A month ago in Niger at least three Christians were killed and two women were raped during the violence which erupted in response to the special edition of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, which featured cartoons including the prophet prophet Muhammad. Over 68 churches and Christian institutions were destroyed and 43 homes owned by Christians looted and burnt.
The cartoons weren’t endorsed by Christians, made by Christians, and few Christians in Niger are likely to have ever heard of the french magazine, Charlie Hebdo, before the attacks. But they were still targeted.
Yusuf is a pastor in the greater Zinder area, the second largest city in Niger. When he heard about the attacks being planned, he told members of his church not to gather for their Sunday service. “They [the attackers] entered the church building, brought out all the benches and chairs and all other property and materials they could find and set it on fire. They shouted ‘Allahu Akubar’ (God is great) … They also set fire to the church building.”
The attackers then went to Yusuf’s house and tried to set it on fire, although they were stopped by Yusuf’s neighbours.
“I visited each of the believers in our congregation. Not one of them has given up the faith,” Yusuf says. “We also gathered at one place to pray together. I encouraged them to stand strong and not to be shaken by this incident, even though it is the first time we personally are facing this kind of attack.”
Another pastor in Zinder, Sanoussi, notified the police commissioner when the he heard rumours of the attacks. “He sent four vehicles to guard and protect the church building. They told me to bring my family to the church because they could not protect my house… The security forces used tear gas to prevent the rioters from entering the church. …The attackers did however attack my house. They stole all they wanted, broke the water pump and set my vehicle on fire. They vandalised my house and then burned it room by room.
“We hear the protesters are full of anger because they have burned all the eight churches in Zinder, but not this one. We hear they have vowed to burn the last church building that remains.”
“Until now, the atmosphere in Niger between people of different tribes and faiths has been cordial, so the Christians are shocked by the events,” an Open Doors worker says. “It is very difficult for believers to make sense of this situation… Radical Islam is present and has been growing in Niger under the surface.”
It’s a similar story across sub-Saharan Africa, the region which has seen the most dramatic rise in persecution in the last year. Islamic extremism is the major cause of persecution here, often in countries where people of different faiths have traditionally lived peacefully together, such as Kenya. Niger is close to the extreme north of Nigeria, where the militant Islamist group Boko Haram are active, often spilling over the border into Niger.
While Niger has dropped out of the World Watch List this year, it is not because persecution has decreased there – it actually increased slightly in the reporting year of the 2015 World Watch List, when 7 churches were attacked and Christians were threatened with abductions and death. It is simply that the persecution in other countries had increased by even more.
Open Doors workers have been running a course with believers in Niger to help them through times of persecution. One of our workers says, “This incident has opened my eyes to see that the work we did to prepare people for persecution has not been in vain. Instead it has prepared many of the believers to stand strong and be vigorous about their faith even in the midst of persecution.”
Another worker says: “…We were trying to figure out why this is happening to us. We were comforted with the Word of God that shows we will be persecuted but that we should bless the Muslims and not curse them… What they did, they did in ignorance. But the Lord loves them and we also have to love them.
“Physically it is a trial but spiritually it is a strengthening for the church. We received reports that many believers who were not serious in their faith realised it is now time to be serious and follow Christ until death. We are also seeing people come to Christ.”
Pastor Tsahiru’s church and home were both destroyed by rioters, but he has been able to remain strong. “I was afraid that when I arrived and saw the level of destruction, I might not be able to handle it emotionally. However when I arrived and saw the destruction I found that the Lord had already comforted me and given me the grace to endure the pain and still stand and continue to lead my people.
“I visited the refugee camp and we prayed and worshipped together with the other believers. We plan to continue to stay here and preach the gospel. We can’t move away from these people.”
Niger is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and without outside help, it would be difficult for the church to rebuild what has been destroyed. But thanks to your support, Open Doors has been able to support the church in Niger, providing:
Source: Open Doors
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.