Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Owo Church Attack Kills Dozens of Nigerian Catholics on Pentecost Sunday

Image: AFP

Terrorists launched a gun and bomb attack at the end of a Catholic Mass in southwest Nigeria on Sunday, killing an estimated 70 worshipers according to residents and church leaders.

The terrorists attacked the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo state, at about 9 a.m., church leaders and residents told Morning Star News (MSN) though text messages. The carnage could have been greater. The church, one of the largest in the area, can hold up to 1,200 people, and was full at the time of the attack.

A priest at the church, Andrew Abayomi, told MSN that as the worship service was coming to an end, the terrorists threw explosive devices and shot at worshipers.

“We were in worship Mass when the terrorists attacked us. They shot at the congregation while breaking into the church by throwing improvised explosive devices at the church building,” Abayomi said. “Some of us hid inside the church as they shot randomly at us. This lasted for about 20 minutes before they retreated.”

He said it was difficult to give details about the number killed and injured, as leaders were focusing on transferring the wounded to hospitals. Circulated videos showed bloody images of men, women, and children strewed among the pews. Among other Owo residents, Loye Owolemi said about 70 worshipers were shot dead and others abducted when terrorists…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on June 5, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Nigerian Christians Protest Deborah’s Death

Image: Courtesy of Gideon Para-Mallam

Thousands of churches across Nigeria demanded an end to sectarian killings on Sunday, horrified by the mob assault on a female university student accused of blasphemy. But fearful of more violence, their approach differed significantly—by geography.

“The overwhelming majority of our churches in the south participated, many going to the streets in peaceful protest,” said Testimony Onifade, senior special assistant to the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). “Gathering together, we condemned this gruesome act and demanded the government identify, arrest, and prosecute the culprits.”

But in the north, where Muslims represent the majority of Nigerians, John Hayab described 20 minutes set aside to pray for divine intervention. The president of CAN’s Kaduna state chapter lauded the “solemn” ceremony observed by all northern denominations, amid a ban on protests by local authorities as some Muslims had threatened counterdemonstrations.

Instead, a select group of 120 Christian leaders gathered in a Kaduna city church, guarded by police and security agencies.

There was good reason for caution.

Two weeks ago, in Nigeria’s northwestern-most state of Sokoto, Deborah Samuel was beaten to death and set on fire by fellow students at Shehu Shagari College of Education. Officials and police intervened in vain.

Two students were arrested. Protesting for their release, Muslim supporters proceeded to destroy an additional 11 buildings, descended on Christian shops in the city, and besieged the palace of the sultan of Sokoto who had condemned the May 12 murder.

According to her friend Rakia, Samuel’s last words were, “What do you hope to achieve with this?”

After a colleague shared Islamic material on an exam-prep social media group, Samuel posted an audio recording asking him to remove it. Friends who overheard some Muslim students deeming her response to be blasphemous urged her to retract the statement. Instead, she responded…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on May 25, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Amid Cascade of Coups, African Christians Debate Civic Duty 

Image: John Wessels / AFP / Getty Images

There is an “epidemic” of military coups in Africa, says the head of the United Nations. The past year and a half witnessed the overthrow of governments in Mali (twice), Chad, Guinea, Sudan, and Burkina Faso. At least three additional attempts were thwarted in Madagascar, the Central African Republic, and Niger.

Averaging two per year for the last decade, this is Africa’s largest surge since 1999.

What should Christians in these nations do about it?

Abel Ngarsouledé of Chad, where roughly 45 percent of the Muslim-majority nation is Christian, is walking it through.

“It is not for me to support a military coup in my country,” said the secretary general of the doctoral program at the Evangelical University of Chad. “But if God wants to remove a king from his throne, [God] uses all the means in his power to restore his fear and justice in the land.”

When Chad’s president was killed on the battlefield last April, the army moved quickly to place his son in charge of a 15-member Transitional Military Council that would govern for 18 months, renewable once. Pledging to hold a national dialogue, invitations were sent to rebel groups, politicians, civil society, academics, and religious leaders.

Ngarsouledé accepted.

With the council now delayed until May, he serves on two committee in a process designed to lead to reconciliation, social cohesion, and new elections. There are no guarantees any of these will happen, he says, and asks for prayer.

Also deputy director of the Council of Theological Institutions in Francophone Africa, Ngarsouledé recalled that at times in Old Testament history, God used prophets or priests to depose kings. Though today prayer should be employed, he is not so concerned about the end result.

“The form of the state is not the subject of biblical teaching,” he said, noting God’s priority for peace and justice. “It is men who adopt this or that form of governance, according to the orientation of their hearts.”

If Ngarsouledé’s opinion does not reflect the ironclad American Christian defense of democracy, he is not the only African Christian leader failing to do so. “Between democracy and autocracy, democracy seems to be the best suited at the moment,” said…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on March 17, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Vaccine Campaign at Zimbabwe Churches Praises What’s Done in Secret

Yvonne Binda stands in front of the congregation, all dressed in pristine white robes, and tells them not to believe what they’ve heard about COVID-19 vaccines.

“The vaccine is not linked to Satanism,” she says. The worshipers, members of a Christian Apostolic church in Zimbabwe, are unmoved. But when Binda, a vaccine campaigner and member of an Apostolic church herself, promises them soap, buckets, and masks, there are enthusiastic shouts of “Amen!”

Apostolic groups that infuse traditional beliefs into Pentecostal doctrine are among the most skeptical in the southern African nation when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, with an already strong mistrust of modern medicine. Many followers put faith in prayer, holy water, and anointed stones to ward off disease or cure illnesses…

Integrated into the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHCD) in 1993, the Apostolic churches cooperate alongside the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), the mainline Zimbabwe Council of Churches, and the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“God has given us science and intelligence, in addition to divine intervention in healing,” EFZ president Never Muparutsa told CT. “People must not shun vaccines based on 666-style conspiracy theories.”

Binda is one of nearly 1,000 members of various religious groups recruited by the Zimbabwean government and UNICEF to try gently changing attitudes toward vaccines from within their own churches.

Muparutsa, however, is hesitant about this approach.

As vice president of the ZHCD, he estimates 30–40 percent of evangelical and mainline Christians are “skeptical” about the vaccine, and told CT it is not his place to take sides. He “encourages” Zimbabweans to do as he and his family have done—but will not “promote.”

“That sounds like marketing,” he said. “I do not preach about vaccines; I preach about Jesus.”

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on October 15, 2021. I contributed additional reporting. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Christians Welcome Coup in Guinea

Image: John Wessels / Getty Images
Guinean religious leaders gather at the Peoples Palace in Conakry ahead of the first session of talks with Colonel Mamady Doumbouya on September 14, 2021.

In its 63 years of independence, Guinea has had three presidents. Last month, the West African nation suffered its third coup d’etat.

This time, says the local Christian minority, their Francophone country might just get it right.

“Alpha Conde cannot return,” said Etienne Leno, a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) pastor. “We are praying that the new military authorities—who we find to be wise and intelligent—will be led by God.”

On September 5, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, head of the Guinean special forces, ousted the 83-year-old president. Once an imprisoned opposition leader, Conde became the nation’s first democratically elected head of state in 2010 and won a second term in 2015.

Leno originally found much hope in Conde’s mandate, which was ushered in after the international community aided domestic forces to remove the military junta that violently seized power in 2008. Conde improved the business, tourism, and energy sectors, restoring Guinea’s global reputation.

Local infrastructure was neglected, however, and the Oregon-sized nation lagged in domestic development. One-third of the economy was linked to the mining of bauxite, the primary resource for aluminum. Guinea boasts the world’s largest reserves, but foreign companies dominate the extraction.

Despite 7 percent annual growth, nearly 50 percent of the 13 million population lived in poverty. And by late 2019, 36 percent of the country believed Guinea was moving in the wrong direction.

And then Conde made his power grab. He pushed through a March 2020 referendum for constitutional changes to reset his term limits and in October won reelection again. Both votes were challenged by violently suppressed protests.

Almost a year later, Doumbouya had had enough.

He promised no political witch hunt as he “made love to Guinea,” but it was nonetheless clear that opposition would not be tolerated. As the colonel—sworn in on October 1 as Guinea’s interim president—assembled a national dialogue, protests in support filled the streets and Christians noted the surprising calm.

Five days after the coup, the Association of Evangelical Churches and Missions of Guinea (AEMEG)—affiliated with the World Evangelical Alliance—issued a televised statement recognizing the new authorities. Catholic and Muslim groups made similar announcements. “Relations are good in general,” Leno told CT. “Our message is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 13, 2021. Please click here for the original text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Genocide in Tigray? Ethiopian Christians Debate Orthodox Patriarch’s Claim

(Photo by J. Countess/Getty Images)

The head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in his first public comments on the war in his country’s Tigray region is sharply criticizing Ethiopia’s federal government, saying he believes its actions constitute genocide: “They want to destroy the people of Tigray.”

The United States ambassador hosted him today to learn more.

In a video shot last month on a mobile phone and carried out of Ethiopia, the elderly Patriarch Abune Mathias addresses the church’s scores of millions of followers and the international community, saying his previous attempts to speak out were blocked. He is ethnic Tigrayan.

The video comes as the conflict in Tigray marks six months. Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting between Ethiopian and allied forces and Tigray ones, the result of a political struggle that turned deadly in November. Dozens of witnesses have told the AP that civilians are targeted.

“I am not clear why they want to declare genocide on the people of Tigray,” Mathias says, speaking in Amharic and listing alleged atrocities including the destruction of churches, massacres, forced starvation, and looting.

“It is not the fault of the Tigray people. The whole world should know it.”

Our coverage included four evangelical perspectives, including:

Without naming the offending parties, the Ethiopian Gospel Believers’ Churches Council (EGBCC) has made clear statements in favor of the peace process, she said, and against the “destructive forces intent on destroying Ethiopia.”

Earlier, the EGBCC organized two separate weeks of prayer and fasting for the Tigray region, mobilizing resources on its behalf.

But Abebe noted that the conflict started when the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) first attacked the national army. While lamenting with the patriarch the sexual violence against women and other atrocities in Tigray, Abebe wonders why he has not spoken out against ethnic violence in other regions.

Perhaps he is a victim of a TPLF misinformation campaign?

“The patriarch’s statements were irresponsible,” Abebe told CT. “To throw around a term like genocide is a massive mistake that might embolden rebels across the country, when a critical election is just one month away…”

This article was originally published by Christianity Today on May 10, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Gambia’s Christians Take a Stand in the Public Square

St. Mary’s Cathedral in Banjul, Gambia. (Atamari)

For most Gambians, the conflict over the new constitution started in 2017, when President Yahya Jammeh was forced from power and the new president promised reform.

For others who take a long view, the struggle started in 1994, when Jammeh came to power in a coup, started rewriting the constitution, and revised it regularly to suit his political purposes.

But for Begay Jabang, it started with a women’s prayer meeting in Essex, England, in the summer of 2016. She felt God say to her: “Stop praying for yourselves, and start praying for Gambia.”

In response, she founded Intercessors Gambia and launched a 31-day campaign to pray and fast for her native country. Then, when Jabang flew to the Gambia to join in the national day of thanksgiving in March 2017 and celebrate the end of Jammeh’s presidency, she discovered other Christians had also been inspired to pray.

Many small prayer groups were urgently interceding for Gambia in its time of turmoil and asking God to intervene in the nation’s politics.

This is new for Christians in Gambia. They are a minority among the 2 million people in the English-speaking West African nation. Nine out of 10 Gambians are Muslims, and a mere 5 percent are Christians.

Many of the Christians have emigrated from the country, succeeding professionally in majority-Christian countries like the United States and Great Britain. Abroad or at home, they generally don’t get involved with politics.

There are historic exceptions, including Edward Francis Small, who launched an independence movement in the 1920s with his Aku tribe of freed former slaves. And Gambian Christians served in the colonial and early postcolonial governments. But recent generations of Christians have left political affairs to the Muslim majority.

Some attribute this quietism to the teaching of the missionaries who brought Christianity to the country with colonization and the transatlantic slave trade.

Other say the recent neglect has more to do with “brain drain.” The best and brightest at missionary schools would see that, until recent decades, there was no national university in Gambia and few economic prospects, so they would use their Christian education to leave rather than stay and focus on political or economic problems at home.

When Jammeh felt his power starting to slip, however, and declared that the state would no longer be secular but Islamic, a new political engagement was awakened in Gambia’s Christian believers.

“God showed us that all the glory is for him and that he has a purpose in Gambia,” said Lawrence Gomez, a Gambian leader of the region’s International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). “He is giving us time to rise up for our country.” Gomez is part of a growing group that feels…

This article was first published in the January print edition of Christianity Today. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

US Adds Nigeria to Top of Religious Persecution List, Removes Sudan and Uzbekistan

Embed from Getty Images

Only one country was added this year to the US government’s official list of the world’s worst persecutors of religion: Nigeria.

And the Christian Association of Nigeria made a statement, excerpted here from my joint article at Christianity Today:

“[We are] not happy that the US has placed Nigeria on a religious freedom blacķlist, because of the implications which include possible sanctions,” stated CAN president Samson Ayokunle.

“But at the same time, we are encouraged that the global world is aware of what is happening.”

Nigeria has religious freedom, CAN reminded, but it is denied in certain regional states—especially in the Muslim-majority north. Churches face discriminatory zoning procedures, and Christian professors are denied senior leadership positions, the group stated.

And while Muslims denounce terrorism by Boko Haram and its breakway faction, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), such violence is done in the name of Allah, stated CAN. Fulani herdsmen, meanwhile, kill in predominantly Christian farming communities.

“Pastors and their families are under attack,” stated Ayokunle. “Churches are being burnt and destroyed. They are taking over our farms and communities.”

The rest of the article contains additional Nigerian commentary, as well as the larger context for the State Department decision.

So while the Christian leadership of Nigeria fears the impact of the CPC designation by the United States, the job of securing religious freedom may be too big for Buhari alone.

“CAN has been consistently calling on the government to fix the security challenges before too late,” Ayokunle stated. “We call on the international community to help our government to wipe out these terrorists.”

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on December 7, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Gambia’s New Sharia-Friendly Constitution Fails. But Christians Are Still Concerned.

Chatham House: Shaping The Gambia’s Future: How to Build a Path to Sustainable Progress, President Adama Barrow, 18 April 2018, cht.hm/2JZwqH0

The Gambia almost had a new constitution.

Instead, the English-speaking, sliver-shaped West African river nation—known for Muslim-Christian coexistence—will return to the 1997 constitution instituted by former dictator Yahya Jammeh and amended by him more than 50 times to entrench his power.

One year before being deposed in 2016 by popular protests, Jammeh declared Gambia to be an Islamic state.

The new draft constitution would have imposed term limits on the president, guaranteed religious freedom, and forbidden any future declaration of a state religion.

Muslims comprise more than 9 in 10 Gambians, totaling 2 million. Lamin Sanneh, the Muslim-born Gambian theologian who died last year, praised his nation’s participation in a tradition of “pacifist Islam.”

Yet many of the nation’s Christians, who comprise only about 5 percent of the population, still feel like they dodged a bullet.

“Truly important positive changes were made in this [draft] constitution,” said Begay Jabang, a member of the Gambia Christian Council (GCC) campaign team, naming the separation of powers and the strengthening of the legislature. “This would have been a significant step forward given the history of our nation.

“But at the same time,” she said, “provisions were introduced in the judiciary that would have changed the face of our nation, moving it down the path of an Islamic state as Jammeh did before.”

The official GCC statement outlined the changes in detail, and was blunt in its assessment. “The deafening silence…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 12, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Should Christians Join Burkina Faso’s Militias Against Terrorism?

US Army Africa (link)

What should Christians do when their government cannot protect them from terrorism? As the world’s first post-coronavirus coup shakes Mali, nearby Burkina Faso is experimenting with a controversial lesson in self-defense.

To gain perspective on Burkina Faso, CT interviewed Joanna Ilboudo, secretary-general for ACTS Burkina, a nonprofit Christian association dedicated to helping the nation’s widows and orphans without religious distinction. She in turn took the pulse of local Christian leaders and laity on behalf of CT.

Located in West Africa’s volatile Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert, the Colorado-sized Francophone country of 20 million had been home to one of the continent’s model nations for peaceful coexistence. Around 60 ethnic groups divide the population religiously into 61-percent Muslim, 19-percent Catholic, 4-percent Protestant, and 15-percent indigenous beliefs.

Muslims are located primarily in the north, east, and west border areas, with Christians located in the south and central areas. But schools are mixed and intermarriage is common, while 80 percent of the population works in farming.

Jihadist groups began attacking Burkina Faso in 2015, following the popular removal of a president in power for 27 years. The transitional government ended his policy of allowing terrorists to harass neighboring Mali from across the border.

Three jihadist groups proliferate, one affiliated with al-Qaeda, and have targeted grain fields and the educational system. But according to reports, only the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP)—which has wreaked havoc in Nigeria—has specifically targeted Christian communities.

CT has repeatedly reported on the escalating church attacks.

Ilboudo’s ministry, whose French acronym translates to “Christian Action, All for Solidarity,” is another means to help the ever-increasing victims.

To gather Christian perspective on the government’s militia initiative, she interviewed a well-known theologian teaching in the largest theological college in Burkina Faso; a member of the national Assemblies of God executive board; a lawyer working with international diplomats; and a social worker in the field of education. She also conducted five focus group conversations, one specifically of women and another of youth this past spring.

The Burkina Faso government has approved a plan to arm civilians to fight terrorist groups. Please explain the basics.

Following the approval of the National Assembly of Burkina Faso, the groups to be formed are called Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland. Their mission is to contribute, when necessary and requested by the army, to the defense and protection of populations in the villages.

The law specifies that individual volunteers must obtain the approval of the local population in general assembly. It requires their patriotism, loyalty, discipline, neutrality, integrity, and sacrifice, even unto death.

What are the hopes for results, and are they achievable?

Without volunteers, the people in the villages have been taken by surprise by terrorists and unable to defend themselves. Now they are training…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 30, 2020. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Zimbabwe Evangelicals Defend Catholics from Government’s ‘Genocide’ Accusations

Never Muparutsa

Zimbabwe, in its 40 years of independent history, has “never enjoyed life.”

And as the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) stands in solidarity this week with maligned Catholic bishops accused of fomenting genocide, its president, Never Muparutsa, told CT the Southern African government is failing to honor its biblical responsibility.

There are too many poor, amid official repression.

An excerpt from the interview:

On June 1, we called for 90 days of prayer. On the 15th day, the president called for a national day of prayer, and we supported him. We don’t necessarily blame the president for all the problems, but there is a lack of leadership to bring everyone to the table.

And this is why you stood with the Catholics?

The Catholic letter was trying to provoke discussion, not give an insult. It pointed out problems like all of us were doing. But it received such a strong backlash.

We felt that given the situation in the country, if we just stand by and watch, we don’t know what will happen. We have journalists and activists in prison. There have been abductions with perpetrators unidentified, making us all vulnerable.

So this prompted us to stand with the Catholics, because an insult to one is an insult to all.

The 90 days of prayer will end on August 29. What are your hopes for Zimbabwe, in how God might move on behalf of the church and country?

We need a better future. We have suffered enough over 40 years, having never really enjoyed life. Zimbabwe has been given many natural resources and riches, and if our leaders are gifted enough, they can exploit these for the benefit of the people.

We are praying that the church will raise up disciples, who in the future will be good politicians. We blame ourselves. We have what we deserve, because we have not done a good job.

We want God to help us achieve the Zimbabwe we want, with freedom of speech, access to the wealth of the nation, and an uprooting of corruption.

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 24, 2020. Please click here for the full text.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Meet the ‘Gang Pastor’ Behind Cape Town’s Viral Coronavirus Cooperation

South Africa Gang Pastor
Courtesy of Andie Steele-Smith

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on May 21, 2020.

Somehow, an Australian-born investment banker in England went to South Africa and got mixed up with the “Americans.” The gang, that is, in one of Cape Town’s most dangerous shantytowns.

And with them, the Hard Livings and Clever Kidz.

Called by God into a life far from his Christian but comfortable existence, Andie Steele-Smith has recently won international acclaim as the “gang pastor” crossing rival lines. Serving the last five years in 2018’s second-highest homicide city, he has led murderers and drug lords to cooperate amid the coronavirus pandemic as a new distribution network for soap and emergency food delivery.

In addition to endemic crime, Cape Town counts 10 percent of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in all of Africa, and 60 percent of South Africa’s cases.

With both mass media and the masses desperate for good news amid the pandemic, his story has been told by the Associated Press, the BBC, CBS News, and even earned a quip (at the 12:30 mark) on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, himself a South African from Johannesburg.

CT spoke with Steele-Smith, who attends Hillsong’s Cape Town campus, about his calling, the spiritual impact of his ministry, and whether “15 minutes of fame” makes the situation better or worse:

You started out as a successful investment banker. How did you end up in South Africa?

I grew up in a strong Christian home and church, but until I was about 40 years old, my life was all about building my own empire.

Around 12 years ago, I visited San Diego to buy a coffee company. Invited to what I thought was a megachurch, little did I know…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Nigeria’s Government Agrees: Islamist Terrorists Target Christians

Nigeria Catholic March
Christians faithfuls march on the street of Abuja during a prayer and penance for peace and security in Nigeria in Abuja on March 1, 2020. – The Catholic Bishops of Nigeria gathered faithfuls as well as other Christians and other people to pray for security and to denounce the barbaric killings of Christians by the Boko Haram insurgents and the incessant cases of kidnapping for ransom in Nigeria. (Photo by Kola SULAIMON / AFP)

This article was first published at Christianity Today on March 2, 2020.

The Nigerian government now agrees with what church leaders have been complaining for years: Christians are the target of jihadist terrorism.

“In the wake of a renewed onslaught by our tireless military against Boko Haram and their ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) allies in recent times, the insurgents have apparently changed their strategy,” said Lai Mohammed, the minister of information and culture, at a press conference last week.

“They have started targeting Christians and Christian villages for a specific reason, which is to trigger a religious war and throw the nation into chaos.”

In comments given exclusively to CT, the administration of President Muhammad Buhari clarified that this targeting is not new.

“Yes, Boko Haram is targeting individual Christians. In doing so, their target is all Nigerians, and their goal is to divide Christian brother against Muslim brother,” Mohammed, the information minister, told CT.

“What Boko Haram seeks—and always has sought—is to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.

“By targeting Christians, they seek to promulgate the falsehood that…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Nigerian Christians Marched Sunday to Protest Persecution

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-03 at 8.53.31 PM
Courtesy of CAN

This article was first published at Christianity Today on February 3, 2020.

Having finished his Sunday sermon from Psalm 18 on God as a stronghold who delivers his people from their enemies, Enoch Adeboye then led them to a cemetery.

It was an ironic yet appropriate choice.

Wearing a bright green tuxedo, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Lagos, Nigeria, marched three miles yesterday holding a placard that declared: “All Souls are Precious to God.”

Adeboye and his congregation, one of the largest in the world, answered the call issued by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for a three-day fast this past weekend, concluding in a prayer walk. Based on reports from its state chapters and local media, CAN estimates 5 million people marched in 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states on Sunday.

“Though we have protested before, this event took a new dimension,” CAN president Samson Ayokunle told CT.

“With one voice, we said ‘no’ to killings, ‘no’ to security negligence, and ‘no’ to the persecution of Christians in Nigeria. It is a wake-up call to the government.”

Launched on January 29 to protest the beheading of Brethren pastor Lawan Andimi, the chairman of a regional CAN chapter in Adamawa state, by Boko Haram two weeks earlier, the prayer was also a protest at the Nigerian government’s failure to stop the abductions and killings.

Terrorist attacks, as well as clashes between mostly Muslim herdsmen and mostly Christian farmers, resulted in more than 100 deaths in January alone.

“Lord, have mercy on Nigeria, let there be peace and security,” said Adeboye. “God sees all things and knows where the terrorists are hiding.

“We pray that God send his light to Nigeria and expose the evildoers in the country.”

In the perspective of CAN, these reach into the upper levels of government.

“O Lord, in Jesus Name, expose all the…”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today, and here to read the op-ed submitted by Muhammadu Buhari, president of Nigeria.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Pastor Turns Terrorist Hostage Video into a Testimony

Nigeria Hostage Video

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on January 13, 2020.

A hostage video released last week by Boko Haram did far more than issue another Nigerian plea for rescue.

It revealed a modern-day Shadrach.

“By the grace of God, I will be together with my wife, my children, and my colleagues,” said Lawan Andimi, a Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN) pastor in the troubled northeastern state of Adamawa. “[But] if the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God.

“Be patient, don’t cry, don’t worry. But thank God for everything.”

It is testimony even to his captors, said Gideon Para-Mallam, the Jos-based Africa ambassador for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES).

“This is completely different from most hostage videos,” he said. “[Andimi] appeared as one who has already conquered death, saying to his abductors…”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

11 Nigerian Christians Executed in ISIS Christmas Video

Nigerian Christians
(Credit: AP Photo/Ben Curtis.)

This article was first published by Christianity Today on December 28, 2019.

In another filmed massacre, 11 Nigerian Christians were executed by the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) over the Christmas holiday.

Wearing the orange jumpsuits made familiar by similar executions of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya, the first Nigerian victim was shot in the head by the black-clad terrorists who then slit the throats of the remaining ten. It is understood to be the largest group killed by ISWAP, a Boko Haram splinter group, so far.

“This message is to the Christians in the world,” stated the 56-second propaganda video, released December 26, in both Arabic and Hausa, according to The New York Times.

“Those who you see in front of us are Christians, and we will shed their blood as revenge for the two dignified sheikhs.”

The reference is to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the former ISIS caliph killed by US troops in an October raid in Syria, and Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, his purported successor, who was killed the next day.

The video offered no information about the victims, other than that they were recently seized in Nigeria’s northwest Borno state. But an earlier video was released by ISWAP in which captured aid workers appealed to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, as well as to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

Four aid workers were killed by ISWAP earlier this month. Dozens of others are believed to still be in captivity, including Leah Sharibu, a teenage girl kidnapped almost two years ago whose perseverance under pressure has inspired Nigerian Christians.

The International Crisis Group estimates the jihadist group consists of between 3,500 and 5,000 fighters.

“These agents of darkness are enemies of our common humanity, and they don’t spare any victim, whether they are Muslims or Christians,” stated Buhari, according to al-Jazeera.

Nigeria’s population of 200 million is evenly divided between Muslims and Christians.

Muslim victims have been many, agreed CAN in an earlier statement. But it stated the widespread killing in Nigeria’s north has predominately targeted Christians, who make up 95 percent of those currently detained by jihadists.

“The government has been paying lip service towards securing their freedom,” stated CAN, mentioning in particular…

Please click here to read this article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Evangelical Ethiopian Helps End Orthodox Schism

Ethiopian Cross

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on August 14.

Ending 27 years of schism, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in their homeland and in America reunited the two feuding branches of one of the world’s oldest churches.

Ironically, the push came from the Horn of Africa nation’s new evangelical prime minister.

“It is impossible to think of Ethiopia without taking note of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which is both great and sacred,” said Abiy Ahmed at the July 27 ceremony in Washington, reported the Fana state-run news agency.

A member of the World Council of Churches, the Tewahedo church split in 1991 due to political manipulations.

After the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) removed the Derg military junta from power, Patriarch Abune Merkorios was forced to abdicate.

He later fled to the United States, where dissidents and diaspora Ethiopians formed a rival patriarchate. According to church tradition, the position is held for life…

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Sectarian Cinema: Oscars Highlight Muslim Defense of Persecuted Christians

Watu Wote
(Image: Hamburg Media School)

This article was first published in the May print edition of Christianity Today.

Two years ago, the heroic actions of some Kenyan Muslims brought their majority-Christian nation together. The Oscar-nominated film depiction of that heroism may do so again—if many people watch.

Watu Wote is a fictional retelling of real-life horror. In December 2015, al-Shabaab terrorists stormed a bus headed toward the border with Somalia and demanded Christian passengers separate for targeted execution.

Muslim passengers responded, “If you want to kill us, then kill us. There are no Christians here.” The Christian women were given hijabs to wear, while the Christian men were hidden behind bags.

They knew the danger. One year earlier in a similar bus attack, Muslim militants killed 28 Christians who failed to correctly say the Islamic creed.

Filmed on location in Swahili and Somali, the 22-minute film was nominated for the Live Action Short Film category at the 90th Academy Awards.

“The film captures an issue close to Kenyan hearts, that apart from religious differences, we are all Kenyan,” said Timothy Ranji, bishop of the Anglican diocese of Mt. Kenya South. “The downside is that it will be watched by very few Kenyans…”

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

 

Categories
Africa Published Articles World Watch Monitor

Sudanese Pastors Pressured to ‘Inform’ or Stand Trial

This article was first published by World Watch Monitor on December 16, 2016.

sudan-map

Forty-eight year old father of three Revd Yamane Abraha received an ultimatum in Khartoum following a trip to Ethiopia in the fall of 2015.

“(Sudanese government) security threatened me, saying I would have to appear in court either as a witness, or an accused,” the Evangelical Baptist Church of Khartoum pastor told WWM. “But my father was sick, so unlike others I couldn’t escape.”

Abraha was one of several Sudanese Christians gathered abroad to pray for their nation. Among them were Revd Hassan Abduraheem Kodi Taour and Revd Kuwa Shamal, Sudan Church of Christ pastors from the Nuba Mountains region.

Also attending was Czech Christian aid worker Petr Jašek. According to Middle East Concern, these three had helped facilitate financial assistance to pay for the medical treatment of a Darfurian university student who had suffered burn wounds when government security attacked a campus demonstration in Omdurman, north of the capital Khartoum.

Sudanese at the meeting suspected there were spies around their Addis Ababa hotel. Then shortly after their return to Khartoum, the police arrested Taour, Shamal and Jašek, in December 2015. They have now been in detention for a year. Detained along with them is Abdulmonem Abdumawla, also from Darfur, who helped facilitate the medical treatment for the student.

The four are charged with waging war against the Sudanese state, espionage, conspiracy to carry out criminal acts, and undermining the authority of the state through violence. Trial proceedings finally begun in August have been postponed repeatedly in recent months. They could face the death penalty.

Delayed escape

Abraha was not arrested until three months after his colleagues, on 13 March, and then held for only one day. Security ordered him to report back daily, and on 24 March told him he would have to appear in court in the role of his choice: testify against the others, or be charged along with them.

On 26 March his father died.

Abraha gathered his family and traveled eight hours east by bus to bury him in their hometown of Kassala, on the border with Eritrea. And there he dropped off the radar, ditched his cell phone, and waited.

Two weeks later he returned to Khartoum and set his plan in motion. Nervously he checked his surroundings before going to buy a ticket to Egypt.

With his wife he exchanged notes on paper serviettes, which they wet and discarded when read. Discreetly they packed their children’s belongings, lest they tip off authorities at school.

Abraha then checked with a friendly security officer that his name was not on a watch list. And on 20 April, he told his children they would have a family picnic near the airport. Relatives—and kids—were surprised to learn they were saying ‘goodbye’.

In Egypt, Abraha is now involved in training for discipleship and church planting, and supervises 15 house churches among Sudanese refugees.

Over 31,000 Sudanese in Egypt are registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees, according to its August 2016 report. Unofficial estimates can exceed well over one million.

Most have fled the ongoing violence in Darfur and the southern regions of Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains bordering South Sudan.

Recurring pattern

But Abraha’s story is not unique.

Barnaba Timothous, who fled to Egypt three years earlier, had also been pressed to testify against Christian colleagues. Doing student campus ministry, he was accused of taking foreign money.

“I was told that if I would cooperate nothing would happen to me,” he told WWM. “But if not, nothing would protect me from them.”

Some people criticized him for his decision to leave. He did so quickly, taking one bag and telling no one in his family. And though he stated he was not personally involved in ministry among Muslims, he refused to betray those he knew.

“I will not be involved in issues that hurt the body of Christ and bring suffering to innocent people, just because they follow Christ as savior,” he said.

“The Islamic government of Sudan is persecuting the leaders of churches and ministries. And now our students no longer trust each other, fearful someone might report them.”

Timothous, who has since been joined by his mother and sister, is now working amongst students at several university campuses in Egypt.

WWM has spoken with other Christian leaders who tell similar stories.

Excuse for crackdown

”The [Sudan] government wants sharia and is cracking down on the church,” said Kamal Fahmy, head of the religious freedom advocacy group Set My People Free.

He recalled President Omar al-Bashir’s threat, on the eve of South Sudan independence in 2011, to make Sudan a fully Islamic state, the removal of foreign NGOs thereafter, and the expulsion of South Sudanese in 2013.

“Authorities felt Pastors Hassan and Kuwa were shaming them, bringing a bad report,” Fahmy told WWM.

“In the rebel areas the church is doing humanitarian work and is not involved in the conflict, but it does expose the atrocities the Sudanese government is committing.

“It will find any excuse to accuse them.”

Pastors have been arrested, churches have been destroyed, and land has been confiscated, according to the US State Department’s 2015 Report on International Religious Freedom.

And on 6 Oct the European Parliament passed a resolution against Sudan, specifically naming the four detainees.

Noting the EU partnership with Sudan toward ‘better migration management’, the resolution ‘reaffirms that freedom of religion, conscience or belief is a universal human right that needs to be protected everywhere and for everyone … especially in the case of apostasy.’

But in January 2015, Sudan actually expanded its apostasy laws to include criticism of the Prophet Mohammad’s wives or early companions.

Fahmy, who recently penned an open letter to the UN with the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe, links an oppressive religious climate to development issues, which he says “assaults the core of human nature”.

“Apostasy laws … have negative social and political consequences everywhere they are in force,” he wrote. “They create instability and inspire violence.”

“Without freedom to change beliefs there is no religious freedom,’” he told WWM. “Going to paradise is not compulsory.”

Categories
Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Does Saying an Islamic Creed Deny Our Christian Faith?

Woman escaping after terrorists targeted Christians at a university in Garissa, Kenya
Woman rescued after terrorists targeted Christians at a university in Garissa, Kenya

This article was published at Christianity Today on August 26.

During the 2013 terror attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, al Shabaab gunmen paused for a moment and made an announcement in Swahili: All Muslims could come forward and leave.

Among those trying to escape was Joshua Hakim, who covered up the Christian name on his ID as he showed it to the gunmen.

“They told me to go,” Hakim later told The Guardian. “Then an Indian man came forward, and they said, ‘What is the name of Muhammad’s mother?’ When he couldn’t answer, they just shot him.”

Other terror attacks by al Shabaab, a Somali terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda, have followed a similar pattern. Those who could prove they were Muslim—by reciting a prayer in Arabic or answering questions about Islam—were allowed to go free. Those who couldn’t were killed.

As a result, some Kenyans have begun to share tips online about how to pretend to be Muslim, just in case. This includes learning to recite the shahada—Islam’s main creed—in Arabic.

This pragmatic response to terror attacks is understandable. But is it biblically sound? Kenyan Christian leaders are divided on the issue.

No, says David Oginde, head of Christ is the Answer Ministries, one of Kenya’s largest parachurch organizations with 45,000 members. “A true Christian must be ready to live and to die for the faith,” he said.

But two professors at St. Paul’s University, a conservative Anglican institution in Nairobi, say the answer isn’t that clear-cut. Reciting the shahada doesn’t amount to denying Christ, says Samuel Githinji, a theology lecturer.

The article also included Arab theologians, who mostly responded that pretending to be a Muslim is not acceptable, but forgiveness should be offered to those who succumb. It also touched on similar themes in Christian history, during the Roman era.

Here is the conclusion:

The persecutions of old backfired, bringing many into the Christian fold. It is too early to write of the impact today. But Ajaj is hopeful, and counsels faithfulness when called upon.

“I hope they give a good testimony, and glory to God’s name.”

Of course nothing is certain. Martyrdom may not change a hardhearted terrorist. Pretending may not save your life either.

But for the record, the mother of Muhammad is Aminah bint Wahb.

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.