Here is a firsthand account from theological educators and missionaries at College Church's partner seminary, The Bangui Evangelical School of Theology (BEST or, in French, FATEB) in the Central Africa Republic (C.A.R.). For the past 36 years, College Church has provided scholarship funding to students studying theology at BEST. Sadly, political upheaval and violence has rocked C.A.R.
The good news is that this is an account of how the school has adapted, and by God's good hand, persevered in the midst of national chaos.
"We just came home from two weeks with friends and colleagues in Africa. We flew to Yaounde, Cameroon, where the master and doctoral students of FATEB are studying. They were relocated there after the government overthrow and subsequent violence in C.A.R. in 2013. From Cameroon we went to Bangui, capital of C.A.R., where FATEB's original campus has functioned for almost 38 years, with graduates now serving throughout French Africa.
Chaos and Violence--an End to the Academic Year
In 2012, while we were visiting C.A.R., rebel soldiers began their march toward Bangui, stopping short of the capital and threatening to overthrow the government. Three months later, they charged in the city, guns blazing--looting, killing and terrorizing the population. Chaos and violence spread throughout the country the next ten months until pressure from neighboring countries forced the self-proclaimed rebel president out of power.
But without unified leadership, the rebels' banditry, rape and torture continued. Militia groups organized to respond to these widespread atrocities. The fighting produced a huge humanitarian crisis with more than a million people driven from their homes.
Foreign students left the country, and FATEB could not complete its academic year. After losing three months of the school year in Bangui, classes resumed in Cameroon for masters and doctoral students.
God's Hand in the Terror
With the growing presence of UN peacekeepers and humanitarian agencies, we felt it was safe for us to visit FATEB in Bangui once again this year. We spent time with students, colleagues and friends who have lived through two years of trauma. Listening to their stories of threats, destruction and loss of life in C.A.R. saddened us. But we were also encouraged to hear how these people saw the hand of God protecting them through the terror.
As the atrocities grew more intense in Bangui, local people sought refuge wherever they could, and more than 2,500 displaced people found safety at the seminary. A gas station on one side of the campus was looted as was the government training school on the other side--and FATEB remained a refuge.
A Place of Peace and Prayer
Eventually the seminary's large assembly hall became a city meeting place for prayer, seminars, discussions and plans for dealing with the crisis. Government officials, UN agencies, relief agencies, World Vision and TEAR Fund and church groups all gathered to discuss how to bring peace and reconciliation to this troubled country.
As the capital city has become more stable, many displaced people have been able to return to their homes. Others have no homes left to which to return and they remain at FATEB.
Not Giving Up
Is Central Africa Republic really on the road to recovery? Over the past four months tension in the capital has eased and more shops and markets are open for business. The path to peace and prosperity will probably encounter setbacks. But FATEB in Bangui has not just survived these two years of turmoil. It has exerted positive leadership and service through the worst of the crisis. Our colleagues and students at FATEB are not giving up, and we shouldn't either.
Thank you for sharing with us in the privilege of helping to equip these men and women for serving the church and society in Africa.