Central African Republic (CAR): Church in the Fire

Source:  http://rlprayerbulletin.blogspot.com

Date:  May 17, 2017


by Elizabeth Kendal

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 and CAR has 
seen since then 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 
determined to rid the south of Muslims. On 6-7 May a group of some 700 
anti-balaka fighters attacked a UN convoy near Bangassou in the 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.  


* 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)  

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