How many Christians are there in the Central African Republic?
Three-quarters of the population of Central African Republic (CAR) are Christian (that’s 3.8 million believers) but they are still vulnerable to persecution.
How are Christians persecuted in CAR?
Since 2013, the Central African Republic has been embroiled in conflict and fighting, and most of the country is occupied by armed militia groups that are responsible for a wide range of human rights abuses. When Christian leaders have publicly denounced the violence, they’ve been threatened, and their churches ransacked and torched. Conflict in the country has resulted in thousands of Christians losing their homes and livelihoods, and many continue to live in camps for internally displaced people.
Converts to Christianity from Islam face further pressure from family members. Women and girls can be put under house arrest to prevent them from meeting with other Christians, or forcibly married to a much older Muslim. There are reports that sometimes a Christian mother is only allowed to attend Christian gatherings on condition that her children are sent to the mosque. The local community will often ostracise Christian converts and might also try to force them to renounce Christianity through violence.
Meet ‘Pastor Ousman’
“Our fate has been sealed for several years by [extremist] Muslims who harassed us on all fronts.”Pastor Ousman's church was attacked by Islamic militants
What’s life like for Christians in CAR?
Members of Pastor Ousman's* church were attacked by a group of Islamic militants, killing 10 people and burning a church and around 70 houses belonging to Christians. Pastor Ousman (name changed) escaped the attack, but witnessed it all.
“A church member was in his field farming,” he recalls. “He was surprised by a herd of cows entering his field, destroying his crops. They were shepherded by local rebels. He got a stick and tried to chase the cows away. The rebels attacked him with a machete, killing him. Then they descended on the village and started firing their weapons into the air. The villagers fled into the bush, but my colleague remained. The rebels ordered him to follow them – he refused. He was shot right there. They pursued some villagers who fled to the bush and killed 10 of them. Then they set fire to the houses on the Christian side of town, and to two churches. Houses on the Muslim side were spared.”
Persecution against Christians is most severe in the northern and eastern parts of the country, where Muslims are a majority and splinter-groups of the rebel alliance Séléka are operating. Christians are also particularly at risk in the eastern part of the country that borders Sudan.
Islamic extremists often assault, torture or kill men and boys because of their faith. Pastors are especially targeted, sometimes even during church services. Christian men also experience discrimination in the workplace. Islamic leaders occupy all the marketplaces, control trade and impose large taxes on Christian businessmen or even loot the shops of Christians to keep them in poverty.
The many years of violence and instability in the Central African Republic have left Christian women and girls particularly vulnerable to rape, displacement, abduction, sexual slavery and forced marriage as forms of religious persecution. In certain Muslim-majority areas, Christian women face pressure to follow an Islamic dress code. Some women have been harassed and fined for not covering their heads according to this code.
*Name changed for security reasons
Is it getting harder to be a Christian in CAR?
The Central African Republic has risen four places on this year’s World Watch List. Violence remains extreme in the country, as do targeted attacks, which is increasing pressure on Christians in all areas of public and private life. Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis is worsening in the country, and in June 2021, was at a five-year low – which makes life even harder for vulnerable believers.
How can I help Christians in the CAR?
Please keep praying for your brothers and sisters in CAR. Your gifts and prayers make an enormous difference to those following Jesus no matter the cost.
Open Doors works through local partners to support believers in the Central African Republic with persecution survival training, economic empowerment projects and trauma care.
Father God, we pray for our brothers and sisters in the Central African Republic. Please bring an end to the years of conflict and poverty, and replace them with peace and stability. Protect Your children as they seek to live lives devoted to You, and speak in dreams and visions to Islamic extremists so that they encounter You and turn from violence and hatred to love. Amen.