As Libya and the United States were reeling from the attack that killed the US Ambassador, a Protestant church in Ouargla, Libya, about 400 miles southeast of Algiers, was also being threatened.
“When returning from the local souq in Ouargla,” the pastor of the church reported, “I found a group of young men at the enclosing wall of our church. They stopped me from opening the gate. One of them approached me and said that there is an anti-Islam movie on the life of the prophet of Muslims. He warned me saying, ‘open the gate so we can burn your church, or else we will burn you.'” The pastor managed to get inside the church and immediately called the police. The attackers fled in a car. Earlier in the year this church, the only officially recognized member of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA), sustained minor damage from vandalism by unknown attackers.
Around the Muslim world, some of the backlash from the Internet video “Innocence of the Muslims” has been directed at Christians. From computer hackings to church burnings, attacks on Christians have been attributed to reprisal over the video reverberates from Africa to Asia. It has become difficult to distinguish between video-inspired backlash against Christians, and the longer-running pattern of pressure targeted at Christians that has existed long before the film clip hit You Tube.
About 1,000 Muslims in Zinder, Niger emerged from the September 14th Friday prayers and split into large groups, marching toward the churches in town. The mob set Winners Chapel afire, severely vandalized four other churches and injured several Christians. After police gained control at the churches, smaller groups damaged the homes of an evangelical pastor and members of the Catholic Church.
Computer hackers took down at least one Christian website in the Persian Gulf region. They replaced its usual homepage with this message:
You have been Hacked. Islam means Peace. We, the Muslims want peace all over the world. But you don’t want to be stay in peace…. you have just insulted our “Isla” and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) ….Now we are in your cyber space to destroy it. We will hit you until you stop hitting us and want marcy for your did.”
As far away as Pakistan, Christians experienced the wave of Muslim anger. “The day the Libyans killed an American we knew this would not stay far for long,” said a teacher. “We were so on edge; we panicked.” The next Friday, a mob torched St. Paul Lutheran Church in Pakistan’s Mardan district. Protestors destroyed the church building and a school attended by Christian and Muslim children. “Nothing is left,” a St. Paul pastor said, sitting on a pile of rubble, turning a brick over in his hand.
In the midst of chaos, there are glimmers of hope. When angry Egyptian Muslims stormed the American embassy in Cairo early on September 15, fears ran high at the Kasr-el-Dobara Evangelical Church. Unable to breach the embassy, some of the protesters rushed to the church. “Death to the worshippers of the cross!” they painted on the wall. While a pastor and about 30 young people prayed inside, the mob – some carrying Molotov cocktails – began damaging the downstairs bookshop.
Then a man broke through the crowd and began yelling that Christians from the church had helped him, tending his wounds, during the 2011 spring uprising. Another man came forward declaring that earlier that very day the church had offered water to wash the feet of Muslims before prayers. The crowd fell silent, turned and left. “These two men weren’t just men,” said a senior member of the church staff. “One day we will discover if they were men, or angels, just there to protect the church.”
Perhaps the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Pakistan speaks for many Christians in the Muslim world when he says, “Pray for the healing of our hearts and hopes, that we may be the real Church in this place and be like the Prince of Peace.”
Father, so many Christians are suffering even as we pray. They are weary and there seems to be no end to their suffering. We weep for them. You have promised to hear their cries and we know You do hear them and You have compassion on them and sustain them beyond our ability even to comprehend. They are our brothers; strengthen us to stand with them in prayer and to advocate for them when opportunity arises. We pray that in whatever their circumstances are today, You will refresh them with Your Word and Your very presence. Grant them wisdom, endurance, steadfastness, compassion and hope, that they might truly be Your Church to those around them. In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Amen.