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26.04.2007

How has Christianity changed? Nigerian pastors spread into Cameroon 

As people flock to celebrate Easter and considering the rise of the so-called super churches in Africa, has Christian faith changed?

A majority of Africans put religion above any other self-defining factor. Millions belong to Pentecostal and Evangelical movements, the fastest-growing strand in the Christian faith.

These super churches emphasise faith through fever-pitch gatherings, spiritual rebirth and using the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives. They also use broadcasting, the internet and 24-hour telephone lines..


However critics say that the movements are based on shaky theology and are used to enrich pastors through their so-called prosperity gospel which encourages followers to pay tithes they can´t afford.


=========================

Authorities in Cameroon are seeking to control the surging numbers of Pentecostal churches in the country being set up by Nigerian pastors crossing over the border.

Distinguishable by the loud music which emanates during services, the churches are found in the most densely-populated areas.

With names like Christ Chapel International, Witness Chapel, and Redeemed Churches Of Cameroon, they are growing massively.

But concerned officials in the South West Cameroon governor´s office, together with police, have stepped in and begun closing down some of the churches - even though Cameroon is a secular state with freedom of worship.

Christopher Ambe, a local journalist in the south-western town of Buea, said that the majority of the churches had not been legally registered.

"Some of them had a very noisy way of worship - using loudspeakers to preach," he told BBC World Service´s Reporting Religion programme.

"They are disturbing what Cameroonians would refer to as the quiet enjoyment of others."

Test of spirit

Nigerian Victor Praise, a senior pastor of the Houses Of Truth Assembly, said he has been worried by the government campaign.

"What I did was find out what they want from us, and do it," he said.

"They said that if the church was not registered, it would be closed down."


Cameroon´s Catholic leaders have warned of the ´lure´ of Pentecostal churches
He explained that most Pentecostal churches are run by Nigerian pastors who have "a vision of what they want to achieve in Cameroon."

And he explained that while some of the pastors are charlatans looking to make money, this is not the case with all of them.

"Many people are out to make money, actually," he said.

"But it is a test of the spirit. God sends those people there, testing the pastors to know whether these people are out to make money or not.

"I do not minister for money. I minister to impact on the lives of people."

Healing

No representative of the Cameroon government was willing to talk to the BBC about the Pentecostal churches.

But Professor Alan Anderson, from the Pentecostal Global Studies Department at Birmingham University, said that the Cameroon government has a history of a "hands-on approach" to social issues - including churches.

"It has tended to be that new churches are seen as intruders - particularly when they start proliferating," he said, adding that "part of the ethos of Pentecostalism is to spread as far as you can."

"There are also limited leadership opportunities in Nigeria now, so many Nigerians see neighbouring countries as a possible place to start churches - and thereby make an income as well," he explained.

Tharibi Joseph Mbe, a former worshipper at a Pentecostal church in Mamfe who has since gone back to the main Presbyterian church, explained the attraction of the new churches.

"Some of these churches attract so many people because they promise some many things," he said.

"One is healing. Another is providing riches to so many people - especially in Cameroon, where very many people live in poverty and are affected by disease - when they hear such messages, they decide to go there.

"But when they reach those places and don´t find a solution to those problems, they leave."
 

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