with salutations, handshakes, embraces and smiles. I have a smile on my face as I approach the building and walk inside to find the women gathering for our 7:00 am Sunday School, knowing they will greet me with the love of Christ.
After Sunday School you can see a scramble for our favorite seats to sit in to participate in worship. This makes me laugh to myself. In churches in the States we have “our” seats we sit in week after week. Sometimes someone will sit in a seat no knowing they are in “your” seat.
Soon the ushers are asking us to move over to make room. That means ladies will have to pick up their large handbags and place them on their laps or on the floor. Without a grumble we squeeze closer together until we are touching hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder. It makes you understand how comforting babies must feel when they are held close to our bodies. You feel the love of your neighbor. Here people stand and sit close to each other.
Coming from the back of the church is the sound of drums, bells, shakers and voices. It’s the Vernacular choir marching in. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Psalm 100: 1-2.
As I look towards the direction of the singing, I can see a rainbow of colors. The congregation is dressed in their finest, beautiful wrappers and head covering, suits and dresses all coming to praise, worship and hear the Lord’s words. How beautiful is the sight of the saints that have assembled this day. “Assemble the people for me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth, and may teach their children so” Deuteronomy 4:10
As the collection is taken up, the praise team sings and they are accompanied by various musical instruments. We are reminded that God loves a cheerful giver and we are very cheerful as we form lines and dance up the aisles to the front of the church where we deposit our offering. For the past two Sundays the offering have been different.
It’s harvest time in Cameroon. We have two harvests a year – in June, when most of the fruits are harvested and in September through mid-November. In June it’s called the First Fruit Thanksgiving and the September through mid-November harvest is called the Harvest Thanksgiving.
Around the world festivals of thanksgiving were held before and after the harvest cycle to give thanks for a good harvest, to rejoice. Native Americans celebrated the end of a harvest season, so did the English, French, Germans and so on. It’s a lot different than the one celebrated in the U.S.
Here, from the end of September to the middle of November, each Sunday is Thanksgiving. We assemble as usual to dance up the aisle and bring our donation. What is a little different is that some people bring the fruits of their harvest. Ladies carry baskets on their head with dry maize, dry red, black and white bean, stakes of sugar cane, yams, plump colorful roosters and chickens in baskets. The bounty of their harvest is presented in thanksgiving for a good harvest.
In November my pastor and others from my church, Oakdale will be visiting me and they will be here on the U.S. Thanksgiving, just another day in Cameroon. That day, I plan to invite my team members in Bamenda to share a meal with my Oakdale family. The meal will consist of items from the Thanksgiving harvest of the members of Nkwen Baptist Church. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Psalm 118:1