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In Central African Republic, church members mostly under radar amid coup

In Central African Republic, church members mostly under radar amid coup

Graphic by Tanya Holland.

Mistaken identity led to beating of pastor in January; unrest subsiding

March 26, 2013 | Yaoundé, Cameroon | Abraham Bakari CAUM/ANN staff

Sunday’s mass lootings in the capital of the Central African Republic have not affected Seventh-day Adventist Church operations, but several incidents in recent months have taken a toll on a few church employees amid the ongoing civil war.

The Adventist Church in this landlocked African nation organized a peace procession earlier this month, but in January a mission worker was beaten and a pastor was arrested by rebel soldiers in a case of mistaken identity.

Media reports indicate Central African Republic president President François Bozize fled the country over the weekend, prompting Seleka rebel leader Michel Djotidia to proclaim himself president.

More than a dozen South African troops supporting the president were killed during the rebel takeover of the city, Reuters reported. This is the latest coup d’état in a country known for such leadership transitions since the country gained independence from France in 1960.

James Kouedi, treasurer of the Adventist Church’s Central African Republic Mission, said church members were encouraged to go straight home after worship services on Saturday as rebels moved into the city.

Mission President Gueret Jean Jacques reported that order slowly seems to be returning in the capital city of Bangui, home to some 600,000 people. In a phone interview yesterday, he said there is still minor unrest and some security problems, and electricity and water service have been out since Saturday.

There are more than 10,300 Adventist Church members in the country, served by six pastors and 10 Global Mission pioneers.

The events of recent days have simmered since last year. The Seleka rebellion – meaning “Alliance” or “Solidarity” in the local Sango language – was widespread before a peace agreement was signed with the government in January. The agreement was soon discarded, inciting the current bout of fighting.

Jacques invited church and community members to join a peace procession earlier this month. About 500 joined the mid-day march.

No members have been killed in the conflict, though a few have suffered injuries. In December, in the city of Bambari, the home of Pastor Mavoulet Marious and his family was hit with a rocket and gunfire. No one was harmed.

In January, Marious was arrested after rebel soldiers confused his Adventist Pathfinder outfit for a government military uniform. He was soon released.

In the city of Sibut, mission pioneer Ngate Benjamin was beaten by rebel soldiers and suffered injuries, including a lost tooth. He was housing a church member serving in the government military. The man learned of the news and surrendered himself to the rebel army to secure Benjamin’s release. Church leaders say the isolated incidents have not otherwise disrupted church activities.

The Adventist Church came to this country in 1960 through the work of missionary Jean Kempf and his wife.

Though the country is very rich with mineral deposits, oil and gems, widespread poverty is a big challenge for evangelism. The mission is not self-sufficient and relies on appropriations. There are fewer pastors than mission pioneers.

In recent years, several students were sent to the Adventist University Cosendai of Nanga Eboko in Cameroon to study theology and education. A few of the mission leaders are taking study programs through the Adventist University of Africa.

Bright spots for the church here include the Adventist College of Bangui, a locally renowned institution offering high school and primary school programs. There are some 500 students enrolled.

Also, the government recently gave the Adventist Church 30 hectares of land for an Adventist University on the outskirts of Bangui, and an additional three hectares for the building of a new union office.

It’s expected that Bangui will be the headquarters of a newly created union administration for the denomination later this year. The union would retain the name “Central Africa Union Mission,” and would also include Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad. Cameroon, currently in that union, will become a second union.

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