24 March 2013 — this will always be one of the most memorable dates of my life, for reasons not usually associated with memorable dates.
It was Palm Sunday and I was living in Gamboula, a village on the western side of the Central African Republic (CAR). During the previous three months, the peace and security in CAR had been threatened by Muslim rebels called the Seleka, who wished to overthrow the government and install a Muslim state in a mostly Christian country.
The missionaries had a meeting the night before, but nothing was really decided. Some wanted to leave soon, because they had young children. At 10.00 the following morning, as some of us were hanging around outside after another meeting, one of the missionaries came up on his bike telling us that the capital Bangui (an 8-10 hour drive away) had fallen to the rebels.
I returned to my house and began to pack. Around noon, as I was about to pack my computer, I noticed my dad was on Skype. As I began to tell him the news of what was going on, the same missionary came up and told me that ex-government soldiers, with rebels in pursuit, were heading our way. I quickly told my dad to be praying and that I had to go elsewhere.
As I was helping another missionary family pack, we heard people running and screaming in the village. It was then we suddenly learned that rebels were in downtown Gamboula, 15 minutes away.
We frantically packed, throwing the most essential things in the truck, and I was also trying to calm the kids down and keep myself calm as well.
We left around 3.00pm, 31 expats in nine vehicles, and headed down the only road that wasn’t cut off by the rebels. I was in the lead vehicle and, as we drove down one of the worst roads, our clutch went out.
One of the missionaries was a mechanic and he jimmied it and drove it the rest of the way without the clutch. Another obstacle to tackle was a river, which took us 90 minutes to cross by a manual ferry.
We continued on for another hour, before we safely reached the border as the sun set. That evening, as we waited for three hours to pass through the border, we thanked the Lord and sang ‘Amazing grace’and ‘Great is thyfaithfulness’, to remind us of the Lord’s grace and faithfulness in protecting us through the evacuation.
We later learned that it was actually bandits that took over Gamboula and they were indeed 15 minutes behind us! Gamboula has changed hands multiple times since then, and many of the missionaries have returned safely.
However, most of the Central African Republic is still in great unrest. Strife between ‘Christians’ and Muslims continue to grip the country. Please continue to pray for this country.