29 August, 2023: When the Pastor was Kidnapped set in Bouar, the Central African Republic

When Mother found out that the pastor had been taken by armed militia, she was at her friend Marie’s house, watching as Marie braised bushmeat over a fire. Mother’s house was on the other side of the dirt road but a few kilometres by walking. Mother and Marie were chatting idly when an armed vehicle sped by, kicking dust all over the huts. A crowd of men and women were following it. A woman shouted out. « Don’t take our pastor, s’il vous plaît! »

And then Mother realised what was happening. Kidnappings were common in the Central African Republic, and Mother had grown somewhat used to them. But Mother and the pastor was close. Her full emotional response took some moments to coalesce. It went from confusion to denial to shock within seconds, and then she was filled with so much anxiety that she rushed out of Marie’s hut without saying a single word. By the time she could find a space for herself in the crowd, it was too late. The car had driven off far into the distance, a dot in the horizon as big as a mosquito would be in front of her. The car was heading towards the border of Cameroon, a country Mother had never visited. 

The pastor. A man of such intelligence and wisdom. A man who was so full of empathy, too. He would start off telling a story about Solomon and then end his sermon by dragging the oldest farmer of the town, Desire, to the front and pay him compliment upon compliment for his hard work. He would raise up every village person afflicted by guilt and sing deep songs to the Lord, chasing the shame out of their hearts. He knew how many people struggled to survive because he lived in this village, too. The cassava was plenty but the money was nowhere, and yet they lived on because the pastor instructed them to. 

How could such a man be kidnapped? What did they possibly want to do with him? And why would they take him when he was so important to their community?

Previously when the Séléka and the Anti-Balaka were fighting, it was common to see people kidnapped, killed, and targeted for no reason. Now that the government had stabilised and the Séléka had disbanded, those who were targeted were usually foreigners, like the Chinese who came for business or the peacekeepers from other countries who tried their best to defuse tensions between warlords. It made no sense for the kidnapping to be related to any of that because the pastor avoided taking sides. 

There could only be one reason for him to have disappeared like this.

Mother’s eyes focused on the girl she was convinced had started it all. Now almost six months pregnant, the girl had a belly as big as a watermelon, and she had to hold it as she walked to keep her body balanced. Ever since she had blurted out to the whole congregation during one of his sermons that the pastor was the father of her child, the rumours had spread all across the town. Droves of men and women and children still came to his sermons because they were compelled to, but there were others coming to him after the sermons to shout at him, push him, threaten him. It caused fights to break out between the churchgoers and the family members of the girl. Some people had even been murdered, paying the price for their involvement. Up to this point, it had just not been the pastor.

Mother was so angry she wanted to push the girl onto the dust and give her a piece of her mind.

Then she saw the girl’s face. Her brown oval eyes were aghast. Dust flitted in front of her eyes, and she did not blink. People were coming up to her and trying to confront her with the same thought in their minds, but she stood as still as a stone. This was not the body language of a person who was aware of what was going on. 

It still did not add up. 

Minutes become hours. People were so panicked that they hadn’t noticed how hot it was becoming, and it was becoming hotter yet. As their emotions cooled and bodies burned, they went back towards their huts, knowing there was nothing they could do to save their pastor.

“Why are you leaving?” Mother said out loud. 

This was a dear man and beloved leader of the community, a man who reminded the people each and every day that they were part of a greater humanity, and out of nowhere, without any sense at all, he had been kidnapped.

What was Mother’s life going to be like without him?

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