In the impoverished and conflict-torn country of the Central African Republic, Muslim extremists have begun targeting Bible translators who aid missionaries by providing editions of the Bible in the local vernacular.
In recent months Islamist militants have destroyed the homes of several Bible translators, stealing computers, money, cars, and other valuables. In an attack on a Bible translation center, one worker was threatened by an insurgent who pointed an AK-47 at his face demanding valuables.
The Central African Republic (CAR) has been in the throes of ongoing conflict since March 2013, when Seleka—a coalition of mainly Muslim anti-government militias—ousted Christian President Francois Bozize. The coup involved the widespread killing of civilians, and at least 5,000 have died in the ensuing violence.
The population of the landlocked nation is predominantly Christian, and according to reports there was harmony among Christians and Muslims until the 2013 Muslim coup. The reigning atmosphere after the coup was described by the BBC as a “religious tinderbox.”
Interim President Michel Djotodia, CAR’s first Muslim president, resigned in January 2014, after which a transitional government led by Catherine Samba-Panza came to power.
Since September, the United Nations has maintained a peacekeeping force of 9,000 soldiers in the CAR, replacing an African Union mission in the country torn apart by bloody sectarian violence.
In December 2013, another Bible translator was shot and killed while trying to get his family to safety during an Islamist raid.
Despite the ongoing threat of violence, Bible translators in CAR are persisting in their work, aided by an Orlando-based organization called Wycliffe Associates, which assists Bible translators around the world.
“Across the African continent, brave souls just like these Bible translators stand strong against persecution and danger for the sake of the greatest treasure—God’s Word,” says Bruce Smith, president and CEO of Wycliffe.
Wycliffe is seeking to raise $625,000 to provide Bible translators in CAR and other volatile regions with new equipment and facilities.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome