The Catholic community in the remote village of Fonfuka, NW Province, Cameroon, has a distinguished pedigree.
Masonry of old church
It was founded nearly one hundred years ago, in 1919 to be precise, by a returnee soldier from the island of Fernando Po situated off the coast of Cameroon. Many Cameroonian soldiers serving in the German colonial army in different capacities were interned there after the German defeat in WWI. A significant number of them became Christians and turned into active apostles when they returned to their regions of origin after the war. The little church built by this fervent lay missionary in Fonfuka still stands. However, the seed sown in those distant days took a while to come to fruition.
Tiberius Vuni mhm
When Fr Tiberius Vuni, a young Mill Hill missionary from Uganda, was appointed here three years ago to start a new mission, he found a community struggling at the level of mere survival, without any support structures worth speaking of. The most difficult challenge was to find suitable lay leaders (catechists) for the small Christian communities in the outlying villages. Some of these could only be reached on foot – involving treks of several hours.
He had little difficulty in accepting very basic living conditions at the parish centre in Fonfuka itself.
A simple well-built church adjacent to the historic mud brick building mentioned above provided a welcome space for gathering the local community. But even now the living room in the simple priests house directly opposite doubles as sacristy.
"My sojourn with Fr Adolf Pöll mhm in Witu, Kenya, as a student on MEP – 'Mission Experience', has been of enormous help to me. He gave me all the space I needed to learn to manage on my own in challenging conditions", Tiberius tells me.
Dogged perseverance and an open eye for God's presence in all manner of situations, in particular in the local culture,
have helped him to bring to life the seed sown long ago. Spending extended weekends with the least responsive communities in some of the outstations is one of his favourite approaches. "He holds us like an egg", was a comment I heard from one of the Christians. They have taken to calling him endearingly Kwangá- Peace.
" As a missionary you need to persevere", Augustine, one of his two trusted catechists, told him. Tiberius does not hide his admiration for this committed lay assistant: "I feel hugely inspired by his willingness to leave his family behind for extended periods 'in the field' and by the joy he radiates when he returns from his 'mission'.
The going can be tough at times. At the Mbonge outstation for instance only 2 or 3 people regularly attend Sunday service. People are slow to respond even though he visits frequently and keeps doing so.
"My part is to sow the seed", he says with touching humility, "I may not see the fruits, but God's grace is at work in the hearts of the people".
Tiberius Vuni talking to parishioner
Overall the growth of the Christian community ever since he first set foot in Fonfuka is a cause of wonder and immense
gratitude. To give but one example: at Ngona Kimbi the small community of Catholics used to gather in a classroom at the local school. When for some reason this arrangement was discontinued, they had no other choice but to come together in the shade of a tree. Since those early days the community has grown. They first built a temporary shed and are currently poised to graduate to a proper small church built by themselves.
MEP student Rebenie Madar
Tiberius Vuni himself is grateful for the support and advice he has received all along from fellow missionaries with many years of experience. The companionship of Mill Hill missionary students, and, recently, the assistance of Cyril Johnrose, a young Mill Hill colleague from India, have been a real boost.
This young Mill Hill Missionary team at Fonfuka is ready to take up a new challenge now.
Later this year the revived parish of Fonfuka will be handed back to the archdiocese of Bamenda and they will move on. A new gospel adventure awaits them in Kembong, a parish in the vast rainforest area of the diocese of Mamfe with plenty of scope for primary gospel witness. They will go keenly aware that God's Spirit precedes them.
Fons Eppink mhm