Kidnappers released this week the last of more than 80 hostages taken from a Presbyterian school in Cameroon amid an escalating crisis in the Central African country’s English-speaking regions.
Just over a week after being captured at gunpoint, the principal, dorm warden, and two remaining students were freed Monday, while the rest of the victims, students ages 11–17, were let go last week, Reuters reported.
The Presbyterian-run boarding school in the region’s capital, Bamenda, has been forced to shut down since the captors threatened further attacks.
The incident represents the latest of at least four school abductions over the past two months, and about a dozen over the past year, as unrest over disparities between Cameroon’s English-speaking North-West and South-West regions and the nation’s French-speaking majority turns increasingly violent. Another 11 boys had been taken from the same school the week before.
And the kidnappings, as heart-wrenching as they are, represent just a small portion of the violence that has left the Anglophone region on the brink of civil war.
An estimated 400 civilians have died in the dispute, including an American missionary caught in the crossfire last month, just weeks after moving to Cameroon. More than a quarter-million people have fled their homes and villages, and many who remain are desperate for security and resources.
Cameroon’s churches, whose cry for peace has intensified over the past few months, have suffered in the separatist conflict, with four church buildings taken over by military forces and at least 50 Christian-run primary schools, secondary schools, and hospitals affected, according to Gustav Ebai, information and communication secretary for the Council of Protestant Churches of Cameroon.
“We have failed God,” he said in an interview with CT. “There is no evil like the evil I have seen in my country.”
The instability in North-West and South-West dampened celebrations for the coastal nation’s 61st annual Presbyterian Church Day, held last Sunday.
“Given what the Anglophone community is passing through at this moment, we cannot really celebrate; feasting and enjoying ourselves while many of God’s children are being killed, living in pains, frustrated and others living as internal and external refugees,” statedFonki Samuel Forba, moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon (PCC).
He advised congregations in the PCC—the largest local English-speaking denomination, with over a million members—to keep observances low-key and to use the occasion to raise awareness about those impacted by the recent violence.
More than 100 PCC pastors are believed to have fled the two regions as conditions worsen; in Bamenda, some residents fear that even traveling or attending typical gatherings could put them at risk of attacks. Ebai told CT that in many villages, the pastors were the last to leave.
PCC leaders have helped coordinate counseling for displaced families who have moved in with friends or fellow church members in safer regions. Millions are in need of humanitarian aid as a result of the conflict. Those who are left in the Anglophone region tend to be the poorest and neediest—the ones without means to flee elsewhere.
“… [M]uch emphasis should be laid on raising Mission Work Fund to enable the Church continue to attend to our displaced pastors and brethren affected by the armed conflict that has brought sorrow and suffering upon many,” Forba stated. “As we keep on praying and trusting that soon the Lord would turn our mourning to rejoicing and the flourishing of life in absolute peace and justice, remain inspired.”
The escalating violence in the Anglophone regions coincided with a tense election held last month, which re-elected 85-year-old President Paul Biya for his seventh term in office; he has ruled since 1982.
Though Cameroon’s two languages and corresponding cultural differences date back to British and French colonial rule, the conflict has emerged more recently as English speakers in North-West and South-West began to protest against discrimination from the French majority in the national government about two years ago.
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Source: Christianity Today