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Yaounde Experiences 

By Yerima Kini Nsom — “You are children of God, and the God you are worshiping is not a poor God. So poverty cannot be your portion. God has no problem with you having wealth, but a problem with money having you,” a man of God yells in one of the Pentecostal churches in Yaounde.

The rest of the congregation produced a deafening “Amen! Amen! Alleluia, God is great!” This scenario is common currency in almost all the Pentecostal Churches that mushroom in the nation’s capital. They make up the fraternity of what is referred to as the God business boom.

Such churches have made a bountiful harvest of Christians from the mainstream churches by preaching what is now popularly known as the prosperity gospel and performing miracles.
This has provoked an upsurge of religious prostitution with miracle-seeking Christians wandering from one church to the other. It is brisk business characterised by the so-called “miraculous healing sessions”. Desperate and naive people go there to seek cure for all kinds of maledictions and diseases.

“Poverty out! Malaria out! HIV/AIDS out in the name of Jesus!” a man of God at Biyem-Assi conjured as he placed his hands on some sick people. The people, who had all closed their eyes in prayer, then took turns in losing consciousness and crashing to the floor, claiming to have been touched by the Holy Spirit. The God business had become a very lucrative one in Yaounde and just every conman or woman is creating his or her own Church and walk tall as a prophet or Bishop.

The churches are varied and many. Name them! Get Rich Ministry, The Church of Spiritual Combat, Go and Tell Chapel, Light House Ministry, Redeemed Christian Church of Christ, Deeper Life Ministry, Harvest International, True Church of Christ, Jesus: the Way, the Truth and the Light Ministry, Jesus Lives Ministry, True Church of God, Faith Tabernacle, and many more. The churches that are everywhere, even in private homes, are on the advertising war with billboards in major road junctions.

Besides, these Churches have very aggressive agents that have gone haywire, recruiting Christians from the mainline churches. A Yaounde-based staunch Baptist Christian, Nformi Sonde Kinsai, simply discouraged one of such agents recently as he made a desperate attempt to convince him to join his Church: “I told him that the only condition for me to join their church is that I must be a member of the Finance Committee,” Nformi told The Post. The agent left without a word.

Unlike Nformi, another Yaounde-based Christian, Majesty The Beloved, said he quickly left the Apostolic Church to the Winners Chapel Church when he” gave his life to Christ” in 2007. To him, his new Church has a practical approach to issues of faith, especially their sermons on Divine healing, prosperity, the walk of righteousness, serving God profitably and how to have a blissful marriage. Yet, another Christian, Arrey Tambe, said he quit the Catholic Church to the Winners Chapel because the former was not giving him an opportunity to make good and practical use of the Bible. “I came in contact with God when I joined Winners Chapel,” he said.

One woman who asked for anonymity said: “I was a Catholic Christian married for many years without a child. But when I joined the Holy Ghost Zone, I became pregnant within two months”. Many Christians The Post interviewed said they have had a breakthrough in their lives only when they joined the Pentecostal Churches. One of them who left the Presbyterian Church said the poverty that had been gnawing him over the years, simply petered out recently when he joined the True Church of Christ.

“I moved from the Baptist Church to a Pentecostal Church because the former is a bit doctrinal and has laid down rules. In the Pentecostal and life churches, one is free because they allow room for the Holy Spirit to work on us,” one Christian said. Despite contrary views, many observers hold that the mass movement of Christians from the mainstream Churches to other religious organisations is an expression of a kind of spiritual hunger.

According to the Senior Pastor of Etoug-Ebe Baptist Church in Yaounde, Rev. Dr. Philemon Nfor, the mainstream churches did not give sufficient attention to Bible studies and prayers. “So, when the Pentecostal movement came, it started with Bible studies and prayers and was very attractive to the people,” he explained. The man of God said there is no longer any justification for any such wandering because the mainstream churches have changed and are now taking Bible studies and prayers very seriously.

Rev. Dr. Nfor, however, took exception to the fact that Pentecostal Churches were presenting the Gospel as the sole solution to all the problems including economic crisis. Hear him: “the churches are calling people to come and have solutions to all their problems. The people are told to come and get cars and houses without working, to get husbands and wives just by praying. So they are presenting life as being very easy in such a way that one can get the crown without the cross.”

Such churches, the prelate went on, are leaving out a very essential message of the Bible, which has to do with the cross. To him, these churches do not preach sin. They preach only prosperity and claim to perform miracles and heal people of all diseases. A closer look at some of those passing around for pastors in these churches, Rev. Nfor remarked, will reveal people who have broken families and have done terrible things. To him, they create such churches to employ themselves and make money. When a church is run by an individual its gives account to nobody, he stated.

Going by Rev. Father Humphrey Tatah Mbuy of the Catholic Church, the pastors of such Pentecostal churches read the Bible upside down and claim to know everything in it. “I just laugh at such people because I have studied the Bible for 20 years, but I don’t think I know everything in it,” the prelate remarked.

In a dissertation, student Journalist, Jude Fuhnwi, quoted a pastor of a Pentecostal church, Elroy Kan, as saying that the churches are absolutely necessary. “We should not criticise men of God because they have gifts we don’t have. Rather, the vineyard of God is a complimentary system where you bring in that gift and I bring in this gift and we expand the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven,” Kan was quoted as having said. According to Varsity Don and Anthropologist, Prof. Paul Nchuoji Nkwi, people move from one church to the other in search of solutions to their various problems.

“Whenever there is what you call economic depression or unemployment, people become very creative. Secondly, the moral fabric of the society has collapsed. There are high levels of divorce, fewer marriages and so on. All these situations have led people to seek solace in the new churches. And, therefore, the churches provide that solace.”  Prof. Nkwi said, because of high competition, the new churches have resorted to other sources of power to perform miracles and attract Christians.

But, Pastor Kevin Wilson Itodo of the Winners’ Chapel International holds that the messages they put across to Christians have been misunderstood by many people. He argued that they do not arrange for marriages among Christians, but pray for divine intervention since marriage was instituted by God. He said it is not true that they allow Christians to fold their hands and pray for miracles. He said they equally recommend hard work, patience and sacrifice to their Christians.

The Devil At Work

In one of such churches at the Mimboman neighbourhood in Yaounde, one pastor of Ghanaian nationality said he was living very well in his country and had a vision in which God told him to come to Cameroon and rescue many people from bondage. Within the week, he told the Christians of yet another vision. He said, in this vision, God told him to divorce his wife and get married to a member of his congregation, a young student of the Yaounde University 1. Many Christians were shocked but the pastor went ahead and got the young girl.

According to the Senior Divisional Officer for Mfoundi, Jean Claude Tsila, the so-called men of God do many ungodly things. He cited the case of a girl who died in one of the churches because the pastor did not allow her to go to hospital for treatment. “We tell our Christians not to go to the hospital because we believe in the healing powers of the Holy Spirit,” the pastor, a Nigerian national, was quoted to have said.

There is also a new wave of a commercial ruse going in the churches. The pastors create businesses like provision stores and tell their Christians that everything they buy from there is anointed. One of such churches in the Obili neighbourhood in Yaounde has an anointed a hairdressing saloon where all female Christians are advised to do their hair so as to be blessed. The church also runs a local clinic where drugs are sold as well as sells holy water.

Many of these pastors are very rich because they are collecting a good portion of the salary of every Christian in exchange for blessings. Many people complain that the Pentecostal churches pollute the neighbourhood with a lot of noise. “We cannot sleep, we cannot study in peace. The noise here is unbearable. If they are not singing, they are playing music throughout the night,” one student who lives near the Holy Ghost Church, told The Post.

Noise pollution is one of the reasons why the Yaounde administration has embarked on shutting down many churches that are operating without due authorisation. The Mfoundi SDO launched the onslaught on August 2 and the International Faith Convention Church at Emana neighbourhood, was one of the first to get the slammer. The bid has continued as administrative officials close down illegal churches on a daily basis.

The authorities have targeted some 500 churches for closure in Yaounde. Despite this affluence of churches, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation says only 47 religious organisations have a right to operate in the country. While many of the men of God agree that there is need to get authorisation, others hold that it is not necessary. “We don’t need a license to serve God,” one of them retorted.

Opening a church in Cameroon requires prior administrative authorisation. But some churches have sought to dribble the law by presenting themselves as chapels of other legalised churches. When one Dieunnedort Kamdam of Cathedrale de La Foi was asked to show the legal documents of his church, he claimed that it belonged to the CBC network that is Cameroon Baptist Congregation. But when the authorities insisted, The Post learnt, the pastor brandished a legal document belonging to the well known Cameroon Baptist Convention, CBC.  In reaction, the CBC started issuing disclaimers on radio.

First published in The Post print edition no 01464

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