Installation of CAR Church Leaders Canceled Amid Violence

BANGUI, CAR (May 7, 2018) – The slaughter of 16 people and wounding of at least 100 others at a Catholic worship service in Bangui by Muslim militants on Tuesday, May 1, caused the Evangelical Community of the Ubangi on Mission in Africa (CEUMA) to cancel the installation of its leaders slated for later in the week.The Congo Covenant Church (CEUM) planted the denomination about nine years ago, said Pete Ekstrand, Covenant missionary to the DR Congo. He and several CEUM leaders had planned to attend the ceremony.”

“This would have been a big celebration bringing lots of people together,” Ekstrand said.

Ekstrand and the CEUM representatives planned to leave Gemena for the celebration about 170 miles away last Thursday but learned on Wednesday of the violence. “So we were not on the road, for which we were grateful,” Ekstrand said.

The installation service has been postponed indefinitely. “It’s not something you want to do in the current climate,” Ekstrand said. “The tension is very high.”

The Danforths are now in South Africa and wrote late last month on their blog and in a letter to supporters about the tensions around Gamboula. “We have felt that we could stay in Gamboula and continue ministry because the conflict was not local. Our trip wire was if there was fighting very close by, we would leave in a hopefully timely fashion.  Recently we have lived with suitcases partially packed, ready to leave in a hurry, because of rumors of possible nearby conflict. The skirmish happened, the UN troops stationed just to the east of us routed the attackers, and it seems that all is peaceful now.
They will be in the United States in July and August and said they will determine then whether it is safe to return.

Witnesses to the Bangui attack said the militants used rifles and grenades in the attack on the Notre Dame de Fatima. The church also was attacked in 2014 when gunmen killed a priest and several worshipers.

It is commonly reported that the ongoing violence in Central African Republic is the result of religious strife between Muslim rebels known as Seleka and Anti-Balaka (Anti-Machete), a disparate group of Christian militias. But Ekstrand and many other religious leaders in the region say it is wrong to say the Anti-Balaka are Christians.

“It is true that they are non-Muslim, so it is easy for people to say if they aren’t Muslim then they are Christian,” said Ekstrand. “Actually they are animists and seeking help from spirits of ancestors and the like. Unfortunately, many of the Muslims believe they are Christians too.”

The country was plunged into civil war in 2013 after Seleka overthrew the country’s president, who identified as Christian.

The violence in Bangui does not directly affect the mission work of Covenanters Roy and Aleta Danforth in Gamboula, who are roughly 370 miles away, “but the overall lack of good security within the country does,” Ekstrand said.

Ekstrand said there is not concern that the situation in Bangui will spread to Congo. “That’s another country and the entire socio-political-religious climate is different.”

 

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Stan Friedman

Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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