At a town in Chad I pulled off the main road and navigated the Toyota Land Cruiser in between mud houses and through narrow alleys with inches to spare. A Chadian Lutheran Brethren missionary colleague, directed me to a house where we picked up the village chief, and then we continued on our way. We left the village behind and drove on a cattle path through the bush until we arrived at the refugee settlement. We pulled up next to a brand-new water well that Lutheran Brethren International Missions’s Living Waters ministry had installed a couple weeks earlier. Hot and dusty from the long drive, we tumbled out of the vehicle and enjoyed a cool drink from the well. Some men quickly gathered around, pumping our hands and welcoming us. They then helped us unload from the vehicle sacks of mosquito nets, tarps and blankets—purchased through CLB donations. The men hefted these on their shoulders and invited us to follow them.
Walking through the settlement of shelters hastily constructed with straw and wooden poles, I was struck by the resilience of these displaced people. They lived on the fine line of subsistence survival, and yet seemed content—smiling at me, shaking my hand, laughing in pleasant surprise as I spoke a language they understood. We soon came to the one mud structure in the camp, where we deposited the bundles. The men showed us a large pile of sacks of grain, distributed a couple of days earlier by truck. This grain was also purchased by CLB donations. We were then directed to a mat spread out in the shade of a tree. A young man started heating charcoal in a wire brazier and ran off to fetch a small pot, some tea leaves and sugar. As we waited for the tea to be served, I asked the men to share with me their stories. Abdel spoke first.
A year and a half prior, Abdel lived in peace and contentment with his family in the Central African Republic (CAR). He owned a herd of cattle, raising them and selling them as needed to support his family. He is of the Wodaabe people, a nomadic tribe related to the larger Fulbe tribe found all over central and western Africa. He was relatively wealthy and respected in his community. He is a Muslim.
CAR has been without a stable government for years. Rebel groups and civilian militia have taken up arms, attempting to gain political power and control through violence. Genocide, religious persecution, child soldiers, senseless death… all this has become the norm in CAR.
One day, a violent civilian militia came into Abdel’s community. They called themselves “anti-balaka.” Many of them also call themselves Christians. They have come to hate Muslims because of Muslim militia groups that have persecuted their people. These men came into Abdel’s village and demanded all the cattle and livestock. They killed any who stood in their way. They forced Abdel to stand against a wall at gun point and threatened to kill him. In the end, they locked him in a small hut. For two days he sat there without food and water, not knowing what had happened to his wife and children. The second night he escaped and fled through the bush. He made his way north to Chad. He met up with others from his own people and they made their way here, settling near the town of Kouno. He is now trying to make a new life for himself by subsistence farming, the only option available to him.
Abdel has managed to locate his wife and one of his children. Others are missing and unaccounted for. He has brothers and friends that were confirmed dead due to the violence. After recounting his story, Abdel looked at me and said, “Thank you for your help here. Without your care, many of us would not be alive today.”
He showed me his hands, and said: “I was a herdsman. I know nothing about farming. But that is the only way that I have open to me. I am not a farmer. But I will become a farmer. I will do what I need to do to survive and to care for my family. Thank you for your help. May God grant you paradise because of the good you have done!”
How do you even respond to that! Here is a man who has suffered greatly. And the suffering has come at the hands of those who call themselves Christians. And then he meets other Christians who come to his aid. Imagine the conflict in his life, in his soul.
I shared with Abdel how humbled I was to meet him and to witness his story and his resilience. I shared with him that the help provided by the Church of the Lutheran Brethren is not about us being “good,” but rather about God’s love for his creation, and his call to us to love him and all people in return.
We continued to visit with these refugees for the rest of the afternoon. During our conversation, we shared with them the gospel, the message of Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for us, for them, and for the men who killed some of Abdel’s family. I shared that the “good” that we do does not earn us favor with God; rather it is faith in the finished work of Christ that saves us.
As I left Abdel that day, I praised God for the opportunity we had, through the ministry of LBIM, to pass on both physical blessing and the message of Christ to people who so desperately need both. Many churches and individuals in the CLB have contributed to the famine relief fund, making this ministry possible. Our LBIM missionaries and national colleagues evaluate the needs every year and manage funds accordingly. We have invested in over 30 similar refugee settlements. Typically, about 75% of the funds designated to this ministry are used to purchase grain, as famine is a prioritized need. Tarps, blankets and mosquito nets are also purchased, primarily for distribution in refugee settlements such as this one. These supplies are stored and later distributed, following a plan approved by LBIM. Most of these communities have also received water wells through LBIM. Our field missionaries are intentional about an ongoing relationship with the recipient communities, for the sake of the gospel.
Thank you for your contributions to this ministry. You might be rubbing shoulders with Abdel in heaven one day!
Dan Venberg serves as the Mission Mobilizer and Recruiter for Lutheran Brethren International Mission.
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