We’re home again in the Central African Republic for at least a smallish while. In January, as conflict roiled and brewed around town, we packed up and left Zemio in a controlled evacuation. (PS To all the good pilots of AIM AIR: thank you for risking planes and personal safety to retrieve folks like us. Our lives can’t possibly be worth your own, and yet you come for us.)
CAR is wracked with instability, but our village has been something of a haven, sheltering refugees and providing medical care to a wide swath of the country. People hitchhike their way to Zemio to attend clinics and pick up antiretrovirals for scores of folks living with HIV/AIDS. Camps housing displaced Congolese, Sudanese, and Mbororo families sprawl back into the scrub brush and jungle. And all the while, peacekeeping troops roll through town in their pale armored tanks, waving at us as the earth trembles beneath them.
Zemio owns a specific kind of beauty, hard earned and irrepressible. I grew up in island skin beneath a Pacific sky, blazed through autumns in the Midwest, ran the ancient folds of Kenya’s Rift Valley. I didn’t expect to find CAR beautiful. But if peace ever claims this place, you need to come long enough to see the sun rise and fall over red earth, fanning palms, thatched roofs, and smoke, and all of it turning to gold.
My language helper, bless her overworked soul, calls me her child. Tells me she is my mother. And who even takes you in like that, in just a few months’ time? I’ve learned not an impressive lot of Sango, because it turns out that bush life takes ages, especially for the moms. Washing clothes is an early morning production in itself. Sifting bugs from flour, lighting and coaxing and cooking over fires as sweat pearls and rolls from my temples–all of it moves with a slowness older than time. I fight with dust motes and insects in wars where I’m outnumbered nine trillion to one. We work through another round of homeschooling, and then on days without team meetings, my language helper meanders over at a time that may or may not be close to two o’clock. Lacking a bridge language, we stagger through an hour of stilted Sango, where she says things at me and I try to guess what they mean. It’s at least entertaining.
Word on the street is that US and Ugandan forces will vacate the country come April 25th. Their absence creates a power vacuum, and vacuums anywhere, but especially here, tend to get filled lickety-split with maybe not the most noble cast of characters. As such, it appears that our weeks here are numbered, and we press hard to redeem the time.
My mantra these days is Engage! But to be honest, I don’t know how to Engage! when the breadth of my conversational skills involves asking the Mbororo if their children/cows/homes are well, and saying that I pray God keeps and protects them. While in Kenya, as we sought God’s leading, He pulled a few certain and unexpected threads of thought to the foreground. One of them was summed up by a friend who sat across my borrowed living room and looked me in the eyeballs and said, “Prayer is enough.”
Sometimes it feels like so much weaksauce, to be here but focused on praying. And sometimes it feels like everything, like unleashing the weight of God’s sovereignty and fire and purpose for this place. At the end of the day this is His work for the sake of His Name, so come, Lord Jesus.
And so I pray as we walk paths that curl back through the Mbororo camp, pray over a humid room of Zande believers, pray as we weave along dirt roads on motorcycles, pray in the crush of the market. Make Your redemption known and Your Name famous, even here, God. Even now.
Friends, if you’re willing, would you keep watch with us? Some hours are hard, where we’re scraping the bottom of our souls’ reserves, and for once I think I might understand that encounter Luke records between Jesus and Simon Peter. “Simon, Simon,” Jesus says. “Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22.31-32). These are days of sifting, and I wonder if there’s any of me left, anything worth keeping. Pray that our faith may not fail. Pray that the Zande will come alive to the gospel. Pray that the Mbororo will find their lives, their very selves in Christ.
May His light shine in the darkness, and may the darkness not overcome it.