Pastor Etienne Fomgbami can’t help but be struck by the irony of being an African missionary travelling in Canada.
In the past, he said, it was usually the other way around.
“Before, people were sent to Africa. Now, it’s an African here,” Fomgbami said Sunday while relaxing with his wife and five children by the water at Pither’s Point Park.
Fomgbami and his family, who are from Cameroon, arrived here last Saturday for a 10-day holiday, with Fomgbami preaching this Sunday (July 29) at Zion Lutheran Church.
The pastor is in Canada on a three-year ministry as part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s Good News Partner program. It provides the opportunity for an overseas missionary to serve with the ELCIC.
Based in Winnipeg, where his children go to school, Fomgbami has travelled to Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, as well as across Manitoba, since arriving in Canada last June.
Fomgbami said he believes Canadians need to wake up to what they have here and strengthen their ties with the church.
“We came back to tell people that what you have here is good. We want to awaken people to what they already have,” he said. “People are a little bit sleepy.“
Fomgbami said he also has noticed people here are a somewhat squeamish when it comes to talking about religion.
“Here, people are afraid to offend other people and talk about faith,” he remarked, adding evangelists need to find methods of drawing people to the church that aren’t deemed aggressive.
“We don’t have to force, but share. When you share, you learn more,” he reasoned.
In Cameroon, he noted, there is a strong dialogue between Christian and Muslim religious leaders. “They share their faith together,” he stressed. “Sometimes, a Muslim leader will ask a pastor to preach for him.”
Raised in a first generation Lutheran family in Ngaoudere, Cameroon, Fomgbami said he always felt a calling to be a pastor.
He was ordained in 1987 and has since toured Europe as leader of a gospel choir and worked for a year as pastor of a French congregation.
In addition, he earned a Master’s of Philosophy in Theology from a mission school in Norway.
Fomgbami said he believes evangelism is increasingly important in our modern, complex world.
“We need to attract attention. There are so many things going on in the world now, it’s so hard to attract people’s attention to the church,” he lamented.
For the Fomgbamis, evangelism is a family affair. Last Sunday morning, after Pastor Brian Keffer introduced them to the congregation, the family delighted churchgoers with a service that included African songs as well as drumming by the Fomgbami children.
Some people even danced, Fomgbami said.
“Today, I asked people to stand up and move for one song . . . I was so happy to see them dancing.”
Fomgbami noted this kind of revelry reflects a typical service in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon, where music plays an important role.
“There’s a lot of dancing and celebration, and a lot of music at our services,” he said.
He has noticed many other differences between services here and in Africa.
“The service in Canada is very well organized,” he said, adding that in Cameroon, pastors often will digress from their written plan during the course of a sermon.
“It depends on the mood of the people.”
As well, services in Cameroon are always at least three hours long, Fomgbami said, whereas here they are generally much shorter.
In Cameroon, two or three translators also are required at every service because there are about 200 different languages and dialects spoken in that country.