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Equatorial Guinea, Africa

Hiding the Bible

April 19, 2017

As the plates were being cleared after dinner, we remained seated in the living room of the senator who was hosting us for the night. We were at his home in eastern Equatorial Guinea after having visited several congregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Equatorial Guinea and the first of three community health centers built by the church’s Women’s Association with gracious assistance from a Presbyterian Women Thank Offering.

After talking for a little while our host brought out a package swathed in shiny wrapping paper. He presented it to me, invited me to open it and began to explain its significance.

Like the woman in the ebony carving I was unveiling, his mother habitually went to the fields carrying a woven basket on her back. In it she would carry what she needed for her work there, and when she returned she would carry fruits of her work. Her basket would also come with her to church, carrying her Bible that was hidden beneath layers of “innocent” items. My host said that in those days more than 50 years ago, when the country was a Spanish colony, it was illegal to have a Bible, except presumably for Catholic priests. Our host’s mother had become a Presbyterian when she accompanied her husband for medical treatment in neighboring Cameroon, at the Presbyterian Hospital in Enongal, and that experience gave her the desire to read and understand God’s Word.

Presbyterian mission has had a difficult time in Equatorial Guinea. As one of the first places in Africa where it began, well before Cameroon and Congo, missionaries met the normal health challenges of the day, particularly malaria, which caused the death of many children and adults throughout Africa. But hostility from the colonial government, which favored the Roman Catholic Church, led to many obstacles being put before the Protestant church.  While some seeds were planted in Equatorial Guinea, Presbyterian mission work expanded to neighboring Gabon and Cameroon. Particularly in Cameroon, the church began to flourish before it reached back into Equatorial Guinea, augmenting the work that had begun earlier. 

The border drawn by Europeans divided families who shared a common culture and language. Bibles printed in the Bulu language at the Presbyterian printing press in Enongal, Cameroon, were understood by those speaking Fang in Equatorial Guinea. As people sought medical care in Presbyterian mission hospitals in Cameroon, some were attracted to the message they heard. Some learned of the agricultural techniques used in farms run by the church.

The Presbyterian Church in Equatorial Guinea, which took seriously the notion of the priesthood of all believers, encouraged people to own and read the Bible. Still, owning a Bible was illegal, and the colonial Spanish rule took a hard line against the Protestant Church. When returning from church meetings, family visits or medical treatment in neighboring Cameroon, members would often carry back Bibles, hymnbooks, and seedlings to start income-generating cocoa and palm plantations. Some of those crops, however, were destroyed by the colonial rulers.

While the Protestant Church in Equatorial Guinea is no longer outlawed or persecuted, painful memories remain from the early marginalization and the lack of liberty to worship freely and live out their faith.   My host shared this story so that this history, which is also our history, will not be forgotten and will remain important to all our identities.

Jeff Boyd, regional liaison for Central Africa

Today’s Focus:  Equatorial Guinea, Africa

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Mission Co-Worker

Jeff Boyd, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea

Ecumenical Partners

Reformed Presbyterian Church of Equatorial Guinea
Rev. Adam Miguel Etame Mayoko, General Secretary
Ana Maria Obono Abeso, President Association of Women

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

William Brock, OGA                      
Lorraine Brown, OGA                            

Let us pray:

Lord, may the pained reminders of persecution lead us to demonstrate love and justice to those who are ill-treated because of their faith today. Give courage to our Presbyterian sisters and brothers in Equatorial Guinea, that from the weakness they still feel your greatness may shine. Help these sisters and brothers to not feel isolated or forgotten by those who 150 years ago came to share the good news of your love expressed in the life of Jesus Christ. Unite us in joyful thanksgiving and service to you. Amen.

Daily Readings

Morning Psalms 99; 147:1-11
First Reading Micah 7:7-15
Second Reading Acts 3:1-10
Gospel Reading John 15:1-11
Evening Psalms 9; 118

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