“YOU SHALL BE MY WITNESSES” (ACTS. 1:8)
It is with great joy in Christ, that we welcome all of you here for the Golden Jubilee of our Church, the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC). We pray that the good Lord, who in his grace brought you here safely will himself, accompany you with his travelling mercies, as you return to your homes.
The Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC), is the outcome of the pioneering work of the Basel Mission (now Mission 21). Five of their missionaries, led by the Rev. Gottlieb Munz and his wife, arrived on our shores on the 23rd of December, 1886. The others were the Rev. Christian Dilger, the Rev. Johannes Bizer and the Rev. Friederich Becher. Four days later, one of them, the Rev. Becher died. Though broken and disillusioned, they did not give up. They went on with their work as valiant soldiers of Jesus Christ. Writing to the homeboard the Rev. Dilger stated: “It is the Lord whom it has pleased to introduce our band in such a way. We therefore can and will not withdraw”. The work of the Basel Mission also gave birth to the Eglise Evangelique du Cameroun (headquarters in Douala) and the Eglise Presbyterienne Camerounaise (headquarters in Yaounde).
Our people say that, what an old person sees sitting a young person cannot see it even if he climbed on a tree. When our founding fathers and mothers decided for constitutional autonomy 71 years after the arrival of the Basel Mission, on the 13th of November 1957, it was a great leap of faith. Yet it had to be understood as the natural consequence of mission work. Already as far back as 1851, when Henry Venn of England headed the Anglican Missionary Society, he had proposed what he called the ideal for the euthanasia of mission as the logical consequence of all mission work. He said the goal of mission was the foundation of indigenous churches which were, “self-propagating, self-governing and self-supporting”. At about the same time, the American, Rufus Anderson, while heading the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions from 1832 – 1866, was independently also advocating exactly the same thing like Venn.
The origins of the constitutional autonomy of the PCC in 1957, could be traced to 1917. It was World War I, and all the missionaries of the Basel Mission being German, were expelled from Cameroon. It was as if the work of the Basel Mission would just grind to a halt. But Cameroonians under the leadership of great preachers like the Revs. Modi Din, Johannes Ekese Litumbe and later on people like the Rev. John Ashili took up the challenge and carried on. That period of 1917 to 1924 recorded formidable growths than the time of 1886 to 1914 when the Basel Missionaries were in control. So when the war ended, there were strong feelings that Cameroonians be introduced into the leadership of the Basel Mission Church. This finally happened with the election of the Rev. Peter Essoka Diso as Chairman of the Basel Mission Synod in May 1950, assisted by the Rev. Jacob Shu.
Since 1957, the growth of the Church has been phenomenal. The membership has moved from 59.000 to almost one million today. The Health Services have expanded to 20 units including a specialist eye hospital in Bafoussam. In education there are now 15 secondary schools as against one in 1957 and 130 primary schools. The Christian movements like CYF, CWF and CMF, all founded after 1957 now boast of thousands in their ranks. And the church which was hitherto limited only to the Anglophone territories is now established in all the ten provinces. Our Seminary will launch its post-graduate programme next year, and will eventually become a constituent school of the envisaged Christian University.
We do not mention all these gains in order to become complacent. Rather it is to acknowledge with thanksgiving, the triumphs of God’s grace in the life of the Church. Lenny Bruce, cynically observes that “everyday people are straying away from the church and going back to God”. So our fervent prayer now is for God to match this numerical growth with spiritual depth and maturity, so that our faith in Jesus Christ can be full and Christ would be Lord over all indeed.
In the thought of our fathers, a bush does not sway this way or that way, unless there is wind. Within the recent past we have been strongly driven by the desire for self-reliance. This has its roots in our history. Following the experience of the First World War, the Basel Mission began making some great efforts towards financial autonomy of the local Church, especially as the Church was still very heavily subsidized financially from Basel. A conference was called in Buea, in 1932, to discuss the matter. During that meeting a Cameroonian elder, stood up and said:“When we receive a visitor and do not properly cater for him, it brings shame to us. Now we have received the Gospel and it is therefore our duty to care for the servants of the Church”. Soon afterwards Kumba, Buea and Victoria presbyteries assumed full responsibility for the stipends and care of church workers. The following year Bafut came on board, and in 1934 it was Bali and Mbengwi while Nyasoso presbytery followed suit in 1937. We consider self reliance to be an important mission imperative. It enables a church to define its mission priorities and plan how to execute them without any encumbrances. The idea is for the local church to bear full responsibility for its central budget so that aid money can be limited to projects, because as my mother used to say, if you lie on another person’s mat, you cannot sleep comfortably. So self-reliance does not spell the death of partnership. On the contrary, it enhances it.
Given such a rich legacy of piety, commitment and zeal, we still believe very strongly that God is calling the PCC to Mission. Thus evangelization would continue to constitute the focus of our vision. Let the Gospel continue to be preached in season and out of season, in order to witness to the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom. Let the word of God continue to guide our national leaders to pursue justice and establish equity. Again and again the world and its potentates must hear God’s voice through the Church, “Thus said the Lord”. For the future does not augur well for any nation that is permanently divided between the few who are very rich and the many who are abjectly poor and dispossessed.“He has showed you, O Man what is good and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). And in the midst of a rapidly declining morality, let God’s voice resonate from above with all authority: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2)
Was G.K. Chesterton perhaps right when he observed that,“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried?”Jesus Christ himself did not hesitate to point out the pains of true discipleship in a materialistic world where people are attracted by almost everything that is new and glitters. So when he looks at the prevailing evil circumstances that hold people sway and says with all authority, “You shall be my witnesses,” we must pause and think twice. This is both a command and an affirmation. Christ is calling us to the future, commanding us to enrol more stalwarts in the battle of right versus wrong. Christ is commanding us to witness to his Kingship and glory in a world where humanity is being misled by twisted values and mortals are being deified and raised to the status of God. Even Galileo in his fragments said,“The Bible shows the way to heaven, not the way the heavens go”.
These fifty years have been fraught with all manner of odds and ills. We have witnessed huge personnel problems, and serious financial crisis. In 1992 international experts declared that the PCC would be financially dead in 7 days. There have also been schisms and even threats of open division due to heresy and religious bigotry; may be because as Robert Louis Stevenson remarked “Every man is his own doctor of divinity in the last resort”. But in all we experienced God’s abiding love. He said, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not evil, to give you a future and a hope”. (Jer. 29:11). That faith in a God who never fails will continue to lead us tomorrow and far into the distant future.
As a child, I used to hear my grandmother admonish the young girls that those who go to the stream to carry water, should not listen to the songs of the frogs. While consolidating our present strength, our agenda for the future is full. It includes making new evangelistic ventures and expanding our ecumenical engagements. Thus we shall continue to move on without fear, making disciples for Christ, venturing into new territories, exploring new areas of human need and resisting the threats to life which are increasingly growing in our midst. The core of our reformed faith and theology means being engaged in the lives of our communities and the struggles of the people. We believe that God has commissioned us to identify the poor and the oppressed and stand up in their defence. Thus anything that contradicts the life-giving message of our Lord Jesus must be condemned. We shall also continue to labour to build a spiritually viable church that will increasingly deliver people from the demons that have held them hostage and from the false prophets who have imprisoned people using them as slaves to build their financial empires. We shall continue to work for greater congregational renewal, so that our worship will continue to manifest the vibrant nature of our being. We would not give up the fight against HIV/AIDS, nor relent in the struggle against corruption in the nation and in the Church. We hope to continue to struggle to build an inclusive church, supporting the enhancement and participation of youth and women and those who are physically impaired. Finally, the Church would continue to endeavour to live up to its mission as God’s instrument of peace, calling the nation to repentance and rallying the people for mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.
The Bible reminds us that,Where there is no vision the people perish” (Prov. 29:18). We have highlighted the establishment of a Christian University as our jubilee project. The project has been favourably received by the Government. All the gifts we receive for this jubilee will be directed towards that project. We also like to invite all our partners and good friends to become part of this good idea and collaborate with us to establish here in Central Africa a high centre of learning based on the core values of the Christian faith. There is still much truth in the wisdom of the ancients who said that, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Education was one of the main pillars of the missionaries. So we believe this project only goes to continue where the missionaries stopped.
As we celebrate this jubilee, we cannot afford to ignore some of the problems that keep our people in perpetual bondage especially because these issues constitute the international agenda today.
Water for instance, which is a symbol of life has become a scarce resource and only the rich and powerful can have direct access to safe drinking water. Others have to make do with polluted rivers, lakes and wells with high salinity levels. Secondly, despite the scary consequences of ecological abuse, many of our people are held ransom by the big industrial concerns that continue to emit carbondioxide into the atmosphere. Our forests and oceans are also being exploited on a daily basis with reckless abandon. Thirdly, at this time there is significant international political pressure to facilitate the European Union-African Caribbean Pacific (EU-ACP) trade agreements. Capital interests have never served the majority but have always oppressed the poor and the marginalized.
As a Church, we call for economic and social justice. As we strive towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) we also call upon all Governments and the international community to desist from policies that reinforce the cycle of poverty and consequently diminishes human life and value.
But, our claim of being an indigenous, self-propagating Church would only make meaning, when we succeed to make the gospel of Jesus Christ relevant to our people. That means we should be able to proclaim the gospel in authentic African accents. Christianity was brought to us as a seedling growing in alien European soil in foreign pots. Today what we need is a Christianity that is fully home grown but remains intrinsically Biblical. To that end we must break those foreign pots in which the Gospel was brought here and let the gospel take root in our native soil. We must continue to pursue the process of indigenization not only to decolonize the mind, but also to experience the freedom that comes with the truth of the Gospel.
Finally, as we sing our song of praise for this jubilee, we want to thank all those pastors, elders and thousands of fervent Christians, Cameroonians and non Cameroonians, alive and those who have died, who laboured to lay such a strong foundation for the PCC. Our partners are varied and many, here in Cameroon through CEPCA, in Africa through the AACC and overseas through the WCC. It is our very strong desire to strengthen our membership in these organizations and to widen our ecumenical commitment even further. We also pray for greater co-operation with our brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, we would like to single out Mission 21, with whom we have been in this journey of faith for over 120 years now, during which time they have made enormous contributions to the growth of the PCC. This period has been a time of tremendous growth together. As good old friends we have learnt the noble lesson that rats of the same house do not fight with their teeth, they fight with their tails because nobody intends to hurt the other. We hope that God will continue to strengthen our relationship. The United Church of the Netherlands has also been a very helpful ally to us especially in the area of theological education. We also want to thank the Methodist Church of Great Britain, whose support in our personnel needs and rural development has been very highly appreciative. Another very dependable partner is the Presbyterian Church USA, with whom we are currently building strong ties in the crucial areas of theological education and HIV/AIDS work. It had been our wish to station a PCC pastor in the USA to mark this occasion. We still expect that to happen because we believe that Africa can contribute a lot to the evangelisation of the North which is increasingly sliding into secularism. In the area of development and scholarships, we have received enormous assistance from several international organizations like, Bread for the World, Kasel Education Fund and Action for Tuition Aid (Action Ausbildungshilfe Stuttgart) all in Germany.
In conclusion we thank the government and people of Cameroon immensely for the peace that reigns in the country and the robust support we have received from them through these years. We pray that in the wake of the economic revival in the country the government will soon resolve the problem of our primary school teachers once and for all.
Whatever has happened in the past, whatever is going to happen in the future, we can only stand firm in hope, because the future is safe and secure in God’s hand. There is an old legend about a short encounter Jesus had with an angel upon his return to heaven. The angel asked Jesus: “What have you left behind to carry out the work?” Jesus answered: “A little band of men and women who love me”. “But what if they fail when the trial comes? Will all you have done be defeated?”“Yes,” said Jesus,“If they fail, all I have done will be defeated”.
“Is there nothing more?”
“No”.“there is nothing more”.
“What then?” asked the angel. “They will not fail” answered Jesus.
Today, every single Presbyterian Christian, stands before God and man to rededicate themselves to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ. And as we receive the order to go and be his witnesses, let us all with one voice affirm that with God on our side “We shall not fail!”
Thank you, and may God bless you.
Rt. Rev. Dr. Nyansako-ni-NKU