Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Cameroon - For three months every year the arid landscape of northern Cameroon succumbs to the cleansing deluge of the rainy season. The dust settles and the scorched desert floor is replaced by a plain of green grass. Washed out roads often make the villages in this region accessible only by foot. For Fr. Martin Ritsi, Executive Director of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC), His Eminence Gregorios, Archbishop of Cameroon, and the other men in their party, visits to the Orthodox faithful in some of these villages would come only after arduous treks through thick mud.
Orthodoxy came to Cameroon in 1951 with Greek immigrants who were hoping to make a home in West Africa. Until 1985 there was only one Orthodox church which was predominately dedicated to serving this immigrant community. Today, however, the Cameroon Metropolis has 50 orthodox communities with 23 clergy and over 50,000 faithful. Orthodox Christians in America, working through OCMC, have been, and will continue to be, a major factor in the spread of Orthodoxy in this part of the world. It was in continuation and support of these mission efforts that Fr. Martin traveled half way around the world to visit the faithful in Cameroon.
Slogging through the difficult terrain of Cameroon's northern most province would bring Fr. Martin and Archbishop Gregorios to thatch-roofed, mud huts that dotted the landscape. In the midst of this harsh and isolated landscape could be found churches, wells, and clinics - many of which were made possible by OCMC supporters and Orthodox Team Members. During their stay Archbishop Gregorios also introduced Fr. Martin to the twelve clergy in the Extreme North who are supported by the Support a Mission Priest (SAMP) program.
The clergy continue the work of missions by bringing the Orthodox faith to neighboring countries as well. Fr. Martin learned of six SAMP supported clergy from Cameroon who had been recently sent by the Archbishop on a missionary excursion to conduct the first Orthodox baptisms in Gabon and the Republic of Central Africa.
Fr. Martin was greatly affected by the time he spent with the newly illumined and their dedicated Archbishop: "It was encouraging to hear Archbishop Gregorios describe the work of OCMC to the numerous congregations we visited. He made it ever so clear that OCMC has been a significant part of the development of this Church over the past 20 years. The vision, dedication and work of the missionary Archbishop Gregorios was inspiring. We were able to spend multiple days together reflecting on today's situation in his Metropolis and throughout Africa while considering strategies and needs for tomorrow."
As Archbishop Gregorios guided Fr. Martin throughout Cameroon to review the projects completed with the help of OCMC, they also began to plan for the upcoming team that will visit Tchatibali in October. This team will serve the Church there by building an animal husbandry project. This ministry will generate income for the Church and help improve the standard of living for the very poor people of Tchatibali who have come to faith in the Orthodox Church.
Projects like the animal husbandry facility are a perpetuation of American Orthodoxy's dedication to missions in Cameroon. Through these efforts the Church has been able to reach out to new souls with the love of Christ and His message of salvation. With the continued prayer and support of the American Orthodox Churches the scope of this outreach will continue to grow in West Africa - as will the number of faithful.
Please continue to pray for the Church in Cameroon as they work to spread the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth. To volunteer for the Orthodox Mission Team traveling to Cameroon in October, please contact Andrew Lekos by phone at 877-GO-FORTH (463-6784), or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more information about OCMC, Orthodox Mission Teams, or missions in Cameroon, please visit www.ocmc.org.