Ilung is a fledgling parish in the far North West corner of English speaking Cameroon. A team of young Mill Hill missionaries is involved here in missionary work under challenging conditions. Patrick Lonkoy Bolengu, a Congolese Mill Hill Missionary student of theology, is here on a two year ‘Mission Experience Programme’ to get a taste of ‘mission at the frontline’. In a recent report he writes:
I live in a community of four: two priests and two students. Our main objective as a team is to move the parish forward, from some types of church that local people have in their minds such as ‘A Provided-For Church’, where some Christians think they are doing things for the priests or brothers as they call us, catechists and church leaders. Or ‘A Church of Helpers’, meaning people think their function is to help the pastoral workers; the priests, brothers, catechists and church leaders. Or again ‘An Awakening Church’, when some Christians have realised that they are not only helpers but they need to take some responsibilities although they are still ignorant of many things. Our aim is to help them reach the stage of ‘A Church of Disciples’, where Christians will be able to accept personal vocations from Christ, a call to service, to love and to take responsibility thus moving towards a ‘ A Communion of Communities’, with Christ the head of the communities to be the centre of their daily lives. We do this by empowering the people through different commissions, daily reflections and homilies given at Masses or Communion Services, recollections, seminars and retreats.
Our team is being theologically motivated by the motto of the society: to love and to serve. We use the method of See (observing what and why things are happing), Reflect (thinking critically on what is happening, learning more in order to discover the value of what is happing and people’s beliefs and then compare those with the Church’s Teachings). I prefer using the term ‘Reflect’ more than Judge. Then Act (promoting people’s values and beliefs and then helping them to improve on certain issues which do not correspond to the Teachings of the Church.)
The people we live with and work amongst
About 30% of the people living in our parish are Catholics, 15% Protestants, mostly Christians from the Baptist Church, 20% are Mbororos whose culture is inclined towards Islam, and 35% are adherents of African Traditional Religion. Some people call them ‘traditionalists’.
The population of our parish is composed of three tribes: Kom (majority), Bum and the Mbororo (a Hausa-Fulani tribe). The social political conflicts among the tribes have a great influence in the parish, especially among the Kom and Bum. The Bum people feel getting a parish of their own would be a better option than being together with the Kom people. This political influence is also found within the same ethnic groups. Each village wants to be a mission station and be on their own. However, their differences serve as a positive contributing factor to the parish growth. They bring their cultural richness and their talents for the development of the parish.
People have great respect for their traditions and traditional leaders. Basically, our active Christians’ consciences are being shaped by their traditional culture. This means that even our few active Christians accept Christianity only if it corresponds with their culture. Foyns (kings) are being respected because there is a belief that they have some sacred powers. ‘Foyns’ are not only leaders to solve problems. Huber in his Book, “STUDIA ETHNOGRAPHICA FRIBUGENSIA” puts it that ‘Foyns’ are considered as leaders, symbols of unity, personifications of kingdoms and mediators between gods, royal ancestors and people.
During my daily experiences, I have been wondering how these people can be fully adherents of their traditional beliefs and culture and be fully Christians, especially when there are issues that bring conflicts between Christianity and the local culture. Polygamy and wife inheritance remain challenges for the Church in Ilung.
Although I am not so sure of the gender ratio in Ilung Parish, in my daily experiences, I have come to realize that women and girls are the majority in the Church. They are the ones who are actively participating in the Church. Some men come to Church but the majority hardly come. Most are working in the Southwest of Cameroon.
There are many young people in the parish. Many are trying to participate in the Church activities as we continue empowering them. The parish is growing gradually. The pastors who came before us have planted seeds, the current team in Ilung is trying to water the seeds they have planted but we have to leave the rest of the work to God who will make the seeds grow.
The Church has a great influence in the transformation of Ilung in one way or another. The visible influence of the Church is evident in the pastoral, educational and health sectors. There are several Catholic-funded schools in the parish and many students are being sponsored by the Church, such as in the Ilung Catholic Primary School. 80% of the pupils there are being sponsored by the Church including the payment of some teachers, the construction of a health centre and construction of houses next to the churches in most mission stations to facilitate our staying in those mission stations.
My pastoral involvement
Some of the activities I am involved in include:
Home Visitation: I have been frequently visiting the mission stations and staying with the people there. I spend my time interacting with the people to learn more from them and discuss together about the Church doctrines. I encourage them also to continue actively participating in the SCC, Church activities and living their faith. It is also a time just to be with the people, listen to their joys and challenges. Many times I feel helpless since I cannot not provide what is needed for the people in terms of material needs, but my presence is necessary since it brings smiles and joys to those who are suffering.
Youth Ministry: I found four youth groups in the parish; the Vocation Group, Mass Servers, Cadets of Mary and Young Catholic Workers but I have revived the group of YCS. In this ministry, I try to help young people to discover their talents, to face life and its challenges maturely, to actively participate in the Church activities and to cater for their needs with an intention of fostering growth in all spheres of life: Spiritual, Material, Relational, Educational/academics and Health through seminars, retreats, recollections, general doctrine, youth rallies, sports and pastoral activities, visitation to the sick and the old people.
Being aware that, ‘a teacher who is only seen in a classroom is a teacher and nothing more; but if he joins the pupils in recreation he becomes their brother/sister. A preacher who is only seen on the pulpit is doing no less or more than his duty, but if he says a good word during recreation it is taken as a word of one who loves’. I associate myself with youths for different activities.
Other Pastoral Activities: Since the Anglophone teachers went on strike, I do not teach in school anymore. I do communion services. I do odd jobs. I also socialize with people, young and old, Christians, Muslims and adherents of the African Traditional Religion. I started a small project of poultry farming.
The mission has helped me change my perception of things and my image of God. My best image of God now is ‘the God who is all in all’, as St. Paul puts it. A God who reveals himself in different ways, through people’s culture and the people’s lives, a God who is beyond religions. I have learnt to be more patient; people often come late for services and meetings, some student learn at a snail’s space, and people are totally different. I have learnt to be more humble; learning requires humility to create space. I have learnt to be more focused; there are many things to learn from the local people, their rich culture, from my colleagues and team mates. I have learnt to be flexible and accommodative; coping with any situation, and eating not only the food I like.
All the above make me feel that I am in the right place.
Patrick Lonkoy Bolengu mhm, MEP student