God showered His blessings on a very special celebration in the Central African Republic (CAR), BMM’s first mission field. On November 13–17, 2023, BMM and African leaders and church members gathered in CAR’s capital of Bangui to formally commemorate 100+ years of CAR being reached with the gospel.
In 1920, BMM’s founder, William Haas, led a group of five missionaries to what was then known as Oubangui-Chari, one of the last African regions to be reached for Christ. Because of William Haas’s burden, nearly 240 BMM missionaries carried the gospel to CAR’s successive generations over the next 100 years. And they trained African leadership to expand the gospel’s reach. The result was the gospel permeating nearly every corner of the Central African Republic.
A Bible that united a nation
William Haas’s efforts played a pivotal role in the selection of Sango as one of CAR’s official languages. As early as 1916, he began translating hymns and Scripture portions into what was once a trade language that united many individual tribes in the region. William Haas’s work was continued by BMM and Grace Brethren missionaries who dedicated the first Sango Bible in 1966. In 2006, Bibles International began working with CAR leaders on a much-needed revision. During the 2023 celebration, this revision was dedicated, giving CAR Christians the welcome additions of a topical index, cross-references, and a Bible app. When the lead Bibles International missionary presented a copy to the mayor of Bangui, she was so engrossed with it that she was seen reading it throughout much of the ceremony.
Throughout the week, BMM leaders visited ministries such as FIBAT, a graduate-level seminary conceived through a missionary/African collaboration and now led by CAR leaders. It was a visit that impacted BMM leaders, including President Patrick Odle, Africa Field Administrator Steve Gault (who grew up in CAR), and Vice President David Ferguson. They rejoiced in how theological education had progressed from Bible classes our original missionaries taught under mango trees to advanced training developed and run by African leadership.
We are in this together
The Central African churches designed commemorative fabric bearing BMM logos. They used the fabric—2,000 yards’ worth—to create shirts, jackets, and dresses worn by those involved in the ceremonies. Wearing matching outfits is a very African cultural tradition. It symbolizes “We are all in this together.” This togetherness was one of the joys of the celebration. Even CAR’s president took time out of his busy schedule to speak at the closing ceremony on November 17. He himself is a believer and attends one of the churches that traces its roots to BMM’s work in CAR.
An estimated 1,000 people attended the opening ceremony, and as many or more came for the closing ceremony held in Bangui’s soccer stadium. The most moving moment of the week happened when the collective CAR Christian youth groups kneeled before BMM leaders to formally apologize on behalf of CAR’s youth for wrongs done in the past, including the destruction of BMM’s Bangui station during uprisings in 1989–1990. Representatives of the seven CAR church associations also apologized for splits in the original church association that came from sinful motives. Recognizing that sin goes both ways, veteran CAR missionary Charlie Jewell apologized on behalf of past BMM missionaries for wrong attitudes and actions in their treatment of Africans. Afterward, BMM and CAR leadership gathered in a circle to pray that biblical reconciliation would continue in CAR. It was a beautiful moment for all.
Showers of Blessing
Before the celebration kicked off on November 13, it began to rain. As the members of a combined church choir continued preparing, they began singing “There Shall Be Showers of Blessings,” a Sango hymn translated long ago by BMM missionaries. Truly, God has showered his blessings on this nation whose souls were precious enough to generations of BMM missionaries that they sacrificed their lives to reach them for Christ. And every soul in CAR continues to be precious to the Lord as each new generation proclaims Him.
The church in CAR has an overwhelming need for African and missionary personnel to plant new churches, train leadership, work with youth, and conduct medical ministry.
Six gravestones, some dating to the 1920s, line a slope in Sibut, Central African Republic Their presence speaks profoundly of the cost and reward of missions.
Rowena Becker, one of BMM's original six missionaries, saw God's promise played out that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church.