West Africa: Joining hands in celebration of God’s grace
As LWF member churches in Cameroon and the Central African Republic celebrate 100 years of work and witness to the gospel this year, their church leaders reflect on their contribution to development through health care, education and serving people in need.
Committed to “evangelization in word and deed”
(LWI) - The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon (EELC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic (EEL-RCA) share the same roots since 1923 and have close ties to date. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches recently celebrated their 100th anniversary.
The festivities took place in Cameroon from 8-15 October, while the sister church in the Central African Republic marked its anniversary from 9-12 November. Several former missionaries from the United States and Norway, as well as partner representatives, joined the occasion.
Contributing to the development of the people in Cameroon
During the opening worship of the centenary, the National Bishop of the EELC, Rev. Dr. Jean Baiguélé, stated that the church celebrated the grace of God that came through the works of sacrifice by the missionaries to whom he paid tribute. “100 years of evangelism and development is a grace,” he said.
During that time, the EELC has grown to more than 700,000 members, Baiguélé said. “The church has contributed to the development of the people through the construction of a network of hospitals, schools, colleges and specialized NGOs.”
Today, the challenge for the new generation is empowering each institution and each branch of the church to be strong and continue God’s mission, Baiguélé said.
Striving for reconciliation and social justice in the Central African Republic
The slogan “Evangelization in word and deed” expresses the vision and mission of the EEL-RCA, said its President, Rev. Joseph Ngoe, during celebrations in Bouar, Central African Republic. His church currently has about 125,000 members.
Being church in a country devastated by civil war is challenging, Ngoe said. “There is no hospital to treat the sick in the seven synodal regions of the EEL-RCA, and food insecurity resulting from the armed conflicts that the country has experienced is far from over.” That also negatively affected the construction of places of worship and the appointment of pastors, evangelists, and catechists in charge of congregations, parishes and pastoral districts.
Shared history and close ties
The EELC traces its beginnings to the work of the Sudan Mission from the USA, led by Adolphus Gunderson, and the Norwegian Mission Society (NMS), led by Jens Nikolaisen, in the 1920s. The Sudan Mission began working among the Gbaya people, while the NMS worked among the Mbum people in the Adamawa Region. Through their collaboration, in 1925, both mission societies established a hospital in Ngaoundéré and a seminary in Meiganga, Cameroon.
With a framework of collaboration firmly in place, discussions were initiated in 1950 to establish a national church in Cameroon. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon and the Central African Republic (French: Eglise Evangélique Luthérienne du Cameroun et de la République Centrafricaine) was established in 1960 and registered as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon in 1965. In 1973, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic formally separated as an independent national church across the border.
Today, the two sister churches still have close ties. Among others, they jointly run a radio station and collaborate to train pastors.
Rev. Dr Samuel Dawai, LWF’s Regional Secretary for Africa, commended Ngoe’s engagement for reconciliation and the church’s efforts to improve education and social services. “I wish both churches God’s blessing in their mission of evangelization, reconciliation, advocacy for justice and the work of holistic development,” he said.