Central African Republic (MNN) — Turbulence defines the Central African Republic.
Last month, a rebel alliance seized control of the country and ousted the president. What followed were days of violence and looting. African heads of state refuse to recognize the country's new leader, and the African Union suspended the former French colony's membership.
The UN refugee agency says the number of civilians fleeing instability in CAR has risen to almost 40,000, and people continue to spill across borders. Phil Byler with Africa Inland Mission notes, "It's the heart of Africa. It has limited infrastructure. It's been impoverished. It's had coup after coup over the decades since it was freed from France's rule. It's one of the least developed of all of the African countries."
Recovery hasn't had time to succeed. The country's riotous past reveals corruption, greed, mismanagement, and disillusionment. Since1965, the Central African Republic has weathered five coups d'état.
Some of that instability may have played a role in AIM's presence in CAR. "We don't have any personnel in the country, so what we're doing is praying and trusting", says Byler. "Actually, we're still hoping to make a trip to the southeastern portion of Central African Republic (this week) in hopes of putting a mission team there aiming for the unreached people group of the Mbororo."
Byler goes on to explain that the timing of their assessment team is a God-thing. "This team had been planned long before the coup. It really has little to do with that. This was a long-term strategy of ours to place a mission team to reach the Mbororo."
The idea is to lay the groundwork for outreach. "We're hoping (next year) to place a team of missionaries in there: learning the language of the Mbrororo people group, learning their culture, and trying to impact them with the Gospel."
The immediate crisis has taken its toll, though, and fear is pervasive, Byler adds. "We heard that in one village–the village that we hope to go to–three days ago, there were rumors and the people were just panicking and fleeing into the bush. So pray against fear. Pray that the peace of Jesus will rule in their hearts, despite the circumstances."
Since the conflict began last December, tens of thousands of refugees fled to Chad, Cameroon, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The areas where refugees are located lack basic infrastructure. Health centers are short of medicine and qualified medical staff. UNHCR is working with the authorities in all three receiving countries to provide protection and assistance.
There's another disquieting report, says Byler. "The reports that I've been getting are that there is a pro-Islamic bent to the rebel group and an anti-Christian bent. So it seems that churches, believers, and pastors have been targeted, and the Islamic community has been spared much of the looting and violence of the rebel groups."
The needs are making the outcome of this assessment trip even more important. Christians need support and encouragement inside the country. As AIM figures out how to lay the foundation for Gospel work, Byler says there is one thing you can do. "Pray for the believers that their faith will be strong, that they will grow closer to Jesus through all of this suffering and conflict, that they will fix their eyes upon Jesus and draw close to Him, and draw others into a relationship with Him as well."