The Open Doors Research and Communications Manager for West and Central Africa is in Central African Republic (CAR) to encourage Christians and to assess their circumstances and immediate needs. In this report, he shares insights into the daunting challenges facing the government and citizens of CAR.
Today, we left Bangui for Mabaiki in the South. Along the road in every village, we could see destroyed Muslim houses.
The more we come into contact with local people, the more we realize how complex this situation is.
In the village of Pissa, we stopped and asked the locals about their experience with Seleka. Their response portrays the challenges and complexity of dynamics facing the nation.
They tell us that eight Seleka mercenaries ruled their village for ten months. They took everything – motorbikes, cars, televisions and other possessions. Eventually, because the local population did not stop complaining to the governor, some troops came from Bangui to protect the villagers. They did a good job, for which the villagers are very thankful. Surprisingly, the protectors were Seleka soldiers from the Muslim Gula tribe in the north!
We also stopped at the village of Perengo where the palace of former Emperor Bokassa served as a military training center for Seleka. Here we met some young men who had come from the north and east to join Seleka for the sake of employment-to earn a living. They belonged to a group of over 1,000 soldiers awaiting training.
Now, since Seleka has been pushed back, about 800 remain stranded here. They are not Muslims, but because of their association with Seleka, they share their fate. They are unable to return to their villages and have even been rejected by their parents. We prayed for them, and helped them with a little relief, just to see them through.
From there, we will make our way to Mbaiki, and will spend the night at the Catholic guesthouse. It is an opportunity to speak to the local Abbot and his superior. They have been engaged in the interreligious discussion that brought about some reconciliation and appeasement during the crisis.
When the Seleka retreated to the north, anti-Balaka threats forced Muslims to leave. The Christians were not able to protect the Muslims, but at least they were able to prevent the anti-Balaka militia from destroying the local mosque. As the Muslims fled the town, they thanked the Christians for their efforts.
But when we asked about the persecution of Christians in this crisis, the church leaders made it clear: Seleka came to ‘Islamize’ the country through a process of destruction, impoverishment and subjugation to force the local population into Islam.
For many years local tribes have been conquered and Islamized in this way in the northeast through jihads from Sudan. The Seleka campaign followed the same process. Once they were in power, all Muslims were protected and many benefitted from the spoils of war. Others even joined Seleka. Many pastors testified that they were targeted because they were seen as the core of the spiritual force behind the predominantly Christian population of CAR, which Selaka had come to conquer.
We wondered if it will be possible for the church to engage in dialogue with Muslims under these circumstances, but church leaders assured us that though there are suspicions on both sides, the gospel of Jesus Christ demands that Christians engage with sincerity and integrity. Without this, the gospel cannot come to light, they say. The leaders tell us there have been many occasions where Christians and Muslims have reached out to one another.
We were very encouraged by the leaders’ resolve. Reconciling people amid these complex circumstances is one of the greatest challenges the church will be facing in the years to come. Open Doors is committing to standing with them as they reach out in love to those who have harmed them. They are in dire need of our prayers-we need to pray that the Lord will continue to give them the grace to respond to their current challenges with the love of Christ.
Father, we pray against the current attempt to Islamize the nation of CAR, and we pray for the protection of Christians in these circumstances. We pray that they will engage in the ongoing dialogue with godly integrity. But we also pray for those caught in the middle of this complex political situation; that the light of Christ will shine through the lives of Christians, and that Muslims and those following tribal beliefs might turn to Christ in saving faith. In this conflict intended to thwart Christ’s Kingdom, we stand assured that You will work it for good. In the name of Jesus, who grows His church even in the midst of opposition, Amen.