David received a call around 1 p.m. last December that would quickly turn his life upside down. Growing up in the Central African Republic (CAR), a country the size of Texas in Central Africa, he had seen a coup almost every 10 years in the unstable country. But this time it was different—the State Department had asked all Americans to leave, and the ambassador was leaving the country too. They told him to come to the embassy by 6 p.m. that day to leave the country, his livelihood, and his family behind.
After answering the call, David began to cry. He called his wife, told her the news, and they began to pack. They could take only a little clothing and a computer, and they left behind thehouses David had constructed with his own hands. And saddest of all, they had to leave behind family and their dog Ginger.
David and his wife boarded a plane to Cameroon at midnight and bought a one-way ticket for the states. The last-minute tickets cost them $4,500.
The couple left CAR last December after an increase in violence and a coup by Seleka, a rebel group that ousted former President Francois Bozize and placed Michael Djotodia in power.
“The reality is the country is not safe,” David, whose real name is withheld for security reasons and to protect relatives who remain in CAR, told WORLD. “I was able to talk to one of the guys in charge of the U.S. Embassy and he told me some missionaries will return, but against U.S. policy. He strongly advised me not to go back.”
With the political upheaval in CAR and a predominantly Christian population, the tension between Christians and the 15 percent Muslim population does not come as a surprise. Bozize remains exiled in Cameroon, and though Djotodia “dissolved” the Seleka Islamist rebel group that helped him seize power in March, Christians now face even greater persecution.
“You can tell the tension is growing,” David continued. “But we didn’t know how to deal with [the violence], because of fear of retaliation. They have money and we don’t.”
David’s house hasn’t been looted, but rebel militants looted his cousin’s house, his uncle’s house, and a friend’s house. If Christians don’t want to be hurt or looted, he said, they must “pay money and shut up.”
“Sometimes they ask you to load all your goods into the pickup truck,” David continued. “If [you] say no, they shoot you. I never know what can happen to my family.”
David is one of many people whose lives have been affected by Islamic militants. And if the militants have their way, a “new Islamic Republic” will be installed. WORLD reported earlier this month that MSN obtained a letter CAR Christians claimed Djotodia wrote to the Organization of Islamic Conference in 2012. The letter allegedly states that Djotodia plans to create a new Islamic Republic and impose Sharia law. Djotodia has denied writing the letter.
“Who would have thought they would have come and taken over our country?” David said. “I was angry with our people. I was telling them for many years, since I came from the U.S., I said I am giving 10 years before it becomes an Islamic country.” David and his wife started their ministry in 2006 and have served two terms in CAR.
A few Christians have tried to get together to fight the Muslims, according to David, but he said the groups do not have enough weapons: “I wish they could be successful. Their only hope is that the French can send more troops by the end of December … to help organize an independent election.”
But France is reluctant to intervene in CAR, especially after the lukewarm response from its allies when it took military action against Islamic rebels in Mali last year. The African Union, a group made up of 54 African states, has deployed about 2,500 troops to the unstable region, but its resources are limited.
In the meantime, while it is certainly good for Christians in the United States to pray for the situation, people in CAR also need material support, David said. Outsiders, he said, don’t know the magnitude of the suffering there: “A lot of people pray, but only one person gave me $50 to help people there … you don’t hear anybody say, ‘How can I help?’”
David and his wife have settled back in the United States, but they haven’t forgotten the people they left behind. They plan to go back someday and hope to help CAR refugees who have fled the country. In the meantime, they will wait and pray. Their house still stands. And they haven’t been separated from all they knew and loved—they were reunited with their dog Ginger earlier this year when a friend brought her back from Africa.