Ministry in Context

Sharing Voices: A Guest Post by Lisa Janke on Cross-Cultural Education in Cameroon

Lisa Janke is an MDiv middler and a member of the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synod of the ELCIC (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada). In this piece, she discusses working on sexual and domestic violence prevention in Ngaoundéré, Cameroon, learning how to "boldly declare" her theological convictions, and using cross-cultural education to destabilize privilege and highlight justice.

In 2012, I was sent to Ngaoundéré Cameroon, at the request of our partner synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon, to work with women in the area of violence prevention.

At that point I had been a facilitator of SafeTeen: Powerful Alternatives to Violence for nearly 10 years. I had witnessed how this program had impacted lives of girls and women in Canada and knew it could be transformative for girls and women in Cameroon. I just wasn’t sure how it would translate.

The goal was to spend 4 months translating the program to the Cameroonian culture, context and language, and then training women as local facilitators. The first month I was overwhelmed by all that was different. Even the simplest campaign slogan from my culture “No Means No!” was more than complicated. In the Cameroonian context when a girl is asked on a date, she has to say no (even if she wants to say yes). Saying yes right away would make her look too ‘easy.’ The same went for sex. So in essence: no meant no, or maybe, or ask again, or even yes. Where then to begin?

It was surreal to witness the transformation. Equipping these women with the words to articulate their situation empowered them to work for change. I had the expertise to do this. My stumbling block was when my arguments were challenged from a theological standpoint.

As I continued to meet with girls and women I began to compare the stories from their culture to those of my own. I realized it was only a generation ago that my culture exerted the same types of control over women and their bodies, and my own awareness of this came about by listening to strong, wise, and passionate voices. So I knew that was where we needed to begin.

I began to honestly and confidently share what I knew to be true. I explained to my French tutor why sexual assault can never be a victim’s fault no matter what. He tried every angle in the book as a counter argument, but I had heard them all before. He finally understood and was excited to help me translate the SafeTeen program manual.

I decided to hand out ‘No Means No’ stickers anyway, to young women and men, and explained the danger of saying no when you mean yes, and hearing yes when someone said no.

I taught women about the power of eye contact. They explained how it could be perceived as disrespectful and so we talked about respect. We came up with ideas of how they could speak their truth, powerfully, in the safest ways possible.

By the fourth month, we had a fully translated program manual and 15 women trained as program facilitators. They were ready to teach concrete skills to the girls and women in their lives. With passion, they brought awareness to the injustice they always knew about but couldn’t articulate. With confidence I heard them declare: “It’s NOT your fault.”

It was surreal to witness the transformation. Equipping these women with the words to articulate their situation empowered them to work for change. I had the expertise to do this. My stumbling block was when my arguments were challenged from a theological standpoint.

Cross Cultural Education doesn’t simply give insight into another culture, it gives insight into our own. It draws attention to things that we take for granted and may never have had the need to acknowledge or explain. It helps us see what we’re doing well, and what we need to learn. It draws us into living more fully in the world God made.

For instance, I didn’t know how to boldly declare that the injustices they faced as a country were not punishment from God; that God does not condone gender inequality; or that violent words or actions regarding homosexuality are not scriptural. Correction: I did boldly declare this. I just couldn’t boldly back my declarations with sound theology.

And so it was, that from the ELCA mission compound in Ngaoundéré, Cameroon I emailed Luther Seminary to set up a campus visit. I needed some serious help articulating what I knew to be true.

I learned from my experiences in Cameroon that Cross Cultural Education doesn’t simply give insight into another culture, it gives insight into our own. It draws attention to things that we take for granted and may never have had the need to acknowledge or explain. It helps us see what we’re doing well, and what we need to learn. It draws us into living more fully in the world God made. It may be some of the most difficult yet most rewarding work you will ever engage in.

EDITED 2/13/2014: Editor's typo.

 

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