On Sept. 23, attackers set fire to three churches around Bukoba Municipal Council region on the shores of Lake Victoria in northwest Tanzania. Local Christians report that no one has been held accountable for at least 13 arson attacks on churches around Kagera since 2013.
The first arson attack in the latest string of attacks took place at Living Waters International Church. Pastor Vedasto Athanas was awakened at 4 a.m. when his neighbor called with the news that his church was on fire. He rushed to the scene only to discover that nothing could be done to salvage the property. The church lost the pulpit, hundreds of chairs and benches, around 60 tables, and various other materials.
Around the same time, unknown arsonists also set fire to the Buyekera Pentecostal Assemblies of God Church, which is led by Pastor Emmanuel Narsis. At the time of publication, no more details on this attack were available to Open Doors.
About one hour later, attackers also set fire to the Evangelical Assemblies of God Tanzania Church (EAGT) in the Kibeta neighborhood just a few miles away. The pastor, Mr. Kabonaki, was told of the blaze over the phone at around 5:50 a.m. He rushed over in hopes of saving some property, but the fire was already too fierce and the church lost everything.
Annette, secretary of the Bukoba Pastors Fellowship, told Open Doors there have been at least 13 arson attacks on churches in the Kagera area since 2013. “Since 2013, we have had over 13 churches torched here in Kagera and no one has been held accountable. This is not acceptable.”
Early in 2013, attackers burned down a church under the care of Pastor Innocent Mzinduki in Kibeta. In July of that year, unknown arsonists set fire to a church under the care of a pastor identified only as Joyce in Maruku. In September 2013, the Maruku Pentecostal Assemblies of God church was burned down. Early 2015 saw the burning down of several Lutheran churches located in Rubale, Kyaka Mushasha and Kagondo Muleba. In February of this year, the Calvary Assemblies of God, Itawa Baptist Church, Redeemed Church, Kagondo and TMRC Kyabitembe were all burned down.
Annette told Open Doors that in each case, the arsonists piled flammable material on the altars before setting them ablaze in recent cases, “They have now started adding fuel (paraffin or petrol) to ensure maximum damage.”
According to the secretary, the few people who were arrested after the February arson incidents were later released. No more investigative progress has been reported to date.
“We are very upset and concerned as this is a trend that can no longer be ignored. The police tell us they are investigating, but we have heard no progress from investigations of previous church arson attacks,” the secretary concluded.
Christ Jesus, You are building Your church and the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. But in this life there remains a battle and today, we lift up our Tanzanian brothers and sisters as they recover from the shock of these hostilities against them and against You. We pray for them as they tenaciously continue to worship despite the loss of all the churches’ material resources. We pray Your protection over the pastors and members of the congregations. Grant the pastors wisdom and insight as they help church members come to terms with the attacks, and as they consider a gracious yet effective response. And, give authorities the will and the resources to bring the perpetrators to justice and stop the attacks. In the Name of Jesus, who is King over His Church, Amen.