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11. July 2017 · Comments Off on DINNER WITH THE PRIME MINISTER · Categories: Africa, General · Tags: , ,

Philemon Yang
Prime Minister of Cameroon


Today I want to write about one of those “I still can’t believe this really happened” experiences.  And yet it did.  The Prime Minister in question was Phileman Yang and the country was Cameroon.  The occasion was in December of 2015.  How does a North American Pastor get to have dinner with the Prime Minister?  They say that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and this story still seems that way to me. So I’ll tell it just like it happened.

November 2015 I was privileged to be part of a Mission Trip with 7 men from Mission Baptist Church in Hamilton where I was pastor at the time.   At the end of that mission, on the day that most of the team flew back to Canada, three of us flew to Cameroon.  I had two more speaking engagements, one at a church, and another a graduation address at the Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary in Ndu.  We were guests of the North American Baptist Mission station in Bamenda, Cameroon, specifically we were guests of missionaries Walter and Florence Grob.  Walter grew up and was a member of the church in Hamilton, and he had spent his entire career in Cameroon. I had fellowshipped with him every 3 or 4 years when he was on “home assignment” and spoke at our church.  His parents had visited him in Cameroon on the occasion of his wedding to Florence, but as he told me several times, “none of my pastors has ever come here to visit me!”

Now Florence has a dental practice and one of her patients is guess who?  Prime Minister Yang.  She has his private cell phone number, and when she spoke with him, she enthusiastically told him the news that “Walter’s pastor is here all the way from Canada visiting us, and speaking at such and such a place.”  The Prime Minister spontaneously said, “I’d like to meet him.  Bring him by my office.”  We were about 5 hours away from Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, but since our return flight to Canada would start in that city, it was feasible to stop there on the way to the airport.  Only thing was, that particular day happened to be a very busy day for the Prime Minister, so he could not guarantee us a place on his schedule. We understood perfectly.  So we left Bamenda for Yaounde on our last day, knowing that we would possibly be meeting the Prime Minister, but perhaps not.  Midway through the trip, Florence’s cell phone rang.  It was the PM, and she addressed him as “Papa”. Yes, he had time on his calendar to see us and we were told when to appear at his official office.

The Prime Minister’s office is located on the top floor of this government building.  As we approached it, there predictably were guards everywhere.  When one of them approached the driver’s window, our hostess simply said “we have an appointment with the Prime Minister”.  He waved us through and motioned where we should park.  Just like that. No request for ID, no call to verify who we were.  We rode up the elevator and were shown into a large waiting room, where others waited their turn to see the PM.  It was a rather quiet group, until our hostess discovered someone in the room that she knew – Canada’s Ambassador to Cameroon.   He was glad to see her, and apparently remembered her cooking from a function in Bamenda.  After a very pleasant chat with her friend, she introduced us to him.  What a small world. We travel around the world and whom do we meet? Another Canadian, and that the Canadian ambassador. The room slowly emptied, and soon it was our turn to be ushered in to see the Prime Minister.  i expected to see him behind a desk, but it wasn’t an office, but some type of reception or meeting room.

Prime Minister Philemon Yang sat on a sofa a the end of the room under an enormous portrait of the President of Cameroon.  We were motioned to sit on another couch at right angles to him. When you meet as a private citizen with a national leader or the leader of a foreign country, protocol demands that you don’t divulge details of what was talked about.  I will never forget reading the story of Billy Graham, who after a meeting with President Truman in the oval office, re-enacted the meeting for the media, complete with kneeling for prayer on the White House lawn.  The President was not amused. In fact Billy Graham never got a meeting with him again, although he met and played golf with several  subsequent presidents.  I will say however, that Prime Minister Yang was very easy to talk to – maybe the fact that we were talking to a fellow Baptist made a difference.

L to R Daniel Hildebrandt, Prime Minister Philemon Yang (Cameroon) Dieter Reda

As our allotted time was winding up, the Prime Minister casually asked when we would be returning to Canada.  When he found out that our flight would be leaving just before midnight that evening, he said that we  would need a place to rest until then and that he would provide a ride to the airport! He called in an assistant and ordered him to arrange a car to take us to the official residence, and provide “whatever they need”. When we arrived at the prime minister’s official residence, we were shown into a room where liquid refreshments were waiting.

The staff member gave us a device that resembled a little TV remote control and instructed us to press it “if you need anything at all.” Well we did not press the button, but eventually we were shown to a private bungalow on the grounds, where each of us had a room to rest, change clothes, re-pack our luggage etc.  We were told that when the Prime Minister arrived home from work, we would be summoned to the main house for dinner.

At the appointed time we sat down around a large round table.  My friend and I were seated to the Prime Minister’s left, and to his right were other distinguished guests, including  a family from the United States who had been in Cameroon to attend their father’s funeral.  (It turned out to be the same funeral that delayed our welcome dinner with the the pastors of Bamenda after our arrival in Cameroon). The table was sumptuously laden with Cameroonian and North American food.  Uniformed waiters unobtrusively and professionally served everyone, and at one point the Prime Minister arose from his seat to refill peoples’ wine glasses. The conversation was cordial and informal.  Among other things, we  talked about Canada (he had been Ambassador to Canada for 20 years and lived in Ottawa from 1984-2004). When Cameroon joined the commonwealth of nations in 1995 his title changed to High Commissioner.  He has been the Prime Minister of Cameroon since 2009.

The evening seemed to fly by quickly, and soon it was time for us to leave for the airport.  As promised, two body guards of the Prime Minister took us to the airport in one of his cars.  They escorted us up to the security check, and they wanted to escort us to the gate, but were told that they were not permitted beyond the security.  They explained who they were and who had sent them, but to no avail, they had to follow the rules like everyone else. They didn’t have a boarding pass, so that is as far as they were allowed to go.

What a sendoff this was!  Why do I write this?  Because I can’t imagine being asked to dinner by my own prime minister, though if I were, there would be some things I would want to say to him. Confidentially of course. ♦

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