Cameroon (ODM/MNN) — The search for the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls has dragged both Cameroon and Chad, bordering countries, into the limelight.
Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra explains, “Many of the Boko Haram militants are going into Cameroon. Many people think that some of the girls that were kidnapped [from Nigeria] are there along the border.”
Islamist insurgency and Nigeria’s military crackdown have also pushed thousands to seek refuge across the border. That has led to its own complications, Dykstra adds. “The Christians there face a double whammy because now they’re dealing with the Boko Haram that’s infiltrating their borders, especially in the northern parts.”
Things were difficult for Christians before the kidnappings. Now, the situation is desperate. “There are no Christians anymore in Gorea [Cameroon]. The light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is quenched in that village,” Pastor Leon Badoka (not his real name) told Open Doors workers with tears in his eyes. “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 of Cameroon.”
Open Doors reported earlier how Muslims have intimidated Christians in Gorea: “Over the years, Muslims have used their economic strength to intimidate Christians and lure some of them into Islam. Because many of the Christians there are not strong in the faith, they need propping up.” Those pressures came to a head with anonymous, written threats to kill them and burn down their churches. Shortly thereafter, in April 2013, youngsters set the church ablaze and scattered the Christians.
The sad events are a classic example of the pressures Christians have been experiencing because of their allegiance to Christ in northern Cameroon. The country is not on the Open Doors 2014 World Watch List but is listed among the “Persecution Watch Countries.”
Although Christians compose 54% of the population and are spread across Cameroon, Muslims dominate in the North, East, and West, and they are placing Christians under heavy pressure, he pastor notes. “Many of the Christian there are being forced into poor jobs and don’t have the skills that they need. They’re sort of ostracized by the general population.”
The area has become a safe haven for the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, bringing with it a number of violent incidents to the region. Since the beginning of the year, there have been several shootouts between Boko Haram and Cameroon security in border regions. It is also speculated that the insurgents have brought at least some of the more than 200 girls abducted in mid-April from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, into Cameroon.
A local pastor says: “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. We have the impression of being abandoned.”
In addition to the violence, Christians have been facing great social pressure and marginalization. As a result, says Dykstra, Open Doors ministry with Christians in northern Cameroon has grown. “We’re providing socio-economic training, [and] we’re also helping them to become stronger in their faith, encouraging them to reach out to their neighbors.”
Open Doors wants to help the Church to withstand these pressures by being better prepared for persecution and equipped for cross cultural evangelism and proper discipleship of believers. To that end, Dykstra urges, “Pray that God will continue to build His church in that country, and pray that the pastors will stand strong and be a good example to their congregations.” (Click here if you want to investigate being part of the solution.)