Two facilitators from the Bible Society of Cameroon’s literacy program in the Far North region have been killed by Boko Haram over the past few weeks.
After a two-year lull, attacks by Islamic militant group Boko Haram in that region are on the rise again, and are claiming many victims. Among the lives recently lost were two literacy facilitators from the Bible Society of Cameroon’s Alpha Program in the Parkwa language. One of them died in early August, and the second in mid-September.
“We’ve lost the engine of the church.” – Patrice
Jonas, 42, an elder in the Union of Evangelical Churches in Cameroon, was killed on the night of August 8 while standing guard outside the church with three other people. Patrice*, who lives opposite the church, describes what happened.
“Boko Haram usually turn up in the villages at around 10pm so when it got to 11pm those on guard thought they weren’t coming – so they fell asleep. They didn’t fire their weapons in the air or light torches, which they usually do, so Jonas was taken by surprise in his sleep. The other two managed to escape but Jonas was shot in the head twice.”
Jonas, who leaves behind a widow and seven children, was highly thought of by his community.
“We’ve lost the engine of the church, a very dynamic and helpful man, an exceptional and diligent facilitator who really knew how to teach,” adds Patrice. “It’s thanks to him that many Christians here can read and write.”
The church ‘s pastor confirms Patrice’s words but is still in shock, too overwhelmed to be able to talk about what happened. Marcel*, one of the translators working on the Parkwa Bible, was almost killed by Boko Haram last October. He was a friend of Jonas and describes him as hardworking, someone who was calm and serious in everything he did.
Many people have fled their villages since the attacks resumed in the region. Boko Haram members have warned those who have chosen to stay that they will continue to bury their dead because “living on the mountainsides doesn’t mean you’re in heaven”. In other words, they are not beyond Boko Haram’s reach.
After Jonas’s death, the church built his family a hut at the top of the mountain, which is more difficult for Boko Haram to get to. Olivier*, the Bible Society’s delegate for the Far North, North and Adamaoua regions, went to visit his widow.
“We found her absolutely devastated by the terrible loss she has suffered, but also ill because the humidity on the mountain attracts insects and reptiles,” says Olivier. “They are living in a terribly precarious state. One of the children has festering wounds on his legs and two of them had left for a town 27 kilometres away to find plastic – so that the family can lay it beneath their bed mats, to insulate them from the ground.”
“It is this Bible that will bring hope and heal the wounds of the Parkwa-speaking people”. – Luc Gnowa.
On September 18, barely 40 days after Jonas’s death, Boko Haram killed yet another literacy facilitator, Joseph.
A catechist in the Catholic Church, Joseph was 43 and had eight children. He was a friend of Jonas. Marcel was among the group who went to collect Joseph’s body.
“The villagers were hiding in caves,” he says. “One of Joseph’s children was sick and crying. Fearing that they would be discovered, some of the villagers asked Joseph to take his wife and child and return to his hut. That’s where Boko Haram found them. His wife was able to escape with the child, but not Joseph. We have lost one of our best Parkwa literacy teachers.”
In the village, people live in fear. They can flee … but where to? What would they live on? There is flooding in the area, and living conditions are extremely difficult. Diseases are decimating the population and famine is rising due to a ban on cultivation in the area surrounding the village – this is to ensure that anyone approaching can be seen. But people have nowhere to go.
“After the murder of our two team members, who were responsible for preparing the community for the arrival of the Bible in Parkwa, our task becomes even more urgent,” says General Secretary of the Bible Society of Cameroon, Luc Gnowa.
“It is this Bible that will bring hope and heal the wounds of the Parkwa-speaking people. The translation of the Bible into the Parkwa language is truly taking place under the most painful conditions. Even at the official ceremony to launch the translation project, we had to leave the village in a hurry because we were warned of a possible attack by Boko Haram.”
“You know, when God sends you on a mission, he doesn’t say what conditions you will face when you go. He says, ‘Go, I’m sending you.’ He sent us to this people and we must accomplish our mission. We are convinced that, with him, we will complete our mission, despite the actions of the enemy.”
Please pray for our Parkwa-speaking brothers and sisters, that God will intervene for these people who have seen their men die and for all those in the Far North who have been bereaved due to the actions of Boko Haram.
Please lift up these families who have lost everything and for the Bible translators who are so distressed by what has happened that they are finding it difficult to concentrate. May the Lord’s name be glorified and give us victory, so that his children can finally live in peace and safety.
*Names changed to protect identity.
Claire Bedot works with United Bible Societies and is based in France.