Cameroon Celebrating 100 Years

The Church of the Lutheran Brethren sent its first missionaries to the continent of Africa in 1918. Berge and Herborg Revne set sail out of New York harbor on November 23rd of that year. About a month later they made port in Lagos, Nigeria. They were not content to stay in Nigeria, as there was already ample missionary activity happening in the coastal regions. Instead, they fixed their sights on the interior of the continent, a region then known as the Yola Melut Gap, a large swath of Africa known to be devoid of Christian witness. In 1920, they settled in the border region of southwestern Chad and northeastern Cameroon. They were soon joined by Jetmund and Sophie Kaardal, and then others. Progress in the mission was slow and hard. But our missionaries persevered. In 1928, Revne was traveling by car and stopped to cool the engine in a village called Bosgoi. A curious crowd gathered, and Revne preached. A local witch doctor came to faith. And not long after, another believed. And then another. And the Church of the Lutheran Brethren in Cameroon was born. Today, this Church reports 1,904 places of worship, and over 400,000 worshippers on an average Sunday. Praise the Lord for this heritage!

In March of this year, the Cameroon Lutheran Brethren Church celebrated a centennial of mission. I had the joy of visiting with the leadership of the Church in February, a first step in renewing a relationship that has been stagnant for years. It was a joy to visit and rejoice about the common ground we share as sister Synods in our disciple-making mission. In March, former LB missionary to Cameroon, Rod Spidahl, was able to travel to Cameroon to join in the celebration of the centennial of the Church. His story provides you a glimpse of the joy and emotion of this centennial celebration of God’s work in and through the Church in Cameroon. God be praised for his Church around the world!

Dan Venberg, Director of Lutheran Brethren International Mission.
It is Sunday, March 17th, day one of the centennial celebration of the Lutheran Brethren Church of Cameroon. Their themed banner welcoming the participants reads, “One Hundred Years of Evangelism and Holistic Ministry.” It seems I am dreaming, having just crossed the Logone river this morning from Chad in a wooden canoe. A mere five weeks prior to this day, LBIM director Dan Venberg suggested I should revisit Cameroon, and God provided the means and opened many doors. As I wait to give a greeting and testimony, great joy and tears well up. I sit just a stone’s throw from the chassis of Revne’s old car that God used to attract the first converts to hear the gospel message.

Now I am taking part in a gathering over two-thousand strong, in Yagoua, the original site of LB missionaries in Cameroon. I am surrounded by government dignitaries, hundreds of pastors, and uncountable celebrants clad in green, yellow, and blue—newly made outfits commemorating the Church and its mission. My senses are full. The festive food smells so good. The Yagoua area churches’ youth groups are providing lively music. The drums, the rhythm, and the festive atmosphere are leading many to break into dance. I, too, move into the dance! This manifestation of the joy of the gospel makes the five-hour celebration in 105 degree heat fly by.
Later, I traveled with the Church President Alvius Debsia and other Church leadership to visit Bosgoi, the site of the first conversion and subsequent baptisms of the first believers in Cameroon (1930). Here I was presented with two goats, a carved hippo (symbolizing strength), and a wooden fish (symbolizing adaptability and sustenance). Then we traveled on to Djidoma, the site of the Synod’s seminary/theological school. We ended the centennial on Saturday, March 23, in Garoua, the site of the Synodical headquarters. That makes four locations with new commemorative monuments, where early mission efforts struggled, persevered, and have resulted in a great harvest! At one point in the festivities, a former student now teaching at the seminary level, showed me a small, faded, and well-used notebook titled “Missionary Rod Spidahl’s Lectures on the History of the Lutheran Brethren” (1989). More tears of joy.

Rejoice with me for our sister Cameroonian Lutheran Brethren Church. They are reaching all corners of Cameroon and are sending missionaries to Mali and Senegal. The training facilities of the Church have tripled with collaborative seminaries in Maroua and N’goundere. The women of the Church have built an outreach restaurant in Garoua, a grass-roots effort. I met some of the hundreds of new Fulbe (Fulani) baptized believers who have come out of Islam. I met some of the women evangelists among them, and I thought of early LB missionary and evangelist Anna Aandahl. I was thrilled to see that the hundreds of trees that I had earlier planted at Madouli have now become a forest. I rejoiced at the seven waves of students who have passed through this newest of Bible schools that was so much a part of my earlier ministry focus in Cameroon.
Our brothers and sisters in Cameroon are so thankful, and send their greetings, reminding us that, by faith, all those gone before are still speaking. The EFLC (Eglise Fraternelle Luthérienne du Cameroun) is preaching Good News and is glorifying God for his continued faithfulness to the people of God in mission. Thank you for your prayers for the Lutheran Brethren Church of Cameroon!

Dr. Rod Spidahl was a Lutheran Brethren missionary in Cameroon (1987-1994), professor at Lutheran Brethren Seminary, and a pastor in the Church of the Lutheran Brethren. He is currently retired, and he and his wife Alice are members of Bethel Lutheran Church, Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

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