Archive for January, 2014

In the picture, the women huddle together closely to fit into the frame, their dusty village in the background slightly obscured. It caused quite a discussion. We wondered how we could show our supporters that they were real, but at the same time protect their privacy. In the end we decide against publishing their picture. The risks outweighed the benefits.

The women range in age from their early twenties to their late forties. Apart from being Christians, they all have one thing in common. In the lawlessness that has become Central African Republic (CAR), they have all been raped. Three of them have been tested positive to HIV. Two have contracted Syphilis. One is pregnant.

The trauma they have had to live through is unimaginable. But apart from having to come to terms with the effects of this trauma, they also have to deal with merciless ostracism. These women have been rejected by their families, ignored by their congregations and marginalised by their society. Compliments of marauding Seleka members, these women now live together in a suburb of the capital, Bangui. It is here, by Divine appointment, that an Open Doors worker stumbled upon them.

“No one cares for these women. But our God who sees in secret, has brought it all to light for them and for me. In my research to determine the most urgent needs for OD to address, I came across one of the raped women. When she heard that we would help her get medical treatment, she burst into tears, and then told me about the other women she was living with… That which is impossible with man is possible with God. He has been working a great miracle for me to come into contact with these women.”

The worker brought the women to a doctor for treatment. “I now pray that God sends us a faithful Christian woman to whom we can entrust this work of spiritual and emotional care,” he wrote.

Not long after that, God answered our prayer by providing such a woman in Komoyo Lina[1] who has since started counselling as many victims as possible in the lingering insecurity.

To Komoyo, it seems there is not a single woman in CAR who has not been affected by trauma. “Those who have not been raped have witnessed how their daughters have been raped in front of their families or how their husbands have been murdered or how their property has been destroyed.”

Komoyo struggles to find words to explain the brutality that women, even pregnant women, have faced. She tells us details we find too gruesome and upsetting to mention here.

Equally upsetting is the community’s response. Komoyo explains that countless rape victims face the same fate the women we met in Bangui do. She explains that it is uncommon for a husband of a raped woman to continue living with her. This shameful reality does not only have emotional impact, but also grave economic effects.

“It’s a disaster. Women are raped and then rejected by their husbands, their parents and their culture. They are stigmatized and targeted everywhere. Sometimes they run away to an area where no one knows them. But there they often have no roof over their heads, no food, no clothes. It’s a tragedy.”

Komoyo is trying her utmost to help these women work through their trauma, but it is not easy. “When we see these women, we often don’t have words. I don’t know what to tell them. I told the Lord I cannot cry anymore. It is really difficult…We continue to pray that He brings peace to these women, that He comforts them.” 

She concludes, “Prayer, faith, trust and hope in God keeps me going. God has never forsaken His children. That knowledge keeps me going. “

OD is in the process of expanding the counselling effort in CAR. However, for the work to progress, much more security is needed. OD, in partnership with the local Church, continues to call on the UN Security Council to approve the deployment of a Peacekeeping Operation so that peace can be restored and the many needy people can be helped in various ways, including relief aid and trauma counselling.

Prayer

  1. Please pray for the Lord to be at work in the lives of women in CAR. Pray that many would receive His comfort and that He would draw them very close to Himself.
  2. Please pray for God’s strength for Komoyo. Pray that as she ministers and comforts, she will experience God’s comfort.
  3. Thank the Lord for bringing us in contact with the victims. Please pray for God’s blessing upon our ministry to them. Pray also that there will be stability soon so that we are able to reach more women.

 


[1] A pseudonym was used to protect the identity of this believer

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What is the nature of the conflict in Central African Republic (CAR)? Is it a disturbing inter-religious conflict in which Christians and Muslims are fighting one another with unspeakable cruelty, or is it a purely military-political crisis? Have Christians in CAR really been facing persecution, and should OD even be involved?

Although international media has been calling the crisis in CAR “inter-religious”, i.e. Muslim-Christian, conflict, the crisis cannot be reduced to that term since it is not simply “Christians” and Muslims fighting one another. But at the same time, the crisis cannot and should not be reduced to a solely military-political crisis, because there are definite religious aspects to it. Moreover, there is very clear proof that Christians in CAR have been facing harsh persecution in this conflict.

Seleka had a religious agenda

The conflict in CAR did not start in March 2013 when Seleka rebels captured the capital, ousted former president Bozizé and installed their own government. It started in December 2012 when five predominantly Muslim rebel groups from the Northeast formed the Seleka alliance and started capturing major towns in the Eastern and Central regions. They had a definite religious agenda which was to conquer Bangui, set up an Islamic regime and apply Sharia. This was stated in letters the leader of the rebellion, Michel Djotodia wrote to Islamic entities – one to the OIC and the other to the Islamic Committee. Although Mr. Djotodia never confirmed that he was the author of the letters, a panel of local Christian experts in CAR believes they are authentic. Most of the deliberations in the letters have come true.

Christians have faced persecution

Christians became victims of this religious agenda and were specifically targeted in the ensuing violence. From December 2012 to September 2013 Seleka unleashed horrific violence against the local predominantly Christian population. In the absence of the Central African state, international media and international and UN aid agencies, Seleka’s cruelties went largely unseen and were committed with impunity.

Seleka terrorized the population, dominated them by fear and impoverished them in order to force them into Islam through subjugation and/or dependency. Muslims considered the areas conquered the possession of Islam. This is the ‘traditional jihadist’ perspective that were similarly employed in the North-South Sudan conflict, the Darfur conflict and the Chadian civil war where Islamization of non-Muslims became an underlying by-product of the war (See “’Traditional Jihadist’ perspective”)

Religion was also used as a means to political ends

The conflict has brought about a military-political crisis that finds its roots in the failings of former president Francois Bozizé. Although he was the leader of a religious group Christians considered a sect, he was a Christian in the eyes of Muslims. But he was corrupt, incompetent and irresponsible.

These weaknesses provoked discontent among marginalized Muslim rebel groups in the Northeast and fuelled ambitions to conquer parts, if not all, of the mineral rich country. If Islam conquered CAR, Muslims would benefit politically, economically and socially. Muslims in neighboring countries like Chad and Sudan have shared these ambitions for a long time now. Islam’s success in CAR would open up large parts of the continent to the South for their religion and give access to its natural resources.

Since Seleka knew the movement was too small to reach their objectives by themselves, Djotodia also asked in his letters to the Islamic entities for financial, people and material support from the surrounding Muslim countries. Motivated by the above ambitions many locals from the northeastern tribes (e.g. Rungha and Gula) and migrants and mercenaries from Chad and Sudan joined the ranks. Consequently, the rebellion in the early stages grew from an initial 5,000 rebels to 25,000 mostly foreign mercenaries and unemployed youths.

This is not at its core, a Muslim-Christian violence

Because of the overwhelming number of Muslims in the Seleka ranks, a large section of the non-Muslim population has come to believe that all Muslims are Seleka. But many, like the Muslims from Bangui, the southwest and southeast, have by and large never supported Seleka.

After eight months of Seleka terror, self-defense groups emerged from the non-Muslim population known as anti-Balaka. Full of hatred and revenge, they are randomly targeting Muslims with reprisals. Seleka see anti-Balaka as Christians but in truth they are Animists who, for instance, use sorcery, believing their fetishes  would make them “invincible”.

Unfortunately, Seleka’s tagging of these groups as Christians was adopted by media, aid organizations and UN organizations. In this way, the whole conflict has become increasingly labelled as inter-religious, i.e. Muslim-Christian violence, which it clearly is not. Since Djotodia’s resignation on January 10, anti-Balaka and Seleka militia have continued fighting each other for supremacy across the country. Militia from both sides continue to commit atrocities.

Because the 4,500 international forces are too few to contain the violence, chaos and anarchy continue.

Christian leaders are of the opinion that this labelling of the conflict as inter-religious i.e. Muslim-Christian violence has fuelled the flame in their country and are thus doing their utmost to move away from this labelling. Christian and Muslim leaders from CAR continue to strongly condemn all violence. There are also many examples of Muslim and Christian communities and individuals advocating for peace, justice and reconciliation.

Conclusion

It is incorrect to label the violence as inter-religious. The crisis is military-political with the religious motive to Islamize CAR. It has been accompanied by the persecution of Christians. And with the decreasing influence of Seleka militias, the local non-Muslim population has been fighting back.

Although we expect cases of persecution to decrease in the future as stability hopefully returns, Open Doors will continue to seek out those that have been affected by proven persecution and will continue to find ways to strengthen the Church in CAR in the midst of her storm. We also remain committed to advocating, in partnership with the Church, for the launch of a full scale UN Peacekeeping Operation.

Please continue to pray for South Sudan where fighting broke out in December between government soldiers and forces loyal to deposed vice president Riek Machar. Fierce battles rocked Bor last week as the government battled to take it back from the rebels. They allowed news reporters into the once lively town on Saturday that has been reduced to ashes.

Sadly, the violence has now taken on ethnic overtones and in the process, is opening old wounds for this young nation. The president is a Dinka and Riek Machar is a Nuer.

A distraught Open Doors (OD) staff member[1] explained that ethnic tension is very high at the moment. Although our ECC (previously known as ECTC) towards the south has not been affected by the violence per se, the ethnic turn of the war is disrupting operations.

In the first place, travelling is very dangerous. Airlifting students from their remote areas to the centre often means refuelling in now considered enemy areas. It is a risk most are unwilling to take. Road travel has also become very dangerous as both the army and the rebels operate roadblocks looking for enemies. Anyone who has the typical features (traditional facial markings) of the enemy tribe is in grave danger.

Secondly, students from all tribes study together at the ECC. Bringing together students from these different tribes right now could be considered a provocation. Therefore, teaching is on hold. Teaching at most of our regional centres has also been suspended until further notice.

The recent developments in South Sudan are causing much concern.

“People are scattered. They sleep in the cold, without food or water. This calamity was never anticipated. Nobody dreamed about it. But it is here now…”

Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese have sought refuge at UN compounds across Sudan. Our team had contact with a student who is at such a compound in Juba. “He told us the situation in the UN compound is not good, people are suffering from hunger and thirst. Many children have already died,” our staff member explained. The local team is particularly worried about rumours that there are many who are considering joining the fight out of fear for their lives.

“People are badly affected. I heard on UN radio yesterday evening about a young child who explained that she could not sit for her exams because of the war. She was supposed to study for an examination paper that has already been postponed once but was unable to do so because she had to forsake all her notebooks when they fled. The child recollected her parents crying all day over relatives that were killed and that made her very unhappy. Hearing her speak like that; without any hope for the future – broke my heart and left me sobbing.”

“Pray! Please pray for us for peace and only peace!”

The South Sudan Council of Churches in a statement early January, called the return to violence an abomination. They called for the cessation of all hostilities, the peaceful resolution of political differences, an end to the mobilization of supporters, justice to be done, relief to those affected and leaders of the conflicting parties to speak the language of peace.

The Council also asked the International Community to increase their efforts towards the speedy solution to the conflict and ecumenical partners to promote space for dialogue and reconciliation, to mobilize relief and to advocate with their respective governments for support of peace.

The Council said on their part they commit to continue praying for the country, and to back their prayers by rolling out a people-to-people peace process and mobilizing members to participate in ethnically mixed peace delegations to villages and communities. They also committed to fight against negative ethnicity, to participate in nation building and to join hands with ecumenical partners to contribute to good neighbourliness in a spirit of Pan-Africanism.

Prayer Points

  • Please pray for God’s intervention in this desperate situation and for a quick end to the hostilities.
  • Please pray for the protection of all OD staff and assets in the country.
  • Pray for God’s children to play an active role in peace building in line with the statement by the Sudan Council of Churches.


[1] Name withheld for security reasons

Blog has moved!

Posted: January 23, 2014 in Articles

The Open Doors Singapore Blog has moved to http://odsyouth.squarespace.com under “OD News”! This blog will still be updated but its features like “Volunteer sign-ups” and all will be moved to the new site. Thank you for your kind understanding and we hope to walk alongside you in this journey of exploring the other parts of the Body of Christ – especially the hurting and persecuted ones and to help link you to them – So that you can be actively involved! 

Trusting God when her world has been shattered; trusting that there is a way, when there seems to be no way, Claris Mathole’s faith is an inspiration as the devastated widow from Mombasa, Kenya, comes to terms with the senseless murder of her husband Pastor Charles Mathole inside their Redeemed Gospel Church in Mtopanga.

“I asked God questions but get no answers…but I still trust Him. I have peace in my heart,” she says quietly.

Now facing life with a large church ministry alone without her beloved husband, Claris prays for the strength and courage to carry on. “My husband and I were close, so close that people immediately assumed I too had been killed…they expected that I would have been at the church with him. We hardly did anything separately,” she told Open Doors when we visited shortly after her loss.

Marrying young as unbelievers, Charles and Claris’ love for each other soon grew to include the Lord Jesus when first Charles and then Claris accepted Him as Saviour. They joined their church worship team where they served until Charles was asked to become Assistant Pastor and then in 2008 to become Pastor. He was given the responsibility of planting his own church, while Claris continued on as Worship and Intercessory Prayer Leader.

Violent opposition from hostile locals met them from the beginning. Church members were beaten, they were threatened and verbally abused; church equipment were repeatedly stolen or destroyed at night and stones thrown onto the church roof during worship. 

The family relocated in 2011 but similar opposition continued with formal accusations of ‘Disturbing the Peace’ put before local government and police officials. Thankfully Kenyan law supports their freedom of worship.

Despite the persecution, the congregation grew steadily to over two hundred members with many Sunday school children. That is until the night of Saturday October 19, 2013 when their faithful leader was shot in the head while reading his Bible in church.

Charles and Claris had returned home late that night from a crusade and having been too busy to spend time alone with the Lord, Charles decided to go to their church. Claris’ misgivings turned to alarm when she was awoken by a call from a church member asking whether the pastor was at home and then Charles’ failure to answer her repeated phone calls. Soon afterwards, another pastor, his wife and two church members arrived at her home and broke the news that her husband was bleeding heavily in the church…that in fact, sadly, he was dead.

“When we got to the church”, she recalls, wiping away tears, “I saw him seated, his Bible open in his lap and from a distance it looked like he had just bowed his head in prayer. It was only when I got close that I saw the shattered skull on the top side of his head.”

Claris could not come to the terms with the reality of her loss initially. “I was sure it was a very bad dream from which I would awake…”

Since the funeral however, her great shock and disbelief have given way to the sad and painful realisation of the enormous responsibility she now faces in shepherding a grieving congregation.

“How do I encourage them? Help me God”, she prays, “I cannot do this without You, Jesus…”

Claris is particularly grieved that despite their desire for children, she was unable to conceive and has been left alone with no kin to share her pain. She praises God however for the church family that has surrounded her with love, prayer and companionship. “We are still hurting and I still cry a lot, but I know that God is carrying and will continue to carry us. We will continue doing God’s work.”

In Mombasa’s current social and political climate, continuing God’s work however, is an increasingly difficult and dangerous undertaking. The tragic murder of Claris’ beloved husband came just days after Mombasa witnessed its worst rioting in years following the drive-by shooting of radical Imam Ibriham Rogo.  This came in the aftermath of the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi where the terrorists forced many of their captors to recite the religious prayer or be deemed ‘Kafirs’ (unbelievers) and killed.

Kenyan police strongly suspect that al-Shabaab is responsible for the murder of Pastor Mathole and are continuing their investigation. Several Mombasa Pastors have been receiving threatening text messages and there are rumours that five specific churches have been targeted for destruction.

Claris Mathole may take consolation in the courage and fearlessness shown by her husband’s colleagues, but they cannot give back to her what has been so violently torn away. She is now struggling, depending upon the mercy and grace of our Lord and the faithful church family around the world to uphold and bless her in her trauma, grief and faithful commitment to her husband’s vision and God’s work in Mombasa.

We ask supporters around the world to send messages of encouragement to Claris. 

 

Prayer

  1. Pray that God may provide Claris with the peace, emotional strength and guidance she needs to make decisions about the leadership of the church and to find closure over her husband’s death.
  2. Pray that the attackers will be brought to justice.

 

Sama secret believers in the once-peaceful village of Sangali fled for their lives after a gruesome attack on eight Sama fishermen off the coast of Zamboanga Sibugay last December. Local news say that police maritime patrol officers found the victims afloat on a small boat along the coast of Manicahan, some 79 km. away from Talusan, Olutanga, Zamboanga Sibugay, where they were last seen fishing on Dec. 26.

The victims were Sama fishermen from Sangali, Zamboanga City. Two teenage boys were the only survivors of the senseless killing. Police investigators said that it could be a case of retaliation for the recent deaths of members and leaders of an extortion gang at the hands of Sama fishermen.

The incident left many Sama secret believers in Sangali fearing for their lives. As many as 20 Sama secret-believing families expressed their intent to flee the community and migrate to another province.

Open Doors ministry conducts community-based SSTS training and literacy classes for Sama secret believers in Sangali. “This will decrease the number of believers,” said Joefi Abdu, a Sama lay leader who helps coordinate the training program.

Please pray for:

  1. God’s peace and justice to comfort the bereaved families of the eight Sama fishermen who were killed. For the past two years now, the city is plagued with unsolved shooting incidents perpetrated against prominent and even ordinary citizens by unknown assailers. Oftentimes, the motives behind these killings are personal, business-related, or politics.
  2. The Sama secret believers in Sangali to stand courageous despite the threat of piracy and for them to find alternative sources of income. Other residents report that the perpetrators of Dec. 26 murder will not stop killing Sama fishermen until they avenge the deaths of their fellow gang members and leader.
  3. The Christian workers in Sangali, Zamboanga City, Southern Philippines to be a source of encouragement to the beleaguered secret believers in this time of fear and uncertainty. Pray for the facilitators of the community-based SSTS training and literacy classes to place their trust not in men, but in God “who judges in favour of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry” (Psalm 146:7).

Aid agencies estimate that at least 1 million people, about a fifth of the population, have been displaced by violence in Central African Republic (CAR). Open Doors (OD) visited two of the camps scattered around Bangui over the weekend.

Image“There are 57 refugee sites in the city of Bangui. At the airport, there are at least 100,000 people. I went there this morning to worship and pray with the Christians who gathered there after victimization by ex-Seleka forces,” wrote our co-worker, who remains unidentified for security reasons.

He reported that the atmosphere remains tense in the camps.

“The airport site inspires fear. Among the refugees there are members of Anti-Balaka groups and also Muslims who disguise themselves as people of peace and then throw grenades among Christians.”Image

No further details of the event are available at this time.

Apart from the tense atmosphere, our co-worker found the conditions the refugees are facing shocking. He witnessed the desperate circumstances aid agencies, including the UN humanitarian agency, have been reporting on.

The UN humanitarian agency on Jan 11 reported that there are growing food and clean water shortages with fear for tougher times ahead as many people have lost their livelihoods and don’t have seed for the next planting season.

“People live like real animals. There is no latrine. People are living in over-crowded conditions,” reported our co-worker.

Despite the obvious difficulties they are facing, the Christians gathered for worship.

Image“We had communion together,” wrote our clearly touched colleague.

After this service, he also visited the refugees at a second camp for worship service. It remains hard for him to be confronted with the immense need of those he meets.

“I have met many pastors who have been victimised who are in dire need of assistance. Our discreet assistance to others previously has made a big difference and I hope that we can make the same difference for these pastors I recently met.”

On Friday, January 10, interim president Michel Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicholas Tiangaye resigned after a two-day summit for regional leaders in Chad. Speaker of the provisions parliament, Alexandre-Ferdinand Nguendet, was appointed interim president until another. He issued stern warning to ex-Seleka fighters and to anti-Balaka saying “The chaos is over, the pillaging is over, the revenge attacks are over.”

Violence continued in Bangui over the weekend despite the presence of 1,600 French troops and 4,000 AU forces. By Monday it was reported that the atmosphere had calmed down some.

For the countless refugees across the country,  indications of the political will to make an end to the crisis are welcome. However, within the context of the failed state that resulted from the March 2013 coup, the new transitional leader to be appointed soon will need all the help he can get.

Open Doors, in partnership with the local Church, continues to call on the United Nations Security Council to approve the launch of a full scale peacekeeping operation in CAR.

Prayer points

  1. Please pray for those facing very difficult circumstances in refugee camps. Pray that the Lord would be at work in people’s hearts in the midst of these circumstances. Pray that our brothers and sisters might through this crisis be drawn close to God and receive encouragement and strength.
  2. Please pray for all those working to make a difference for the people of CAR. Please pray for God’s protection and sustenance.
  3. Please pray for God’s grace to Mr Nguendet and his government who is faced with the daunting task of creating order from the chaos. We pray for huge international support and good governance on his part.