A member of the Missio team visited Cameroon last year for Missio and has been praying for peace ever since.
Last November I found myself on a very steep learning curve. Fr Tony, our National Director, had travelled to Cameroon many times in the past. As a Mill Hill Missionary, he was used to ‘going where the need was greatest’, and it was within this context we planned our visit.
We flew into Douala late at night. When we stopped with Fr Richard MHM to purchase water at a local supermarket, I was aware of suspicious faces, turning away if I caught their eye.
No smiles of welcome or friendly conversation. Just an undercurrent of tension and apparently quite open hostility.
Red Box help
Our first visit was the following morning. We went to see the construction of a church supported by Missio’s APF, on the outskirts of Douala. As there are more and more Internally Displaced People (IDPs), the current church can no longer hold the dramatically increasing population.
Everywhere I looked was grey – the sky,the river, the buildings. The smell of smoke hung in the air from small fires people had lit to burn rubbish. Men stood around in groups, watching over furniture, stacks of mattresses or tyres for sale. Women sat behind small roadside stalls, selling everything from peanuts to sunglasses.
I soon saw a cross in the distance, towering over the current building. At the construction site of the new Church, I felt humbled. I could see our small Red Box is encouraging people to come together to share faith and build community.
We then went to visit the retired Cardinal. This 80-plus priest was delighted to see us. But his smile began to fade as he began to tell us of what is happening in his beloved country – the information we don’t hear in the rest of the world.
Fleeing for safety
One of the main reasons why the population of Douala is growing so rapidly is that many in the rural areas are fleeing to the capital for safety. Homes burnt, livelihoods destroyed, many have made a perilous journey, with nothing, to escape to the security of their extended family members’ homes in the capital. Others have fled to the borders or were still trying to maintain their existence in the Cameroonian wilderness, waiting for their villages to become safe again.
Small wonder my smiles of acknowledgement on that first evening met with blank stares. The Anglophone population is much smaller that the Francophone demographic. The Cardinal explained that the ‘freedom fighters’ or Amba Boys, do not see the importance of education. But he insists that the only way to move forward is to accept that dialogue is the answer, therefore it is necessary to be educated enough to compete in elections.
‘Force is brutal, it’s animal. You have to reason, to moderate’, he explained. I asked him how he felt, he smiled and said:
We are all praying for peace in Cameroon. I continue to pray that we will all be eating, drinking and dancing together again.