YOU SHALL BE MY WITNESSES
God Almighty, Creator of the universe and giver of all good gifts. We thank you for the gift of the good news of salvation. On this day of celebration and thanksgiving we pray that your preached and lived word will continue to bear fruit through the witness of your faithful children to the glory of your name. Speak to us anew oh God, for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. AMEN
Dear congregation of God’s people, like the disciples on the day of Pentecost, we are gathered here to celebrate and to hear God’s word proclaimed. Like the disciples of Jesus Christ who gathered in Galilee to hear the instructions of their Lord and master before his ascension into heaven, we are here to be reminded about our roles as witnesses of Jesus Christ in our world of today.
Today we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon with deep gratitude to God the giver of all good gifts. Fifty years of autonomy as a church have been fifty years of service in this country and beyond for which God must be praised and glorified. But the carefully selected theme of this celebration comes with a challenge that demands that we re-examine ourselves carefully. How equal have we been as witnesses for Jesus Christ in the past, how can our present state be classified, and what does the future hold for us as witnesses?
For all this, we must look up to the message of Jesus in the Bible. In the verses we just read, Jesus seems to be giving his last verbal will to his disciples with a challenge – “You shall be my witnesses.” It is like saying, “I am leaving you physically so represent me! I will no longer be with you physically but people will see me through what you do and say.” He had lived with them and taught them for years. The disciples had experienced his humility and firmness, he had preached, healed the sick and defended the less fortunate. Even though he was the Son of God, he identified with the lowly, ate with them, talked with them and lived with them.
In this way, Jesus set an example for his disciples to follow. He now expected the disciples to continue his work as true witnesses. As he says goodbye, the disciples ask, “Will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel? Power instead of service, was the issue at stake here. While the disciples long for the restoration of past glories of Israel, Jesus challenges them to transform their contemporary world rather than look backwards and get discouraged by the fear of the future. We may not know the future but faith in God who holds that future is a guarantee of our expectations. Jesus then promises the manifestation of the Holy Spirit who would give the disciples the power to transform their world. He challenges the disciples to become faithful witnesses with a mandate not limited by any geographical boundaries – from Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and the end of the earth. Nothing will stop them!
The PCC selected this challenge of Jesus in Acts 1:8 “You shall be my witnesses” as the theme and watchword to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence but it applies to all Christians since the Bible is no monopoly of the PCC! The Golden Jubilee of autonomy certainly presents a challenge and in this case the challenge comes from Jesus himself, the head of the Church, which is the body of Christ. In fact, this challenge goes beyond the PCC to all who call themselves Christians in Cameroon and beyond our borders to the end of the world. The challenge is for every Christian to be a faithful witness for Christ through his/her speaking and acting.
Who is a witness in this context? A witness is a person who confirms that what he knows is true from personal experience and not “hear say”. In fact, in Greek the term witness (martus) and the word for martyr is the same, meaning that a true witness had to be ready to become a martyr, to die for a just cause.
With this description, what type of witnesses are we? Do our actions follow our beliefs? Each of us has the duty to honestly provide answers here. This speaker is a child of the North West Province who is proud to come from this province but has repeatedly asked the following questions in embarrassment. Should we be experiencing barbaric tribal wars in the 21st century like our primitive forefathers? When it is not Balilkumbat and Bafanji, it is Oku and Mbessa. When it is not Bali Nyonga and Bawock, it is another tribe. Sometimes some fight within themselves. Dane guns were made for shooting monkeys for meat but we have turned them against each other. Who is behind these feuds? It is evident that some of the authors are Christians. Is this the way to bear witness for Christ? Surely some of those involved in these wicked acts are Christians who were once baptized in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Some of the best minds in this country have gone through Church schools and claim to be Christians. It beats my imagination to think that in politics and administration the same persons compete in corruption. Surely this double life cries out against the witness of the church and Jesus Christ their Lord and Saviour. Jesus is still calling out even now, “You shall be my witnesses.” How do you bear witness as a parent, a teacher, a civil servant, a politician, etc? If some young people are stubborn and become thieves, it is because some parents have been wayward.
Let me contrast this with an example which touched me deeply and which I shared during my sermon at the municipal stadium here in Mankon during the CWF Ruby Jubilee celebrations some years ago. We were coming up to Bamenda for meetings when a gendarme officer stopped us at the toll gate check point at Matazem. To our embarrassment, the officer on checking our papers reminded us that our windscreen license had just expired! When we pleaded with him that we just forgot, he politely warned that we should correct the situation while in Bamenda. No bribe was asked to our happy surprise!
A week later, on our way back to Buea we met the same gendarme at the same point. This time he did not stop our car nor recognize us but we halted to inform him that we had done our assignment as he instructed. With no pastoral attire on me, when I introduced myself as Synod Clerk of the PCC, he brightened up and told me that he was a CMF member of PC Santa while his wife was a member of the CWF in the same congregation. He went further to state that since he and his wife joined these two movements, their marriage had become a better marriage. This gendarme officer represents many Christians who are faithful witnesses and live their faith practically at work without shouting about how holy they are. No matter our calling in life, we can be witnesses for Jesus the Saviour of the world. This example also shows how the Church influences society positively in many ways over the years.
We have heard how missionaries made sacrifices to bring the word of God to Cameroon, many of them losing their lives in our country. Their deaths were no regrets, for like Paul they could say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1: 21) We have heard the different stages through which the PCC has gone since its independence in 1957. The last historic event of autonomy took place in the stadium in this town in 1968. I was witness to it as a young student in CPC Bali. “It has happened: Glory to God!” declared the late Very Rev. J. C. Kangsen after signing the full integration document. Today we can still say with joy, “Glory be to God!”
Despite our many obstacles and failures, I have seen the Holy Spirit at work in the PCC in leading and sustaining us. By the grace of God, PCC trained citizens have made very significant contributions to our country in the civil service, the armed forces, and especially in education and health. The first translators and interpreters at the presidency of the Republic after independence came from CPC Bali. You can check it out. The Church has aimed at producing better citizens.
Jesus asked the disciples to be his witnesses from Jerusalem onward to the end of the world. Our Jerusalem is our families, then our immediate community and wherever we go. To transform our chaotic world for the better we must begin where we are. Be exemplary parents, teachers, police officers, etc. We must start with self-discipline, for the discipline required in the army is not different from what Jesus expects from us.
Two things strive in our effort to be Jesus’ witnesses – faith and fear. The two drive away each other but God assures us in the Bible 365 times “Fear not!” There are 365 days in a year and this means that for every day God is telling us “Fear not.” In Genesis 15 which we just read, God said to Abram, “Fear not” and he believed and it was reckoned to him as faith. Where there is faith there is no fear and vice versa. In heaven there will be no Presbyterians, no Baptists, no Roman Catholics, no Pentecostals etc. Jesus will simply ask us “I ordered you to be my witnesses, how faithful were you in that assignment?” faith and fear not, for Jesus is still calling in our consciences – “You shall be my witnesses.” AMEN