Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, joined two other religious leaders, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, American Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, and Imam Mohamed Magid, President of the Islamic Society of North America, on a U.S. State Department peacemaking trip to the Central African Republic (CAR) this week. Since December, more than 2,000 people have been killed in a sectarian conflict.

“The stories of brutality against innocent people are heart breaking,” Anderson said. “There have been rapes, mutilations and murders. One man told about his 13 brothers being burned to death. Another reported a hand grenade thrown into people praying in a mosque. All but seven of the 36 mosques in Bangui have been destroyed. Church buildings in villages have been burned down.”

The violence began in December when anger erupted against a rebel group who overthrew the government. When international pressure forced the rebel government to step down in January, the anti-balaka militia then sought revenge against the rebels. Retaliation by opposing groups has led to more violence. The number of internally displaced people in CAR has increased by nearly 16,000 people since December.

While international press coverage has described the conflict as a religious war, leaders in the country say this is a misleading oversimplification. They say that Christian and Muslim militias do not represent most Christians and Muslims in the country. Many Christian churches are providing safe places for their Muslim neighbors, and Muslims have sheltered Christians. Christians and Muslim leaders have encouraged the international media to remember that the violence by the militias contradicts their religious traditions.

“We met with religious and political leaders in a mosque, cathedral, the President’s office and the U.S. ambassador’s residence. Conversations were candid, direct and hopeful. There is resolve to trust God and turn this tragedy for good. My heart is heavy for the Central African people, but I’m hoping for the best to come,” Anderson said.

The disruption to the economy threatens famine if crops aren’t planted but seeds are in short supply or unavailable. Anderson said that “international aid is desperately needed in this nation where the largest religious group is evangelical Christians.”

The NAE asks its members to pray that those working for peace will be strengthened, that the violence would cease, and that in this time of crisis many will put their trust in Jesus who offers lasting peace.