The Baptist World Alliance (BWA) is appealing for assistance to the Central African Republic (CAR) due to widespread suffering after rebels overthrew the government in March 2013.
Nicolas Aimé Singa-Gbazia, president of the Association of Baptist Churches of Central African Republic, told the BWA that there have been “great tribulations against the church of Christ in general and Baptists in particular.”
Singa-Gbazia asserted that “churches and the interests of the church are the target of the new masters” of the nation.
The BWA sent an initial sum of $20,000 for relief that assisted 1,800 persons with tents, food and hygiene supplies.
“We have helped some families cultivate small gardens. They will soon eat vegetables that will be harvested in these small gardens,” a report sent to the BWA on the assistance read.
The offensive against the government and civilian population began in December 2012 when Seleka forces, a loose coalition of four rebel groups, began a violent trek from the northeast region of CAR, seizing several towns.
On March 24, Seleka rebels took the capital city of Bangui by force.
President Francois Bozize fled the country; Michel Djotodia, the rebel commander and self-declared president, suspended the constitution and dissolved the national assembly.
Nearly 400,000 people were internally displaced and approximately 68,000 new refugees were forced into the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Chad, according to a U.S. State Department report.
The total number of CAR refugees in neighboring countries is now more than 220,000.
The report said hospitals, schools and warehouses were looted and entire villages destroyed.
Displaced persons have little to no access to clean water, schools or health services.
Food security is a growing concern as many farmers missed the planting season due to the violence.
The violence escalated in the latter part of 2013. In November, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that the security situation in the country remained precarious with government authority nonexistent outside Bangui.
Jan Eliasson, the U.N. deputy secretary general, said that the CAR was “descending into complete chaos.”
The U.N. warned the country was at risk of spiraling into genocide with reports from Bangui of widespread violence taking place.
Several hundred people were killed in December alone, including six Chadian soldiers of the African Union peacekeeping force.
More than 3,000 people have died in the conflicts, Singa-Gbazia said.
Churches, including Baptist places of worship, have been burned. Church social outreach projects have been destroyed. Women, including the wives of pastors, have been sexually assaulted in front of their families.
“Whole villages were looted and burned. It’s chaos,” Singa-Gbazia said. He expressed special concern for those who have fled into the jungle who are in danger of exposure to diseases and wild animals.
“If nothing is done urgently, we will inevitably evolve towards a civil war (Christians against Muslims) and no one can predict the result. This may be genocide because all the signs are visible,” Singa-Gbazia said.
Reports suggest that many Seleka fighters were from other countries, including Chad and Sudan, and preyed on the civilian population outside of Bangui.
Seleka’s targeted violence has created interreligious tensions in a country where Christian and Muslim populations lived in relatively peaceful coexistence.
Seleka’s actions “have given rise to primarily Christian self-defense groups that have sought to kill both Seleka fighters and CAR Muslims, creating a dangerous dynamic of interreligious hatred and tension that risks spiraling out of control,” the State Department report said.
There are four BWA member organizations in CAR with a total membership of more than 180,000 in more than 770 churches.
This news release first appeared at the Baptist World Alliance news page.