Sharing Christ's love from afar
ELCA missionary Susan Smith with village
school staff and school officials in Mbartoua,
Central African Republic.
When Susan Smith decided to take a position as an ELCA missionary in the Central African Republic, she figured Christmas would be a little bit different then back home in snowy Pennsylvania.
But when she got a knock on the door Christmas Eve morning, she was in for more of a surprise than she could have imagined. “My first thought was, ‘Who would be visiting me at this time of morning, especially on a holiday?” she says.
The visitor was the president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic who came bearing some startling news. He told Susan that rebel fighters were making their way to the capital. “Although that was far from us,” Susan says, “he said that we were being asked to evacuate to Cameroon as a precaution.”
The Central African Republic has had several coups d’état since gaining independence from France in 1960. The current situation, Susan shares, “started about Dec. 8 when rebels took the town of Ndele” in the northern part of the country, then began proceeding east toward the country’s diamond, gold and oil mines.
In total four ELCA missionaries were evacuated, each of whom had unique responsibilities in the country. Susan was working as an education advisor helping with projects designed to provide elementary education in villages where there are no government schools.
While she says she is able to do some of her work from Cameroon, there are difficulties. “We can talk on the phone although connections usually have a delay, making it hard to communicate effectively,” she says.
And the other missionaries “have even less chance do to their work,” Susan shares. “You can’t work as a nurse at a clinic or teach classes at a theological seminary from a distance.”
Still, those evacuated are intent on doing God’s work despite the relocation. “Each of is considering how we can be of service and show Christ’s love where we are,” says Susan.
“Several will be working at a hospital here in N’gaoundéré. Others, like me, are trying to set up contacts and/or write drafts of materials that can be shared with our colleagues when we get back. I know the Central Africans with whom we work are missing us (as we are them) although they understand and support the decision to evacuate.”
On Jan. 14, 2013, officials in the Central African Republic signed an agreement with the rebels to cease fighting and work to form a coalition government, but the missionaries will be waiting to see if the agreement lasts before they return.
“I am trying to stay optimistic,” Susan says. “We are all doing the best we can with what we have where we are.”
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