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My Cameroon Sweetheart

by Anne O'Donnell  
11/25/2020 / Testimonies

I met Nancy in 2018 after signing up as a volunteer mentor through an online ministry called Changing the Face of Christianity, a website designed to bring believers in Jesus Christ together for the purpose of letting each participant share their experiences and grow in faith.

When the email arrived announcing my role in this new mentor/mentee relationship, a gush of anticipation caught hold of my heart, and I marveled at how only God could orchestrate a connection with a precious twenty-five year old woman from Cameroon. I soon realized, as a sixty-six year old woman, this opportunity to encourage a believer in their walk with the Lord was unlike any other I’d encountered, allowing us the privilege to bond as instant friends despite our age difference and geographic distance. Considering the years I spent growing in grace, healing from unmet expectations, and discerning God’s will for my life, I felt confident my Bible knowledge and past life lessons would act as a good teacher.

Nancy had just returned home from surgery and experiencing complications when we shared our first few conversations. Her doctor had fled the country immediately following the procedure to escape a civil war ravaging her community, leaving her without any follow up care. I tried to imagine the fear and discomforts arising from post-surgical health scares without a doctor and a lack of knowledge to treat them. I wanted to know more about this land where political conflicts interrupt civilian life and dictate limitations concerning health issues such as hers. Her plight compelled me to dig deeper into the realities of her world so I could share the heaviness in her heart and help carry her burdens. I asked God how I could possibly offer any reassurance that would make a difference in the outcome.  

Nancy’s situation challenged my faith. She and her husband live in a war torn country of over 246,000 displaced people where gunshots are heard throughout the villages and bullets land in the walls of villagers’ homes. They have lost friends who unknowingly stepped into harm’s way, and families are frequently urged to stay indoors due to relentless threats taking over neighborhoods

The civil unrest in the Northwest and Southwest territories of Cameroon dates back to the years after colonization when English speaking citizens felt ignored by the French speaking government and demanded recognition and privileges to conduct their daily lives as equals but were denied such luxuries, resulting in the French military declaring war on the English as a means to subdue them and exercise an evil ruler-ship over them. To date, in retaliation to the English seeking fair negotiations, this same French military is accused of torching their homes, killing unarmed protesters, cutting off internet access, seizing their phone lines, shutting down markets, destroying schools, cutting farmers’ fingers off, kidnapping and raping young girls, beheading students, blocking roads, taking control of radio stations, and threatening anyone who rises up to oppose their agenda, leaving the people psychologically defeated and emotionally distraught.

As a U.S. citizen in a free country and accustomed to choosing my own daily agenda, I take for granted the privilege of waking up and delving into a daily routine without fear of facing gunmen or war breaking out in my front yard. Despite our countries’ differences, there is a divine beauty in my friendship with Nancy because of the eternal hope we share as women and sisters in the Lord. Our desire to feel anchored in a commitment to the commands of Jesus draws us into conversations about what it’s like to be human in this fallen world and why prayer and Bible reading are vital to our existence where we receive spiritual oxygen enabling us to serve the One who promises to meet all our needs.

If Nancy and I were to compare our prayer lists, I would see concerns on her list that are not on my own. In areas of Cameroon, Christians pray to stay alive. Just this past New Year’s Eve as her church celebrated the crossing over into a new year, gunmen interrupted the service demanding they leave the building while pointing a gun at her husband who was leading worship. By the grace of God, other than women fainting from the terror, no one was hurt. 

One day I received an urgent prayer request from my dear friend; her mother had been taken hostage and the kidnappers demanded ransom money. For days Nancy did not know the status of her mother’s life. I couldn’t imagine the horrors of uncertainty like this, but she continued to trust in God’s protection, and soon received word her mother was safe and free from harm. My heart almost collapsed from relief at the release of this precious soul. 

I met Nancy’s husband one afternoon during our usual online chat time when he entered our conversation and introduced himself. There was something in Besong’s manner of speaking that let me believe he was a man of faith and sound doctrine. I sensed the spirit of the Lord resting upon him as he revealed a deep trust in God for all that concerned him, especially for his people suffering and living in a hostile environment full of bloodshed. He told me there are times his family must spend nights hiding in the bushes for safety. The bushes. Humans running for cover in bushes - so surreal to think about, but the image remains embedded in my mind. 

During another online visit he relayed a story about men armed with knives and guns who approached him as he made his way back home after preaching at a service. They attacked him and cut his face but much to his great surprise, thinking his face was destroyed, he touched only a few drops of blood. After much arguing, the commander stole his money and released him. Besong told me, “It was a terrifying experience. I barely slept that night until God released His peace and comfort on me. Indeed God doesn't fail those who depend on Him. That experience increased my faith and confidence in God and made me more bold and fearless”. 

When my friend finished describing his harrowing experience, my heart could not find words to acknowledge how God saved him not only from multiple threats to his body, but protected his calling as a preacher to reach his city. I am not only honored to know this couple and share their life story, but I am overwhelmed that I am allowed to see God work at a deep level in both our lives. 

Remember the childhood game called Barrel of Monkeys? A plastic brown barrel holds colorful plastic monkeys with arms in “S” shaped curves that when all the monkeys’ arms are linked together and pulled upward they form a long chain; each monkey attached to the one above and the one below it.

I often pictured myself as the “monkey in the middle” because of the spiritual parallel this image creates; as Christians, we need a faithful follower of Jesus pulling us up, while at the same time, we are to encourage those who need pulling up. As I began the joyous task of pulling Nancy upward, I discovered this process brought a tender blessing back into my life as she pulled me up without realizing the far reaching affects her life story had on me. Isn’t it just like God to let us receive more than we give? In his economy, the giver becomes the receiver because his abundance is plentiful, providing enough for all who give freely expecting nothing in return. Maybe someday Nancy will come to learn what she deposited in my life that reinforced my trust in God’s faithfulness.

Today it is November 21, 2020. So much has changed in America since I first met Nancy. I used to be on the side of safety, encouraging her from a distance where threats of government control and death could not touch me. But now, Nancy and her husband are the ones encouraging me – they have experience of trusting God through the terrors that invade their lives. They know what it feels like to wake up and face challenges that jeopardize their limited freedoms, like grocery shopping, travel, and random encounters with thieves and kidnappers.

I feel closer to Nancy and Besong more now than I did during the first year we grew as friends. Now, since the eruption of corruption in America since the November 3, 2020 elections, we are clinging to the promises of God’s word as though our next breath depends on it. We share a new friendship as brother and sisters in the Lord.

The Body of Christ is coming together now much in the same way the early church had to ban together under the evil ruler-ship of the Roman government. Jesus told his followers to stand up against evil, take authority over the dominion of darkness, rebuke demonic activity in high places, and use our weapon of warfare which is the spoken Word of God. He told them to go, and make disciples of all nations.

The church has come closer together across the world. What a privilege to serve our King together, knowing he is on our side, longing for us to feel his presence and know his comfort. Rise up oh world, take heart for the King has come to declare his righteousness upon the land. Take heart oh saints, for the Lord your God is in control, and He is watchful over every life.

I can’t explain my thanks to God for allowing me to share a friendship with these dear souls 6,159 miles away in Cameroon. We are the Body of Christ, and may God accomplish through us all he prepared in advance to do.

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