From mid-January to mid-February, I made a pastoral trip through the Indian Ocean, Africa and Europe. I arrived on the beautiful island of Mauritius on Jan. 18, after spending two consecutive nights on planes.
During my stay in Mauritius, I visited a potential Feast of Tabernacles site in the beautiful seaside village of Grand Bay (see the announcement on page 3 about this exciting new Feast site). The hotel we have reserved is across the street from one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen!
In addition to several member visits during my brief stay, 10 people gathered together for services in the town of Quatre Bornes. After services we had a roundtable planning discussion on plans for the future of the Church on this lovely island.
My next stop was Antananarivo, the capital city of the large island-nation of Madagascar about 500 miles toward the African continent. The visit to Madagascar was to allow me to meet with the leaders of a congregation that is interested in becoming part of the United Church of God. This was the outcome of a fascinating “coincidence” of the kind that has happened several times in Africa as God has brought people into contact with UCG.
Patrick Rakotomahefa used to attend services with our previous association in Paris in the early 1990s, back when I was serving as a pastor in Eastern France. When he moved back to Madagascar, he eventually began attending with a local Sabbath-keeping church.
Patrick works for ASECNA, the French-African civil aviation authority. A few years back he was in Niger for some training seminars. While there, he made the acquaintance of Kossi Fiaboé from Togo, who also works for ASECNA. Mr. Fiaboé happens also to be a deacon in the United Church of God. When these men learned that they both kept the Sabbath, they compared their religious beliefs and were amazed to find their common background! Patrick contacted me by e-mail and we began a correspondence that culminated in this visit.
Mr. Rakotomahefa met me at the airport. He was accompanied by Mr. Maminiaina Rakotoarivelo, the pastor of the local congregation. Mr. Rakotoarivelo doesn't speak much French, so Patrick translated back and forth for us as we discussed various things. Over the course of two days, we discussed our doctrinal beliefs, and I explained many things about the work of the United Church of God around the world. One afternoon as we continued our discussions, we visited a botanical and zoological garden.
We exchanged information to assist each other in better understanding where both groups stood, and we considered possible ways forward toward unity. These kinds of situations don't always end in a final joining, in fact they rarely do. But unity is a goal worth pursuing, so we will look for God's guidance as we study this further.
My next stop was Cameroon, which I finally reached after 24 hours of travel. While in Douala I had a Sabbath service with the congregation, a Q&A Bible study, a spokesman club meeting and several member visits.
Four people representing another independent Sabbath-keeping congregation from Yaoundé had made the trip to Douala to meet me. They keep the Sabbath and the Holy Days, and found us via the Internet where they were searching for other, larger churches that have similar beliefs to theirs. They were very excited to find us and had many questions. Their participation in the Q&A Bible study showed a solid understanding of the Bible. It was a great pleasure to make their acquaintance, and we look forward to developing our relationship.
At their request, we made arrangements for them to receive CDs of sermons in French in addition to other Church literature. On my next visit to Cameroon, I plan to make the trip to Yaoundé to visit with them. In the meanwhile, our deacon, Mr. Mabout, will go to see them from time to time.
From Cameroon I flew to Côte d’Ivoire. Tensions were higher in Abidjan than they had been on my last visit. Not only is the civil war still simmering between the north and the south, but in August 2007 toxic waste from a European treatment company ship was dumped illegally in several places around Abidjan, poisoning over 6,000 people and killing at least six.
The ensuing investigation brought to light the collusion and bribery of several government officials. This raised tensions even higher. Certain neighborhoods of Abidjan were still off limits as the clean-up continued. So traffic was thicker and there were more armed police and army checkpoints around town to prevent outbreaks of violence of any kind. Many armed UN vehicles could be seen.
After one night in Abidjan, I went by car out to the rural village of La Mé, where most of our brethren live. I brought my food with me from Abidjan, since I would stay at the local inn which doesn't provide any meals. As I moved into my room, I chased out a frog, and stepped on some cockroaches, but left the lizards on the walls since they eat mosquitoes.
During two days in La Mé, I held three group Bible studies, counseled five people to help them prepare for baptism and went over plans for the construction of a church hall of concrete block with a corrugated tin roof. The group in La Mé is doing well, and is very excited by their growth in numbers as well as the church hall project.
From Côte d’Ivoire, I flew to Benin where we were to hold three days of Bible studies and seminars for our local leaders from five French-African countries (see article, page 3).
Next I traveled to Paris and was greeted by freezing temperatures and light snow. During my few days in France, I had an encouraging visit with a new family in Paris. I also visited Daniel Harper, an American nuclear engineer who is also an ABC graduate. He has just accepted a contract to work in Cherbourg, in Normandy, for the next few years, and offered to help out however he could while he and his wife, Cindy (who will arrive shortly), are living in France. Daniel and I had a pleasant dinner in Cherbourg and discussed how he might be able to help out.
I spent a delightful Sabbath with the Bordeaux congregation, and had several pleasant visits with brethren in that region before finally heading home to my family. My next trip, if all goes as planned, should be to France, Belgium and Switzerland in June.
More information and photos can be found on the travel blog www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/joelmeeker/jan-feb_2007/tpod.html. UN