COVID-19 and the increasingly difficult living conditions created by the pandemic and the coinciding plague of crop-destroying locusts that have swept across East Africa have wreaked havoc on an already bad situation.
Despite registering with the government for help, Ethiopian Christians have been deliberately left out of any aid, says Adane, a pastor in eastern Ethiopia. “There were different kinds of support in our area from the government. They gave oil, rice and dough to some people. When people register, they exclude the Protestant community. Especially if they are believers from a Muslim background … we have not seen them give to Protestants. We asked our church members, both in the rural and urban areas, but they have not received any of the government support.”
The pandemic has severely affected the church’s ministry, Adane explains. Churches in this area are not only dependent on tithes and offerings to support ministers, but also to aid persecuted believers who have lost their jobs and community support due to their conversion. The local Muslim leaders make the community disassociate from believers by ordering shop owners to refuse to sell them any goods, including food and medicine, Adane explains.
This lack of aid causes distress for believers like Ebrahim*, a believer in Adane’s church, who usually provides for his wife and son through farming. But the locust plague has destroyed this year’s harvest. When Ebrahim went to register for relief aid, the officials chased him away saying, “You are infidels!”
The only way they would allow him to register for government assistance, Adane says, was if Ebrahim and his family returned to Islam.
Ebrahim’s family also pressured him to come back to Islam in return for their help; his wife’s family pressured her to move back home with them instead of suffering as a Christian with Ebrahim.
“He has nothing to feed his family, and the people are pressuring him to return to Islam to receive help,” Adane says.
The local government often excludes believers because they believe Christians receive support from outside Ethiopia. Adane shares about Girma*, a father of three. “Girma does not have a farm … he has nothing. At first, the [government] registered him for support but removed his name from the list because they found out he had become a Christian. He is in great trouble and the church has nothing to give him.”
“The church in Ethiopia is in great trouble,” Adane says.
7. Gulf region: ‘This food has been paid for by Islamic taxes’
In the eyes of the majority of the citizens in the Gulf region where Open Doors worker Hana serves (we cannot disclose the specific country or area for safety reasons), Christians are seen as waste. Hana herself has received her fair share of discrimination and contempt. She shared with our team:
“I contacted an agency that’s responsible for distribution and asked them to supply Christians with rations as well. I was as friendly as one could be,” she says. “But the man on the phone blatantly refused, saying, ‘This food has been paid for by Islamic taxes. Besides, we hire Christians to do the distribution.’”
But when Hana investigated how much money Christians made, she says it was a “pitifully low amount.” And when she challenged the organization, they acted as if she was making a big deal out of nothing.
“For the Christian employees, however, it is a big deal. They are thankful they have jobs, but they know they could get the disease anytime and die. They are constantly at risk,” she says.
Hana remembers what one young believer told her: “But this marginalization has been the story of our lives; why should we think it would change today? We give so many people rations, but for ourselves the take-home is miserable.”
Hana drives home what she has seen repeatedly in the pandemic: “There is one thing you should know about this crisis. Here, in this country and area, we’re not suffering because of a virus, because of a lockdown or even because of hunger.
“We are suffering for the sake of Jesus. This has nothing to do with social or cast differences. This is religious persecution.”
8. Nigeria: Six times smaller rations than Muslims
Some 5,000 miles away in Nigeria, our Africa teams are reporting the same kinds of injustices against Christians—that Christians are getting the leftovers of government aid while Muslims receive greater relief support, especially in areas governed by Shariah law.
The economic situation for Christians in Nigeria mirrors southeast Asia. More than half of Nigeria’s population works as day laborers, unable to provide basic living essentials for their families. The lockdowns have created dire conditions for sub-Saharan Africa—and situations that expose the discrimination and persecution of Christians.
Believers from towns in northern Nigeria’s Kaduna State, including Ungwan Boro, Sabon Tasha, Barnawa and Naraye, report they received six times smaller rations from the state than Muslim families.
Pastor Sulu* from Kaduna State shared what he saw and heard both firsthand and in talking with area Christians at the distribution site of government-provided COVID-19 food relief in Kaduna.
“The highest [amount of food aid] most Christians got is about two packets of noodles, a small bowl of rice and one cup of oil—that’s what we’ve seen in the Christian-dominated areas,” he says, adding that he was privy to the documents showing aid allocation.
“The more Muslim-dominated local governments get more bags of rice, more cartons of noodles and more other things than the Christian-dominated governments,” he says. “Christians really don’t have food.
In the video below, he captured the chaos of the distribution site as people scrambled for the small portions of food, often flung recklessly into the air.