Central African Republic: ‘Like Descending into the Abyss’
The Open Doors Research and Communications Manager for West and Central Africa is in Central African Republic (CAR) this week to encourage Christians and to assess their circumstances and immediate needs. He will be sharing his impressions from inside the war-torn country, which is ranked No. 16 on the World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians. This is his first report:
During my afternoon flight to Bangui, capital of CAR, I could not help but wonder what was ahead for my colleagues and me in the days ahead. Since the beginning of the year the situation in the country has changed drastically.
There was yet another power change as the Seleka rebel leader turned transitional president, Michel Djotodia, stepped down and handed over to the National Transitional Council elected Catharine Samba-Panza. While Seleka lost power, the anti-Balaka self-defense groups have grown very strong. International French (Sangaris) and African Union (Misca) forces are still too few to secure peace for the people of this war-weary country.
In the rampant insecurity since the coup in March of 2013, half of the population has been uprooted. People have either left the country or are hiding in the bush. In Bangui alone, the local population has been forced into 57 different refugee sites. As the plane descends into Bangui, I feel like I am descending into the abyss. I can see the camp near the airport that hosts 100,000 displaced people. It looks small and surreal from up here, but I know that for the people enduring the harsh circumstances, their sufferings are all very real.
Our mission is to travel outside of the capital into the interior to meet Christians and their pastors to encourage them, hear their stories about past and current persecution and assess their immediate needs. Traveling outside the capital will be risky. Although Sangaris and Misca forces are present in all major towns in the west, some Seleka militias are roaming remote areas and anti-Balaka militias are everywhere. We have heard that humanitarian workers successfully travelled into the interior without military escort, but we know that we will need a lot of wisdom in the next few days.
The next morning we woke to a hustling and bustling Bangui. Refugees at the large refugee camp near the airport site daily spilled out of the camp and into the city, contributing to the early morning busyness. There are also heavily armed Sangaris soldiers protecting the road to the airport and Misca soldiers patrolling the streets.
Our first appointment is to meet Rev. Nicolas Grekoyame, President of the Evangelical Alliance. The last time I had seen Rev. Grekoyame was during his visit to Europe to advocate for the launch of a full-scale U.N. peacekeeping operation to CAR. Upon his arrival in the Netherlands, he heard the sad news that his 35-year-old single daughter had just died of the psychological effects of the crisis in the country. He made plans to return as soon as possible, but not before honoring a few commitments – one of them preaching to a Dutch congregation.
During the service, the local pastor, who is a good vocalist, sang a song to encourage congregants who had lost family members in the preceding year. The song spoke of roses that do not wither in heaven and about our deceased loved ones in the Lord that we will meet again. It deeply touched Pastor Nicolas.
When we arrived at his house, the entire family was present. With me I had a gift of 24 tulip bulbs to remind him that “roses that do not whither in heaven.” It is our prayer that when the tulips bloom in full color it will serve as a reminder of his daughter in heaven whom he and his family will see again.
After spending precious moments with the family it was time to leave and continue work on our travel plan. During the very first meeting of the day our plan to travel alone to the interior was quickly overthrown when a respected church leader advised us not to go. We heeded his advice. But that night I had no peace. I was puzzled by this, because the advice seemed good and the advisor genuine. My colleagues share my turmoil mix of faith-fuelled resolve and the desire to remain teachable. We decide to postpone our final decision until the end of the day’s program.
By the end of the day, our turmoil is settled with a final decision. We will travel to Mbeki and Bode, southwest of Bangui, and try and visit the Christians in Bode town where Muslim diamond entrepreneurs fiercely hold on to their homes in the center of town so they will not lose their profitable businesses. Heeding the advice of our counselors, we agreed that Mica soldiers take us there. We prayed for a fruitful time of encouragement with the believers there.
Nigeria: No Protection for Christian Villagers – from World Watch Monitor http://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2014/02/3023674/
In the days before a vicious wave of attacks on Feb. 15 that killed hundreds in northeast Nigeria, villagers fled their homes, fearful something terrible was about to happen. But the army was nowhere to be seen, a church leader says.
Militants of the Islamist an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria More sect swept out of the hills and bush of the Gwoza mountains and into eight villages across Borno and Adamawa states. Armed with rifles, knifes and fire, they killed at least 200 and burned scores of homes and shops.
As many as 121 of the dead were from the Borno village of Izghe, a predominantly Christian town in the Muslim-majority northeast. Near midnight on Feb. 15, gunmen dressed in military fatigues and chanting “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is great,” rode in on trucks and motorcycles, survivors and local sources say. The attackers ordered villagers to gather together and then opened fire, chasing and killing any persons who attempted to escape and slitting the throats of several victims.
Though Borno and two other northeastern states have been under an official state of emergency since May 2013, there were no Nigerian soldiers standing between the attackers and the residents, a church leader told World Watch Monitor. Two days earlier, 10 soldiers had been killed in a clash with members of an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria More in that area, but had since withdrawn, according to the District Head of Izghe, Mallam Bulama Apagu.
A local church leader told World Watch Monitor that rumors of an eventual reprisal attack by an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria More, without protection of the army, prompted hundreds to flee.
“Christians live in perpetual fear of being attacked. In recent days, it becomes very risky to travel from one place to another as attacks have become recurrent, almost on daily basis. We feel lonely and abandoned and rely on God for our security,” the church official said. World Watch Monitor is withholding his name to preserve his safety.
A survivor of the attack, farmer Barnabas Idi, who scaled the fence of his house and crawled for about 40 minutes to safety, was quoted in news reports saying security forces were not present during the attack, which lasted five hours.
The recent upsurge in violence has raised criticism over the government’s ability to root out the militants.
“The authorities have so far failed to fulfil their task of ensuring peace and security to Nigerians in every area of the country,” Mgr. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, archbishop of Jos and president of the Nigerian Episcopal Conference, told the Catholic news agency Fides. “Despite the efforts and significant resources invested to combat these fanatical groups, policymakers and the Nigerian military have not yet managed to get to the bottom of the problem.”