RCA Global Mission Calls for Prayers after Persecution of Christians in Niger
Violent protests broke out in Niger over the weekend, where Christian churches and the homes and businesses of Christian families have been burned.
The protests were apparently in response to new caricatures of the prophet Mohammed published in the first edition of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after the terror attack on its staff—and in response to Nigerien president Mahamadou Issoufou attending a solidarity march in Paris after that attack. Niger is nearly 99 percent Muslim.
RCA missionaries Tom and Aïchatou Johnson and Jeremy and Susan Beebout are safe, along with their children. Aïchatou’s parents, an uncle, and two aunts lost their homes in Zinder on Friday, when the violence began. “Their homes were totally destroyed, but her brother’s house was only ransacked,” says Tom. “Most Christians in Zinder who lost their homes are now in the military compound, where they are being housed and protected. Her family, though, are gathered together in the living room of her parents’ home, where they have gendarme protection, as they refuse to leave.”
On Saturday, the violence spread to other cities, including the capital, Niamey, where the Johnsons and the Beebouts live. Churches were systematically set aflame and looted. Even Christian schools, orphanages, and medical clinics were attacked or threatened.
In Niger the RCA partners with the Evangelical Church of the Republic of Niger, or EERN. The EERN secretary for external relations, whose name is withheld for security reasons, reports that more than 50 churches in Niamey were destroyed, including one EERN congregation. At another EERN congregation, neighbors were able to convince demonstrators to remove everything from the church and burn the items outside, keeping the building intact. The EERN reports that three of its churches throughout Niger have been completely destroyed, and another three were damaged.
"Instead of discouraging us, this situation is strengthening us."
“We are standing firm,” the EERN secretary says. “We are convinced that the time of the growth of the church in Niger is now. Instead of discouraging us, this situation is strengthening us. We got calls from many Muslims encouraging us—you could even hear some of them crying through the phone.”
Muslim neighbors also stepped in to protect a medical clinic, guesthouse, and office used by EERN ministries that the Beebouts serve. “The clinic/office/guest house compound was threatened at least four times,” Susan says. “The Muslim neighbors interceded on our behalf and so the compound was not burned.”
“Thankfully, the community who receives medical services and agricultural trainings protested and forced the would-be attackers to leave,” says Derrick Jones, supervisor of RCA mission in Africa.
“Our pastor and his family lost everything except the clothes on their backs and their car,” Susan says. “The church where many [RCA visitors] have worshiped is destroyed, with only the concrete walls standing. But we know that the church is refined by fire and strengthened by persecution. Pray that the churches would start to look out to their neighbors with acts and words of love. Several Christian schools and the clinic were protected because they serve the community.”
The clinic was open on Monday, and many Muslims came to express sorrow for what had happened to the churches. “Pray that our witness would become bolder, that we would not be silenced in fear,” Susan says.
RCA Global Mission continues to closely monitor the situation.
How You Can Help
Pray for the people of Niger. Pray for an end to the violence and persecution. Pray for safety for Christians in Niger, and for protection for homes, churches, and businesses. Pray for safety for the Johnsons and the Beebouts, their friends and relatives, and their ministry partners. Pray that the EERN will be able to use this persecution to strengthen its witness and forge stronger ties with Muslim neighbors. Pray that congregations whose buildings were destroyed will find places to hold worship services.
Make a donation to help the EERN continue and strengthen their ministries at this critical time. Funds will allow the EERN to provide immediate relief and security, and to begin rebuilding efforts. A rough estimate of damages to all EERN properties is nearly $1 millionUS. Donate below, or send a check, designated “Niger relief” to Reformed Church in America, Attn: Finance Office, 4500 60th St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512. In Canada, send checks to Regional Synod of Canada, PO Box 5070 Stn LCD1, Burlington, ON L7R 3Y8.