By BosNewsLife Africa Service
YAOUNDE, CAMEROON (BosNewsLife)-- Thousands of devoted Christians in Cameroon remained without places of worship Wednesday, September 4, after the country's President Paul Biya ordered the closure of nearly 100 Pentecostal
churches in key cities citing "criminal practices."
Biya, who has been in power for over three decades, said the Pentecostal activities threaten the security of his west Central African nation and have nothing to do with preaching the Word of God.
"We will get rid of all the so-called Christian Pentecostal pastors who misuse the name of Jesus Christ to fake miracles and kill citizens in their churches. They have outstretched their liberty," Mbu Anthony Lang, a government official in Bamenda, told reporters.
Nearly 500 Pentecostal churches operate in Cameroon, but fewer than 50 are legal, he added.
Biya's government has already shut down at least 15 Pentecostal church denominations in the nation's capital Yaounde and the North West Regional Capital, Bamenda, with plans to close more.
FREEDOM OF RELIGION?
Government officials acknowledge that Cameroon is a secular state with freedom of religion in the constitution, but say their actions justified amid reports of unnecessary deaths.
Last month, a 9-year-old Christian girl allegedly collapsed and died during a Sunday prayer session of the Winners' Chapel, a Pentecostal church in Bamenda. The girl's mother, Mih Theresa, told the U.S.-based Cable News Network (CNN) that the pastor intended "to cast out the numerous demons" that were in control of her daughter's life.
Her frustration is shared by some Cameroonians like Ngwana Jean Paul, who supports the government crackdown. Paul told the Voice of America (VOA) notwork that his family was a victim of overzealous pastors.
He said his sister was infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Instead of going to the hospital, he said, his family took his sister "to churches that claim they can lay hands" and offer prayers to heal you. He said his sister "went there and died".
One woman, Deborah Tanyi, said her mother was refusing cancer treatments because of her pastor. "My mother's condition is worsening after doctors confirmed she had cancer. She is dying silently, and yet we cannot persuade her to see a doctor for proper treatment, against her pastor's wish."
CHILDREN ALLEGEDLY ABDUCTED
North West Regional governor Adolphe Lele L'Afrique also told media that that police had discovered "the abduction of 30 children under age 18" by a pastor in Bamenda. The pastor said he wanted to remove the children from a bad society, Lele added.
Yet, pastors have denied wrongdoing and thousands of believers have participated in peaceful marches against the government crackdown.
Reverend Pastor Elie Pierre told Christian protesters that they would continue
to pray to God to touch the hearts of the police that sealed their church door. "We have the right to defend ourselves," he said in broadcast comments.
He said persecution will fortify the Church, but warned this is not good news for Cameroon. "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 has 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 makes clear that "our weapons are not carnal, they are spiritual," she claimed. "When the devil attacked Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus said it is written, he never picked a stone to face the devil.”
While there has been controversy about Pentecostal churches in Africa, leaders view the latest measures as a crackdown on innocent evangelical Christians.
Boniface Tum, a bishop of the Christian Church of God in Yaounde, said in published remarks that Biya, who has been president since 1982, is becoming insecure about the freedom of speech within these churches.
Targeted Pentecostal Christians in Bamenda, for instance, have been transforming their private homes into churches.
"Authorizing only the Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Muslim, and a few other churches, is a strict violation of the right to religion," he said.