Following is the testimony of a 59-year-old pastor who lives in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic:
The first time the attackers came was March 23 at about one o’clock in the afternoon. As soon as I heard they were near, I rushed inside to put on my shoes so we could flee. But we were too slow, and I could hear them enter my house. They shouted in Arabic, “Where is the head of the house?”
I stepped out of the bedroom, and saw four of them in the living room. They ordered me outside where three made me lie down at gunpoint. They took my cell phone, and emptied my wallet.
The four inside searched the house for valuables. The rebels discovered a cauldron of food, and ate all the food in it. My wife and nine children watched it all. My little ones started crying. They were terrified.
When they had finished, the rebels moved to other houses in the area. They were particularly interested in the nearby house of an ex-minister. When the rebels came across some alcohol at the other homes, they started drinking, dancing and singing while firing their guns. The revelry lasted the whole night.
We stayed in the house, too scared to attempt an escape. Only around 5 am the next morning was I able to get my family out of there. We hoped that was the last we had seen of the rebels, but it was not.
They came back on Sunday, March 30 around 6 am. I was on my way to church when I saw children running helter-skelter. “They are back, they are back,” the terrified kids shouted.
When we saw a car approach, we knew there was no time to put on shoes. We just grabbed them, and ran into the bush. The rebels killed one of my neighbors, and plundered everything in our homes.
We had our third visit on Tuesday, August 20. The Saturday and Sunday after Michael Djotodia’s inauguration as president during the transition we heard a lot of noise in the area. It came from heavy and light weapons fire. I was outside when I heard the attackers had surrounded the neighborhood. There was no time to get to our house. We just ran into the bush.
The rebels took everything, even the church’s things we had stored at my house. Initially, we stored them at the treasurer’s home. But when he fled the area, we transferred everything, even his personal things, to my house.
Since then, we have suffered a lot. Sometimes we have to run away at night, in the rain. I don’t know if they know that I’m a pastor. All I know is that they only plunder Christians or animists homes, but not Muslims. There is a Muslim who lives in my area. He has always been left in peace.
I also see that God’s servants often become targets. I think they feel that if they smite the servants, then the sheep will be scattered. But I continue preaching each Sunday. We also have a prayer group each Monday evening. There are fewer and fewer people coming as many leave the neighborhood. But I will stay here. If I leave the church, who will look after the members? I can’t leave my flock just like that! I have to remain here. We pray that God shows mercy to this country. And we pray that those who are in power will be made to respect religious freedom in CAR.”
Father, we who live in relative peace and safety cannot begin to fathom the tyranny of Christians like those we have just heard about in Bangui, and our hearts are silenced as we consider the faithfulness of Your servants there, such as this pastor. Thank You for his determination to remain, even in the midst of intense danger, to serve Your people there. We pray Your hand of protection to rest upon him and other pastors like him. We pray Your mercy to rest upon the CAR, left in absolute lawlessness, where Christians have borne the brunt of the attacks. We pray against the violent retaliation that has deepened the unrest, and we pray that You would grant Christians wisdom, discernment and boldness as they consider how to respond in ways that honor You. Teach them to trust Your faithfulness in the midst of terror. And we pray for the African peacekeepers who have been struggling to contain the spiraling violence, that You would use even this earthly means to quell the hostility. In the name of Jesus, our Prince of Peace in a world increasingly bent on violence against His church. Amen.