Bokude Moke is the location of a Catholic mission on the outskirts of Gemena constructed about 15 years ago by the Pères de Scheut (sp?), a Belgian Catholic Missionary order. By the time this particular mission was built, our friend, Père Marcel, had been working in Gemena with Wycliff for a few years.
I seem to have had several reasons for thinking about the significance of Wycliff over the past few weeks. For one, I read a novel based on his story or rather on the story of the translation of the Bible into English. Second, we are having a woman speak in church tomorrow who has come up here to Canada to participate in the translation of the Bible into Cree. Third I have a cousin and husband who were missionaries to Papua New Guinea with Wycliff and who still teach and work in Dallas with this organization. Fourth, it brings to mind my good friend who I got to see again while visiting the Congo. He is a linguist and co-operated with Wycliff in the translation of the Bible into Ngbaka.
The Ngbaka are one of the larger tribal groups in the Ubangi Mongala region of Équateur province in the Congo. Since it has a significant population more than the province I live in it is a language still spoken as the first language by the inhabitants of that part of the Congo. Even if you are from one of the smaller tribes surrounded by Ngbakas, you will probably know how to speak the Ngbaka language. The Catholic missionaries speak Ngbaka. Protestant missionaries and other people foreign to the area tend not to speak this language. It is a difficult language to learn very tonal and with short words, many one syllable. You need to have a good ear to hear the differences in tones and most of the protestant missionaries have been content to stick with the simpler trade language of Lingala. Maybe we were in too much of a rush to get to work or simply too busy with what we were sent out to do” to take the time needed to learn this language.
Let me tell you a little about my friend. I think he is a remarkable man. He is the guy with the little goatee in the foreground.
Père Marcel entered the priesthood a long time ago. He was getting ready to go out to China and had spent four years studying Chinese in seminary when the political upheaval there ended all chances of going to China. So he was redirected to Africa to the Congo to the Ngbaka people. And that is when he began his study of this language. When he got out to the Congo, he perfected it as he lived closely with the people.
We got to know Père Marcel as a friend when he was living at the mission of Bobadi. We would visit there from time to time. It became a place we could go for a break. The Dutch sisters and the Belgian fathers were welcoming, even to Protestants and even to a lapsed Catholic. It was a place we could go and talk about things that were important to all of us and where Leo could enjoy a cold beer in good company away from abstemious watchers. We began to care for each other on many different levels; medically, dentally, psychologically and spiritually. Père Marcel also spoke English fluently and for our children he became a substitute grandfather. We visited his family in Belgium and he visited us in Canada after we returned here.
I didn’t know that Père Marcel was in Gemena when I arrived there. So, when I heard he was over at the mission at Bokude Moke, we headed over there for a visit. It was so good to see this old friend again. We exchanged hugs and tears. I honestly did not think that I would ever see him again in this life. He is now well into his seventies and living in this part of Africa throughout a war is not gentle on one’s health. He has a very pronounced tremor but is still working. His latest effort has been to put together a French Ngbaka dictionary. The draft copies have been published and he is working on bringing it to perfection.
We talk about what the church” really is. To me he is part of it and when we sat and talked I experienced it. He is part of the community of Christians that has helped to shape me into who I am now as a follower of Christ. We have loved and cared for each other over the years and there is a bond between us that can’t be disrupted by distance or time. This aspect of church has absolutely nothing to do with buildings or services or worship on Sunday morning at eleven. It has a lot to do with being part of the body of Christ.