Elders Conversion Challenges Church

August 7, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Elder's Conversion Challenges Church in N. Cameroon

The church in the far north region of Cameroon has been shaken by the recent decision of an Evangelical Church elder to renounce Christianity and embrace Islam. This news comes as a shock because Peter, 50, who is married and the father of eight children, has served as a church elder for the last 20 years.

Upon hearing the sad news, an Open Doors co-worker, along with a close friend, decided to visit Peter. When they arrived at his house they were denied entry by several local Muslims who had gathered to protect Peter from any contact with Christians. The visitors were not even allowed to share even a brief word with Peter.

Those who know Peter gave an account of the events of the past few weeks. They claim that two weeks ago Peter came to see his pastor. During the meeting he told the pastor he was not comfortable with his responsibilities as an elder anymore and that he was stepping down. Since then he has not been back to church and it has been learned that he instead has renounced his faith in Christ.

The news of Peter’s decision spread fast throughout the church community. For years Peter had been very active and was a well-known leader in the church, serving as member of the regional Association of Evangelical Churches. The move has left the church perplexed and is left making their own assumptions about this decision. Since Peter refused to give any reason, even to his wife, they strongly suspect that Peter has decided to leave Christianity for the materialistic benefits he would enjoy as a Muslim. Although his wife said that she had noticed a change in his attitude over recent months, she has not been given any reason for his decision. She says that her husband decision has deeply saddened her as well as the entire family.

Christians, close to 54% of the population, are spread across Cameroon. However, to the north, east and west of the country, Muslims dominate. Although the government makes it hard for Christians to create faith-based organizations, they do enjoy freedom of religion on a state level. Even on a social level, Christians in Cameroon have, until recently, enjoyed mostly peaceful relationships with people from other faiths. But it seems the religious atmosphere, especially the north, is changing, and Christians report increasing social pressure from both Muslims and Animists.

The influence of the Islamic sect Boko Haram in Cameroon’s northern regions is also growing. In recent months the area has seen increased activity from the extremist group. Early in the year, gunmen slipped over the porous border with Nigeria and attacked five Christian converts, killing two. A few months later a church in Gorea also suffered intimidation and an arson attack.  

Although these developments have sadly left the local Christian population quite fearful, there is arguably an equally serious, but much more subtle onslaught on Christians, of which ex-elder Peter is probably an example. It is the enticement of economic advantage.

In this part of the continent, including Cameroon, there has been growing influence of Islam through economic development. The country is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and nations like Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey are increasingly investing in Cameroon. Other investors include Arab Contractors based in Cairo and the Islamic development bank in Jeddah, a coastal city in Saudi Arabia. These investments often come with increased Islamic influence and pressure on usually lower- income rural people to embrace Islam for the economic benefits connected with such a move.

Peter’s conversion has been a big discouragement for the church in this region that is not prepared to face extreme political pressure or economic temptations posed from Islam. One church leader described the church as “shy and easily intimidated.”

In consultation and partnership with the local church in northern Cameroon, Open Doors’ strategic plan for the country includes addressing these issues on various levels. Through the Persecution Preparedness Program (PPP), Christians are trained regarding the reality of persecution, as well as in discipleship training and preparedness to give an answer to the hope that is in them through apologetics training. The Open Doors plan also includes economic opportunities to help Christians become economically stronger so that they can earn a living and be less tempted to make unwise decisions simply because of a desire to more easily put food on the table. In addition, helping the Church to become more aware of other religions, and of their responsibility to reach out cross-culturally in love and compassion, is also a focus of Open Doors’ ministry in Cameroon.

Father, we lift before You the struggles of Your church in Cameroon. We understand the temptations of many in the church as they struggle to put food on the table in the face of increasing social and economic persecution. We call on You to use the work of Open Doors to train them in faith and knowledge of the Word that they will be strengthened to remain faithful in the midst of temptation to renounce their faith for material advantage. Strengthen them with a solid foundation in the Word so they will have a swift, true and persuasive answer to the hope that is within them. Provide them with new ways to earn a living that will not be vulnerable to the pressures from without. Encourage and strengthen Peter’s wife and children to remain strong in the midst of this difficult and perplexing trial. We pray especially that You will snatch Peter out of the snares of the powers of darkness into the light of Christ that he might repent and return to You and Your church in Cameroon. In the name of Jesus, the protector and sustainer of His church, Amen.

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