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Retiring Moderator Takes Stock Of 40 Years In Lord’s Vineyard 

Interviewed by Charly Ndi Chia & Walter Wilson Nana

After more than four decades serving in the Lord’s vineyard, are you only retiring as Moderator to still keep your garb of Pastor?

It is a long road of nearly 40 years. I went to the seminary in September 1966 and graduated in September 1970. I will be retiring and being very grateful to God for journey mercies. I think ordination is for life.

I will remain a pastor, a preacher of the church, the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, PCC, and of the Christian Church as a whole. I hope that when I retire, I will give myself freely, to be used in any manner by the Church, congregation or individuals who need my pastoral service. If I were just a pastor in the field, my retirement would be due for December 2010. Having reached this far, I think it will be easier for me and the Church, to just let go completely and withdraw.

How has the road travelled so far been, that is, from ordination to Moderator?

I graduated from the seminary in 1970, worked in Banso, came to Buea and after my further training in Journalism and Broadcasting, I was appointed into the Communication Department. It used to be Literature and Radio Department. So, when I took over, I re-structured the department and it became Communication Department. I made sure that a few other friends and colleagues were trained. That is how we trained Rev Lekunze, Rev Ikome, Rev Umenei, who took over from me.

I was in the Communication Department for about 17 years. Before then, I was also Parish Pastor for Buea Station. I served as international representative for the World Council of Churches Collection Programme, on the United Nations. After all that, I was elected Synod Clerk of the Church, which is the second highest position and did that for 10 years. Immediately after that, I was elected Moderator of the PCC for another 10 years, which I am just winding up now.

In the course of your office, what hurdles, temptations and other challenges have you encountered?

There were great challenges. We had huge programmes and projects of evangelisation but we were frustrated because we didn’t have enough money coming in. You will like to know that as soon as I came in as Moderator, I launched the campaign of self-reliance. I saw it as building our own sovereignty.

I am happy to let you know that when I came in, the budget was FCFA 700-800 million. Now, we have over 8 billion, which is the budget of the central church, without any single franc from partners. The money we receive from partners is meant for projects. As our people say, before the horns of a goat grow, the head must be strong in order to carry them. There were also some moments one felt betrayed because of the people you trusted a lot. That was very frustrating.

At the level of Presbook, there were some very disturbing and corrupt tendencies going on there. It almost landed the PCC on its belly…

In Presbook, we realised that over 90 percent of the people we had trusted with responsibilities as managers, branch managers were involved in corrupt practices, which have almost brought the company to the ground. I have finished reading one of the reports, which has come in from the internal evaluation. Now, we’ve called in external evaluators to give us an idea of how huge the damage is and what we can do to repair it. Those things have been very frustrating. There were also some moments, which you just lost some very competent church workers.

In Africa, it is very difficult to find people who are committed to work and work for very little money. That is what the church offers, a lot of work for very little money. And so when you have one or two of those who just die, it is very sad. These have been some of the problems. But I think we have also made huge gains. This uplifted us and continues to drive us to where we are today.

You also faced challenges from the mushrooming of sects, other Pentecostal contraptions, which we believe, took a toll on the congregations of the PCC?

That is a problem of all the mainstream churches. Unfortunately, these mushroom groups fish in other people’s ponds. I am a fisherman; we were used to throwing the net in the open sea.  They throw their own net into the boat to catch the fish that has already been caught. That is the problem. Fortunately, it is very minimal. We have not noticed such a huge exodus of people out of the Church. But it has been a challenge and also a good challenge, because it has made us realise some of the things that we ignore, which they capitalise on.

Our Churches have become big and anonymous. If you take a congregation of 2000-3000 people, it is not possible for one or two pastors to know the Christians so intimately and follow that with pastoral care. So these groups catch up with such situations and win them over at the time that they are most vulnerable. So, we have realised that we have to increase our work force and to improve on our pastoral care.

How did you grapple with internal dissent?

I don’t think we will use the word dissent. Our system by its very nature, the reformed tradition all over the world, upholds John Calvin’s principles of democracy. That everybody is free to speak up his mind, to maintain his position and to advocate his course. So, what we’ve had are differences of opinion. Actually, what I hear is the contrary. Within these 10 years, we’ve had very little of what I will describe as disagreements.

We worked very hard to concentrate our energy in the area of strengthening the unity of the Church. Because of that, what I hear are great achievements. However, there were some people who did not agree with us, generally. Of course, that, you must expect. If you have a system where everybody toes the line, then, either something is wrong with your system of governance or something is wrong with the minds of the people.

The phenomenon of healing has also been embraced by a handful of Presbyterian Pastors. It is even believed that God’s Ministry, as far as the craze for healing is concerned, has been commercialised. Who heals, how and when? 

That is true! That is something that can be so easily abused. We have cautioned our Pastors on many instances and to remind them that their primary responsibility is to preach the word. But because we also know that God works miracles and the preached word and prayer can also heal, we have advised them that those who feel called to the Ministry of Healing should do so prayerfully and in a very humble manner.

Some groups have commercialised that but we don’t want that commercial aspect to be in our system. We’ve fought against it. The Bible says that we are called and given different talents. Where it has been genuine, it is very popular. In the case of PCC Kumba-Mbeng, people across denominations became members of it, so too the one in Ntamulong, Azire and Bambili.

At a personal level, do you have that gift of healing?

I thought my calling is more on the proclamation of the word, communication of the gospel. Being an ordained Minister and having been anointed by God at this level, I don’t shy away when I’m challenged with a situation, which needs spiritual intervention. We have a prayer group at PCC Buea Station, which we attend every evening.

We intercede for people who are sick. Children have been brought to us; students attacked by witchcraft, we’ve tried to have them delivered. There have been some dramatic cases, where you thought this was a rather hopeless case. But we prayed for them. I don’t run away from it, but I don’t make it the focus of my activities.

What has been the relationship of the Church, under you, with a government that is rocked by bad governance, corruption and human rights abuse?

Look at our records; every time we have a Synod, which meets once in two years, we have issued a statement condemning corruption, the low level of human rights in the country. We have been prophetic. If you go back to the crises of the GCE, I think our Church stood out very clearly.

I remember presenting a memorandum to President Paul Biya, personally, where the GCE issue was raised and where we were advocating for the creation of an Anglophone University. All those interventions were published in a little book, which I edited, which was called; "Cry Justice". So, in the area of governance, there have been strong inputs from the PCC. That is part of our reformed tradition.

Is the fire of revolution, which, we knew to be burning in you, in the days of yore, still in you?

The fire is still there, but it had to mellow with age. I was a fairly young man at the time and you will imagine my reactions to things like that have to change to match up with the kind of wisdom that you get. I say the same things, but differently. You will remember the 2008 street riots.

As far as I remember, I was amongst the first Church leaders to make a statement on that on the national radio and TV, CRTV and on STV. I condemned the shooting and at the same time, calling on the young people not to express themselves violently. I was told that caused quite a few ripples upstairs. We don’t want to lose any situation, which calls for a kind of prophetic intervention, to go without us making a comment.

As a journalist, where will you place "gombo" in the profession?

I think that the business of "gombo" has been a very corrupting influence in the media. I’ll pray that those of you who head professional organisations should do everything to clean it. At the time we were doing journalism, there was very little pay, but we were proud to be journalists.

We represented a profession, considered to have played a very noble role in the history of nations. Now, I realise that journalists are better paid than in yesteryears. I don’t understand why this element of corruption has come in. Why should people be paid in order to go for a story? We were trained that when you hear there is an event, you go for it. You don’t have to sit on your laurels and wait for people to invite you, give you an envelope in order to cover it.

Why should a newspaper editor wait to be given an envelope in order to publish a good story? I think those of us who are journalists and ready to decry the corruption, the evil in the societies, which we live and in the private and public sectors of governance, should start by cleaning our own house. Those of you who head media organisations have a great role to play.

How was your experience when you headed the All African Conferences of Churches, AACC?

It was very challenging but fulfilling. The office of President of AACC has a lot of moral authority and therefore, a lot of political ramifications came in. I found myself being invited by governments, holding meetings with Heads of State here and there; resolving conflicts in Burundi, Zambia, Congo-Kinshasa, South Africa, Sudan, precisely in Darfur. In Kenya, on the day, the peace agreement was being signed, the Secretary General of the AACC offered the opening prayer. We were very involved.

I liked it but it was beginning to take its toll on me. I was virtually a visitor in my home, leaving my poor wife alone. After five years, I thought it was time for some other person to try his hands on it. We were brought in to salvage the AACC. It was moribund by the time we came in. And so Bishop Dandala and I were brought in to salvage it. When we lifted it to the level where it is now, it became known internationally. So, we thought we had done our duty and Bishop Dandala retired to South Africa. I did not offer my candidature for a second term.

What does it take to become Moderator?

The procedure is very tedious and long. On the year of the elections, all ordained Ministers have to send in three names of their nominations; that is, those who they will like to be Moderator and Synod Clerk. When the Districts or Presbyteries meet, (this held on April 19 2009) those nominations are tabled on the floor of the presbyteries, the vote is taken and the results are sent to the Synod Clerk’s Office in sealed envelopes. Later on, the Synod Committee appoints the electoral commission, of people who are Christians of good standing but don’t hold any office in the executive committee.

They open the envelopes, tally the names, and that is when we see who is first, second and third; for the posts of the Moderator and Synod Clerk. And then these people will be invited to present their statements of faith to the Synod Committee. Then the process of voting begins, the Synod Committee will then make a vote and make a recommendation to the Synod for the final vote. So, it takes about three years.

So, you are not in any position to influence who takes over from you?

No! No! I cannot. Probably, I may advice young colleagues, who may come to me and say Pa, how do you judge this situation or this person? That will be in a very strict personal manner. But I cannot influence anything.

There is this unwritten practice of the Moderator alternating between the Northwest and Southwest Regions …

I will correct that. It is not like that in the constitution. The constitution says that the offices of the Moderator and Synod Clerk shall not be held at any time by people from the same region, because we are a national Church. The PCC is in the 10 Regions of Cameroon. It is not only Northwest and Southwest Regions. It is true that the Northwest and Southwest Regions represent the bulk of the membership. Tomorrow, a native of the Littoral or Centre Region may be a candidate. For purposes of national unity, to give a sense of belonging, they should not come from the same Region.

At what level is the Presbyterian University Project, which you launched in Bali?

We’re still on course. We ran into some road blocks with the world economic financial crises. Investors took keen interest and were prepared to provide the loan that we need to put the project on course. We were also advised to put the situation on hold for a while until we see the direction to which the money problem in the world is going. Now that there are indications of financial recovery, we are starting discussions and the negotiations again with our partners.

However, locally, we have gone a long way. The committee is still on; the approval has been given by the Ministry of Higher Education. Prof. Sammy Beban Chumbow, who is the head of the organising committee, is temporarily out of the country. He is in the US. When he comes back, we will see where we left off and continue. It takes quite a huge amount of money to build that kind of institution we want to build.

It is something that we will not give up. The campus in Kumba is there already, at the seminary. We have a good niche in the medical area, our eye hospital is already in good use; the government has permission to use it for training purposes. The West African College of Ophthalmology and Surgery is also using it for training purposes. The raw elements are there. It is just to get the capital and put up the infrastructure.

Your relationship with Retired Moderator Henry Anye Awasum?

Very good. I was at his residence in Bamenda to see him a few days ago. He is my elder brother; he has always been and will continue to be. I don’t know why that question. He is my very good friend. We have taken measures in this office that many don’t know, when we realised his health condition had deteriorated so much.

We caused him to be housed in our hospital in Bafut at the expense of the PCC. We are paying huge bills for his nursing care, which could not be given at home because he is in a very delicate health situation. Before that, my wife and I caused him to be hospitalised in a private clinic, at our own expense. The daughter, Mercy, calls me regularly from Canada, to find out how the father is doing and to thank us for the support we give the parents.

Generally, it is difficult to say goodbye. Do you really feel like going?

We live one day at a time. But honestly, after about 40 years, without any formal leave or break, I’m beginning to hope and long for the retirement day to come sooner than later. It is true, you miss friends. I don’t know how retirement looks like; I have never been idle in my life. My children are worried. How will you suddenly stop work? People are asking. When I organise my study in Kumba, where I intend to go and organise my home … I have left that to God’s grace. I believe that the God, who has led us to this point, will lead us up to tomorrow.