RLPB 407. Central African Republic (CAR): Church in the Fire
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 407 | Wed 17 May 2017
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR): CHURCH IN THE FIRE
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
Central African Republic (CAR) is French-speaking, 76 percent Christian (mostly Protestant) and 13.8 percent Muslim. On 24 March 2013 an Islamic army known as Seleka seized control of the capital Bangui. [See RLPB 210 (15 May 2013).] Many Muslims celebrated what they saw as the rise of Islamic power. What they did not count on was how fierce would be the resistance. Since then CAR has seen the rise of the ‘anti-balaka’ (i.e. ‘anti-machete’ — traditional village defence militias turned anti-Muslim vigilantes), the unravelling of the fabric of society, along with the outbreak of sectarian conflict. There has been the insertion of UN peacekeepers, the disintegration of Seleka, the restoration of democracy and the de facto partition of the country into a Christian south and Muslim north with a volatile, conflict-wracked middle belt. Violence continues, as does the humanitarian crisis, with more than 800,000 internally displaced and some 2.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance. From the outset, CAR’s Church has courageously been at the very centre of all humanitarian and reconciliation work, despite the risks this entails.
Violence has increased markedly in 2017, but now there are essentially two separate conflicts. Seleka disintegrated in 2014 and since late 2016 two factions — the Gula and Runga-dominated FPRC and the Fulani-dominated UPC — have been fighting each other in central CAR. This developing intra-Muslim conflict is being waged largely along ethnic lines; at stake are water, farmlands, roads and diamond mines. In this fight, anti-balaka groups have allied with the FPRC against the Fulani. [More details will be posted to Religious Liberty Monitoring (May 2017).] The most recent clashes in Alindao over 6 & 7 May left at least 37 people dead and thousands more displaced.
Alongside this is the continuing war being waged by anti-balaka vigilantes aimed at ridding the south of Muslims. On 6-7 May a group of some 700 anti-balaka fighters attacked a UN convoy near Bangassou in the deep south-east, killing five international peacekeepers and wounding a further ten. As they targeted Bangassou’s Muslim district of Tokoyo, more than 1000 residents took refuge in a mosque, some 1500 others in a cathedral and 500 others in a hospital, whilst more than 3000 reportedly fled over the border into DR Congo.
Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui and a native of Bangassou, led negotiations. By the evening of Monday 15 May he had convinced the anti-balaka fighters to withdraw from the city. World Watch Monitor (WWM) reports that amongst those killed in the latest violence are the youngest son and grandson of the Rev Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, the president of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance and vice-president of the Council of Elders set up to mediate peace.
Described in Western media as ‘Christian rebels’, the anti-balaka vigilantes wear juju (occult charms) around their necks and threatened to burn churches and kill pastors that shelter Muslims. But as the Rev Dieu-Seni Bikowo explains, ‘For us they are not Muslims or Christians. They are people — people in danger.’ Agenzia Fides (Catholic) reports that, on Sunday 14 May, His Exc. Mgr. Juan Jose Aguirre Munos, Bishop of Bangassou, risked his life to defend thousands of Muslims sheltering in the mosque. He survived while the man who stood beside him was shot dead.
Operation World’s 2010 description of CAR leaves the reader with a sense of hopeful anticipation, that despite various challenges — the most salient being widespread nominalism, syncretism and lack of unity — a solid foundation had been laid on which a national Church was emerging with a vision for mission. Confronted with this momentum, it seems Satan has both put his foot down and established a foothold, doubtless with the aim of destroying the Church and reducing majority-Christian CAR to a failed-state. The nations have abandoned her; the Church must not.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO
* bless Central African Republic President Faustin Touadera (60) with all the wisdom, insight, courage and strength needed to lead the nation out of this complex crisis and towards peace and reconciliation.
* preserve and bless CAR’s desperately-needed Christian leaders and peace-makers; may their efforts be effective and may their witness be powerful and transformative.
* redeem all this suffering for CAR’s well-being; may the Church be sanctified and unified in the fire and may there be a national awakening with conviction of sin that leads to repentance, revival and reconciliation. For the glory of God. AMEN.
‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.’ (Jeremiah 17:7 NIV)
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
CHURCH IN THE FIRE IN CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR)
Central African Republic is 76 percent Christian and 13.8 percent Muslim. In March 2013 an Islamic army seized control of the capital Bangui. Since then CAR has seen the rise of the ‘anti-balaka’, traditional village defence militias turned anti-Muslim vigilantes. The fabric of society has unravelled, there has been an outbreak of sectarian conflict and the de facto partitioning of the country into a Christian south and Muslim north. Democracy has been restored, but violence continues as does the humanitarian crisis. From the outset, CAR’s Church has been at the very centre of all humanitarian and reconciliation work, despite its risks. Anti-balaka fighters adorned with occult charms routinely threaten to burn churches and kill pastors who shelter Muslims. The devil has established a foothold; CAR and its Church needs our prayers.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).