The Christian community is heavily represented among the thousands of victims of terrorist and bandit attacks that have been carried out across the African continent this year in an ongoing crisis that rarely makes headline news in the United States.
In 2021, the attacks have been on an even sharper rise, particularly in nations such as Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mozambique, as Africa emerges as the new hotbed of Islamic terror, with Christians or other groups viewed as too Western among the primary targets.
What exactly is happening?
Over the last decade, the Islamic terror group Boko Haram has been joined in their efforts by ISGS, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), the Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, and a branch of al-Qaeda in Mali, according to The Hindu.
In Nigeria, in addition to Islamic extremist violence, Muslim Fulani herdsmen who have been suspected of countless brutal slayings in an ongoing feud with Christian farmers have recently appeared to work in tandem with Boko Haram and are suspected to have committed some of the nation’s many kidnappings.
According to the rights group Intersociety Rule of Law, 1,470 Christians were murdered and over 2,200 abducted in Nigeria in just the first four months of 2021.
In one horrific incident, 22 Christians, including children and eight members of one family, were butchered to death. Earlier this month, a pastor and his 3-year-old son, Godsend, were gunned down. Fulani radicals were suspected in both cases.
In Burkina Faso, the security situation in the nation has deteriorated sharply over the last few years and the nation saw its worst attack in years earlier this month. Over 160 people were killed as suspected Islamic militants attacked a town over the presence of volunteer security forces, according to The Hindu.
Why is this happening?
Although roughly half of the population in Nigeria is Christian, according to Open Doors USA, more Christians are murdered for their faith there than in any other nation, while 19 out of the 50 nations on the organization’s World Watch List of places where it is difficult to follow Jesus are in Africa.
These jihadi movements across West Africa, which began to rise after Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was toppled, now have safe havens in the lawless deserts of the Sahel region from which to conduct kidnappings and terror attacks on towns and cities, The Hindu explains.
As these jihadi groups often have a particular interest in gaining converts to Islam — and are rarely concerned if such a conversion is voluntary — Christians are undoubtedly an obvious target for violence and are often killed for refusing to convert and denounce Jesus as their savior.
“In northern Burkina Faso, we have faced attacks against Christians and against our churches. We don’t know who the attackers are, nor do we know who is sponsoring them,” Pastor “Samuel” of Burkina Faso told Open Doors USA. “All we know is that they attack Christians. These attacks have shattered the lives of our people. We are troubled and filled with pain over the deaths of our family members.”
What has been the response?
While organizations committed to ministering to Christians facing persecution such as Open Doors USA and bipartisan groups like the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom do much to shed light on the crisis faced by those experiencing violence due to their faith, the governments of developed nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom do not appear to have Africa’s Christians high on their list of priorities.
Meanwhile, local governments are too overwhelmed and too underequipped and under-resourced to respond to the violence. In addition, government leaders are often accused of inaction or corruption.
U.S. intervention in Africa has left a lot of baggage, such as the Obama administration’s actions in Libya and the resulting empowerment of jihadi militant groups. The Trump administration defeated the ISIS terror group in the Middle East and stopping their violence against Iraqi and Syrian Christians, but in so doing inadvertently sent many of the surviving terrorists packing to Africa, where they joined up with other like-minded terror groups in attacking Christian targets in Africa. The Biden administration has signaled a stronger interest in the region and says it will take a more “hands on” approach, but only time will tell how this plays out.
On the other hand, however, it is fair to say that Christian persecution overseas is simply not an issue that the Western media covers with zeal, as it is not remotely expedient to the hard-left narrative they have so predominantly adopted through which to process news about perceived oppression. African nations are not major trade partners to the U.S. and the public is always wary of intervention overseas. Thus, politicians face little public pressure to respond to this crisis.
What can the Church do to help?
When our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer, we all suffer, being connected in the holistic body of the Church of Jesus Christ.
It is humbling to remember that while Christians are increasingly antagonized in the U.S., our brethren overseas are now experiencing the same level of violence faced by the early Christians.
Keep Africa’s persecuted Christians in prayer and pray for the eyes of the world to be opened to the horrors of what is taking place.
Groups like Open Doors USA, Voice of the Martyrs, Amnesty International, and International Christian Concern are vital resources to learn more or to provide resources or avenues for financial support if you feel led to take up the cause of supporting Africa’s Christians.
We are members of the Body of Christ as well as the empowered citizens of a constitutional republic. Pressure from the global community, which African governments are often heavily reliant upon for resources, can go a long way.
In our country, we are the government, and so the onus rests on us to demand our lawmakers do more to condemn the violence against the Church and continued threats against religious liberty in Africa.
“When the world and the U.S. ignored … genocide in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands of people died,” Frank Wolf, former U.S. congressman and author of the 1988 International Religious Freedom Act, recalled at a recent hearing on the state of religious freedom in Nigeria. “History is repeating itself. If what is happening in Nigeria were happening to nearly any country in Europe, the world would be enraged and engaged … We do now know what is taking place in Nigeria, so we can’t pretend that we do not.”
Indeed, as our contemporary culture grapples with race, it painfully ironic that a situation in which tens of thousands of Africans face routine violence at the hands of ruthless religious militants is virtually ignored.
The United States must act to condemn this growing violence against the Church. A threat to religious liberty anywhere is a threat to religious liberty everywhere, and wherever the rights of Christians are protected, the rights of all citizens can be more effectively preserved.