Bola Tinubu, the 16th president of Nigeria, has “absolute” faith in God.
“I know that his hand shall provide the needed moral strength and clarity of purpose,” he stated during his inaugural speech on Monday, “when we seem to have reached the limits of our human capacity.”
But what if the limits are self-imposed?
Tinubu, who infuriated many Christians by nominating a fellow Muslim as his running mate, became the West African nation’s first president to enter office with less than 50 percent of the vote. Despite record voter registration, only 29 percent of the electorate cast ballots. Tinubu, affiliated with the incumbent APC party, won 37 percent.
Atiku Abubakar of the opposition PDP party captured 29 percent, while the third-party surge of Peter Obi, a Christian, fell short with 25 percent. Neither candidate attended the inauguration, as they contest in court the validity of the electoral results.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an umbrella grouping of the five main denominations, vociferously protested the Muslim-Muslim ticket, urging a vote for any other candidates. But with the nation roughly divided 50-50 along religious lines, results show that no candidate was able to marshal a conclusive sectarian advantage.
In breaking political protocol, Tinubu, two-term governor of the southwestern megacity of Lagos, stated the choice of Kashim Shettima as vice president simply reflected his personal competency. But most analysts linked it instead with the candidate’s northern origin.
Everyone jostled over this mostly Muslim bloc of votes.
Competition led the PDP to break regional political protocol in nominating a Fulani from the north, when outgoing APC president Muhammadu Buhari, also Fulani, per tradition should have been succeeded by a southerner. Obi also picked a northern Muslim as his presidential partner.
Tinubu, who helped secure Buhari’s victory eight years earlier, had long been acclaimed as a powerful political boss and kingmaker for others. Running for office himself, he declared at the start of his campaign: It’s my turn.
Yet despite alleged fraud and campaigns of voter intimidation, Tinubu lost APC electoral strongholds in the north to Abubakar, and his home city of Lagos to Obi. He enters office amid deep political division, worrying economic conditions, and a host of Christian leaders deeply wounded by his campaign.
“What he did shows no regard for Christians,” said Esther Ayandokun, rector of the Baptist College of Theology in the southern state of Oyo. “We are not happy, but there is nothing we can do.” She urged prayer, and…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on June 1, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
Christian leaders in Nigeria are convinced: The outcome of Saturday’s election is crucial.
Against a backdrop of widespread insecurity, persecution, and corruption, on February 25 a record 93 million registered voters will decide the presidency of Africa’s most populous nation. And for the first time since the restoration of democracy in 1999, no candidate has a military background.
One contender is a Christian.
Christianity Today interviewed seven Nigerian Christian leaders, and five directly declared support for their fellow believer, Peter Obi. None indicated any other candidate. And of the 18 candidates seeking office, Obi is one of only three projected to have a realistic chance.
But with no clear frontrunner, Nigeria may face another presidential first—a runoff election. In a nod to the nation’s ethnic diversity, a first-round winner must claim 50 percent of the overall tally as well as at least 25 percent of votes in 24 of 36 regional states.
The West African nation of about 220 million—nicknamed the Giant of Africa—contains roughly 370 ethnic groups, speaking 520 languages.
Each leading candidate represents one of the three largest groups. Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is a Fulani Muslim from Nigeria’s north. So is outgoing president Muhammadu Buhari, who at age 80 is completing his second of two constitutionally limited four-year terms.
Bola Tinubu, a Yoruba Muslim from the southwest, represents Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC). The incumbent party won elections for the first time in 2015 when Tinubu, the former Lagos governor, offered his considerable political heft. He now openly proclaims it’s “his turn” for the presidency.
The PDP and APC are traditionally Nigeria’s two strongest parties.
The third candidate is Obi, an Igbo Christian from the southeast. A political free agent formerly with the PDP, the Catholic politician joined the then-minor Labour party last May just prior to the primaries. Now he is riding a wave of youth-led popularity, with many seeing in him an alternative to an aging political class.
Beyond the ethnic, regional, and political aspects to the race, there is also the religious: Nigeria is roughly divided 50–50 between Christians and Muslims. All these factors contribute to making this year’s contest far different than the norm. And unwritten rules that in the past attempted to ensure social cohesion have been discarded.
The presidency is understood to rotate geographically between the majority-Muslim north and majority-Christian south. But this election the PDP decided instead to stick with five-time failed candidate Abubakar, perhaps in part to seize the traditionally unified voting bank of northern Fulani peoples that helped bring Buhari to power.
More painful to Christians is the failure of the APC to nominate a split religious ticket. In choosing Tinubu as a southern Muslim, the party feared losing the northern vote and assigned a northern Muslim as his running mate. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)—which represents Protestant, Pentecostal, Catholic, and independent churches—pledged to oppose the Muslim-Muslim ticket, outraged at the breach of religious-political protocol.
Rather than submit to political machinery, Obi struck out on his own. Beside disrupting what had been an emerging two-party system, he also represents the political ambitions of the Igbo.
Following a series of military coups in the 1960s, many Igbo were driven from their homes in northern Nigeria. And in fleeing to their heartland in the southeast, some pronounced the creation of an independent republic. The resulting civil war from 1967–1970 killed thousands; some say the election of an Igbo president would represent a moment of national healing.
The government has made strides to ensure a transparent voting process this year by instituting biometric safeguards on voter identity. But at least 23 officials are being investigated for alleged roles in illegal registration, as authorities scrubbed 2.7 million names from the list.
Additionally, past elections have been impacted by violence and many fear repetition. There have been more than 125 attacks on federal election offices, with 280 polling stations closed in insecure areas. Already one senate candidate has been assassinated, a Labour politician in the Igbo-majority southeast state of Enugu.
Meet the Candidates
Obi’s campaign does not focus on ethnicity but on competence and youth. At age 61 he is the youngest of the main candidates, and his supporters label themselves “Obidients” in reference to the social movement that has rallied around him outside of traditional political structures. Both as a businessman and as former governor of the southeastern Anambra state, the philosophy graduate earned a reputation for thrift and left behind a budget surplus while investing in education and paying salaries on time.
His critics point to his name being mentioned in the offshore accounts investigation known as the Pandora Papers—though Obi was never charged—and a likely inability to govern smoothly if victorious, since he lacks a political base in the halls of government. The Labour party has only two representatives in the House, one in the Senate, and zero governors in the states. To assist in the north, he has chosen a Muslim vice president from the northern Kaduna state.
At age 70, Tinubu also promotes his competency and justifies his Muslim vice presidential choice by saying it reflects the principle that religion should not be a factor in politics. With a Christian wife ordained in a leading Pentecostal denomination, Tinubu downplays any fears of sectarianism. Once exiled for his pro-democracy activism among those who helped lead Nigeria away from military rule, he is credited with generating growth as governor of Lagos, the economic capital, and aims to replicate this success on the national stage.
His critics say that despite increased revenues, Lagos lagged in infrastructure development while political patronage distributed the spoils. Twice cleared on corruption charges, Tinubu was also named in a US Justice Department report about heroin trafficking, though he settled via fine without an establishment of guilt.
At age 76, Abubakar is relying on his long political history while campaigning on a platform of reuniting a divided country—noted by his Christian vice presidential partner from the southern Delta state. An oil sector businessman and former vice president under Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian who served as president from 1999–2007, Abubakar led that administration’s economic team and instituted a series of successful reforms. Charitable, he established the American University in his northern Adamawa state, which offered scholarships to some of the Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram jihadists.
His critics say it will be difficult for Abubakar to unite a nation when his controversial geographic candidacy divided his own party. Also accused of cronyism, he is named in a US Senate report for transferring “suspect funds” but faced no trial, while accusations have never been proven in Nigeria. And many Christians are concerned that in transferring power from one Fulani to another, Muslims will continue to dominate the nation’s top offices. Husband to four wives and 28 children, Abubakar controversially deleted a tweet condemning the mob murder of a Christian university student accused of blaspheming Islam.
“My vote is for Peter Obi,” said Emiola Nihinlola, president of the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary (NBTS) in southwest Nigeria, citing Obi’s performance as governor. “There are good reasons to fear that a Muslim-Muslim presidency will lead to greater discrimination of Christians.” “My preference for president is…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on February 24, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
In the latest attack on civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a terrorist bombing killed 14 people and wounded 63 others during a baptism service at a Pentecostal church in Kasindi. Located in the mountainous North Kivu province bordering Uganda, the northeast region has already been under an official “state of siege,” similar to a state of emergency, since 2021.
“The Eastern Congo has become a theater of violent extremism,” said Eale Bosela, regional director for the Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa. “People are being massacred like animals.”
The bomb attack was blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an affiliate of the Islamic State Central African Province, which claimed responsibility. Originally formed in 1995 as a mix of jihadist and insurgent rebels, it is one of over 120 armed groups in North Kivu.
Many Congolese were confused—and troubled.
“How can such a situation happen,” stated Kiza Kivua, a 50-year-old farmer who lost his brother in the attack, “when Kasindi is full of soldiers?”
With an estimated 500 or more fighters, the ADF was once motivated primarily by its opposition to Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda since 1986. Pushed across the border, the militant group now has a majority Congolese membership with many foreign recruits.
A Kenyan national was arrested by the DRC for the church bombing.
“Like so many other groups, the ADF has found refuge in the region,” said Scott Morgan, chair of the Africa Working Group of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable. “But now they have taken on the mantra of attacking Christians.”
They are not the only ones. Other militant groups…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on January 18, 2023. Please click here to read the full text.
On November 2, federal forces and rebel authorities agreed on a “cessation of hostilities,” ending a conflict believed to have killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. All sides committed abuses, as documented by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and other international observers.
“No one has been clean in this war,” said Desta Heliso, a visiting lecturer at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology. “As Christians, we have to feel sorry about this.”
The peace agreement, however, provides for a biblical mandate.
Most negotiations concerned military realities. The two-year conflict in the Horn of Africa nation’s northernmost region—home to 7 million of Ethiopia’s 120 million people—vacillated in advantage between the two sides and between hostilities and humanitarian truce.
The United Nations stated 5.2 million Tigrayans need assistance.
But as federal forces pressed deeper into Tigray, peace talks sponsored by the African Union (AU) in South Africa concluded with an agreement for complete disarmament of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) within 30 days. National troops may enter the regional capital of Mekele; assume control of all borders, highways, and airports; and expedite humanitarian aid.
Both sides agree to cease defamation campaigns, and the central government will ensure restoration of communication, transportation networks, and banking services.
But long-term peace may depend on the outcome of a minor clause included among the 15 measures. The federal government agrees to conduct a “comprehensive transitional justice policy” consistent with the AU framework.
Ethiopia will be the first experiment in implementation.
“The possibility for reconciliation is there,” said Heliso, who was formerly vice president of the Kale Heywet Church, one of Ethiopia’s largest evangelical denominations. “But some claims for justice will have to be given up for peace, painful as it might be.”
That may not be necessary. Adopted in 2019, the African Union’s 2019 Transitional Justice Policy (AUTJP) goes beyond criminal accountability—while ensuring impartial investigation—to set up measurable standards for…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on November 11, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.
After 18 grueling months fighting desertification in Niger, Tony Rinaudo was near despair. As manager of a small reforestation project for SIM in 1983, he knew few of the 6,000 trees the missions agency had planted yearly since 1977 had survived the arid Sahel climate.
Locals called him the “crazy white farmer,” not wishing to waste valuable agricultural land on more failed efforts. But, trudging on, he loaded another batch of saplings into his pickup truck, struggling to fulfill his childhood prayer.
Years earlier in the threatened Ovens Valley of southeast Australia, Rinaudo lamented the bulldozing of hilly bushland and the killing of fish by drift from insecticides sprayed on tobacco plants—while children elsewhere went to bed hungry.
“God,” he cried out, “use me somehow, somewhere, to make a difference.”
Soon thereafter he stumbled upon I Planted Trees by Richard St. Barbe Baker. One line impressed itself upon Rinaudo, becoming his eventual life work.
“When the forests go, the waters go, the fish and game go, herds and flocks go, fertility departs,” he read from the 19th-century English botanist’s book. (The quote is attributed elsewhere to Scottish science journalist Robert Chambers). “Then the age-old phantoms appear stealthily, one after another—Flood, Drought, Fire, Famine, Pestilence.”
In 1981, Rinaudo settled in Maradi, 400 miles east of Niger’s capital, Niamey. The West African nation’s economic center, on its southern border with Nigeria, hosted SIM’s agricultural project, a hospital, and a local Bible school. Present since 1924, the mission—together with Catholics—established Niger’s largest concentration of Christians, though they numbered less than 1 percent of the population overall.
French colonialists and later international development projects contributed to environmental degradation through large-scale farming, clearing trees to maximize yield. Local farmers felled them further—out of poverty and hunger—to sell the wood, while women would walk miles to find kindling for their cooking fires.
As Rinaudo stopped to deflate his tires to traverse the sandy landscape for his delivery, he sighed and once again called out to God.
“Forgive us for destroying the gift of creation,” he prayed. “Show us what to do, open our eyes.”
Looking up, he spied a bush. On any other desert trek, Rinaudo recounted to CT, he would have passed by similar-looking shrubs soon to be consumed by wandering goats. But this time…
This article was originally published by Christianity Today, on November 10, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.
The field is set for Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election, leaving its Christian citizens in a quandary.
In selecting candidates to replace the current head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, one dominant political party ignored customary protocols ensuring geographic rotation of power, while the other party—in the face of severe warnings—abandoned the customary commitment to religious representation.
Believers may desert them both.
Africa’s most-populous nation is roughly divided between a majority Muslim north and a majority Christian south. An unwritten agreement has rotated the presidency between the two regions. Buhari, a Muslim, hails from Borno State in the northeast.
The first transgression, by geography, happened in May when the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nominated Atiku Abubakar from Adamawa State, also in Nigeria’s northeast. A Muslim, he chose as his vice-presidential running mate Ifeanyi Okowa, the Christian governor of Delta State in the south.
One month later, the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) nominated Bola Tinubu, the Muslim former governor of Lagos State in the south. But since he hails from a Christian region, fears were raised that his Muslim rival for president might sweep the north—viewed by many as a more reliable voting bloc. Speculation was rampant he would choose a Muslim vice-presidential candidate to compensate.
“We will consider such action as a declaration of war,” warned the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which represents almost all the nation’s Protestants and Catholics. “We … will mobilize politically against any political party that sows the seed of religious conflict.” CAN also opposes any Christian-Christian political ticket as well.
Similar statements were issued by two of CAN’s five blocs: the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria—“Meet us at the polls,” it said—and the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria.
Opposition extended beyond religion.
The civil society Middle Belt Forum warned the APC against breaking Nigerian unity. And a leaked security report—denied by Buhari—said such a choice would destabilize the nation and risk Christian lives.
Tinubu defied them all.
“I believe this is the man who can help me bring the best governance to all Nigerians,” he said on July 10, defending his selection of the Muslim former governor of Borno, Kashim Shettima. “In this crucial moment, where so much is at stake, we must prioritize leadership, competence, and the ability to work as a team over other considerations.”
The vice president of Nigeria holds no formal power. But Christians were aghast at the affront.
“In a country with 100 million people in each religion, are you saying there is no competent Christian who can be your partner?” asked Samson Ayokunle, the outgoing president of CAN. “If you are picking a Muslim, it means you have an agenda.”
Ayokunle, a Baptist, assured that CAN, which this week will rotate to new leadership, has no preference in terms of political parties. Tinubu governed Lagos well, he said, and Abubakar has never picked a fight with Christians.
However, “CAN said loud and clear that we will teach a lesson to any party with a Muslim-Muslim ticket,” Ayokunle told CT. The only complication? “Christians have not been voting enough.”
It may be about to change. Denominations across Nigeria…
This article was originally published at Christianity Today on July 26, 2022. Please click here to read the full text.
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.
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.
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 largestsurge 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.