Timothy Chapman, a 2012 ECHO Intern graduate, described his recent work in the war-torn Central Africa Republic (CAR) as “very challenging and hard, but not negative.” In fact, he credits the work of agriculture missionaries as bringing hope and stability in a country wracked by violence, poverty, and hunger. “I worked with a couple who had a long relationship with ECHO and were using their knowledge of trees, plants, soil, and land stewardship to better the lives of people in great need.”
Timothy arrived in the CAR one month before the country was overthrown by a coalition of rebels from the neighboring country of Chad. During those early weeks he set about learning Sangho, the local language he found closely related to a tribal language he had learned as a missionary child in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo, which borders the CAR on the south). “Sangho,” he explained, “is a language with no words for the past or future, only the present.” Timothy knew that his degree in International Agricultural Development from the University of California, Davis, and his 12-month internship at ECHO would be more useful if he was able to speak and work with the staff in their heart language of Sangho.
Within weeks of his arrival, Timothy found himself traveling to Cameroon with other missionaries to escape the violence. He was staying at the new campus of a boarding school with grounds in desperate need of landscaping. So Timothy put his skills in slope management—learned at ECHO—to work, and left the school with grounds landscaped in a sustainable and appropriate manner.
After a few weeks, missionaries were able to return to Gamboula, a small city on the border with Cameroon, and continue their work. Occupying Seleka Troops left missionaries and locals alone, unlike the violent conditions imposed in most of the country. Goals for the emerging agricultural center included providing seed for those whose crops and homes had been destroyed by marauding militias. The center also introduced the cowpea, a nutritious legume with high yields and good disease resistance. The following months were fruitful for Timothy as he worked with Roy and Aleta Danforth, the missionary couple whose agriculture ministry had brought him to CAR.
Always observing and learning, Timothy found himself happiest when put to work—“being useful and helpful” as he described his goals. He helped plant fields, lead
Timothy soon found himself joining the local missionary in a supervisory role. The research and training center was growing, requiring that locals be hired and trained for the clearing and planting of fields, as well as the building of the center’s infrastructure. “I gained a lot of managerial skills at ECHO supervising volunteers in my work area. It prepared me well,” he said.
War and genocide filled the CAR in the following months as
In October, missionaries again fled the CAR, and Timothy, whose commitment to his mission agency was nearly complete, decided to return to the United States. His return journey brought him back to ECHO for renewal and a reunion with his friends and sister Marcie (a former ECHO intern and present staff member). Reflecting on his time in the CAR, Timothy appreciated the missional emphasis of his training at ECHO. “I know that it is impossible to be effective in an animist culture without understanding the connection of people to their land and ancestral spirits. ECHO helped me share my faith through agricultural ministry,” he said.
Timothy continues to reflect on his time in Africa as he prepares to continue his education. He looks forward to returning to the continent—perhaps next time to Congo. “I understand so much better the complexity of agricultural ministry in the midst of conflict in Africa. Many issues such as tribalism, politics, religion, drugs, and culture drive conflict. A person can’t change just one thing to be effective in our work. There will always be conflict wherever you go, and agricultural development will always involve complexity.” Wherever he goes, the roots of learning and community embedded at ECHO will go with him.