Selective Silence

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah
Christ, the Savior is born
Christ, the Savior is born

In the American Television Media, I did not hear a word about it, not a single word. There was nothing in the nightly news, not on ABC or CBS or NBC. I heard nothing about the missionaries being evacuated from towns in Central African Republic (CAR). Not on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day did I hear about the growing rebel activity in the north of the country. I knew from weeks of e-mail posts that the fighting started about a month ago in CAR, one of the poorest countries in the world. I watched, waited and wondered if it would affect the new work I am doing or the people I am working with.

I began getting the messages early on the morning of December 24: Sometime before Christmas Eve, ELCA missionaries got word from a leader of the Lutheran Church in CAR that they should go. It wasn’t because rebel activity was near their location. The rebel fighting was hundreds of miles away. Yet, church officials were afraid that this recent uprising might give other rebel groups staying in the mountains nearby the compound where ELCA missionaries were located courage to began their own campaign or join in the fighting. So, they were told to leave. But I only heard the news by e-mail in my capacity as ELCA Global Mission Area Program Director for West Africa. From American television media sources their was only silence.

On Christmas Eve they began to evacuate. Their names are Joe and Deb and Susan and Jackie. I have not met them yet but I know about the work they are doing. They work in hospitals and in schools; they work as teachers, as pastors and in development in CAR. They are in Africa representing the ELCA, serving and touching lives for the flourishing of human community. They accompany the people of CAR as they struggle for sufficient food, water and education. Instead of celebrating the birth of Christ or participating in the singing of carols in the places they serve, with the people they work with, they and their families were uprooted and told for safety sake, they were to leave the homes, the lives, the communities they inhabited in CAR. They rode all day and were held up at the border leaving Central African Republic and delayed a bit crossing into Cameroon, but they left. I am happy to report they are safe and partaking in Christmas celebrations and reunions with ELCA missionaries in Cameroon and doing a little sightseeing.

Now, I could be wrong, so you tell me if you heard during your Christmas Eve dinner the news of fighting in the Central African Republic. Some other news media covered the stories but the information is not as we say “common knowledge.” Many of the updates are coming from other foreign news sources. I have received a barrage of e-mail updates. The e-mails are still coming amd four days after Christmas, Agence France- Presse reports: “A coalition of three rebel movements known as Seleka has taken several towns, including four regional capitals. The rebels accuse the government of failing to fulfill the terms of peace pacts signed in 2007 and 2001.” (BBC) Included in those e-mails is an Associated Press report. It reads, “the rebels say they are fighting because of their thirst for justice, for peace, for security and for economic development of the people of Central African Republic.”(AP 12/29) The president of Central African Republic has asked for help, peace talks are scheduled. Yet, nothing on the television stations and news programs that I watch.  A fellow Global Mission staff member told me there was a a brief moment on CNN, other than that silence.

It seems to me that for those who are on the ground, this is a momentous event, a civil war, a shattering of lives, a displacement of people. This is a momentous event not just for the ELCA missionaries but the people in cities across Central African Republic. There are many in that country who live in poverty and struggle. They are now being put through yet another trial.  The news we hear about their lives and this new struggle is barley a trickle; in the nightly news, I have heard barely a word.

So, I have decided not to be silent, to let you know what is going on in Central African Republic. So, that you might keep the ELCA missionaries, the people of Central African Republic, the government and even the rebel group Seleka in your prayers. My prayer is that we and all people of the world might know the calm and love that the Savior ushers into the world.  In this new year there might not just be silence, but justice and peace. 

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