Christmas in Cameroon

Christmas in Cameroon this year included a feast for over 100, festive tree decorations, carol singing, but also one very special addition, a beautiful nativity made from banana leaves.

Sr. Hannah created a lovely creche scene and Sr. Victoria and the postulants at the convent made paper chains and paper dolls as well as swags of cypress branches and red coffee beans. The cypress Christmas tree, brought by a Muslim friend had fresh banana leaf and orange ornaments!

Food preparations were extensive and began at 4 am as over 100 people were expected at the convent for a Christmas feast, along with Sr. Jane Mankaa and children from the orphanage.

Click below to see the video of one of the postulants practicing for Christmas. The postulants are learning new carols they have never heard before and playing the piano!

From Sr. Hannah:
We got a real tree, added paper boy and girl cut-outs, paper chains, real oranges and banana leaf flowers. And that would have been OK, for nature lovers. But for children? Wait, yes, the children brought lights and ornaments so the tree became transformed and a really joyful sight for us and all the visitors. 


Then the three Postulants, keen to learn music, had just a few days to learn words and chords, and we all sang new (to them) carols at our Christmas Eve service. Songs we know but with much meaning, in the newness of the Birth we were celebrating. 


Way back in early summer we saw a felled stump, and designs for possible manger crept in. Then simple creche figures were made from banana leaves. Here in the silence we worshipped and felt close to the real Bethlehem. 

Come Together

Just recently while visiting the Emmanuel sisters in Bafut, I had the opportunity to attend a “Come Together ” along with our 3 postulants. The event was a gathering of people with disabilities for a time of sharing, singing and enjoying a meal provided by the Agape Unity Program. This program, started by Sr. Judith, also bound to a wheelchair most of her life, has taken on their care as best as they are able to raise funds.

Our postulants were able to take part to help distribute food items for each one to take home, truly a good experience for them.

As it turned out, lunch was late in arriving (as in very late) and all waited patiently using the time to sing praises. I confess here I was with my faculties intact , guilty of annoyance at the late lunch and here these people were, not giving in to grumbling or complaints. They were simply grateful for those who were giving of themselves to see that they were taken care of, something rare in Cameroon.

I went away from there knowing that I must make more of an effort to be grateful, no matter what.


Prayer in Song

by Sister Hannah

We are with the Emmanuel Sisters and just came from Vespers.

Towards the end of the service there is opportunity for extemporaneous prayers. Very quietly, the Sister in front of me started to sing, “Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land,” and slowly and prayerfully others joined in this prayer for deliverance from oppression.

We know the historical/Biblical pain and suffering of the Hebrews. And in the American southern states this was reiterated as the slaves longed for their freedom.

In today’s conflict situation in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, the prayers continue. These Sisters know God is faithful and they pray earnestly, in the words of this song. The need for stability is fairly urgent and our prayers joined with theirs will surely touch the Father’s heart.

Music is Catchy!

by Sister Victoria

After a long stretch in Kuvlu, we have returned to Bafut and are spending a short time visiting again with our wonderful friends at the Emmanuel sisterhood, now our Cameroon family.

Word of our progress with the postulants in Kuvlu, both in piano lessons and psalm singing has preceded us, and now the sisters are undertaking piano lessons. They also asked if I would help them with singing their daily offices.

So, classes are underway! What a joy it is to witness their eagerness and delight in learning music for the first time, and a pleasure for me to do what I can to help them.

What God Provides

by Sister Hannah

The Sisters’ culinary adventures in Cameroon continue, as does God’s provision and protection.

Menus this week included pitas and refried beans (from two different cultures, introduced to a third). Pitas were made over a wood fire. I’d cooked and seasoned the beans and had help mashing them. So that was dinner. However, some preferred marmalade on their pitas, so we had lots of beans left.

Next day I re-worked the beans into a soup to go over rice, but only two of us chose that option for lunch. More left-overs (sigh). And I went on to dinner preparation.

Later, four young neighborhood children who often drop by for a meal showed up, and I groaned inwardly; as we just had enough for us for dinner, I didn’t think we could give them any of it. Then I remembered the soup. Would they eat such a strange soup? One postulant thought so, and ladeled it into four bowls for them.

Soon I heard the children laughing—they had eaten and their appreciation was expressed as they enjoyed a satisfied feeling. I had tears as I sensed their grateful hearts. O, wait and see what God provides. And the licked-clean bowls stacked outside the kitchen door said a terrifically simple, “Amen!”

We Are Together

by Sister Victoria

One of the common phrases among Christians here in Cameroon is “we are together ” meaning we have one God and we share our concerns and needs. It is no different with the Muslims here in the village of Kuvlu. They represent a large sector in the village, and our little Community, the Benedictine Sisters of Bethany have been aiming at fostering a good relationship with them.

Today I met with some our Muslim neighbours, just as they were coming out of their afternoon prayers. They could not have been warmer towards me saying, “we have one God, we are together, and we love you!”

Bon appetit

by Sister Hannah

Most meals in our experience in Cameroon are a large portion of starch with a sauce or gravy. These are traditional inherited combinations. Also, we are wished ‘bon appetit’ at the beginning of meals, another tradition.

The other day we were out of vegetables. So the postulants mentioned picking pumpkin leaves from the garden. Should we try them? Why not?

From their bag full of dewy tender leaves I took out four for the two of us. This might work as a green sauce on spaghetti.

Cooked in a little oil and water with onion, garlic and salt it didn’t look like a sauce at all! But we stirred it into the cooked spaghetti and felt like pioneers in the gourmet field — not a bad combination. God’s resources continue to bless us. We marvel at His care for us time after time.

Courage Brothers!

by Sister Victoria

Two weeks of intense music lessons for the postulants in Kuvlu, Cameroon has proven both fun and fruitful. They have practiced hard and last Sunday we sang “Courage Brothers” in Church, accompanied by one of the girls. Just a few weeks ago some of them had never before set eyes on a piano, let alone imagined playing one. They were thrilled! These girls are very bright and the joy they feel learning something so unusual in Cameroon is giving them the impetus to learn!

Kuvlu is actually known to be a place steeped in dark arts and religious practices and it seems evident to us that God has specifically chosen this place for the new Convent to flourish and bring light to this village. Already we sense that God is at work through music and especially in the chanting of the Psalms.

Birthday cake in Cameroon

by Sister Hannah

Can you make a cake? Sister Jane asked, and I said we could try. I had made bread in a make-shift double boiler here so the same might work for a cake. This was to celebrate Ben’s 13th birthday. Ben and God’s Plan are two boys from the orphanage who have been helping cook and do chores here at the convent for a couple of months.

We gathered ingredients (no recipe) buttered the pot and launched in. No mixing bowl, no beater — a fork works — and no measuring cups or spoons, but a lot of trust in the Lord.

All dry ingredients stirred together.  Now a lesson on separating eggs, three whites to whip and fold in last, so Bee started beating with a fork. We added  oil, eggs, water, orange juice and grated rind and mixed it all. The whites soon formed beautiful peaks and got folded in.

The batter looked great and the girls said it tasted good. We took it to the outside kitchen and lowered the cake into the larger pot of boiling water over an open wood fire. Sometime later I tested for doneness, on the concrete floor — done!

Eager to celebrate, we didn’t wait til the cake was cool. We quickly adorned it with a little marmalade and lots of toasted coconut. Yum! We sang, clapped and prayed for this special young man. Ben was the first baby to come to the orphanage and has grown up with Sister Jane as Mama Jane.

He Who Sings, Prays Twice -St. Augustine

by Sister Victoria

Yesterday was a special and blessed day for our postulants of the Benedictine Sisters of Bethany here in the village of Kuvlu. These beautiful girls have taken the step from aspirants to postulants and with that step have received their new habits.

For the past couple of months, Sr Hannah and I have been busy putting together a new psalter with antiphons so that this new Community can begin singing the psalms.
Also, this past week began a rather intense two-week “music camp”. The girls have had beginning piano lessons with a visiting instructor, and I have been teaching them to chant the psalms. Meanwhile Sr Hannah has worked on alterations to their new habits, giving them their final pressing with a charcoal iron!

At church I sat behind them and admit, my eyes welled up a little thinking of the privilege and joy it is to be a part of their lives; young women wishing to serve God.