“There are no Christians anymore in Gorea. The light of the gospel of Jesus Christ is quenched in that village,” Pastor Leon Badoka*tearfully shared with an Open Doors worker. “It is a (spiritual) war that Christians should have won, but now some of the Christians have betrayed us and joined our persecutors. The church in Gorea will probably be transformed into a mosque. This is the result of a determined process to eradicate Christianity in the area. The same is happening in other villages across the north.”
Over the past year, Muslims have waged a fierce intimidation campaign against Christians in Gorea, sending anonymous written threats to kill them and burn down their churches. In April 2013, local teens carried out the threats, setting the church ablaze and scattering the Christians Though some of the Christians returned a few weeks later, it seems that the pressure has now simply become too much. Many of them, including two church officials, have followed the example of a church elder who rejected Christ by embracing Islam last year.
These sad events are classic examples of the pressures Christians have been experiencing recently for their allegiance to Christ in northern Cameroon. The country is not on Open Doors’ World Watch List, but is listed among the “Persecution Watch Countries.” Although Christians form close to 54% of the population, and are spread across Cameroon, dominant concentrations of Muslims in the north, east and west are placing Christians under considerable pressure.
Since the region became a safe haven for the Islamic extremist group an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria, the number of violent incidents has increased, including targeted attacks on churches. There is also speculation that the insurgents have brought at least some of the more than 200 girls abducted mid-April from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria into Cameroon. A local pastor said, “Christians here live in terror. At night, we don’t know what might happen. I’m worried about my family and the churches in the area. In some villages, Christianity has completely disappeared.”
In addition to the violence, Christians have been facing increasing social pressure and marginalization.
An Open Doors worker explains, “Muslims have great economic power. They control the very strong fishing trade and dominate cattle rearing and agriculture. They use this power to support one another and to prevent people from leaving Islam. In contrast, the Christians are generally quite poor. Over the past few years, we have seen Muslims use their economic strength to intimidate Christians and lure some of them into Islam. Local church leaders told us that Gorea believers could either choose to embrace Islam and keep the use of their farmland, or remain faithful to Christ and lose everything. The decision was too hard for many who are weak in the faith.”
During these harsh times for Christians, Open Doors’ involvement with the church in northern Cameroon has grown. We are seeking to help the church withstand these pressures by being better prepared for persecution and equipped for cross-cultural evangelism and proper discipleship of believers. Through our holistic ministry training and community development projects, we are helping the church explore innovative ways to grow stronger economically.
We are also encouraging and supporting the efforts of believers and churches who continue to live for Christ no matter the cost. Two such people are a pair of Christian tailors, Sunday* and Isaiah*, who are using opportunities in their tailor shop to share Christ with Muslims. Public evangelism is very difficult, but at the tailor shop, Muslim clients have an opportunity to learn about Christ from the radio, which is always tuned to a Christian station, or from tracts handed to them. This has often led to spiritual conversations.
“Many are interested in the gospel. They express the desire to learn more, but want to do it secretly, so that they are not noticed by other Muslims. We are in contact with five families with whom we pray and share the gospel. They are not ready yet to come to church, but when they have grown some more, they will surely start practicing their Christian faith openly. For now, we feed them like newborn babies.”
When OD heard that their sewing machines were getting very old and making it difficult for them to compete with other tailors, we provided new ones. They are once again “tailored” for evangelism and happily sharing Christ with all who are interested.
We are also working to change unhealthy perceptions and ideas within the church. “Many Christians thought that economic endeavors and trading are just for Muslims. They have come to think that they should only wait for their reward in heaven. Some were even convinced that because Jesus called the poor blessed, they should not seek improvement of their economic situation,” OD workers explain. Through our holistic ministry training, they have learned about the role the church can play in helping to improve the lives of Christians, not only spiritually, but also materially. OD then launched a pilot project involving a grind mill. Once they have gained enough experience, the church will be able to start similar income-generating projects.
No one can be intimidated, forced or coerced into the Kingdom of God. It is Christ who builds His Church, but He chooses to do it through people by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Open Doors is honored to be of use in helping the church in northern Cameroon to not only survive while facing these pressures and difficulties, but to thrive.
Father, we thank You for Your church in northern Cameroon, that in spite of hardship and efforts to eradicate her, she has remained faithful. We pray for the few who have fallen away due to fear; that Your Spirit might draw them back. And we pray for those who remain, that You will sustain them and cause them to thrive. We pray for discouraged pastors who, like the prophet Elijah, feel like they are all alone. Breathe life into their weary souls. Encourage and strengthen them. Refresh them in Your Word and cause them to continue on in the strength of Christ, discipling the believers who remain. Thank You for the work of Open Doors to help strengthen the local church spiritually and materially; continue to provide needed resources and opportunity. Father, we ask that You continue to grow Your church in northern Cameroon, even as it worships underground. We pray for a mighty outpouring of Your Spirit upon this nation. In the name of Jesus, who has already gained the victory, Amen.
*pseudonyms are used to protect their identity