Niger's persecuted Christians 'upbeat,' faithful
International Mission Board strategy leader Greg Dorsey* said local Christians told him, "We've only lost things. We've not lost the church, just some buildings."
Small mobs of Muslims reportedly ransacked and burned more than 50 structures throughout Niamey in mid-January. The incident appeared to be related to an eruption of violence in Niger on Jan. 16-17 that left at least 10 people dead over protests of a magazine cover, published by the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, featuring a cartoon of Mohammed. Charlie Hebdo ran the cover in response to the Jan. 9 terrorist attack on its offices that claimed the lives of 12 people.
Both missionaries and national believers in Niamey found marks on their gates, indicating their homes were potential targets.
The strategy leader expressed thankfulness that buildings, not people were targeted in Niamey.
"There is a sense that this is the time for the church, that … what was meant for evil, God intends for good," he said. Instead of seeking retaliation or revenge, believers who lost their homes and possessions voiced confidence that "God is good and Jesus is still Lord."
"[Believers are] standing firm," he said.
Fellow strategy leader Brian Foshee* said, "They see … this is how we can demonstrate what it means to follow Christ and what we do if we're going to follow up what we believe with our actions.
Foshee said he was encouraged to hear that a representative of the evangelical churches in Niamey stated publically on radio and television that local believers forgave those who damaged and burned their property.
"That was pretty powerful."
Dorsey shared the story of a university student who lost everything -- all of his books and clothes. The student said "Hey, I forgive you, it's OK. It was just stuff I lost …, and I forgive you."
Though the attacks appeared to be well planned and coordinated, stories abound of members of the Muslim community who warned their Christian friends and neighbors of impending danger. Some Muslims protected the homes of Christians while they were in hiding, and offered them shelter.
Dorsey said some Christians expressed that their Muslim neighbors were ashamed of what was done in the name of Islam.
"It would be worth noting, while they targeted the church very, very clearly, they also were targeting others as well," Dorsey said. "They targeted, I believe, some Christian businesses along the way, but they also targeted the 'evils' for Islam -- such as bars and nightclubs and brothels. Some hotels with bars sustained heavy damage."
Dorsey said believers appear to be working through the fear and vulnerability they felt during the attacks, "addressing their fear with faith and moving forward.
"It became an opportunity for [IMB personnel] to reflect on their fear in comparison with their faith and how they were going to respond. Right now I think we'll move forward with greater courage …, leaning more towards faith and a lot less towards fear."
Foshee said he hopes the persecution in Niger will increase awareness among Christians in the U.S. of what life is like in West Africa, "where the Christian population is less than a one-tenth of a percent of the total population, and how much Christ needs to be made known in a place like this."
Dorsey said the attacks in Niger should also serve as a reminder of churches all around the world facing persecution.
"Pray for the people in those churches, that they would remain firm in their faith," he said.
-- Pray for missionaries and national believers who live in parts of the world where Christians are persecuted.
-- Pray that Christians in America will find ways to reach out to persecuted churches around the world.
-- Pray that believers will be bold in their witness and gracious, loving and forgiving toward those who persecute them.
-- Pray that believers will know how to share their faith in love and that they will demonstrate the hope and confidence they have in Christ.