Listen: Tim Reid in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
Christians in Africa and the Middle East face appalling levels of persecution in Jesus’ name. Tim Reid, from Open Doors Australia, shares the struggles facing Christians in Nigeria where 1,300 have been killed and 3,000 displaced by Muslim extremists between January and June this year.
Open Doors, the publishers of the annual World Watch List, monitoring global Christian persecution, Open Doors is also concerned about the future of Christianity in biblical locations like Syria. On the 2018 World Watch list Nigeria is rated the 14th most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian. Syria is rated number 15. In both countries, the major factor in persecution is Islamic oppression. In the top 50 countries on the World Watch list 215 million Christians face persecution every day.
Nigeria one nation – two faiths
While the south of Nigeria is majority Christian, the 12 northern states are governed by Sharia law. Christianity here comes at a high cost. In recent years Boko Haram has killed and displaced thousands of believers. The northern government denies Christians basic access to things like medical care, education and humanitarian aid. In northern Nigeria, Christians are seen as second-class citizens. It’s not unusual for Christian villages to miss out on funding for roads, hospitals and schools.
Young Christian girls often go missing – they are abducted and forced into Muslim marriages. The town of Chibok became infamous when 276 Christian girls were kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalist group, Boko Haram. Many have been released, but their trauma will need time to heal.While there are large churches in the south, the middle belt of Nigeria is becoming a battleground. Christians in these states are beginning to experience more violence and discrimination. It is this middle area of the country, Tim Reid described to Open House.
Fulani Herdsman a new threat
There are many factors at play and climate change is one of them. Encroaching desertification is forcing Muslim Fulani herdsman from the north toward Christian farmers in the south. The two groups are competing for agricultural resources and there are many clashes over land use.
Additionally Sharia law is in force in much of the north of Nigeria and the Fulani bring with them a very fundamental type of Islam. The differences in faith and culture between the two groups mean there is little chance of peaceful coexistence with the Christian farmers.
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Massacres, villages destroyed
There have been awful massacres of whole villages and thousands have been forced of the land they held for generations. The law is very unequally enforced and Muslims who kill Christians rarely face consequences. However, as Tim Reid explained, Christians accused of killing Muslims have been executed.
Attacked in their sleep
In late June 2018, a dozen Christian villages were wiped out in a four day killing spree by Militant Muslim Fulani. Most of the victims were in their homes sleeping when the attacks began. The affected communities surround the city of Jos—known as the epicenter of Christianity in northern Nigeria’s Middle Belt. As many as 200 Christians had been killed, however, some residents fear the death toll may be even higher, as more bodies are yet to be recovered, while others were burned beyond recognition.
Aid is critical
Only a few days after the attacks attacks which displaced more than 3,000 Christians the victims got critical relief and support. Due to the insecurity of the area, people have been left unattended by aid organizations. However, some local churches have stepped in to set up informal camps for internally displaced people. As the photos show, Open Doors is present, on the ground, partnering with these indigenous churches to bring aid.
Begging to feed children
In Nigeria Open Doors run many programs to support persecuted Christians. These services include trauma counselling and preparing Christians to face persecution, emergency relief and support for displaced Christians, discipling new Christians, access to basic services like education, medical care and clean water.
One grateful beneficiary said “My house was totally burned down in the Fulani crisis. I have been going from house to house begging for a bowl of corn to feed my children, but today you have given me 100 kilograms of maize all to myself.”God indeed is faithful. May God bless every pocket that gave to see that we are being helped.” – Mary, Nigeria
Christians grateful for food aid
“We are so grateful for this food aid,” said Pastor Amos. “Please tell the people who gave towards this aid that we will never forget what they have done for us. This aid you gave us will last people up to three months. We have never experienced such help. You have done what the church in Lassa could not do because we have become so weak you have demonstrated God’s concern for them. You have demonstrated the love of God. On Sunday, people came to church en masse to praise God. And they thank the people who provided this aid.”
Rhoda, a local believer, lined up with thousands of others at the local church. When she received the food aid from Open Doors, she couldn’t help but cry and hug the nearest worker.
“When God says: ‘Never will I leave you nor forsake you,’ he was talking to me. Who am I that you send help to me? I am speechless. You are indeed angels sent by God to wipe my tears away. “I hated Muslims and swore never to help them even if they are at the point of death, because they always deny us any support. But this support I received through Open Doors is unconditional and it has helped me to alter my hatred for Muslims. I have found a new perspective.” There are more personal stories of the Nigerian Christian community on the US Open Doors site here.
Our faith is based on forgiveness
On their website Open Doors has some thoughts from a Nigerian pastor. He says “It made me cry every time I heard what happened in the villages. Our faith is based upon forgiveness, as we learn from the Word of God. God forgives us because we have sinned against him. So we must apply that in our lives. That is what I preach… They raided everything that was in my house, they looted it… they broke into my house and made off with all my things. So, it is not easy to forgive, but we have to do that.” Elijah* (*name changed for security purposes), pastor from northern Nigeria, the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency. He lost his brother and a few uncles in the insurgency and his house was looted twice.
Christians have fled Syria
The Church in Syria has been around since the times of the New Testament. Christians today live in the midst of a complex civil war. Violence and persecution can come from extremist groups and and even from families of Muslims who have converted to Christianity. Since 2011, over half of the Christian population have fled the country.
Muslims Discovering Jesus
Churches in Syria have been targeted by extremists and pastors have been kidnapped. For Christians living in rebel-held territory, the risk of persecution and violence is very high. Even faced with this threat, many Christians have chosen to stay.
Open Doors is supporting local pastors as their congregations stay and serve the community. Thousands of Syrians in urgent need have found practical and spiritual support from local churches.
Muslims are coming to know Christ in Syria, and so are Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Reaching out with practical support to Muslims and inviting them to church has seen many come to faith. Other Muslims have had dreams and visions about a man in white – Jesus.
We pray for those who harm us
“When I heard that people around the world who I don’t know and who are living in better situations were praying for me and for my country, I was given the spiritual strength to go on. This is true even though I am weak. I give glory to God. He makes the broken-hearted happy and sends His blessings to the poor. Prayer teaches us forgiveness; so we pray for those who harm us, that God will change their hearts and make them also tools to spread peace and love.” – Church Leader, Aleppo
Few Christians left
A study by Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity, has found that the Christian population in Syria has fallen from 1.4 million in 2011 to an estimated 450,000, as a result of migration brought on by violence and persecution. In Aleppo, for example, local church leaders suggested that the faithful have declined by up to 70 percent. The Syrian Network for Human Rights have published a report Targeting Christian Places of Worship in Syria The report says 63% of Syria’s churches have been damaged by bombing or other deliberate destruction.
Colossal human tragedy
Earlier in the year, when the war entered the seventh year of fighting The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi said “This seven-year war has left a colossal human tragedy in its wake. For the sake of the living, it is high time to end this devastating conflict. There are no clear winners in this senseless pursuit of a military solution. But the losers are plain to see – they are the people of Syria,”
The UNHCR reports that the seven years of fighting have cost hundreds of thousands of lives, driven 6.1 million people from their homes inside Syria, and forced 5.6 million refugees to seek safety in neighbouring countries in the region. The conditions faced by civilians inside Syria are worse than ever, with 69 per cent languishing in extreme poverty. The share of families spending more than half of their annual income on food has risen to 90 percent, while food prices are on average eight times higher than pre-crisis levels. Some 5.6 million people endure life-threatening conditions in terms of their security, basic rights or living standards, and require urgent humanitarian assistance.
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Photo Credits: Nigeria Photos, Open Doors Australia. Syria photos, Syrian Network for Human Rights report Targeting Christian Places of Worship in Syria