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Can you imagine what it would be like to live on $2.15 a day? Luxuries like education, healthcare, and even housing would quickly fall to the wayside as your number-one priority became securing enough rice to eat. Unfortunately, this is the heartbreaking reality for 71% of the Central African Republic’s (CAR) population.
The CAR’s extreme poverty has led to widespread corruption among government leaders and violent power struggles among regimes. Within the country, 664,000 people have been displaced, while an additional 735,000 have fled to neighboring countries in search of refuge.
If you lived in a country like that, would you stay?
A couple of decades ago, Rev. Dr. Augustin Hibaile had the opportunity to take his family and flee the poverty, corruption, and conflict, but his wife, Marie Helene, said, “No, our work isn’t done here.” When asked why they didn’t leave, the Hibaile’s point to Acts 17:26–27 which says,
“God marked out our appointed times in history and the boundaries of our lands so that we would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.”
The Hibailes didn’t see their country’s brokenness and hardship as things to run from, but rather as opportunities through which to share God with their people.
Augustin was frustrated as he saw local police attend church on Sundays and then live lives that did not resist corruption the rest of the week, so he started sharing God with one of his officer friends. God gripped the friend’s heart and transformed his desires. The friend eventually wanted to leave the police force to become a pastor. The police wanted him to stay because he was a good worker, so Augustin’s friend agreed to stay under one condition—that they would allow him to start a chaplaincy program for the rest of the station.
The friend invited Augustin to serve as chaplain, where Augustin gladly volunteered for 17 years. Over time, this effort grew into CIDEL: the Centre International for the Development of Ethical Leadership. Through CIDEL, Augustin has partnered with the University of Bangui to introduce ethical leadership to the curriculum so that leaders could be trained in a more godly way. He also teaches police, government leaders, professors, and students in the CAR, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Kenya, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. CIDEL has educated these leaders about integrity while also sharing the gospel with them. In a region whose leadership is characterized by corruption, CIDEL shines like a beacon of integrity that pierces the darkness.
God’s light shines through Augustin’s wife, Marie Helene, too. In the CAR, 40% of the population suffers from chronic malnutrition, but Marie Helene’s prayer group has started a food program where they are teaching the families of malnourished children how to grow peanuts they can use for food. The country has some of the lowest education indicators in the world, but Marie Helene wants to start a literacy class where she will teach people how to read. Teaching people how to farm and read has the potential to change the trajectory of their entire lives.
In 2021, Augustin and Marie Helene celebrated their 40th anniversary. Augustin speaks incredibly highly of his wife, which is countercultural in the CAR. He explains, “Most men in the CAR don’t even want to be seen walking next to their wives, because they don’t want people to think she’s influencing his decisions. The man is expected to be strong.” At CIDEL, Augustin promotes equal opportunity for women and wants females to fill 50% of his leadership positions. Together, this power couple offers relationship mentoring that must really work, because they have served as best man and/or maid of honor in 43 weddings over the years! On January 1 of each year, they host a “First Lunch” where they invite dozens of couples to eat together and talk about how their families are doing.
In 2023, Augustin plans to begin the process of retiring from his role as CIDEL’s Executive Director. He will hire a young man and train him as his assistant before passing the baton of leadership for the role of Executive Director of CIDEL. This will allow Augustin to develop CIDEL in other African countries and universities while maintaining his role as Encompass’ Director of Partnerships in Central Africa.
Augustin and Marie Helene have truly lived as lights in a dark place by advancing in the exact opposite direction of their surroundings. In a country without education, they teach. In a place marked by corruption, they exemplify integrity. In a region oppressed by malnutrition, they grow food. When everyone else was fleeing the country, they stayed.
We are so thankful for Augustin and Marie Helene’s shining example of what it looks like to have an eternal mindset. When asked how they do it, Augustin says, “The Holy Spirit grants us the ability to do everything we do and to do it with joy. It’s the grace of God.”