What happened the day that riots overtook Niger and terror devastated a small Christian community?
Early in 2015, a French satirical magazine (Charlie Hebdo) published a controversial cartoon, which triggered an attack on their office in Paris, France, where 11 people were killed. As two million gathered in Paris in a peaceful show of national unity, the event set off a ripple effect across the Muslim world, including in Niger where rioters lashed out at the closest thing they associated with the West – the church. Rioters killed three Christians, burned and looted 76 churches and Christian institutions and 50 Christian homes. Open Doors field workers met with and supported many who were effected.
Here are some of the pastors stories…
Living mostly in peace with their Muslim neighbours, Christians in Niger were unprepared when Islamic outrage in the former French colony turned violent in January 2015.
Pastor Yunusa’s story: “When I heard about the persecution that had started, two of my children had already left for school, I took a taxi and went looking for them, but when I got to the school they had already fled. My wife, two other children, and I also fled. As we fled, we noticed a large group of people following us so we changed direction and ended up hiding in a hut. We hid in the hut and God protected us there.” Later, when Yunusa returned home, he found his home was totally destroyed.
Pastor Cappo’s story: Not only was Pastor Cappo’s home burned to the ground, but his church also. He explained the effect on his congregation. “Our members have
been so traumatised… They are so scared of coming to church… Their assumption is that these people could return to attack them. The number of people attending service has been reduced by half.”
Yet the Lord has also used the crisis to strengthen others, as Cappo said, “It is exciting to see some members making a stronger commitment to follow Jesus… some have boldly declared that it is now that their Christianity has begun.”
Many Muslims in Niger did not agree with the attacks on Christians and are ashamed at what their brothers have done. Some tried to douse the flames started by other Muslims. Some took fleeing Christians into their midst.
“My neighbor who used to behave harshly towards us became very sober and sympathetic. He came and pleaded with me not to be annoyed with him, since those who committed these acts were not [true] Muslims… A few days later he came to my house again with his wife to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Who would have expected that out of this bad situation our people would be so bold to come out to receive the good life,” exclaimed Cappo.
Pastor Isa’s story: The crisis has allowed Christians to rise to the challenges before them and to respond with the love of Christ.
“I can say we lost everything, but God sent help through Open Doors. This is not only helpful to us but also helpful to even the unbelievers around who will come to seek assistance and food from us. Jesus said we should love our enemies.”
Open Doors is helping
When the riots broke out, Open Doors partners were there to respond to the immediate needs. Emergency relief for 32 pastors and Christian families in the form of food, rent, clothing and funds to rebuild destroyed churches, Bible institutions and homes. Vocational training and micro loans for Christian business people who lost their shops, and trauma healing seminars for rape victims along with other traumatised believers.
Amidst the hardships, Pastor Midu Zakou is encouraged by the assistance. “I want to say that this support came to us at the right moment and it enables us to be reinforced and renewed morally and spiritually. It also helps us to continue with the work that we have begun because we understand that we are not alone, our brothers and sisters throughout the world are with us.”
Long term, Open Doors is investing in the discipleship and growth of church leadership, training in cross cultural ministry to better understand Islam and give a biblical perspective on the growth of radicalisation, along with preparing people for persecution. New issues are emerging inside the country, the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, now spilling into their country from Nigeria. As new needs arise, we want to be prayerful and ready to help.
We are thankful for your prayers and support to rebuild and empower the church in Niger to proclaim God’s love and victory among their persecutors.
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