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Bishops learn from each other

Missionary from Cameroon offers fresh perspective into Lutheran ministries

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Lutheran clergy, from left, Rev. Larry Ulrich, Bishop Ruben Ngozo and Bishop Elaine Sauer meet in Winnipeg. Ngozo, who hails from Cameroon, is visiting Manitoba congregations and passing on his observations on religious matters.

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Lutheran clergy, from left, Rev. Larry Ulrich, Bishop Ruben Ngozo and Bishop Elaine Sauer meet in Winnipeg. Ngozo, who hails from Cameroon, is visiting Manitoba congregations and passing on his observations on religious matters. Photo Store

Skype, email and other social media can connect people separated by oceans, but two Lutheran bishops believe none of those virtual relationships replace meeting in person.

That's why the local Lutherans invited Bishop Ruben Ngozo from Cameroon for a month-long visit, which wraps up next week.

"One of the reasons we brought Bishop Ruben here is to have face-to-face conversations," says Bishop Elaine Sauer of the Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

"We need the people to relate to each other. We need to be missionaries to each other."

This is the first visit to Canada for the newly-elected bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon, which is made up of 400,000 people in 1,500 churches in 10 regions across the west central African country.

The relationship between the two synods stretches back more than a decade when the two groups signed a partnership agreement in 2003. Since then Sauer has travelled twice to Cameroon, most recently in 2013 to attend the ordination of the first female leaders in Cameroon.

"We had a partnership where I would send women there to assist the women in their theological training and build their identity as pastors," says Sauer of how the Winnipeg-based synod assisted their counterparts in Cameroon.

In addition to providing resources for women in ministry, Sauer says the MNO Synod sends about $20,000 annually to the Cameroon church to support orphaned children and to assist local ministry projects, such as supplying itinerant pastors with motorcycles so they can travel between congregations.

While in Canada, Ngozo has visited Lutheran congregations in Morris, Gimli, Pinawa, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay and Saskatoon.

He wonders why Lutherans here have to deal with declining membership and the closure of churches while the church in Cameroon is growing.

"What is the principal reason we are closing churches? Is it because people aren't obedient anymore?" asks Ngozo, 50, who recently completed his doctorate in biblical studies in Norway.

In Cameroon, church leaders visit people in their homes or other community settings, and that maybe be an approach adaptable to Canada.

"If in the summertime, people go to the lake, then follow them," Ngozo suggests of how local Christians can reach out.

"They have a great model for us in terms of teaching people to be evangelists in their communities," adds Sauer.

While the Cameroon church can inspire Canadian Lutherans in reaching out to their community, Canadians can set an example for how people of many cultures and nations live peacefully in Canada, says Sauer, 59, who last month was elected for a third four-year term as bishop.

"We have the ability to be a peaceful people and we welcome people from all over the world and teach about," she says.

Although it is expensive to travel between countries, both bishops hope for more exchanges between Canada and Cameroon, by leadership and lay people.

"He wants us to inspire each other by being present in each other's churches," Sauer says of Ngozo.

"What is important is walking together. You can't put a dollar value on it."

brenda@suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2014 D15

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