Benoit Nezoufei is part of the Gbeya translation team in the Central African Republic (CAR). He shares how God has kept him going – and translating the Bible – even when he and his family had to flee for their lives.
I was born into a Christian family. My father was a deacon in charge of our village church. The church grew, and my father got them to send a pastor.
A missionary in Bossangoa (the largest town in our area) suggested I train at the Bible school in Yaloke, but instead I chose to study at the University of Bangui. Afterwards I did a ‘new translators selection course’ with ACATBA* , and ended up joining the Gbeya Bible translation team.
Later I was asked to begin further training to fill a gap in our team. I didn’t really want to, but, thinking back to when I had been asked to consider training at Yaloke, my wife, Jeanette, said, ‘Do you want to end up like Jonah, who always ran away?’ So I accepted this as God’s call and graduated with my BA in Bible Translation.
Jeanette’s advice and support are a great help to me. She manages our money – I couldn’t do that. Our kids would be hungry by the middle of the month if I did! Sometimes I run out of petrol for the motorbike to get to work before my next fuel allowance has come in, but she always finds enough money to tide me over. And when the church wanted me to train as a deacon, it was on her advice that I finally accepted – she believed it was God’s plan for us. I’ve preached before on the equality of man and woman – other men have criticised me for that!
Following God’s call
We had a year at home in Bossangoa, and then the call came for me to begin training as a Bible translation consultant. [Translation consultants help teams ensure their translations are understandable and accurate. Benoit’s training will not only help the Gbeya Bible translation team, but will also enable him to support other teams, in CAR and beyond.]
Looking back, I’m so grateful for this opportunity because, even after my BA, I still had questions and difficulties understanding and analysing the Scriptures. The consultant training changed that, and helped me apply the Scriptures in my own life. The training has also impacted my family’s life together as believers. I have a large family – nine children. Three daughters are married, and two of my sons and their wives live with us, plus three grandchildren. Where we live is a bit small for us all, but God has helped us get another piece of land, where we hope to build one day.
We have a Saturday morning service at home now with all the family, and if I haven’t got my act together and got everything organised, they nag me – they don’t want to miss it. In fact, a couple of them are really good at leading this devotional time themselves now. We pray and sing, we read the Scriptures, and I ask all the children to contribute their reactions, and then I give an explanation of the passage. Then we have a final prayer together. One of the children wanted to do it twice a week, but I just can’t find the time for that!
Changed by God’s word
My family has really changed since I became a translator – having seen this happen, I’m sure I will see it in other people when they have access to God’s word too. If Bible translation was just a job, I wouldn’t have carried on when I had to run for my life and hide with my family.
I was in Bangui coming back from my first consultant training workshop when it all broke out in my home town of Bossangoa and the rebel forces arrived.
My wife is courageous, very courageous. She basically saved the family. Everyone was terrified by the sound of gunfire and heavier weapons, and began to scatter, but she gathered them all together and got them out of town into the relative safety of the countryside. They fled to our fields.
Eventually I met my teammate Francis, who was fleeing to Bangui for safety, and he said I should go and get my family and bring them to Bangui too. So I headed back to try to find them.
I went to Bossangoa and found them out in our fields. By that point the rebel forces had started hunting people in the bush. I left with my family on the Thursday and on the Friday the rebels arrived, found the rest of the group who’d been hiding with them, and shot many of the people there. We fled to Bangui.
Later rebel forces also came to Bangui, so we fled again to the fields my brother owned, about 15km away. We stayed there about two weeks.
When we took our vow to serve the Lord, we said that we would serve him in good times and bad. That’s why I wanted to get away, so that I could carry on with the translation.
I had my computer with me, and there was this absolute miracle that God must have organised. People took what they could with them, and this lad who fled at the same time ended up camping out about 1km away – and he’d taken his little generator with him! So I was able to charge my computer. I paid him 250fr [35p] for each charge, and that allowed me to keep the work moving.
We slept out in the open air on a tarpaulin. When it was cold, the tarpaulin got covered with dew. But we had no other option than to sleep on it, even with the little ones. We had a little radio that we used to keep in touch with the news.
It would have been easy for a snake or a scorpion to have come out from under those dead leaves while we slept. I praise the Lord for protecting us, and that is thanks to your prayers.
There was only a small open shelter, and I was very concerned for my elderly mother because of the cold. I didn’t want to take refuge at the airport like others did though, because I didn’t want her hearing gunshots all the time. We could still hear echoes, but it was less. It was a very difficult time.
After all that, when we went back I trained as a biblical trauma healing facilitator, and I use it at home with my family. Jeanette has joined some of the trauma healing sessions for women, and it’s helped us move forward a bit and start to recover.
Confidence in God
For now, by God’s grace, we are living a bit better despite the ongoing situation in our country. And this is because of your prayers for us. As it is written in James 5:16, ‘the fervent prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.’
I know that there are still killings, but I am convinced that we will be delivered from this one day because of your prayers. Romans 8:37 assures us that in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. This encourages me to always put my confidence in God.
Our main objective as a team is to see the Gbeya population transformed by the word of God in their language. This really motivates me – to see the fruit of all this work become a reality and no longer just a dream. Despite the situation in our country, we will persevere.
I’ll finish by giving thanks to God for all the miracles he has done and that he will continue to do. I won’t overlook this opportunity to beseech my merciful God to bless those who intercede for us. May he give back a hundredfold to them and bless their families!
Would you like to help Benoit and others in CAR see the Bible in their own languages? Follow the link below to give now.
*Association Centrafricaine pour la Traduction de la Bible et l’Alphabétisation, the Central African Bible translation and literacy organisation