Samaritan’s Purse aids our brothers and sisters as radical Islamist groups burn churches and target Christian leaders
Although the last census reported that about 98 percent of the 17 million people living in Niger are Muslim, the country has previously been known for peaceful relations among its religious communities. However, in recent months, radical Islamist groups have emerged and begun targeting the Christian minority.
The most notable extremist group to target Nigerien Christians is Boko Haram, a terrorist group based in Nigeria. Other groups, which are linked to Al Qaeda, are active in Niger’s northern and western bordering countries, Mali and Libya.
On January 16 and 17, evangelical Christian churches in Niger were targeted in a coordinated effort that used events surrounding the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris as a cover. In total, 68 churches and 71 pastors’ homes were destroyed or looted. Some pastors were chased from their villages.
Pastor Ismael*, whose neighbors attacked Christians in his village, described tossing his children over walls as they fled from yard to yard. Their house and most of their belongings, including the motorcycle Ismael used to travel to evangelize, were burned. His family hid at the local military police base, but Pastor Ismael went back to the village to collect other Christians. They stayed at the gendarmerie base for a week, fasting and praying, until the violence subsided.
“We really saw how our love for each other and community was strengthened greatly during this time,” Ismael said. “There were people who would come to visit us who weren’t Christian, and these non-Christians were really surprised to see joy among the Christians because of all the things that had happened.”
After the events, Samaritan’s Purse began helping affected people and churches. As one of the largest Christian aid organizations in the country, we’re taking a leadership role in aiding fellow Christians. Through this project, we hope to strengthen our relationships with local churches.
We will be distributing grants to churches in need of emergency assistance. The largest churches in Zinder and Maradi, as well as churches in Niamey attended by Samaritan’s Purse staff members, will each receive tents and plastic chairs. We will also provide Bibles, songbooks, sound systems, and musical instruments for several churches.
With another partner organization, we have provided Pastor Ismael with a new motorcycle and some funds. He said he now knows that it’s true that the international church wants to help Christians in Niger.
Please pray with us that the Muslims groups will stop their attacks. Please also pray that Samaritan’s Purse staff members who are responding to these needs will effectively show the love of Christ. And pray for Pastor Ismael and other Christians in his community, as they love those who persecute them.
“Imagine what God is in the midst of doing,” Ismael said. “We really must love them from the depths of our hearts, because Jesus died for all the people. So it’s up to us, despite this difficult situation, to love them even more than we were doing before.”
*Name changed for security reasons