Out of the rubble…

Steve Entwistle reports about his time in Central African Republic as AIM think about putting a new team in the area to reach the unreached Mbororo people.

Last autumn we reported in this publication the news that the planned team to work with the Mbororo in the Central African Republic would not be able to go ahead as a result of the tensions and unrest in that country. Instead, a team would be planted in Banda, in the north east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to begin language and culture learning amongst the Mbororo there. Our concern for the peoples of the Central African Republic, however, has not ended. Recently, a group of AIMer’s visited the country to gain further understanding of the situation and the plight of the Zande church and the Mbororo people. Steve Entwistle sends this report:

“We witnessed lots of rubble along the way, which was all that’s left of churches the Seleka destroyed. Now, with the anti-Balaka presence, young angry men are tearing down mosques”

Our adventure began in Arua, Uganda on April 12. Together with Ian Campbell (AIM’s Associate International Director), Phil Byler (AIM’s Central Region Executive Officer), Wendy Atkins (long-time missionary in CAR & Mbororo team leader), Pastor Gabriel Kpako (leader of the Zande church from CAR) and our ninja pilot Jay Mundy, we flew across the Democratic Republic of Congo towards the Central African Republic. Expanses of thick, green forests spread out below us. From 9,000 feet up only an occasional village could be spotted… we were heading into the very centre of the African continent, where the rest of the busy world is largely unknown. A huge thunderstorm engulfed our flight for about 30 minutes, but the Lord gave us safety as we touched down in Zemio in the early afternoon.


The Mbororo people

The Mbororo of CAR and Chad are a large people group (15-18 million), related to the Fulani- the largest nomadic people group in the world. Mbororo means ‘cattle herder’ in the Fulani language. They are semi-nomadic. Some take the herds to find pasture, while the rest stay home and farm. They are Muslim, but fear the spirit world and wear fetishes and charms for protection.

As the country of CAR continues to plunge into chaos and conflict the team which was planned to go and work amongst the Mbororo is now going to be placed in Northeast Congo instead.

Weather continued to be a problem, so we ended up changing our original plan of an onward flight and instead hunkered down in Zemio for the night. This gave me the unexpected opportunity to spend a wonderful rainy afternoon with Jean Baptiste & Julienne (see right box) — a Zande couple who are already working to reach out to the local Mbororo people.

The next morning we zipped over to Obo for a long meeting with the church leaders there. From Obo we flew straight West, about 300 kms, to a beautiful place called Rafai—where AIM once had a significant ministry presence. The motorcycle ride from the airport up to the mission station led through a huge canopy of trees, with scads of butterflies. The Zande welcomed us along the path with songs and waving branches—truly I’ve never witnessed a more hospitable people in all my days in Africa! The afternoon and evening included church service and meetings with the Rafai church leaders.


Jean Baptiste & Julienne

Please give thanks for Jean Baptiste & Julienne Mboriundore, Zande missionaries to the Mbororo. Jean continues to reach out to the newly resident (normally nomadic, but are now settling in at Zemio) Mbororo people. Jean has learned a good amount of their language, Fulani, and has an open relationship with their chief, Urdu Omar.

Onward to Bangui, CAR’s capital, the next morning! The expanse of the city struck me as we flew in over the Oubangui River—almost one quarter of the country’s population lives in this city. As we touched down, our plane raced passed the refugee camp where thousands have sought safety from the brutality which has plagued their areas of Bangui. The feeling of conflict was immediately noticeable. Our drive was striking, with the many armored military vehicles representing various military presences in Bangui (French, Africa Union, United Nations).

Though people were walking about the streets seemingly normally, the reports we were told by our escorts were troubling. We witnessed lots of rubble along the way, which was all that’s left of churches the Seleka destroyed. Now, with the anti-Balaka presence, young angry men are tearing down mosques—apparently 72 out of 80 mosques have been destroyed in the city. All of this was going on while heavily-armed soldiers stood by, not interfering, since policing these matters was not part of their mandate. It all had a tense and somewhat surreal feel.


The trip to CAR was to meet with the Zande church about a team coming to their area, gain their advice and seek to give them ownership of the proposed team. But mixed in with all these plans is CAR’s new government – heavy on dictatorship, light on human rights.

Two steamy hot days in Bangui were spent mostly listening to the many stories of the church folks—death and danger have become all too “normal” in this city. I should mention that, from listening to various church peoples’ take on the realities on the ground, the international media has grossly misrepresented the conflict which has plagued CAR. The conflict is first and foremost of a political and retaliatory nature. The Anti-Balaka are NOT representing Christianity as the news stories report, but rather are bands of largely youth, many of whose villages and families have been entirely wiped out. They are on a quest for personal revenge as well as for the overall good of the country—in their efforts to purge CAR of the abusive Seleka forces.

Our trip concluded with our return to Zemio, where we were once again enthusiastically met by the Zande church.

We praise God for his many provisions. Our hearts are ever-more burdened for the plight of the Zande church, Mbororo, and the state of CAR’s capital.

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