01/20/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – This past weekend marks the anniversary of shocking riots that blazed across Niger in January 2015 when radicalized Muslim mobs targeted Christian property, burned churches, looted pastors’ homes, and created a picture of hell on earth for the country’s tiny Christian minority.
On January 16 and 17, angry protests erupted across all of Niger’s major cities, from the capital of Niamey to Maradi, from Zinder to Goure, and beyond, just nine days after the deadly Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, France. On January 7, 2015, terrorist gunmen stormed the offices of the French satirical magazine, murdering twelve people and injuring others because they published a cartoon of the Muslim Prophet Muhammed. This is considered blasphemy in the Islamic faith.
In Niger, where Christians represent less than five percent of the population compared to a massive Muslim majority, followers of Christ feared for their lives for one terrifying weekend. Once the dust settled and the smoke cleared, dozens of churches smoldered in ashes, countless Christians lost their homes, and news outlets reported unconfirmed numbers from five
“January 17, 2015 was the most dramatic day of my life,” one indigenous missionary told International Christian Concern’s (ICC) Niger staffer. “In a single day, I lost a big part of my life’s work as a missionary and pastor in Niger for over 20 years,” he added.
While international news media initially described the attacks as the Muslim majority railing against the Charlie Hebdo “blasphemy,” Nigerien Christians believe a different narrative.
“The attacks have nothing to do with Charlie Hebdo,” said ICC Niger staffer. “That was something that was planned a long time ago and they were just waiting for an occasion and 16 and 17 January were the real occasion for them to strike Christian and harm them,” he said.
The riots happened more than one week following the Paris murders after Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou visited France in a solidarity visit. During an August 2015 visit to Niamey, Christians claimed that the Charlie Hebdo incident and following events simply created a convenient opportunity for radical Muslims to target Christians in hopes of scaring away the community and fully Islamizing Niger.
“Muslims had had enough of the existence of Christianity in Niger,” ICC’s Niger staffer added.
Before the riots, Muslims and Christians in Niger had lived in relative peace with each other for generations. However, nationwide attacks targeting a specific population because of their religious beliefs do not happen in a vacuum. The incident represents a rising and continued climate of distrust and hostility towards Christians in Niger.
A Long Recovery
By Easter of 2015, Christians all over Niger had forgiven their attackers.
“My prayer is that they would come to know Jesus and that the Lord would touch them even in a dream. I want God to do to them what He did to Paul the Apostle when he persecuted Christians. God touched him on his way to Damascus. I want those men to experience the same touch from God!”
one pastor told
Today, Christians in Niger are still picking up the pieces. Most churches destroyed one year ago still worshipped this past Sunday under charred and rickety roofs, congregations assembled in semi-permanent shelters, and pastors prepared sermons still without their theological libraries, many of which were lost to looters.
“Christians in Niger are suffering much. Those who were attacked are suffering even more because a great number of those people do not have [an] appropriate living place. Many are renting homes and it is often difficult to regularly pay the rent,” Pastor Roland* told ICC.
Nigerien Christians continue to face challenges as they experience the reality that Jesus promised that his followers would be hated. Niger stands situated in West Africa amidst a rising climate of Muslim extremism and animosity towards Christians.
Open Doors USA listed
Niger as number 49 on its World Watch list of top 50 countries where life is most difficult for Christians. Muslims that convert to Christ often face the most difficult persecution in Niger. Their families often abandon them, beat them, or set out to kill them, often leaving them with no financial or social support network.
Boko Haram also serves as a constant threat to the Church. The extremist Muslim terror group continually ravages the Lake Chad region bordering Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. Christian communities often remain in the crosshairs.
In August 2015, one persecuted pastor who ministers with a Boko Haram price on his head in Diffa, Niger told ICC that terrorists beheaded three of his church members.
ICC continues to work to ease the suffering of persecuted Nigerien Christians. With the help of our faithful partners and donors, we have provided foodstuffs for Christians and pastors left with nothing after the riots, and have replaced sound systems for two churches burned and looted during the riots.
“Niger represents one of the forgotten frontiers where Christians are persecuted in Africa. ICC marks the anniversary of the riots with somberness and much prayer, but also with hope. As the rising tide of extremist Islam continues to surge in West Africa, Christian communities will continue to remain vulnerable to social exclusion and attack, especially in places such as Niger where they make up such a small minority. Yet, Nigerien Christians have largely responded from this tragedy with forgiveness towards their attackers, increased unity within churches, and the confidence that Jesus calls His people blessed when they faithfully suffer bearing His Name,” said Troy Augustine, ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa.
*False name used for security