In this season of Advent – anticipation and waiting – I can’t help but think about all of the families who waited anxiously for the 26 loved ones to be released. Waiting and wondering how the hostages were. What a joy to have them back.
The chief (addressed as his majesty) welcomed us and told us some stories of his captivity. (Fortunately for me, and probably because I was there, he spoke mostly in French with a little Gbaya. He said there were 26 captives: 15 Cameroonians, 10 Central Africans, and 1 Polish priest who works in Baboua.
When the rebels came into the Bethany neighborhood and took 7 people, he was able to convince them not to take his son as well. A couple of the children of a teacher at the Bible School had just passed him on the trail. When the rebels asked who they were, planning to take them as well, the chief said they were just children returning to town. He saved them (and their parents) several months of hardship. The chief said that 24 of the hostages were men and 2 were women.
When these Cameroonian hostages arrived at the camp in CAR, the chief said the rebels offered him a soda and told that he was to be treated well because they had nothing against him personally. They saw the hostages as a way to put pressure on the Cameroonian government to release their leader. That was the last soda and courtesy that they were given.
The hostages were chained together at the ankle and wrist. To eat the wrist manacles were temporarily removed and then replaced. If they had to go to the bathroom they had to ask and get permission to be unchained. Often they were told to wait a while. More than once a hostage wet or soiled himself because the wait was too long. Then, the hostages were always accompanied to do their business.
Food was not well prepared. It was often burnt or poorly cooked. Meat was often almost raw. The chief said that the priest once asked for some manioc (cassava) to go with some (mostly raw) chicken, but the rebels refused. Father Mathieu insisted on saying mass each day at noon and having evening prayers about 6 p.m., even when the captors said they were not to pray.
The chief said that he often had dreams of his dead parents and children. He was sure that he would soon be with them. Even the hostage chained to his side said he saw the chief’s father.
One of the other hostages said that he wished he had refused to go and been killed before crossing the river; it would have been better. The chief said he would not be taken again, that he, too, would rather die than go through that nightmare again.
About a day before they were released, the chief said a chicken came into the area where they were being held early in the morning. It hopped over other hostages and squatted beside him to lay an egg. Soon, a rebel came to take the chicken and the egg, but told the chief that the chicken’s action meant there would soon be good news for him.
The next day, they saw some rebels talking to the priest and helping him to pack his things. Soon after that, the rebels came to the Cameroonians and said they, too, were to be freed. (The Central Africans were also freed, but three days later.) The rebels walked the hostages from the camp to the river at the border with Cameroon. They left at 1 a.m. and arrived about 6:30 a.m. – walking the whole time in the dark without flashlights.
The original plan was for all 16 of these hostages to go to Yaoundé and then to fly to Brazzaville, Congo with Abdoulaye Miskine, the leader who was being held in Yaoundé. Fortunately, they were not forced to accompany Miskine although the chief said he thought that Father Mathieu did. (I have heard that despite all the difficulties, this courageous, dedicated priest want to return to his work in Baboua. May God be with him where every he goes.)
|Chief, Bible School students, some visitors|
The chief said he is very glad to be home among his family and neighbors. He was touched and pleased that so many people prayed for him during his absence. He said he gives thanks to God continually to be home. His feet still hurt, but he is beginning to regain his strength.
So, as we await Christ’s coming (the first time to mark history and the second when he will return) this Advent, imagine what the waiting was like for these hostages. Imagine what many people around the world feel as they wait for peace and security. Imagine the frustration and grief of people of color in the USA who still wait for equality and peace in their daily lives. Pray for God’s peace that passes all understanding be with all who suffer. Pray that the Holy Spirit change the hard hearts of the rebels who took these hostages and of all of those who put greed and self-interest before the well-being of others.
Change can come. We can help – each of us in our corner of the world. May we all get what we are waiting for – sooner rather than later.