Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless, starving or in continual danger of attack by bandits and militant rebel groups in the Central African Republic.

According to a report from the British Broadcasting Corp., one in five of the Central African Republic's children never reach their fifth birthday, and the percentage of women dying in childbirth is amongst the highest in the world. There is little health care and public sanitation in much of the country and, according to the BBC, the life expectancy has fallen to 42 years.
The Central African Republic's plight doesn't often make it to American television screens or the front pages of major news media, but several local organizations are involved in helping provide needed relief and development to help the people of Central African Republic improve their safety, health and well-being.

Integrated Community Development International, Grace Brethren International Missions and Grace College, all based in Winona Lake, are each involved in helping to provide different services and ministries to the people of the Central African Republic.

ICDI Director Jim Hocking, Warsaw, said his organization has been involved in work in the Central African Republic since his parents moved their family there to serve as missionaries in 1956. Friday, Hocking, recently returned from three months working in the Central African Republic, addressed a group of about 20 Kosciusko residents involved in supporting ICDI.

Hocking said he has seen the stability and level of development in the Central African Republic improve and then disintegrate over the past two decades.

"I've been there most of my life," said Hocking. "I've watched this country go way up, begin to develop, and again come way down. It's hard to see these towns that used to be thriving little towns become desolate."

Hocking said a series of four civil wars between 1995 and 2003 destroyed much of the infrastructure and most of the businesses that had begun to develop in the country.

ICDI works in the areas of well drilling, AIDS education, orphan care, agricultural and micro-enterprise development and radio broadcasting. Hocking said his organization provides resources and training to help Central Africans make improvements within their country in these vital areas.

Brock Boddie of the UN Development Programme on the Central African Republic's Humanitarian Development Partnership Team stated on the team's Web site, "While real incomes in Africa have risen 10-fold, in Central African Republic they have stagnated. Central African Republic has also seen no improvement on almost every indicator from health, education and governance to the ease of doing business."

According to Boddie, lack of development and war have created a vicious cycle for the people of the Central African Republic.

"Central African Republic's development crisis has played no small role in planting the seeds of conflict. The complete lack of economic opportunity and social services has fueled rebellions in the north of the country. As a result, an estimated 300,000 Central Africans have been forced to flee their homes: 198,000 have been internally displaced and some 102,000 have fled to neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Sudan," Boddie said.

According to ICDI Chief Development Officer Ted Rondeau, about 65 Kosciusko County residents, five local churches and several local businesses are involved in supporting ICDI's work in the Central African Republic.

"There are many ways that people in the community here praying and giving funds can help," said Hocking. "One dollar can make a difference there. You can give water to a person for a year for $1."

For more information about, or to contribute to ICDI, visit www.icdinternational.org

GBIM has been working in the Central African Republic since 1918. "Our ministry has primarily focused on church planting," said Mike Taylor, GBIM director of operations. Taylor, who is a trained physicians assistant, lived and worked in the Central African Republic between 1989 and 1999. He said there are more Grace Brethren churches in the Central African Republic than there are in the U.S.

Taylor said GBIM's ministries in the Central African Republic include Bible schools, a seminary, a hospital, several medical clinics, an orphan care ministry, an HIV/AIDS education ministry, a missions guest house and partnerships with a Central African non-government organization providing leadership development for government officials.

Taylor said GBIM also leads teams to the Central African Republic to help with projects and encourage people. Taylor said on Dec. 30 he will lead a team of three physicians and a high school student to the Central African Republic to work alongside African doctors and nurses to provide free health care to anyone who comes to the clinic.

"Those are the types of things going on all the time with GBIM," Taylor said.

For more information about GBIM, or to support the mission's work, visit www.gbim.org or call Taylor at 574-268-1888, Ext. 33.

Dr. Francois Ngoumape is a Central African pastor. He recently visited the U.S.

"Our people have a high level of illiteracy, health care is not adequate and available as needed, there is a high level of HIV/AIDS infections due to several wars," said Ngoumape. "It has resulted in a high percentage of orphans."

Ngoumape said orphan care programs like those of GBIM and ICDI help equip extended family members to care for orphaned children.

"For example," he said, "I am taking care of 12 orphans in addition to my seven children. We are parenting 19 children. That is the case in many families taking care of orphans from siblings who passed away from AIDS, wars or diseases."

Ngoumape said he has seen the work of GBIM and other organizations meet needs in his country.

Grace College is currently involved with establishing a doctorate program in the Central African Republic. Grace Provost Bill Katip said several Central African pastors have earned their doctorates at Grace Seminary. However, Katip said, very few Central Africans have the resources necessary to pursue education outside their own country. He said, an in-country doctorate program could be made available to more people.

"We began discussions about this possibility a little more than a year ago," said Katip. "We're still in the process of developing the program."

Katip said if finances can be secured and the program is approved by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Grace will be able to offer one course in fall of 2009 and the full program by summer or fall of 2010.

The program's areas of focus will include developing models for post-crisis counseling and conflict resolution within the Central African worldview, developing appropriate models for orphan care in response to the AIDS crisis and reacting appropriately to globalization.

"Every course will be contextualized for the needs of that country," said Katip. "When they come to study (in the U.S.), they have to make their own application."

For more information or to contribute financially to the new doctorate program, contact Grace Seminary Dean Dr. Jeff Gill at 574-372-5100, Ext. 6438.