When my grandfather Fred Hope first went to Cameroun in 1907, he was a 32-year-old former farm boy from southern Illinois. Although his first wife, Lou Johnston Hope, died of malaria within that first year, Fred stayed in Africa for the remainder of his three-year term. In 1911, he came home on furlough and met my grandmother Roberta Brown – a former schoolteacher from North Dakota — at a missionary conference in New York.
Roberta was Africa-bound for her freshman missionary term. Apparently, it was “love at first sight” – many speculated that she reminded him of his first wife. Besotted, Fred arranged to sail on the same ship. During the voyage to England, less than a week after they met, he proposed. Two weeks later, on a German freight steamer bound for Cameroun, my grandparents were married on the captain’s deck. Under the African moon.
My grandfather founded the Frank James Industrial School in Elat, Cameroun in 1908. He started it from the ground up, and within a few years thousands of Camerounian men were learning a variety of self-sustaining skills and trades: carpentry, bricklaying, tailoring, furniture-making, auto mechanics, blacksmithing and craft-making.
My grandmother Roberta Brown Hope taught Bible classes to the women of Elat, as well as hygiene, nutrition and child care. Both learned to speak Bulu, the native language, and both came to regard Cameroun as their home. The first of their five daughters, Arta Grace, was born there in 1912. Elizabeth followed in 1913, then Esther in 1917. My mother, also named Roberta, was born in 1919 and baby Winifred in 1920.
My grandfather Fred was affectionately known as “Papa Hope” by the people of Cameroun. Persistent, diligent, hard working, he was given a Bulu name that captured those qualities. It was the name of the indigenous adjap tree – “the tree not shaken by the wind.”