Africa on Fire
Anti-Christian Fanatics Increase Attacks on Missions and Churches. Indigenous Ministries See Opportunities in Suffering.
April 27, 2011
Calling for increased prayer, Rae Burnett, Africa Director at Virginia-based Christian Aid Mission, has confirmed reports that many thousands of Christians in North Africa and Nigeria spent the Easter holidays locked behind closed doors for their safety. For example, during the last 10 days of rioting over the outcome of the presidential election, more than 60 churches were burned down in Maiduguri and Sokoto by anti-Christian mobs in northern Nigeria along with thousands of homes and businesses owned by Christians.
On desert sands in North Africa, Rae Burnett interviews indigenous mission leaders about current needs in their ministry.
So far news reports say that over 500 Christians have been killed, including native missionaries, pastors and leaders. Thousands more are fleeing to the predominantly Christian South, despite government-imposed curfews. Last year, more than 2000 Christians were killed in targeted Nigerian violence, more than in any other country in the world.
"We need to pray for our fellow believers, not only in Nigeria but also throughout North Africa," says Burnett. "Many of our brothers and sisters in these areas are undergoing severe and increasing persecution. Native missionaries survive and minister in what seems to be a continual state of war or political upheaval - particularly right now in Egypt, Ivory Coast, Libya, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Sudan."
Burnett is in touch, both by phone and by email, with ministry leaders in North Africa and Nigeria and is sending relief aid from Christian Aid as requests come in from indigenous leaders. Gifts for emergency aid can be sent to Christian Aid Mission, gift code 500-IUCN.
Getting the kind of information she needs, however, is another matter. Actual details of how the violence is affecting indigenous missionary work is still very difficult in most cases because of security concerns. Communication intercepts by terrorists are a constant danger, and native ministries cannot give details.
"However," she says, "they are very appreciative for the support which fellow believers are sending through Christian Aid, and they are counting on our continued prayers and financial help in this time of crisis."
Burnett says that Christian outreach work was at a complete standstill in Nigeria before and during the Easter holidays, usually a time of celebration and peaceful outreach to non-Christian friends and neighbors. Violence is worse in the northern areas of Kano and Kaduna, but the entire country of Nigeria is under curfew.
Native North African missionary couple explains the perils of preaching the gospel to the unreached peoples of their homeland.
"Ministry leaders tell me that travel is impossible, so few first-hand reports are available yet. But we are still sending relief funds so they will be ready when curfews are lifted."
"In Ivory Coast," Burnett says, "foreigners fled the country as post-election civil war erupted. More than 90,000 Ivorians are flooding into other West African countries. Neighboring Liberia is especially burdened. Christian Aid-assisted indigenous ministries are doing their best to help the homeless and starving. Pray for native Christian workers who are fearful that the new government will result in the persecution of Christians. It is clear that this new administration is backed by well-organized and financed anti-Christian groups."
Burnett just returned from meetings with ministry leaders in Chad, one of the poorest and most neglected African countries, Christians there are praying that they will be able to handle the influx of Libyan war refugees. They want to witness to them with emergency aid and lead them to the Lord. Many native missionaries are already involved with Darfur relief efforts since Sudan shares Chad's eastern border. Libya shares the border to the north.
"My prayer is that American pastors, church leaders and believers will understand the great opportunity we have to make Christ known in the midst of these crises," says Burnett, "The more financial help we can send, the more doors will be open for the gospel."
The terrible problem of genocide in Darfur still exists, she explains. "Indigenous ministries helped by Christian Aid are leading Darfur refugees to Christ as well as helping poor villagers through ministry-established clinics and schools. Many have come to know the Lord through these efforts.
"We also need to pray for believers in Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania who live under constant surveillance and uncertainty of what will happen to them next.
Church burned by anti-Christian terrorists in Nigeria. Hundreds are believed dead in the current wave of persecution including many pastors and native missionaries.
"Pray for Christians in Western Saharan. In a secret desert meeting, I asked a Saharawi believer what would happen to him if it was known that he is a Christian. He made a horizontal slashing motion across his neck and said 'Even my own father would cut my throat.'"
Burnett said she was followed constantly by secret police when visiting the northern Moroccan portion of that divided and war-torn country.
In Senegal, Christians in the southern Casamance face danger from both sides as rebel forces have been fighting for independence since 1990. Pray for believers in Burkina Faso where anti-government violence has broken out in and near the capital.
"We here in the United States and other free countries often have more information about some of these situations than even local leaders. We need to use our knowledge to pray and help with humanitarian aid along with the gospel."
As Africa Director for Christian Aid, Rae Burnett has travelled extensively in North Africa, the most neglected and hard to reach part of the continent.
"I have met underground believers secretly in tents and on the desert. Sometimes, we sit together in a noisy public place, over coffee or a meal, where they are sure there is no surveillance.
"Under threat of persecution and even death, these men and women are quietly, wisely, and successfully bringing the gospel to their people. Scrutiny has greatly increased since the recent unrest, and I am so grateful to have these working contacts in place during this time of intensified crisis. But it must be understood, for these men and women, every moment of their lives has been potentially dangerous since the day they became followers of Christ."
Since 2004, Christian Aid has sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the gospel work of native missionaries in every North African country.