Saturday, September 6, 2014

Taxi Church


“I'm not sure we're going to make it to the church service after all,” I shrugged helplessly and gave Arnoldo a knowing nod as we surveyed the barely half-full minibus. Standing in the muddy car park on a Sunday morning, the two of us ignored the persistent pleas of the bus driver to climb into his minivan. The van would not leave until the seats were taken, aka. 'the bus don flop'. At the rate it was filling up, this could be a while. We were anxious to make it to Limbe to a Catholic mass by the seaside at one of the oldest missions in Cameroon, Bota Holy Trinity. 

Public transport is not always as speedy as one would hope.

“Douala?” a young man urgently shoved his inquiry toward us, anxious to take on another passenger. He pressed forward and tried to herd us like a pair of sheep toward his empty vehicle. 

“No, Limbe,” I refused his offer and scanned the car park again for any other vehicle that might be headed to the beach town sooner. 

The young scout slipped away, lost in the flesh of other anxious young drivers going to Limbe who'd suddenly heard their prompt. 

“Limbe, Limbe!” the man yelled excitedly. He ushered us toward his waiting 'clando' – a private taxi car that he will fill with four passengers in the back seat and two in the passenger seat up front before departing. These clando taxis can fill faster and are sometimes an expedited means of reaching one's desired destination. 

I looked dubiously at his vehicle. There was one elderly gentleman settled in the front seat. With Arnoldo and I, that would mean three more passengers before he'd go. 

I waited, not yet convinced at the drivers insistence, “We're going now, now, like this!” He was still searching for more customers as he proclaimed his imminent departure, waving his arms dramatically. 'Now' is a relative term.

The minutes ticked by and I looked at my watch. “Well, it might be that we are there just to see the church. The service might be over by the time we make it to Limbe,” I tried to look on the bright side. “It will still be an adventure.”

Suddenly the driver's tone ramped up a notch in urgency.  “Enter, enter,” he almost physically pushed us toward his clando. “See, ee de flop. We de go  now. Enter!”

Out of the periphery of my vision, I noted two well dressed women enter the car. The smaller woman was dressed in an cream-colored suit with matching hat – a very stylish hat trimmed with lace and angled jauntily on her head. It reminded me of photographs of certain  British royalty. The woman situated her purse in her lap and folded her hands over her small Bible. 

The other woman did some fast negotiations with the taxi driver and the elderly gentleman in the front seat. She was a much larger woman, actually. Amply cushioned as some might say. She was dressed in high-fashion too. She had on a tailored dress fashioned to accentuate her curves. The material was of the latest design and high-lighted with shiny gold accents. Her head wrapper added an additional six inches to her height. With the air of a queen, she situated herself unashamedly into the front seat while the small elderly gentleman happily stepped aside and moved himself to the back seat. She had that air of regal confidence. 

Recognizing that the taxi was indeed, now full, I gave a nod of agreement and climbed into the back seat of the car. Four in the back seat. We were cozy and ready for the drive to Limbe at last. As the elderly man squeezed his body and shifted toward the middle a bit more in an attempt to close his door, the elegant woman in front turned round to survey her company behind. 

“Ashia, Pa,” she gave the elderly farmer a gracious smile. 

“Thank you, mom,” he smiled up as he succeeded at least in getting the door to latch.

“I can't fit behind. Now I paid for two seats in front.” She smiled broadly. “I'm very comfortably situated now.”

Knees and elbows jabbing into each other in our cramped quarters in the rear of the car, all four of us nodded in agreement. Yes, she did seem comfortable in her front seat. 

Content that he now had a full vehicle, the driver kept quiet as he concentrated on the road. The incredibly green fields of the Tole tea bushes rushed past our window as he drove. A short quiet ensued as everyone sat ensconced in their own thoughts. Suddenly, the woman in the front seat turned slightly. “Today is Sunday. I want us to pray.”

“Amen,” her friend concurred. The elderly man nodded in agreement as well.

“Turn with me to the book of Numbers in the Holy Bible,” she began.

Of course, none of us could actually get out our Bibles and turn the pages given our incommodious quarters but this did not deter our front-seat preacher. 

 Confidently she dug into her purse and pulled out her small white, leather-bound Bible. She turned the pages and left them open on her lap. As she began to expound upon the story of the rebellious and ungrateful Israelites grumbling about wanting meat to eat, I wondered how she was going to turn this into a prayer.

“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the Lord,” she proclaimed, “Amen?!”

Her friend next to me murmured an agreeing “Amen.”

“...and when he heard them his anger was aroused...' “Praise the Lord?!” 

“Praise the Lord,” the elderly man reflected back. 

“'...Then fire from the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp...'” our taxi preacher was gaining steam, “Amen?!”

“Amen,” several passengers nodded.

Her exhortation continued at this enthusiastic fiery pace with loud exclamations soliciting the captive audience's participation. 

“'....Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents.'”... Praise the Lord!” 

“Praise His Name,” we echoed.

“'... The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.” Amen?!” 

“Amen,” even the taxi driver chimed in.

I still wondered where the spiritual lesson was going to be in her semonette. 

She continued on to verse 23 of Numbers chapter eleven, “The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

“Amen?!” She breathed dramatically. 

“Amen,” the chorus echoed from her back-seat audience. 

Our eloquent taxi preacher tilted her head toward the driver. He kept his eyes on the road and gave her an affirming grunt of affirmation to continue. 

“Isn't God great?” she shouted in enthusiasm. 

“All the time,” we answered with a murmur of nodding heads.

“God is great. Amen?! From this passage we can see that whatever be the problem, God is able to deliver us. Praise the Lord! Amen! Here we see that God is telling Moses that He is not weak. He is mighty,” and her she paused for emphasis, “God is more than capable of delivering us from any problem that we might have – no matter the problem, whether it be financial problem, whether it be family problem, whether it be health problem, no matter  – whatever problem we might have, God is able to deliver us! Amen?!”

She paused to catch her breath, wiping a few beads of sweat that had formed on her forehead. 

“Amen?” She turned to partially face us seated behind her. “ No matter the problem; God is mighty and able to save us. Amen?”

“Amen,” we sighed in reply to her exuberance. 

“Isn't God good?”

“All the time,” everyone in the car answered.

“Amen,” she leaned back in her front seat and studied the words opened before her in her Bible. “We have nothing to fear. Just like God was able to deliver the Isrealites in the Bible, He is more than able to deliver us from whatever problem that we have.”

She folded her hands, satisfied. The verdant green vegetation of the tea plantation fields gradually transformed into the tumbledown wooden houses and dirt yards indicating that we were nearing Limbe.

“The Word of the Lord has spoken. Praise the Lord.”

“Amen,” we murmured in union. 

“Let us fold our hands and pray to our mighty Father in Heaven who is able to solve all our problems.” She raised her own right hand as she bowed her elegantly wrapped head. 

“Father in Heaven, we pray – we pray for your protection as we go to our various destinations. We pray, Father, we pray, that you watch over the driver and keep us safe as we travel. Keep us under your protection, we pray. We praise you that you remind us in the meditation today that you are our Deliverer. And, no matter the problem, you will deliver us.” 

She paused, head bowed, letting the words of her prayer sink in. “In your mighty Name we pray, Amen.”

“Amen,” the rest of the taxi raised their heads from joining her in prayer.

Arnoldo and I reached Limbe safely. We parted ways with our energetic taxi-pastor and her companion at the drop-off. The Catholic service was just beginning as we entered. I believe the sermon was about the Apostle Peter and the cornerstone of the church. It was a lovely picturesque setting for the church service. The waves rolled gently to and fro along the sandy shores. The salty sea breeze wafted through the rafters of the high vaulted ceiling. The choir's voices sang melodiously 
in the apse of the building. 

Two sermons in one Sunday morning. It was a blessed day.

“The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”  Numbers 11: 23