Central African Republic (MNN) — The issue of child soldiers haunts the troops in the Central African Republic.
South African soldiers sent to support the CAR government reported their suspicions following the fall of the capital and the ouster of the president.
Steven Wolcott, a Regional Executive Officer at Africa Inland Mission (AIM), commented, "That is a very common occurrence with rebel groups in Central Africa." However, he went on to note that "I haven't heard anything specific that way, other than some news reports. From sources on the ground that we have, I haven't heard that directly."
So, while the reports may still need further investigation, it does reveal an underlying chaos at the heart of the CAR. After days of looting and chaos, rebel soldiers seem to have secured the area. In the meantime, CAR's Prime Minister formed his new government. Seleka, a coalition of three rebel groups, launched its insurgency in December, accusing ousted president Francois Bozize of failing to honor earlier peace deals signed with rebels in the conflict-prone country.
The concern comes from the high percentage of Seleka rebels who form the cabinet leadership. Wolcott explains, "The new leader has come in from the north of the country and has ties, it seems, with Sudan and also with Chad and some of the Islamic groups up there. So it does seem as though there's tension."
Reports from groups like Open Doors confirm the reality of religious tensions. Wolcott says it's hard to figure out what their team is doing because of how uncertain things are. "From the church people that we're in contact with, that is a huge concern. What is going to be the long-term impact, the future impact against them?"
It's also not an isolated incident, he observes, noting similar changes in Arab Spring countries. "They (Islamists) want to cover all of Africa, and so they're pushing hard to do that in whatever way they can, trying to bring in leaders who are in tune with that."
The questions that have to be answered before more outreach strategy forms are: "'What is the security situation really on the ground?' and ‘Is it really possible to do ministry in a way that's effective?' Those are issues with the Church and as a mission." Wolcott says an assessment team is going in. "There's a trip planned for next week to go and look and talk with the Church to figure out what the next step should be. It's just really difficult with the LRA and now, with the Seleka rebel group coming in."
An already difficult ministry field, there is a risk that the coup could interfere further. AIM has been trying for years to get teams into the CAR. "The Lord's Resistance Army and [leader Joseph] Kony have been up in that area since 2008. Because of that, it's been really difficult to actually move ahead, to function, to do discipleship." Wolcott explains that it's not logistics they're assessing. It's much more basic. "The bigger issue is just one of survival of the local pastors, believers just being able to survive the things that are going on against them: the LRA coming in, raiding their gardens, abducting people, killing people."
What can be done? Pray. Wolcott cited the story of Gideon in the Old Testament and noted its similarity to the situation facing believers in CAR. In a seemingly impossible situation, God intervened and used Gideon and a handful of faithful leaders to save Israel. "I'm praying that the Lord would raise up Gideons, and that as we pray together against the schemes of Satan that are opposed to us, we will actually see advances and see God intervene on our behalf, just as he did in the Gideon story."