Sign up to the Open Doors Email
Receive the latest news, updates and prayer requests from the persecuted church direct to your inbox.
 

Central African Republic: Bishops speak out

29 January 2014

Whilst tension remains high and deadly violence continues in CAR, three religious leaders, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bangui Dieudonne Nzapalainga, Imam Omar Kabine Layam, and Revd Nicolas Guerekoyame Gbangou, President of the Alliance of Evangelicals of CAR, have been touring their country to promote peace and tolerance.

At Lambeth Palace on 27 January, Archbishop Dieudonne told Justin Welby, "We must not only disarm weapons - we must disarm the spirit and the heart." The leaders, whose congregations together represent 95% of the total population in CAR, are modelling co-operation and reconciliation at a time when the conflict - which is primarily driven by complex economic, social and political factors - is escalating.

Religious agenda

The religious element of the conflict is proving complex, too. According to Open Doors' sources, from December 2012, Seleka had a definite religious agenda, which was to conquer Bangui, set up an Islamic regime and apply Sharia (Islamic law). Evidence for this can be found in the letters of Seleka leader and temporary president, Michel Djotodia. For the next nine months, Seleka unleashed horrific violence against the local, predominantly Christian population.

In response, Anti-balaka (anti-machete) groups banded together to respond. These groups were considered by Seleka to be Christian groups, and this is how they have been described in media, but CAR's Christian leaders vehemently deny this is the case - and the fetishes that many of them wear belie their Animist roots.

A statement from CAR's bishops in December said, "We deplore the [reports] that are made about the Anti-balaka [being a Christian group]. The Anti-balaka are the expression of the part of the population fed up with the many abuses committed by Seleka rebels. However, we reiterate that all Anti-balaka are not Christians and all Christians are not Anti-balaka. It is the same for ex-Seleka [members] and Muslims."

Persecution of Christians

On Wednesday evening (29 January), members of the disbanded Seleka rebel group flung four grenades into the compound of the Elim-Mpoko Church led by prominent Pastor Nicolas Guerékoyamé-Gbangou, who recently visited the UK. The church is one of the 57 sites where displaced people have been hiding since the December escalation of violence in the capital. At the time of the attack it housed an estimated 1,500 refugees; several people were injured.

Last year, Pastor Servant Obona and his family were forced by threats from Seleka to flee their home and his work in Bangui. Servant does not doubt for a moment that the rebels targeted him because of his pastoral ministry. He says, "We have planted churches in Banqui and its surrounds. Around here everyone knows me. The rebels have been looking for me because I planted these churches, especially the one in their stronghold."

Last year, Pastor Servant Obona and his family were forced by threats from Seleka to flee their home and his work in Bangui. Servant does not doubt for a moment that the rebels targeted him because of his pastoral ministry. He says, "We have planted churches in Banqui and its surrounds. Around here everyone knows me. The rebels have been looking for me because I planted these churches, especially the one in their stronghold."

Open Doors highlighted the situation at a parliamentary meeting on 13 January, hosted by Andrew Selous MP and chaired by Baroness Berridge. The briefing was well attended, with over 30 members of the public and NGO staff present, and at least nine parliamentarians represented. The following day, Open Doors' advocacy team met with members of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who confirmed the UK's commitment to CAR via the EU and UN.

Open Doors is working with church leaders in CAR to deliver aid, Bibles and trauma counselling, and in partnership with the local church continues to call on the UN Security Council to approve the deployment of a Peacekeeping Operation to restore stability.

Source: Open Doors; World Watch Monitor; www.archbishopofcanterbury.org

Please pray:

  • For restraint and reconciliation between Muslims and Christians
  • For international efforts to protect, support and liberate the people of CAR
  • For believers who are bereaved, traumatised, exhausted, discouraged.


BBC: CAR - UN 'may need 10,000 troops' New Window

More News from Central African Republic:

Find out more about persecution in Central African Republic.