Central African Republic: delivering the gospel when war is raging
By AfriGO Team
Anatole Banga knows what it means to take a risk for the sake of the gospel. Due to war and rebel activity since 2012, many pastors have been killed and churches burned down in the Central African Republic (CAR). Ministers of the gospel such as Anatole and his family served in a context that was far from safe. “The situation in the country meant Muslim communities opposed Christian communities, even though the root was political,” says Anatole. “But to my surprise, many are still risking their lives to share the gospel, and many are coming to faith. All praise goes to the Lord!”
Anatole became a Christian as a student in China in 1986. “I was doing agricultural engineering, when I met the Lord,” says Anatole. “When I got saved, the Lord gave me a burden for the Chinese people. For four years I started doing evangelism and helping underground churches.
“When I received my call to enter the ministry, I assumed I would get training and then go back to China as a missionary. But on my way, the Lord changed my direction. From West Africa I went to Europe. I thought I was going to be a missionary in Switzerland, but the Lord said, ‘No, go back to Africa’.”
So Anatole returned to CAR. There he launched the church-planting mission Foundation Jerusalem. Later, in 1996, Anatole started a second missions movement, in which he is still involved. Nations En Marche places a specific focus on unreached people groups.
“I gave up the leadership to the churches,” he says, “and just concentrated on outreach. The first group my team and I went to was the Pygmies, an animistic people.”
In order to reach the Pygmies, Ana-tole had to find them. They live deep in the jungle, having retreated several times due to mistreatment by the Bantu tribe and abuse during the ongoing war. At first Anatole struck out on his own, without receiving any training in how to go about reaching this people group. “The Lord helped me,” he says. “I am thankful that I didn’t make many errors – as I learned later when I did receive some training and started researching.”
Many things have changed for the Pygmies since this time. The mission helped them to build houses and acquire skills so that they could make a living for their family. There is literacy training for adults, a rural school for the children and a health care centre.
“We established the first missionary station about 20 years ago,” says Anatole, “and then we just kept on moving into the forest to find the people and share the gospel with them. I am really glad. Because not only have Pygmies received the gospel, but some have been trained as missionaries. Today they are reaching out to their own people with the gospel.”
A special grace
Anatole also felt God’s call to reach out to CAR’s Muslims, who mostly live in Bangui, the capital city. Because he didn’t have any idea how to go about this, Anatole spent 40 days praying and fasting, asking God to direct him. Muslim people respond just as anyone else to love, friendship and compassion. And, as he reached out to them, he saw some come to the Lord. In 2000 Anatole and others launched the Mission Polytechnic Training Center in Bangui.
War and conflict have characterized the CAR for some years. “During the crisis I travelled to meet and discuss reconciliation with different groups. In Yaloke we were almost killed by Muslim armed rebels. We have opened meetings in different places, calling on people to cease the fighting. In Bouchia we faced the same danger.
In Boda the Balaka group was after us. When bringing supplies to suffering believers in remote regions many times we almost lost our lives on the road. In Bangui I jeopardized my life when saving a rebel chief, as people were preparing to kill him.”
As war raged, the Banga family hid Muslims in their home to protect them. Anatole’s wife nearly lost her life, and his children were traumatized through seeing violence.
In January 2014 he relocated them to Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, for their safety and restoration. The following year his wife suffered a stroke, and Anatole spent months in Burkina Faso with her and the children (aged 21, 17 and 3 ½). “The Lord intervened and she is much better now,” he says. “She has a special grace to touch Muslim hearts, and I am praying about starting a ministry to Muslims in Burkina Faso.”
Anatole is encouraged to see even new Christians in CAR standing up for their faith and taking risks to share the gospel. “Their courage, and their concern for Muslim people despite the danger, is proof of the love of the Lord Jesus in their hearts,” he says.