Central African Republic (ODM/MNN) — The United Nations refugee agency called once more for stepped up security to protect more than 15,000 people surrounded by armed groups across the northwest and southwest portions of Central African Republic.
The Open Doors Research and Communications Manager for West and Central Africa is in Central African Republic (CAR) this week. We caught up with Arne Mulders in Bode, a little town in the southwestern part of CAR. Speaking over a spotty cell phone connection, he explains his purpose. “We are going to churches and Christians to hear their stories. From December 2012 until September 2013, it was clear that the Seleka was targeting Christians. Then, there was the self-defense group that came along and troubled the situation. From then on, it wasn’t very clear.”
It’s an assessment trip, too. “My task is to observe the urgent need that is there–the problems, so that we can bring in some emergency aid.” In one report, Mulders observes:
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.
More than 700,000 are internally displaced, including some 273,000 in Bangui spread over 66 sites, while more than 288,000 people have fled to neighboring countries. People need medicine. They need shelter, and they need food.
Over concerns that the refugee populations were vulnerable to more attacks, Mulders notes, “Especially in the West, people are settling down. Peace is coming slowly. And there are small pockets of local Muslim population that remained behind. Between those Muslims and the rest of the population, peace has to be created.”
But the peace process itself will be generational. “What we will also do is work on reconciliation, because there is a lot of harm done between Muslims and Christians. So we need to speak about love, about forgiveness, about reconciliation, but it’s very hard when people have seen their loved ones killed and hearts are wounded. There is great psychological trauma.”
CAR is ranked No. 16 on the Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians. Yet, the upheaval in the region has several components. “The Seleka has come with a lot of mercenaries from abroad to occupy the country. They’ve done a great deal of harm to the local population.” In response, Mulders says, “The local population has created a self-defense group that has been labeled from outside as Christian-Muslim encounters.”
As the Seleka were pushed back, the anti-Balaka self-defense groups have grown very strong. Mulders says the International French (Sangaris) and African Union (Misca) forces are still too few to secure peace for the people of this war-weary country.
With the shift of power, atrocities became frequent. Mulders explains, “This has created a lot of animosity between Muslims and Christians, so it will be a big barrier for the Gospel. Pray that the barrier will be released and that there will be interest for the Gospel in the hearts of Muslims.”
Mulders also shares why knowing the stories is important:
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.
It helps other believers know how to pray, how to encourage, and most importantly, it unites the body of Christ.
Mulders explains why unity will be important in the days ahead. It’s all about cultivating new growth. “The church has been weakened through this crisis because the believers have been scattered around in refugee camps. Pastors have been fleeing away from their fold because of the emergency, so the whole Church needs to be reconstituted again.”
Standing alongside these believers also lets them know they’re not forgotten. Click here for more ways to take action.