By Stan Friedman
GAMBOULA, CAR (June 2, 2014) — All of the Fulani friends of Covenant missionaries Roy and Aleta Danforth have been forced to flee the Central African Republic in fear for their lives due to the religious violence that is tearing apart the African nation.
The Fulani, most of whom are Muslim, were forced to flee when militia destroyed their homes and businesses. Aleta says their former neighbors may never be able to return to their home country again.
The country has been embroiled in horrific violence since the Seleka rebels, who are predominantly Muslim, overthrew the government in March 2013. The cycle of violence and reprisals has been continuous ever since between the Seleka and anti-Balaka (“anti-sword”) militias made up largely of animists.
Aleta says that despite press reports, by far most of the people who have been called Christians would more appropriately be called animists, as those beliefs are a much stronger and more influential part of their belief system than traditional Christian doctrine.
.She says she struggles with wanting to give up at times. She continues to feel as she wrote on the couple’s blog last April that, “there is no way I can have control over the insanity that is going on in this country, but I can fight against my leaning to just give up. I can keep on being present in my friends’ lives; I can be an encourager and a person of prayer for them. I can bring hope to them.”
Last week, Seleka rebels killed 15 people in the capital city of Bangui when they threw grenades and fired into a church. Christian youth retaliated the next day by destroying a mosque.
According to the United Nations, one-fourth of the population has fled the country.
An agricultural project sponsored by Covenant World Relief and led by the Danforths remains stable. 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, who are a cattle herding and semi-nomadic people group.
The Danforths’ friends had to leave most of their possessions behind when they fled. In April, Roy and Aleta tried to bring some of the belongings of her best friend, Hawa, to her at the refugee camp in Cameroon. Anti-balaka milita members stopped the truck in CAR, however, and forced the couple to dump the contents.
Several weeks later, when the Danforths were able to reach the refugee camp, Hawa’s greeting words were to say she was sorry for the trouble she had caused them. “The persecuted one is apologizing,” Aleta wrote afterward.
Dave Husby, director of Covenant World Relief, was with the Danforths when they reached the refugee camp and was amazed at the connections between the couple and their friends. “It was just remarkable to see their reunion,” he says. “There was such love there.”
To keep up on how events are impacting the Danforths and their ministry, visit their blog.