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Grace Brethren raises awarness for Central African Republic

A congregation of an area-based religious denomination with strong ties to the Central African Republic is hosting a program Sunday aimed at mobilizing aid for the nation’s recently worsening political and humanitarian crisis.

“The Central African Republic: What Can Be Done to Help” will take place at 6 p.m. Sunday at Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church, 1200 Kings Highway. The congregation is part of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, which is headquartered in Winona Lake.

Event moderator Terry White said the denomination has been involved in mission work in the Central African Republic for more than 100 years and has more than 2,000 churches and 500,000 members there.

White, who teaches English and journalism at Brethren-affiliated Grace College in Winona Lake, said the nation’s residents have been subject to ethnic- and sectarian-based looting, killings and atrocities.

He said there is an urgent need for aid for what the United Nations recently reported is more than 935,000 displaced persons, including half the population of Bangui, the republic’s 1 million-person capital city.

About 100,000 refugees have taken shelter at the city’s airport, living under tarps with insufficient food, water, sanitation and medical supplies, he said. On Dec. 26, the international humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders pulled back its involvement at the airport, where French and U.N. troops are stationed, because of uncontrolled violence, according to news reports.

“There is a very deep connection between Grace Brethren and the Central African Republic,” White said. “We think there is a lot of interest in the African conflict and a lot of frustration among people in America who want to help and don’t know how. We’re trying to get accurate information out and a clear path on how to assist.”

Speaking at the event will be several local leaders of groups working in the Central African Republic.

They include Jim Hocking of Warsaw, chief executive officer of Water for Good, a nonprofit organization that works in central Africa and is now helping a U.N. agency dig latrines and install water supplies at the airport; physician’s assistant Mike Taylor of Warsaw, founder and head of Three Strands medical ministry that trains medical personnel and provides medical relief; and Barb Wooler of Winona Lake, who founded and co-directs a program serving more than 3,000 orphans.

Refugee Dr. Francois Ngoumape, director of the Grace Brethren seminary in Bangui, will give a short statement.

White said Ngoumape and part of his family were able to leave the city Dec. 23 on a temporary visa that will allow him to spend six months as International Scholar-in-Residence at Grace Theological Seminary in Warsaw. The family fell victim to violence and spent months living in fear, White said.

“His home has been looted and raided and vehicles taken,” White said. “Because of his connection with the West, he was very much a target and had to spend much time in hiding.”

The situation in the Central African Republic, formerly known as French Equatorial Africa, deteriorated after the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels toppled the Christian former President François Bozizé in March and replaced him with Muslim Michel Djotodia.

Djotodia vowed to Islamize the republic, which is more than 60 percent Christian, and brought in mercenary troops from neighboring Chad. Meanwhile, Bozizé has been fighting to regain power.

Last month, more than 1,000 are believed to have been killed, according to a report on CNN’s website, which also said officials feared a looming genocide.

The Grace Brethren denomination, White said, has 270 churches and 40,000 members in the United States, including congregations in Fort Wayne, Leesburg and Goshen.