This is Bertin. There is a lot of drama in this man. Sometimes he drives me to drama as well. Saturday morning on the way to the meeting of the Consistoire. Richard and I stopped in at Bertin’s house. There was a little question of money not yet quite repaid. Yes, but, said Bertin, I’ve been working on a project that cost me quite lot. So if it’s all right, next month…? The project, he explained, is a CD. Christian music. New songs for the members of the ERCB to sing. And hopefully many other Christians. I didn’t tell anyone I was working on it, but we’ve been in the studio, and all we have left to do is make a video clip. Tomorrow, in Djakotomey, during the church service.Richard and I resume our way to the meeting. Not a bad idea, actually, I think. If there is something the churches here can use, it is an expansion of the musical repertoire. No, I’m not sure that to be true churches they need to adopt the Genevan psalter. But what a welcome thing it was to actually sing psalms during the six week break in Holland from which we returned just yesterday. I don’t even think our brothers and sisters here even know that psalms are meant to be sung. Or for that matter, that hymns, judiciously selected, can complement and reinforce the message preached. Enthusiastically and completely from memory, the congregation praises God using the same selection each Sunday morning of about a dozen songs, French, Adja, Ewe (no, not a language they actually speak, but the tune is catchy), totally unimpeded by any liturgical awareness or suggestions on the part of the preacher.
Bertin shares the dream. And arriving himself at Consistoire, he informs the brothers that tomorrow there will be a special service at Djakotomey, and everyone is invited to be there to join in dancing and singing for the video clip. For a moment I think to myself: who will lead the services in the other places if all these brothers actually heed the invitation? But then Bertin turns to me and says: and would you, Pasteur, please be able to transport the instruments and sound system to Djakotomey. I realize that I have been ambushed. Normally speaking said equipment – common property of all the churches and intended for use at the quarterly culte d’ensemble as well as conferences and conventions – is stored far away in Kpodaha. But just before our departure to Holland six weeks ago, there had been a youth conference in Dogbo. And at the close, there had been some discussion about what to do with the instruments. The storage at Kpodaha was dirty and damp and needed attention, said Bertin. And a little later, he came to me with a request from the church council, or so he said: you will be away for a while, Pasteur, so the office will not be used. Could we possibly store all the equipment there temporarily? Which I graciously allowed. Now I know why. To facilitate the removal to Djakotomey in the DVN HiLux for Bertin’s project.(By the way, in doing so it seems I had also facilitated an infestation of mice in the office. How many mouse gestation periods go into six weeks, actually? During our absence, a number of Kpodaha-based rodents who had found a home in the speakers had gone forth and multiplied. Several applications of poison later, our domestic help Mariette thinks most of them may have been eradicated.)
But this Saturday morning I prevaricated. Oh, I’m not sure I will be making it to Djakotomey tomorrow. I want to talk to Madame first. I knew what I wanted. This first Sunday, still tired and trying to acclimatise, I wanted to go to a simple service in the closest church, Dogbo. Nothing complicated. And certainly not having to load up the HiLux with three cubic metres of electronics early Sunday morning, getting to Djakotomey and waiting and waiting until it was finally connected and working, then waiting for the congregation to arrive, then having an unusually extended service, then waiting and waiting for everyone to be done so that we could load up again… No, you should make other arrangements this time, I said to Bertin. He looked slightly pained, then said thank you politely and the meeting proceeded.Much later that afternoon, however, we discovered that there would be no church service on Sunday morning in Dogbo. Everyone had been invited to go to Djakotomey. So no, we would not be able do what I wanted… What else could I do but call Bertin and tell him that we would be going to Djakotomey after all and if he would make sure to be at the office at 9 o’clock to load up? He agreed joyfully. No, he had not arranged for an alternative means of transportation. Bertin is a man of great faith.
Sunday morning 8.45. The telephone goes. Pasteur, this is Bertin. Could you please ask your guardien to load the instruments? No, I did not think so. How was Gomaise to know what needed to go and what needed to stay? No, Bertin, please make sure that you are here yourself to do what needs doing. At 8.50 the telephone goes again. Pasteur, my wife Carole needs to ride in the vehicle with you. I cannot think of an adequate reason to refuse, but something in me wants to very badly. Okay, I say, see you in a few minutes. 9.00: no Bertin. 9.05: no Bertin. Four or five others have gathered around the HiLux, most of them young men. Could we catch a ride to Djakotomey with you, a few ask. Well, I think, if Bertin is not here to load the vehicle, and these young men are, we will let them do the work and catch the ride, and Carole can walk. 9.15: I call Bertin to see where he is. Meanwhile all of the equipment is being loaded. Yes, yes, I’m coming, says Bertin. And there he comes. At 9.25, or so. When the back of the pick-up has been completely filled and tied down, and there are more heavy electronics spread across the back seat. The young men have said they can manage with these on their laps. Bertin has Carole and a little neighbour girl behind him on his moped. Carole dismounts, and looks into the back seat. I take pity and say to one of the young men: here, you ride with Bertin, and Carole and the girl can take your place. But no, that isn’t good enough. Bertin shakes his head dramatically. Get on, he says to Carole, and they ride off, leaving the little neighbour girl standing there.It turns out, when we all get to Djakotomey, that the instruments and the equipment don´t need to be connected at all. It´s not meant to actually be used. There is a large stereo in place, and the pre-recorded songs have their own musical accompaniment. Bertin sings along, the congregation joins in, but it’s all just for the cameras. The musicians pretend to be playing. There is no need for the microphones. No need for the monstrous speakers or the mixing table. It´s all simply window dressing. I feel a bit let down. Or perhaps I should say: I feel like blowing up. This is Bertin. Stringing me along, asking for a finger and taking everything up to the shoulderblade. And all for whose greater glory…?
But then I get caught up in what’s happening. I realize how good the music actually sounds. I watch Bertin gyrating and shouting praise to the Lord of mice and Hiluxes and video cameras and little neighbour girls. The music starts up for the third take. I still don’t understand the words, but I hear myself shouting along. I join the dance. At the director’s cue, I stand with the chorus line of elders from Agame and Migbowomey and Tokpohoue and Djakotomey and Pasteur Theophile from Cotonou and we turn our heads to the left, extending our hands towards the congregation (and the cameras) in unison. We take a step and do it again from a different angle. We go out of doors and do it again in the sunlight. There is a great deal of hilarity. And then we go back in. The congregation sings one more song. We pray for the children who will be starting at school again tomorrow. We are blessed with the Trinitarian blessing. And then I realize I have truly been blessed. Bertin comes up to me with a huge smile on his face. I embrace him and say that I will be buying at least 100 of his CD’s. You really have a gift! He says: don’t worry, we’ll be leaving all the equipment here in Djakotomey. Thank you so much!Anyone want to buy a CD? It would make a great gift…