Take the paved road south from Yola that leads to Cameroon. After 15 minutes, turn right onto a dirt road that is not all that bad. You’ll have to dodge the huge herds of cows and goats that meander across the road but it’s a fairly smooth ride. Follow this road for an hour.
At a junction, veer left. You know it’s your road because it is just awful. Pitted, rutted, eroded, it barely qualifies as a road. In fact, it’s mostly just a motorcycle track. After 45 minutes bouncing on this road, across rivers, through gullies, up steep hills, you’ll find yourself in the village of Mari. The road ends here. You can see why, too. All around are steep, forested hills.
Hop onto the waiting motorcycle of the local canon and ride for 15 minutes into the foothills – more gullies, more hills. He’ll make you get off and walk from time to time because his little bike can’t handle the weight. Eventually, that track ends. Now you’re on foot. It’s 30 minutes (if you’re in decent shape) straight up hill. Of course, since you left Yola later than you planned, it is now the middle of the day, the sun is shining brightly, and pretty soon you’re rationing all that water you brought with you.
But if you can make it this far, you’ll find the views in the village of Waciri to be gorgeous. It’s the rainy season so everything is green and you can look out over the valley floor that you bounced across not too long before. Waciri itself is a village of mud huts, thatch roofs, and fields everywhere – maize and groundnuts, primarily. There is no thinking this is an easy life. In the fields are men and women bent over hoeing acres and acres by hand. The huts are crumbling in places. Water is hard to find. There is no school or clinic up here. Children have large bellies from the lack of protein and more than a few older people have large goiters at their throat from a lack of iron. (I think?)
St. Luke’s Anglican is the only church in Waciri. It gets about 50 adults on Sunday, overseen by a lay worker of the diocese, who also lives in Waciri. The pews are rounded mud benches. There are a few drums and some traditional instruments, including a xylophone-type thing made of cow horns and mahogeny.
Almost no one at St. Luke’s owns a Bible. It hasn’t been translated into Koma, their language. Many speak at least a little Hausa, the main language around here, but not all can read so a Bible would be beside the point. They are the first Christians I’ve met in Nigeria who do not know who Jesse is in the Bible.
The Koma people in this region were “discovered” in the mid-1980s when – as the story goes – the governor was passing over in his helicopter and noticed people living in the mountains. When others went to investigate, they found whole communities of people who practiced subsistence agriculture, hunted with bows and arrows, and wore clothing made of leaves – if they wore anything at all.
It is this last point, no doubt, that is responsible for the Christian presence in the area. In the 25 years since their “discovery,” several churches and Christian organizations have arrived in Koma, determined to – using a word I heard several times today – “civilize” the Koma. Many Koma have come down from the hills and live in places like Mari, where there is a (church-run) school. Everyone wears some kind of clothing now but it is not uncommon to see topless women around. This Christian mission effort – spread among many denominations – has been entirely led by Nigerians. I talked with the principal of the school and she is a woman from Lagos, who with her husband, came to Mari 15 years ago because they felt called by the Lord to teach the Koma about Jesus (and other stuff). I thought again about how the Gospel is out of “our” control.
(There are nine churches in Mari. Only the Lutherans and the Anglicans have churches in the little villages in the hills like Waciri.)
Because of the length of the journey and the fact that I’m leaving tomorrow, our visit to the Koma Hills was too short. (We were supposed to come on Saturday but were rained out.) Waciri isn’t even the end of the path. There’s another village two hours more up the mountain that has a church.
I didn’t have any great Anglican unity moments like I did a few weeks back with a pineapple. Indeed, almost none of the people at St. Luke’s knows what an Anglican is. They just go to church. They asked me what kind of food we eat in the United States and I showed them a Nature’s Harvest granola bar. They sampled it and were not too impressed.
I also told them who Jesse was in the Bible. I said he had a son named David, who was the youngest and was almost forgotten by his father. But God specifically selected David and made him king. This is part of God’s pattern of taking people who the rest of the world has forgotten and making them important in God’s eyes. God built a whole church out of apostles who were not exactly the leading lights in society.
St. Luke’s may not be the largest or richest church in the diocese or have the nicest building. But it is exactly the far-flung places like this where, I believe, God is present and at work. Out of such as these is the kingdom of God made.