“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:17-18
As we read in our Prayer Alert last week, just before the tragic shooting spree in Paris and surrounding areas in France, Islamic militants Boko Haram attacked the Nigerian town of Baga and terrorised and killed hundreds – if not thousands – of people. Unlike the events in France, this attack had no live broadcast. Deeply distressing pictures were posted later… but they were largely ignored, especially in Nigeria. We simply cannot imagine the violent scenes in Baga. Nor do we want to.
But how do we – followers of Christ – deal with the terror of Islamic extremism? For 60 years, Open Doors has served Christians in areas where intimidation and extreme violence are part of daily life. How do church leaders and ordinary believers in these regions react to an attack in a place like Paris?
Gina* lives in the Southern Philippines where the Muslim Islamic Liberation Front frequently causes havoc. She lost her fiancée after he was shot. Looking at the Paris situation from another perspective, she says: “God might have brought Muslims to France so they could be exposed to God’s love in Christ Jesus. I hope our brothers and sisters there will have the heartbeat of God and have compassion on them. Perhaps God will use the terror in France and in other European countries to shake the body of Christ to pray, to love, and to reach the Muslims in every way they can.”
Hea Woo*, a North Korean refugee, says, “The people of France are in my prayers. Sadly, this terrorist attack reminded me of the North Korean government – both the terrorists and the regime of Kim Jong-Un try to control people through threats and violence. But I can never give up the name of Jesus Christ, not in any circumstance. God is faithful. He never fails me. That’s why it is possible to go on despite all the threats. Remember: our Heavenly Father is with us! Never give up!”
Christian church leaders from Sri Lanka to Kazakhstan spoke of praying within their congregations for the French victims and the need to respond in a Christ-like manner.
“It is crucial to remember that nobody is born a terrorist,” Open Doors’ founder Brother Andrew has said often. He has befriended many Muslim extremists and challenged them with Christ’s message of love and forgiveness. In his words, “Nobody can convert an enemy. It’s impossible.”
His message was echoed by a Nigerian church leader speaking after a massacre in Adamawa state in Nigeria a little over a year ago. In the aftermath of over 50 murders at the hands of Boko Haram, he said, “We can only silence the guns of hatred with the guns of love.”
Listening to our brothers and sisters in places like Nigeria is a sobering experience. The last three years have seen a remarkable rise in the global persecution of Christians. More than ever before, mainstream and social media are bringing the plight of the persecuted to the forefront of public consciousness. The coverage highlights that sometimes, simply being Christian is enough to convict someone in nations where believers are seen as easy targets.
Last Friday (16 January), protests erupted in Niger’s second largest city, Zinder in response to a cartoon of the Muslim prophet Mohammed on the cover of the latest publication of Charlie Hebdo magazine in France. The protests in Zinder quickly turned violent and then spread to surrounding areas and finally the capital Niamey.
In a television address, President Mahamadou Issoufou expressed surprise at the attack, “What have the Christians of Niger done to deserve this? Where have they wronged you?”
While Niger has been praised for its secular government and relative tolerance towards Christians, the past few years the country has seen growing radicalisation. Associating local Christians with the Charlie Hebdo publication is a convenient opportunity for extremists in a country where 98% of the population is Muslim.
Even so, a local church leader, Pastor Sani Nomau called on Christians in Niger to respond with the love of Christ by echoing the words of Romans 12:17-21, “I call on every single believer in Niger to forgive and forget, to love Muslims with all their heart, to keep up the faith, to love Christ like never before. I implore believers to see all Muslims in Niger as our brothers and sisters. I am saying this with tears on my cheeks. Although it is painful, and what we are experiencing is really difficult, we are God’s children. We must love our persecutors. We must welcome them into our houses, give them food when they are hungry, give them a drink when they are thirsty. We are called to be different. We are people of peace. Let no one seek revenge. God will strengthen us in this difficult time. Muslims in Niger we love you with the love of Jesus Christ.”
Source: Open Doors, Jan Vemeer (Open Doors International), regional Open Doors communicators
*Names have been changed for security purposes
- Give praise for the Godly attitude of Christians suffering persecution. Pray their Christ-like attitude will make a positive impact on their communities and non-believers.
- That Islamic extremists who seek to target Christians will be shown the light of Christ and be convicted of their wrongs. Pray they seek forgiveness and become a living testament to God’s love.
- Give thanks for the words of Niger’s President Issoufou and pray for peace to descend on the country in the aftermath of these extremists attacks.