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More dialogue, less killing

PC(USA) webinar explores ending the violence in Cameroon and aiding those seeking asylum

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — How to put an end to the killing of schoolchildren and thousands of others in Cameroon — and ways to support Cameroonians seeking asylum in other countries, including the United States — was the topic of a webinar Tuesday attended by more than 300 people.

Earlier this month, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), issued a Call to Prayer for the people of Cameroon. On Tuesday he said Cameroon has a special place in his heart: His mother, who would have turned 100 on the day of the webinar, spent time there working as a Presbyterian missionary.

The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, speaks in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

“It is hurting to our own heart regarding the violence, which has touched so many,” Nelson said. “Why should Presbyterians care? Because it is a place in crisis, and something about our faith drives us and calls us to places where people are left behind.”

In addition, Presbyterians care about the situation “because we care about asylum-seeking,” Nelson said. “The work of our General Assemblies has dealt with immigration and asylum-seeking — the real work that needs to be done in bringing people together. Our immigration enforcement system is very broken.”

“It’s not enough to say we believe in Jesus Christ if we aren’t willing to put ourselves and our spirit on the line,” Nelson said. “That we are doing, and we will continue to do it.”

Guerline Jozef, president of the San Diego-based The Haitian Bridge Alliance, said her organization is increasingly working with asylum-seeking Cameroonians at the U.S.-Mexico border. She introduced Daniel, a young Cameroonian helped by the Haitian Bridge Alliance. He said his current call to action is that Temporary Protected Status be granted for other Cameroonians similarly situated. He said he went through the asylum process after spending six months locked up in a U.S. detention center.

Guerline Jozef

“It’s of utmost importance,” he said, “that we do something about what is happening right now.”

“Daniel’s story is why we do what we do,” Jozef said as she and other Haitian Bridge Alliance staff were preparing to present to a congressional contingent. “He receives calls on a daily basis from people still in detention … We want to make sure we center the voices of those who have been through the journey and are fighting for those they left behind.”

“We stand on the Word of God,” Jozef said. “Let’s continue to entertain those angels God has brought into our path.”

Saying that “personal stories help,” Jaff Bamenjo, coordinator of the Network Against Hunger in Cameroon (RELUFA), said his aunt, a retired nurse, saw her house in Cameroon burned down last year. “She’s been reduced to nothing,” he said. Her children now live with Bamenjo’s family, some of the estimated 700,000 Cameroonians who’ve been internally displaced by the violence.

Jaff Bamenjo

“The conflict cannot be solved with a gun,” Bamenjo said. “It is a political problem that requires a political solution, which is dialogue.” Because neither side trusts the other, a third-party mediator will be required, he said.

Citing specifically the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Joining Hands initiative, Bamenjo said that support from the PC(USA) “is putting a smile on people’s faces … I cherish what the PC(USA) is doing and what Presbyterians in the U.S. are doing. Continue to pray for the people affected in Cameroon and contact your elected officials to engage the government.”

The Rt. Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, said he’s “thankful to God I have sisters and brothers in America with whom I can share my feelings and the problems we are going through.”

Some church-run schools remain functional, he said, but few are at capacity.

The Rt. Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon.

“We lost a pastor to a bullet. Some have been kidnapped, and some have run away from their parishes,” he said. “We had to close our lone university.”

Many refugees have fled to Nigeria, he said. Their care is “a huge responsibility on the church,” he said. “We can’t see Christians suffering without doing anything.”

He said plans are in place to hold a workshop “to empower people to go on a peace caravan from one town to the next. We pray this workshop will be a resounding success.”

“That’s where we are. That’s how we are struggling with the issues,” he said. “The president (Paul Biya) wants peace in the country, and it’s the mission of religious leaders to bring peace.”

“This cannot continue without support from around the globe,” he said. “I will advocate for your prayers and your continuous concern for us Cameroonians. That gives us a glimmer of hope we are not alone. We have brothers and sisters in America supporting us.”

Bringing the 90-minute workshop to a close, Nelson said he’s hopeful that help is on the way early next year via the Biden-Harris administration. In his closing prayer, Nelson thanked God, who has “brought us a mighty long way … We didn’t know you were working to use us as a vessel. We ask that we would be strengthened for the journey knowing you are actively engaged in doing miracles behind the scenes that we have not yet been able to see.”

The Office of Public Witness, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian World Mission and the Office of Immigration Issues in the Office of the General Assembly put on Tuesday’s webinar.

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