Christian Children Face Bullying in North African Schools
“You will go to hell.” Fatima’s harsh words stab Maryam’s* heart. Fatima turns around and walks away from her classmate, leaving Maryam on her own. No one wants to talk to her; no one wants to hang out with her. Maryam is the only Christian girl in her entire class. As an 11-year-old Tunisian girl, she knows too well what persecution means in her North African context.
Intimidation at school is part of normal life for Christian children in Muslim-majority countries. They regularly hear accusations, like “You are denying your origin,” “You will be punished with an eternal fire,” “You believe in many gods,” or “Your parents are sinners.”
“It’s difficult, very difficult for the children and for us as parents,” says a pastor from Algeria. As a father of three teenagers, he knows all too well the sad reality of what Christian children in North Africa go through. Many times he has had to listen to his children share stories when they come home from school about being bullied. “Even teachers sometimes participate in this,” he says.
“The children come home disappointed; they feel humiliated. This is generally happening to Christian children. One of my sons went through a very hard time some years ago. He was so affected by what happened at school that he was too scared to sleep alone in his own room. For three months, he slept in our bedroom. We needed to work with him for three months to help him to be able to sleep normally again. We prayed for and with him; we talked a lot with him. Only after these months was he able to deal with what had happened.”
Sometimes Christian youth seek in-between identities so that they won’t be recognized as Christians, relates the pastor. “We as parents try to support our children. We hope they stand strong as Christians and are open about this. Of course, when our children are bullied, we get angry. We as parents feel imprisoned in our educational system. The children are obliged to learn the Koran verses.”
“We try to teach them that, in spite of hostility, they should pray, even for those who are bullying.” Maryam sometimes comes home crying after school. Her parents are good listeners. They try to comfort her, but sometimes, they also show what the Bible teaches about persecution and the hard times Christians go through. Frequently, her parents pray with her. She knows that she is not the only Christian child having these difficulties at school. In church, during the children’s meetings, she sometimes talks about it with the other children. Church is the place where she knows she is accepted.
*Names changed for security reasons
We pray, Father, for these children, so vulnerable in their faith, as they learn hard lessons in life about the persecution of Your people. Through even this bullying they experience, show them Your power at work within them. Strengthen their faith, teach them through Your Word, give them hearts of compassion and forgiveness and words to speak. Grant wisdom to their parents whose hearts break over their children’s experiences. Thank You that You are always at work, that You are always good and powerful. Open the eyes of both the parents and the children to see You present with them, standing between them and those who threaten and shame them. Jesus, help them to understand better the shame and the suffering You experienced on our behalf, that they might know they can call on You, that You understand their sorrow and will guard and keep their souls. In the name of Jesus, who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,” Amen.