In Memory of Jean Marie Balla :And The Truth Shall Set Us Free
Fr. Wilfred Emeh*
The cruelty unleashed on Bishop Balla was a painful reminder of the third century persecution of Christians. In the year 256 AD, for example, the young virgin, Cecilia, was sentenced to death by suffocation and immersed in boiling water. Emerging unscathed, she was then struck with an axe in the head and breast. She resisted demands that she violate her faith in God and her purity. She courageously declared, “Nothing will make me so happy as to die for Christ!” The saintly Bishop Balla was subjected to a similarly gruesome death by his torturers.
Unfortunately, the kidnappers lost sight of the ultimate reality of humanity: that Jean Marie was born to die. Like Christ said, the Son of Man is going as the Scripture says He will. But alas for that one who betrays the Son of Man! The betrayer Judas also asked, “You do not mean me, Master, do you?” Jesus replied, “You have said it” (Mtt 26:24-25). In the minds of the executioners, Balla is dead, but in the light of Christian faith, he has been born into eternity, no less than the early martyrs. Little wonder, after more than two thousand years, the martyrs live on: Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Cecilia, John Fisher, Thomas Moore, just to mention a few. Thus the people shall honor evergreen memories of Jean Marie Balla, the courageous, faithful, holy, and selfless servant of God who offered his life for the sake of Christ.
It behooves me to call out Biya’s regime for the malicious and devilish scheme that engendered the demise of the saintly clergyman. Nothing is hidden under the sun! And we are determined more than ever before to take the bull by the horns, with every ounce of our breath, until sanity is restored in our land. Never shall we be intimidated by the barbaric acts of the government! Believe it or not, in the end, everything will be restored in Christ; but in the meantime, it is the bounden duty of the people to steadfastly work and pray for the coming of the Kingdom per the Lord’s prayer: “May Thy kingdom come.” It is a kingdom of truth and grace, a kingdom of justice, peace, and love. As Mark Twain rightly said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
At a time when the battle between good and evil is rife, at a time when the Pharaohs kill and think they are doing a holy duty, at a time when the clergy have become the target of the very people they serve, at a time when the Machiavellian regime is killing its own people, we must heed God’s clear commission to his servants: “You will speak of whatever I command you to say. Do not be afraid of them, for I will be with you to protect you” (Jer 1:8). Our enduring strength and courage come from the faith of our fathers, as recorded in Hymn 300 of the Cameroon Hymnal:
Our fathers chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free:
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If they like them could die for thee!
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.
Faith of our fathers Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to thee;
And through the truth that comes from God
Cameroon shall then indeed be free.
Faith of our fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death
Additionally, the current crisis plaguing our homeland is a wakeup call to the clergy and God’s people in Cameroon, and the Church as a whole, because an attack on one of us is an attack on the entire Body of Christ. This is lucid in the Scripture story about Saul on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians; he was remonstrated, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
Despite the rugged path, there is no better time than now for the clergy to wholeheartedly heed the call to proclaim the Good News to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set the prisoners free, and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favor (Is 61:1). This onerous but noble task cannot be accomplished until we steer clear of mundane preoccupations that undermine effective ministry in our time. Consequently, the clergy should sever any association, however remote, with government officials who are entangled with the occult; we must resist favors of any kind from corrupt officials, because he who pays the piper determines the tune. Paul admonishes us, “You cannot drink at the same time from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons. You cannot share in the table of the Lord and in the table of demons” (1 Cor 10:21). We are either for Christ or against Him.
Had Jesus’ executioners known that they were crucifying the King of Glory, they would have recanted, but they had stiffened their necks and hardened their hearts. Nonetheless, after the example of Christ, we will not take up arms or the sword; neither shall we attempt to call down thunder from heaven like James and John. Verily, verily, those who live by the sword will die by the sword. After all, vengeance belongs to God. Every authority on earth comes from God, and those who abuse it will render an account at the end of time. Life is like an action movie where we get to know the hero and the villain only at the end. The second Psalm reads: “Why do the nations conspire? Why do the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth brace themselves and the rulers together take their stand against the Lord and his anointed…The One enthroned in heaven laughs.”
In the final analysis, Jesus offered Himself for our salvation only at the appointed time. A closer look at the lives of martyrs reveals that none of them ever died on the set time frame of their executioners. In every instance, God manifested His power before permitting them to breathe their last. Cecilia didn’t die even when she was suffocated and put in boiling water. Balla didn’t die at the time his executioners expected; that is why his body was thrown into the river several hours after they had abandoned his car by the same river. Oh, how precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful! (Ps 116:15) They thought they killed Jesus, yet He reigns as King, seated at the right hand of God from where He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.
*Fr.Wilfred Emeh is a Catholic Priest and author of the book “New Media and the Christian Family: Experiences from the USA and Africa”