Yusuf, who pastors a church in the greater Zinder area, was attending a pastors conference in the capital when he heard about the plan of Muslims to attack his church during service the coming Sunday. “I called my members and told them not to gather on Sunday for the service.” But the Muslims attacked on Saturday instead. “They entered the church building, brought out all the benches and chairs and all other property and materials they could find and set it on fire. The shouted ‘Allahu Akubar’ (God is great) …They also set fire to the church building. They waited until it was all burned.” The attackers then broke down what was left of the church and the fence.
Once the attackers had finished at the church, they went to Yusuf’s house and tried to set it on fire as well. However, the neighbors, fearing that the fire would spread too easily to their own homes, stopped the rioters. Yusuf asked the police commissioner to send police to guard what was left and protect the Christians as they searched through the rubble for things to salvage. “Upon my return, I visited each of the believers in our congregation. Not one of them has given up the faith. We also gathered to pray together. I encouraged them to stand strong and not to be shaken by this incident, even though it is the first time we personally are facing this kind of attack…”
Many Christians in Niger have said that while they expected persecution, they did not expect it so soon and so heavily. “Until now, the atmosphere in Niger between people of different tribes and faiths has been cordial, so the Christians are shocked by the events that seemed to flow from hearts filled with anger and hatred. It is very difficult for the believers to make sense of this situation. The hard reality which they have probably overlooked is that radical Islam is present and has been growing in Niger under the surface.”
One local pastor explains how the Lord has met him in the midst of the persecution: “Initially, I was afraid that when I arrived and saw the level of destruction, I might not be able to handle it emotionally. However when I arrived and saw the destruction I found that the Lord had already comforted me and given me the grace to endure the pain and still stand and continue to lead my people. I visited the refugee camp and we prayed and worshipped together with the other believers. We plan to continue to stay here and preach the gospel. We cannot move away from these people.”
*Names and photos are representative for the safety of persecuted Christians