Tanzanian Attacks against Christians Leave Believers Wary over Future

SANTA ANA, Calif. (Feb. 22, 2013) – Three incident of violence against Christian ministers in Tanzania have left believers in the Eastern African nation concerned over the future of religious freedom. 

On Sunday, Feb. 17, gunmen shot and killed a Catholic priest on the island of Zanzibar. The gunman waited for Father Evaristus Mushi as he parked his car outside the St Joseph’s parish, surrounded the car and killed him while he was still in the vehicle. He was about to celebrate the first Sunday mass of Lent. The attackers fled on a motorcycle.  Islanders knew Fr. Mushi as a philanthropist and advocate of interfaith dialogue. Police say they have arrested three suspects in connection with the murder, but their motive remains unknown.

On Feb. 2, on mainland Tanzania, an Assemblies of God minister, Pastor Mathayo Kachili, was hacked to death in the Geita region when he intervened in an altercation between villagers over the slaughter of an animal. According to sources, there was a group of Muslims who had demanded immediate closure of butcheries owned by Christians. As far as Open Doors could determine, the demand is based on a longstanding tradition, together with a local government directive, that gave Muslims the sole right to act as butchers. In this incident the church had a non-Muslim butcher prepare meat to be served at a funeral. When the Muslims heard about this, they went on a rampage against the church in which Pastor Kachili was killed.

On Dec. 26, Catholic priest Father Ambrose Mkenda sustained serious injuries when unknown gunmen shot at him. He says he was followed by two men on a motorcycle as he was returning to his parish in Tomondo after work. The attackers shot him as he left his car. He sustained two bullet wounds, one to the cheek and one to the back. The gunmen then ransacked the rectory. Fr Mkenda was rushed to a nearby hospital, but was later transferred to Dar es Salaam where he underwent surgery to extract the bullets.

Father Anthony Makunde, secretary general of the Tanzania Episcopal Conference, told a local newspaper, The Guardian, that the situation signalled a plot to destroy peace in the country.

The situations on Zanzibar and in the northwestern town of Geita remain tense.

Tanzania is ranked No. 24 on the Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians. The 2013 ranking was released in early January. Previously Tanzania was unranked. Islamic extremism is the main persecution dynamic for the country. Tanzania is a Christian majority country with a very substantial Muslim population. But Zanzibar is 97 percent Muslim.

Prayer points:

1.       Peace to prevail in the communities affected by the violence. Pray that the government would take decisive action in resolving issues pertinent to the incidents.

2.       Justice to prevail in all of these cases.

3.       The wife and several children as they mourn the death of Pastor Kachili. Also pray for his church members to be comforted during this time. Pray that others would be able to stand up and lead the congregation with wisdom.

4.       God’s comfort to all those affected by the death of Father Mushi.

5.       A speedy recovery for Father Mkenda.

For almost 60 years Open Doors has worked in the world's most oppressive and restrictive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ's light in these places. Open Doors empowers persecuted Christians by supplying Bibles and Christian literature, training Christian leaders, facilitating social/economic projects and uniting believers in the West in prayer for Christians, who are the most persecuted religious group in the world and are oppressed in at least 60 countries. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.

(For more information or to set up an interview, contact Open Doors USA Media Relations Director Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email JerryD@odusa.org.)