Just before the Kouachi brothers unleashed their shooting spree in a Paris publishing office, an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria attacked the Nigerian town of Baga and terrorized and killed at least 150 people. Some witnesses say there may have been as many as 2000 victims, many of whom drowned while fleeing a more horrific fate at the hands of radical Islamic jihadists. Unlike the events in France, this attack had no live broadcast. There were no reporters present, nobody tweeted for help or texted the police. Gruesome pictures were posted later… but they were largely ignored, especially in Nigeria. When an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria kidnapped over 200 girls from the town Chibok, at least we could identify with the anguished parents. But we simply cannot imagine the violent scenes in Baga. Nor do we want to.
How do we – followers of Christ – deal with the terror of Muslim extremism? For years, Open Doors has served Christians in areas where intimidation and extreme violence are part of daily life such as Nigeria, Central Africa, Sudan, North East Kenya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Southern Philippines, North Korea and others. We asked church leaders and ordinary believers in these regions for their reaction to the attack in Paris. The responses were varied.
Gina* lives in the Southern Philippines where the Muslim Islamic Liberation Front frequently causes havoc. She lost her fiancée after he was shot. 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 who once visited France to share about her experiences in a concentration camp, 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!”
Christians from Central Asia, South East Asia and other regions sent similar messages.
“Tomorrow, in our whole-day Prayer Chain, we will alert everybody to pray for France. We feel so sorry for the people of France. We will keep on praying for them.” (A secret house church network leader in South East Asia)
“We should respond in a Christ-like manner. As a nation who has lived in fear of war for more than 25 years, we sympathize and identify with those who lost their relatives.” (Mahesh del Mal, Missions Director of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance in Sri Lanka)
“With great sadness and pain we have faced the news about violence and killings in France. We prayed for the families of the victims as a whole Church during Sunday Service. We prayed so God would alleviate the sufferings and pain of loss.” (Kazakh pastor Arthur)
A common observation about the events in Paris among persecuted believers is that it may serve as a much-needed wake-up call. “We are watching daily what is going on in France,” a believer from Iraq said. “We feel very sorry for the Christians and want to show our solidarity with them. On the other hand, France and other countries really need to wake up and start seeing what is really going on around the world.”
Like other persecuted Christians, he does not have the luxury of remaining naïve about the dangers of radical Islam. Despite the reassuring voice of liberal Muslims, leaders of growing Islamic fundamentalist movements want to bring the world under Muslim domination. They manipulate the younger generation and enlist them in their army by giving youngsters something the world cannot: a purpose, something they are willing to live and die for.
“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 is remarkably similar to what a Nigerian church leader said after a massacre took place in Adamawa state in Nigeria a little over a year ago. In the aftermath of over 50 murders at the hand of an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria, he said, “We can only silence the guns of hatred with the guns of love.” Evil is real and often ruthless. Not every radical jihadist will repent or convert. But some will.
Still, listening to our brothers and sisters in places like Nigeria is a sobering experience. Yes, they want to love, but they also want to keep their families safe. One person expressed how the church in his country had missed a golden opportunity. “There was a time we lived at peace with our Muslim neighbors. Why didn’t we win them for Christ when we had the chance? Perhaps that is the reason we are under attack now? Sharing the Gospel has become so much harder.”
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 persecuted Christians to our TVs, computers, tablets, and phones. The Persecuted Church has never been so close. But neither have the forces who oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So how should we respond? Perhaps by learning from those living under much greater threat.
A North Korean concentration camp survivor says we should not be afraid.
A Nigerian pastor responds to Boko Haram’s guns of hate by picking up ‘guns of love’.
A woman enduring Muslim intimidation in Southern Philippines admits it is hard to love Muslims. But she challenges those of us new to such threats to obey God by “forgiving them, blessing them, praying for them, and reaching them in every way we can.” She adds, “If the body of Christ will not reach them, I’m afraid that Christians will be the ones reached by Muslims through intermarriage and forced conversions.”
But the question I cannot get out of my head is: “Why didn’t we win them for Christ when we had the chance?” There are few Muslims in the town where I live. Will I follow Brother Andrew’s example and start praying about how I can befriend them? It frightens me. I don’t know what God will show me. Will I say ‘yes’ to Him? Will you?
With reporting from regional Open Doors communicators.
*All names in this article are pseudonyms to protect the identity of those involved.