In West Africa with Ebola and Boko Haram


Would that these reflections be worthy of Dean Tom Steller’s thoughtful introduction in last week’s Prayer Partner Letter titled, “Something historic happened…,” as I seem quite certain that something historic did happen.

Cameroon is a West African nation of 20 million people who live amidst standards of human development that rank among the bottom 16% of the rest of the world. Ten million Cameroonians profess the Christian faith only 9% of whom regard themselves as evangelicals. According to Operation World, “Young people are increasingly restive, frustrated by the unchanging political status quo, the high unemployment and the endemic cheating, bribery and favoritism in the education system. Many turn to crime and prostitution, and violent demonstrations are occurring in a country that has never before dealt with such disruptions.” A representative of the Cameroonian Baptist Convention who welcomed our seven-member delegation to the 2,000 attendee Youth Camp two weeks ago said, “Only the love of a God could bring you here. We have Ebola and Boko Haram at our borders. HIV remains rampant, and a cholera epidemic has broken out. You will not find us in the tourist brochures.”

Did we go or were we brought?

Even before the world began, God, in his amazing sovereignty, saw into the hovels of Ndu and placed a claim on one of the little boys who ran and played among the muddy paths, a child unacknowledged by his earthly father and deemed unacceptable by the man who could have been a stepfather. Even his “family” name, Tamfu, was made up as he didn’t quite fit in the genealogies so important to tribal society. His given name, Dieudonné, rightly proclaims in French that he is a “gift of God.”

Tom Steller wrote last week of how as a barber—imagine a guy cutting hair in a one-chair streetside closet—Dieudonné scoffed at students from the nearby Cameroonian Baptist Theological Seminary who would stop in for a trim. That is until one said, “If you will argue with us, barber, you must first read our Book.” He did and is still greeted today in Ndu as “Reverend Barber.”

Here’s a recap of what Tom Steller shared last week: A cassette tape from Desiring God featuring a sermon from John Piper affected Dieudonné deeply and spurred him to enroll in the local seminary. Leaders there then told the visiting Tom Steller that they felt this young man had a special giftedness of preaching. Bethlehem arranged to bring him here where he pursued two Masters, simultaneously, one at a local accredited college in order to maintain a student visa, the other here at the nascent Bethlehem program which he now regards as “my real degree in theology.” He then entered the PhD program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is on track to complete his doctoral studies later this year.

Two weeks ago, Pastor Dieudonnè Tamfu was welcomed back to his native village as the featured preacher at a camp of 2,000 young people, ages 15–30, with 60 pastors from all over Cameroon. He preached expositionally from the book of 1 Corinthians. He preached carefully, never stepping aside from the biblical texts. He preached boldly, courageously skewering idols, calling out false teachers, and condemning sexual immorality. Dieudonnè preached passionately, often through tears, pleading with all to taste and see the glorious Christ who is so obviously his
own treasure.

When it was done, I said to my wife, Adrien, “I have something of the sense of what it must have been like to have been in an Alabama church with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. I think something historic happened here.”

So-called “prosperity” or “health and wealth” preaching is pervasive on the African continent. Dieudonné stood on
1 Corinthians 1:12–13, referencing “Paul, Apollos, Cephas, and Christ” to lift the sword against such false teachers. That night, one of the pastors came to the house to say, “Pastor, I have been listening to the conversation in the small groups, and the leaders are saying you mean to suggest only, ‘We make too much of such teachers.'”

Dieudonné looked pained and said, “This was not my intention.”

The next morning, as he continued in 1 Corinthians, he again warned from the Word of the dangers of following prosperity teachers. As the passion of his preaching reached a climax, he said in loud staccato as he sliced the air with his hand like an axe:

“T. B. Joshua of Nigeria is a false teacher!”

The assembly erupted in cheers and applause. Young people clammered to greet him thereafter, speaking admiringly of his boldness. By now Dieudonné, lion in the pulpit, had become as a lamb among men, and could only say repeatedly, “Praise God.” Dieudonne’s “Tear down this wall” like admonition was featured prominently on Cameroonian national news broadcasts. A stir was caused.

Meanwhile at the base of the same hill in Ndu, Brett Toney (M.Div Class of ’12, and Associate Pastor of Five Points Community Church, Auburn Hills, MI) was ably and dutifully teaching seminary students at CBTS. Bethlehem’s ethos of meticulous scrutiny of God’s Word was fragrant throughout the village.

Oh, these Bethlehem Men! Oh, these Boanerges! Are we all engaged in undertaking a great enterprise for the Gospel, or have we just been given the special privilege of being drawn into and seeing a work God that began so long ago? It is both, but so much more the latter.

The new school year is now upon us. Our needs are sizable and manifold. We are praying that $1.2 million will soon become available to provide the tuition support we extend all students. We have no cash reserves and responsibly ought to have some. Our “Rising Generation Fund” of permanent tuition endowments was just launched, but its balance remains very small. The accrediting agency scheduled to visit this Fall will be examining these things as evidences of our ability to operate.

The same God who performed the miracles we’ve seen in distant Cameroon, we are sure, will supply our needs. He has thus far stirred generosity toward Bethlehem in so many hearts to produce thanksgiving to Himself. And we do thank God. Would you now please place your own heart before Him, on our behalf, and then share whatever prayers, ideas or resources he may encourage?

Rick Segal

Vice President of Advancement & Distinguished Lecturer of Commerce and Vocation

Prayer Requests

  1. Please pray for the BCS faculty and staff as we spend the next two days preparing and planning for the coming school year. These are important days as we connect, seek the Lord’s directions, prayer for our students, and get inspired by the Word of our Lord.
  2. Please also pray for the incoming new students. This is a huge life transition for each of them. Pray that the transition goes well and that they would meet the Lord in power and grace and mercy while they’re here.
    Pray that they would get off to a great start to their studies and their new friendships and fellowship with
    the church.
  3. Our visit with the accreditation consultant went very well. Now, please pray for Betsy Howard and me as we get ready to submit a revised Self-Study to the Association of Biblical Higher Education next week. Pray that it would effectively communicate what we do and how we do it at Bethlehem College & Seminary.
  4. As we prepare for the official accreditation visit in October, please pray for an extraordinary outpouring of gifts. We need a substantial financial boost in order to be in a more secure financial position before the
    team arrives.