By Stan Friedman
GAMBOULA, CAR (December 10, 2013) — An agricultural project sponsored by Covenant World Relief and led by Covenant missionaries Roy and Aleta Danforth remains stable despite horrific violence throughout much of the Central African Republic which has filled a nearby hospital with wounded from both sides in the conflict between Muslims and Christians.
Covenant World Relief is the primary funder of the project that is administered through Foods Resource Bank, a frequent partner with the denomination’s relief and development ministry.
The project Centre d’Expérimentation et de Formation Agricole (CEFA), conducts agricultural research and offers training in sustainable farming practices and animal husbandry to farmers who are food insecure. The research includes determining the suitability of staple crops such as vegetables, beans, and fruits for the area.
The ministry has focused primarily on serving the Fulani, a Muslim cattle herding and semi-nomadic people group.
To see additional images of the project, click here. A recent Covenant News Service story highlighted the efforts by 10 Covenant congregations near Yakima, Washington, to help fund the project through apple sales.
The United Nations has ranked CAR among the least developed countries in the world. It estimates that more than half a million people across the nation have been displaced.
In March, the Danforths, together with Covenant missionaries Paul and Sheryl Noren and Josh and Lori Shinar as well as missionaries from other organizations, made a harrowing escape from the country into Cameroon as a rebel splinter group advanced upon Gamboula.
The Danforths returned in June. Roy focuses on agriculture, and Aleta promotes public health.
The Baptist mission station includes a 125-bed hospital as well as a Bible school and nursing school. So far no violence has erupted at the hospital even though individuals involved in both sides of the conflict are receiving treatment, according to Foods Resource Bank. In other parts of the country, especially the capital city of Bangui, armed groups have reportedly executed patients.
Violence erupted in March when the primarily Muslim rebel group Seleka, a coalition of five factions, announced that a peace agreement signed with the government in January was no longer valid because political prisoners from a previous conflict had not been freed, and South African troops who had been in the country since 2007 had not gone home. They gave the Bozizé government 72 hours to meet their demands or they would march on Bangui.
The country has since descended into chaos. In response to months of looting, raping, and killing by Seleka forces, Christian militias and allies of ousted President Francois Bozizé have committed similar atrocities.
In November, leading clerics from both faiths traveled together to preach peace and listen to tales of horror, according to a report from the United Nations that focuses on the ongoing conflict and its origins.
“Now we need to ask ourselves, do we want to push this country toward inter-confessional war, or should people work together and build this country? This is what leaders need to consider,” Archbishop Dieudonnes Nzapalainga said.
The nation’s leading imam, Oumar-Kobine Layama, who traveled with the archbishop, declared, “What we have seen surpassed our understanding, as what we saw along the road is that there are really no towns anymore. We, the religious leaders, are trying to do our part, but we ask the government to also do their part. It’s not all the Christians that are anti-balaka (Christian self-defense groups whose name means anti-machete), like we’re hearing here, or that all the Muslims are Seleka, which is the perception.”
Christians make up roughly 80 percent of the population, and Muslims comprise 15 percent.
The republic has had a long history of coups and dictatorships. Bozizé came to power in a military coup in 2003. There have been threats of coups since then.