The outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic (COVID-19) has brought about significant changes to how people now go about business in various domains of human life. How people connect to God and carry out religious worship is just one of them.

In the central African nation of Cameroon - which is constitutionally a secular state - evangelism, and participation in religious services, crusades, or other church programs, are increasingly now happening via online platforms as a new way of life.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country on 6 March 2020, the country’s President, on 17 March 2020, rolled out measures that were intended to reduce the propagation of the virus among the population of nearly 26 million people. One of the measures was a ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people. This indirectly meant a halt in huge gatherings, even of a religious nature.

A few days later, leaders of churches and other religious organizations issued orders calling for the suspension of masses (for Catholics), religious services for other denominations, and prayers in mosques (for Muslims). That order has since remained in place, although a few churches have timidly resumed religious activities requiring the gathering of more than 50 people.

Most churches in Cameroon remain significantly scanty on Sundays as a result of the existing ban on huge gatherings. Most people say they prefer to attend service online.

However, while some Cameroonians say they manage to attend church programs these days physically, many others hold that they have become used to hooking up to church services and religious meetings using digital platforms, as they did in the heart of the pandemic.

Vera Ebot, a Christian of Light House Chapel International in the capital, Yaounde, said since church gatherings were suspended in March, she has been attending services and other religious programs using Facebook and Zoom.

“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, our church services have been online as from 13:00 (GMT+1) every Sunday. It has been a great experience because I get to attend services even with people from other parts of the world,” Vera told iAfrikan.

“Our pastor also hosts weekly services on Facebook. Every Tuesdays and Fridays, we have special prayer meetings on Zoom where Christians from other branches of the church in cities such as Douala, Limbe, Buea, and the North, Join in,” she explained.

She said she has become used to the method so much so that she now finds it more convenient worshiping from the comfort of her room. “I feel like attending church activities more online now. This is because I am able to attend church service wherever I am without any need for physical displacement. I also like the online method because it gives me the opportunity often to listen to my Bishop preach,” Vera admitted.

An awesome experience attending religious programs online

Enanga Mokake Mafany, another Christian recounted a similar experience saying she has attended several church programs online. “Although we were on lockdown, my spiritual life with God has not been on lockdown because I have been attending church services and other programs online. It has been an awesome experience,” Enanga confessed.

She said although physical church activities are timidly resuming in the country, she has attended and still continues to participate in activities via online platforms. “Apart from regular church programs such as going to church on Sundays, attending Bible studies on Tuesdays and prayer sessions on Thursdays, I equally attend other online programs,” she said.

“I registered for a nine-month prophetic mentorship program via Facebook, led by a pastor based in the United Kingdom. The program will end in November. I have also attended a six-week course on demystifying dreams via WhatsApp. I also follow other men and women of God whose activities are held on Zoom and Facebook, as the spirit leads me…,” Enanga told iAfrikan.

Daily motivational homily sent to parishioners using WhatsApp

Like Lizzy and Vera, Reverend Father Ignatius Berily – a Roman Catholic priest in the North-Western city of Bamenda – has since early April been sending daily devotional messages to most of his parishioners using WhatsApp. The priest initiated the idea immediately the Archbishop of the Archdiocese where his parish belongs, called for the suspension of mass and other religious gatherings.

Rev. Fr. Berily’s daily motivational messages (which are the equivalent of his homily for his daily masses) reach hundreds of people every day. Charles Tangwa, a parishioner of Ntambeng Parish in Bamenda where Rev. Fr. Berily is Parish Priest, says he has been receiving the daily motivational messages since April 12. “Since we stopped attending mass in March because of COVID-19, I have been receiving Father’s daily homilies via WhatsApp. He sends it in the form of an ordinary text, PDF, Word document, and a picture; and you can open it in the format that your phone supports,” Tangwa said.

Apart from Rev. Fr. Berily, pastors of other Christian denominations in Cameroon have since March been holding church programs online and are also increasingly using the same platform to communicate and reach out to many more followers. And this trend doesn’t look like it will reverse any time soon.

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