YAOUNDE— Thousands of Christians in Cameroon no longer have places to worship as the government continues to crack down on illegal churches for what it says are activities that have nothing to do with preaching the word of God. But pastors of these churches said they are being targeted because they criticize the government of President Paul Biya, who has been in power for more than 30 years.
Frustrated Christians pray in front of their sealed house of worship in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, saying the government of Cameroon persecutes children of God.
Adressing his Christians with a loud speaker, Reverend Pastor Elie Pierre said they will continue to pray for God to touch the hearts of the police that sealed their church door last Friday.
"We have the right to defend ourselves," he said.
He said persecution will fortify the Church, but then said this is not good news for Cameroon. He said when the state accuses somebody of something, you have to listen to him at least.
Reverend Theres Nchanji, pastor of the Holy Ghost Zone church that had been sealed for three months, is assisting pastors of other sealed churches in prayers. She said God will be the one to judge those who persecute His children. “No state can do without a Church and the Bible says whosoever calls the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved. The Bible says that our weapons are not carnal, they are spiritual. When the devil attacked Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus said it is written, he never picked a stone to face the devil,” Sshe stated.
Even as the thousands of Christians staged a peaceful march, the government of Cameroon announced more church closings over state radio.
The announcer said the Prefect for Yaounde has decided to close the Christian Community church because it carries out activities that are a menace to public order and it says police are called upon to execute this order.
The Cameroonian government has indicated more churches will be closed for not preaching the word of God and for carrying out activities that threaten social peace.
Jean Paul Tsanga, the divisional officer for Yaounde three Sub Division who is closing the churches, rejects allegations that they are cracking down on Christian denominations that have been critical of President Paul Biya.
He said most of those churches refuse to respect the laws of Cameroon. He said that creates many problems and causes disorder. He said the churches separate families, but that there are forces of law and order in Cameroon to stop them.
Some Cameroonians like Ngwana Jean Paul, who watched the protest, generally agree with the government's decision to seal the churches. Paul said his family was a victim of overzealous pastors.
He said his sister was HIV positive. Instead of going to the hospital, he said, his family took his sister to churches that claim they can lay hands (offer prayers) to heal you. He said his sister went there and died.
Another observer, 40-year-old Fouda Jacques, is also happy with the decision to close the churches.
He said the state is right to close those churches because they do lots of bad things and some are there just to exploit and make people poorer.
Cameroon is a secular state with freedom of religion in the constitution.
The government said it is justified in taking action. It has now shut down 15 pentecostal church denominations in Yaounde and the North West Regional Capital, Bamenda, with plans to close more.