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The Persecution Of Christians In Africa

Africa presents the greatest challenges and opportunities for missionary service in the world today. The most intensive human suffering, the largest number of wars, the worst famines and the most severe persecutions are all concentrated in Africa.

  • Peter Hammond,
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Africa presents the greatest challenges and opportunities for missionary service in the world today. The most intensive human suffering, the largest number of wars, the worst famines and the most severe persecutions are all concentrated in Africa. Yet Africa also demonstrates the greatest spiritual hunger and the greatest openness to the Gospel of Christ. I believe Africa also has the most promising potential for Biblical reformation and revival.

No other continent has suffered such a series of natural and man-made disasters over the last 40 years. Famines, droughts, locusts, pestilences, animism, Islam, communism, corruption, maladministration and civil wars have plagued Africa.

Africa has experienced over 110 violent changes of leadership since 1952. Every year (except 1988) since 1963 has seen at least one violent overthrow of a government in Africa. At present there are 13 wars raging in Africa.

Africa is a continent in conflict. The forces of Islam, communism and witchcraft are engaged in a life-and-death struggle against the church of Christ. At stake is the soul of a continent.

Communist Persecution

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, communist regimes in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Angola waged merciless campaigns of persecution against the Christians in their countries (and they sponsored Marxist terrorists to export their communist terror to neighboring countries). Literally thousands of churches were confiscated or destroyed in each of these three Marxist states. And hundreds of thousands of Christians died because of the persecution in Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

I saw with my own eyes over one hundred burned-out churches and walked amid the ashes of dozens of burned-down villages in Mozambique and Angola. During one Bible-smuggling mission (when I was escorting a team of doctors and nurses to provide emergency medical treatment to Christians suffering in Mozambique), I was captured by communist troops. We were then flown by Russian pilots to interrogation and incarceration in the notorious Machava security prison. When we asked, the Russian pilots in the helicopter gunships were quite open with us that they were burning down the crops and destroying the villages "to starve out the resistance"!

The walls of each of the solitary confinement cells in which our team was imprisoned bore eloquent testimony to the communist campaign of persecution. The walls of our cells were covered in Christian messages scratched on with finger nails and little pieces of stone: "Please God, help me"; "Jesus is my Lord and Savior"; "I haven't eaten in 38 days"; "I haven't seen the sun in 134 days"; "God is my refuge"; many verses, some crosses and fish symbols. We were clearly not the first Christians imprisoned in those cells. Nor were we the last.

The communist attempts to eradicate the Christian Faith in Africa have been an abject failure. In 1976 the first dictator of Angola, Agestino Neto, boasted that "within 20 years there won't be a Bible or a church left in Angola. I will have eradicated Christianity!"

The resultant church- and Bible-burning spree by the Cuban troops who had installed Neto came to an abrupt halt when Neto, suddenly and inexplicably, died. Many Angolan Christians saw his demise as God's judgment in answer to the imprecatory prayers prayed by the martyrs.

Today (22 years after Neto's boast) the church in Angola is stronger and more numerous than ever before. And Frontline Fellowship has smuggled in thousands of Bibles more than had ever existed in Angola.

The "Red Terror"in Ethiopia was dramatically curtailed in 1991 with the overthrow of Marxist dictator Mengistu. The huge statue of Lenin in the capital Addis Ababa was toppled and the thousands of Russian, East German and Cuban troops fled in disgrace. As Mengistu fled into exile under the protection of fellow Marxist Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, the churches in Ethiopia surveyed the devastating results of 18 years of Marxist persecution. Hundreds of thousands had been martyred. Yet the Protestants in Ethiopia had multiplied from 241,000 in 1960 to over 6 million today!

Animist Persecution

On April 6, 1994 one of the most dreadful campaigns of mass murder was unleashed upon the Tutsi Christians in Rwanda. In just 100 days, more people had been slaughtered with machetes and clubs than had died from atomic weapons in all of history. Over 500,000 people, mostly Christians, were murdered in the Rwandan holocaust. And more Rwandeze were killed in churches than anywhere else.

I walked inside the bloodied, bullet and shrapnel-scarred churches, knee-deep in corpses. Splattered with blood, blackened by fire, shattered by blasts of hand grenades — virtually every room in every church testified to the hatred of the witchcraft-dominated Hutu tribe for their Tutsi neighbors. Hundreds of human skulls were piled high outside one church where over 1,200 believers had been decapitated by mobs of animists.

Yet the diabolical attempt to wipe out the Christian church in Rwanda failed. In one of history's most dramatic reversals of fortune, the victims became the victors. The little David defeated Goliath. Today the Christians in Rwanda enjoy religious freedom and the animist perpetrators of the genocide are either in prison (awaiting trail or execution) or in exile in foreign lands.

Islamic Persecution

The greatest threat to the church today is presented by Islam. The largest block of unreached people (over 1 billion) are Muslims. In Africa, over 40% of the total population are Muslims (over 260 million people).

Through the ages, Islam has been the largest and most vicious opponent and persecutor of Christians. By the tenth century, the Muslim armies had annihilated half of all the Christians in the world at that time. Today the Islamic Jihad ("holy war") against Christians continues, and the sharpest confrontations between Christianity and Islam in the world are in Africa.

Islam claims the whole of North Africa (what were once the lands of great Christian leaders and famous writers such as Tertullian, Origin, Ignatius and Augustine). In 17 African countries, Muslims are the majority. In every one of those Islamic states, Christianity is restricted and Christians are persecuted to differing degrees.

In Morocco it is against the law to "proselytize" (evangelize) or to "shake the faith" of a Muslim. The Islamic government refuses to recognize any church that has Moroccan nationals as members. Christians have even been imprisoned for years merely for handing out Gospel literature.

In Algeria, Islamicist groups such as the National Salvation Front and the Armed Islamic Group have been waging a brutal war of terror to enforce an Islamic state on the nominally secular (formerly Marxist) National Liberation Front dictatorship. The NLF government's move to declare Algeria an Islamic state is unlikely to satisfy the aspirations of the Islamic extremists.

Most of the tens of thousands of victims of this Islamic campaign of terror have been Muslims. But many of the victims are Christians who have been bombed, shot or hacked to death. Many Algerian women have had acid thrown in their faces by Islamicists determined to force all women to wear a veil!

Christians accused of "apostasy"or "proselytizing" in Egypt face imprisonment and torture from the authorities, as well as kidnapping, forced conversions to Islam, rape and murder from Islamic militants.

In Nigeria, where Muslims are a large minority, Muslims have burnt down hundreds of churches and killed thousands of Christians in recent years. Christians in the area claim that they are facing a systematic campaign to "wipe out any traces of Christianity in the northern states" of Nigeria.

In Mauritania not only is slavery practiced, but the death penalty for apostasy (converting from Islam) is part of the penal code and is enforced by the state.

In Somalia (just before the U. S. military went in under the UN banner), the last remaining church in the country was destroyed. And the last surviving minister was murdered by Muslim mobs.

The most relentlessly violent persecution of the church today, however, is in Sudan. The largest country in Africa is still in the grip of the longest war of this century. Since 1955 the Muslim Arab North has been attacking the Black South.

Sudan has the oldest community of Christians in Africa. The church in Sudan dates back to the first century, to Acts chapter 8, in fact. The treasurer of Queen Candace (who was converted and baptized by Philip) resided in Meroe, which is on the Nile in Northern Sudan. By the 6th century, Christianity was the official religion of Nubia. For about 1000 years, the majority of the population of Northern Sudan were (at least nominally) Christian. For 900 years these Christians successfully resisted the southward expansion of Islam. But, by the 16th Century, mainly due to internal weaknesses and dissension, the Christian kingdoms of Northern Sudan fell.

An Island of Christianity in a Sea of Islam

Some of the descendants of these early Christians continued in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan. Today these tenacious believers are on the very frontline of the battle for the Faith. They are an island of Christianity in a sea of Islam. And the National Islamic Front (NIF) government of Sudan has declared Jihad against the Nuba people. This Jihad primarily takes the form of "tamsit" or "combing" (scorched earth and forced removals). Most of the churches and villages in the Nuba have been destroyed. Most of the crops have been burned. Most of the livestock have been stolen or destroyed. Hundreds of Christians have been crucified. Tens of thousands have been enslaved. Hundreds of thousands have been murdered.

Over one million Nubans have been forced into concentration camps. In these barbed-wire-enclosed, so-called "peace camps," the Nuban people are subjected to forced Arabization and Islamization. Those who refuse to convert to Islam are denied medical care, food and even access to water. Those who attempt to escape are shot.

One Nuba man had his knee cap shattered by a bullet from the government forces as they destroyed his village. The Arabs dragged this man to their nearby "peace camp" and demanded that he curse Christ before he received any medical care. He refused. They threatened him that he would not even receive water unless he recited the Islamic creed. Although in agony, he still refused. They smashed his other knee cap with a rifle butt. Still he refused either to curse Christ or to embrace Islam. They left him writhing in agony in the blazing sun.

That night he escaped. Although crippled and in intense pain, the Nuba man pulled himself under the barbed wire and dragged his injured legs across the rocky, thorn-ridden ground. All night he crawled. By day he hid in the shade of some bushes and rested. The next night he crawled further. He kept this up until he reached the SPLA (Sudanese People's Liberation Army) lines. Today he has a crutch, a wooden leg and an AK47; and he's fighting for freedom in the Nuba Mountains.

Our Frontline Fellowship missionaries to the Nuba have seen the scorched-earth tactics of the NIF government. They've watched from mountain tops as the government forces stole herds of livestock and burned down villages, and they've walked past the burned-out villages and ministered to the survivors of massacres. Our missionaries have also come under rocket and machine cannon attack by government Hind helicopter gunships. Within minutes of landing far behind enemy lines with about 1000 Arabic Bibles for the beleaguered Nuban Christians, our mission team was repeatedly strafed and bombed. They saw civilians shredded by the machine cannon fire.

In the face of this cruel campaign of Jihad relentlessly forced upon them, the Christians in Sudan have shown remarkable resilience. Despite ongoing terror bombing of churches, the church services are overflowing.

Out of the Ashes 

For example: The Episcopal Church in Kotobi invited me to speak at their church conference in March, 1996. They had been repeatedly bombed, so the conference was held in the forest a few miles out of town. The nearest enemy garrison was just 16 miles away. After the conference, I held a Discipleship Training Course for pastoral candidates in their church. On August 23, 1996 this church building was attacked by helicopter gunships, rocketed and burned to the ground. Another church in the village was also destroyed in this attack. Five civilians died in the hail of fire from these gunships.

The church continued to meet in the forest a few miles out of town and to rebuild their building. On November 23, 1997 I had the privilege of presenting the sermon at the first service in the newly restored Episcopal church in Kotobi. It was built on the very spot on which the previous building (which had been destroyed) had stood. Over 500 people packed out the rebuilt church building for a joyous three-and-a-half hour celebration that Jesus Christ is building his church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!

Another example: In 1920 pioneer missionaries, Dr. Kenneth and Eileen Fraser, of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) came from Scotland and brought the gospel to Moruland. The Frasers based their mission station at Lui. Twice this work has been destroyed. In 1965, the Muslim government forces swept into the mission station, shooting and killing Christians. They burned down the hospital, schools and church building. Yet later all these buildings were rebuilt by the local Christians and the three-fold ministry of Dr. Fraser was restored.

Then again in the 1990s the Arab army swept over Lui and occupied the mission station, putting an end to all medical, educational and spiritual work for the second time. When I first saw Lui in May, 1997, it had just been liberated from the Muslim government forces by the SPLA resistance movement.

The signs of the Arab occupation were everywhere — trenches, gun emplacements, pill boxes, mine fields, the debris of war, a newly painted mosque and many vandalized graves. There were a shocking number of broken crosses in the graveyard by the Lui church. (However, I noticed that none of the Arabic signs on the graves of Muslim troops who had been buried in Lui had been disturbed at all.)

Rev. Jeffrey pointed out the huge tree under which Dr. Fraser had first begun Bible studies and church  services. "Dr. Fraser chose that tree to start the first Moru church because it was the same tree under which the Arab slave traders had bought and sold our people as slaves." I looked at the tree with renewed appreciation of God's work of creation which made such a magnificent tree and God's work of redemption (re-creation) which has rescued us from the slavery of sin and death.

I preached the word to the SPLA soldiers at Lui, and prayed with them that the great work begun at that town would continue, that once again the hospital, schools, colleges and church would be fully operating to the glory of God and for the strengthening of his people in Moruland.

It was true, I said, that the Muslim government's bombing and occupation had forced the people to flee and had damaged many of the buildings — but Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life. Christianity is the religion of the empty tomb. Out of death comes life, abundant life.

Little did I realize how soon that would be dramatically manifested in Lui. In September the hospital was re-opened. Shortly thereafter, the school and then the church were repaired. On November 15, 1997, I presented the sermon at a special memorial service at Lui, the birthplace of Christianity in Moruland. I paid tribute to pioneer missionary Kenneth Fraser who had laid such solid foundations for the Moru church. Dr. Fraser was a medical doctor, a teacher, a pastor and also a decorated soldier who had risen to Major General. Fraser implemented what has proven to be one of the most successful missionary campaigns ever. His strategy was to fulfill the Great Commission by ministering to body, mind and spirit. He started by opening up a hospital, then a school, then a church. Soon he had established nurses training courses, teacher training programs, and pastoral training. He also translated the Gospels and Acts into Moru.

Over 1500 people packed the Fraser Memorial Church in Lui for this service. Despite repeated destruction, the threefold ministry started by Dr. Fraser has once again been restored. The Lui Hospital is fully operational again: almost 16,000 patients had been treated and 400 major operations done in the first four months since reopening. The resilience of the church founded by Dr. Fraser has defied all attempts to destroy it. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life!

Rolling Back the Islamic Offensive The Islamic offensive against Christianity in Sudan cannot succeed. The number of Christians in Sudan has increased from 2% in 1955 to 20% today. In the South, Christians now form a majority. One Christian denomination grew from 2 congregations to 150 congregations in just 10 years. A pastor in Sudan can have multiple congregations to care for. I have come across pastors who had up to 60 congregations to oversee. One pastor reported baptizing over 9000 people in a 14-month period!

Muslims are coming to Christ in Sudan in unprecedented numbers. One commander, Thomas Cirillo, defected with his whole battalion of government troops to the SPLA. I have heard defectors tell me personally, "We want to become Christians. We want to fight for the South!"

The reasons for this massive turning to Christ in Sudan are threefold: First, the extreme harshness and cruelty of the NIF regime is repelling even Muslims. Second, the resilience and courage of the Christians are attracting Muslims. Third, in Sudan, converts from Islam have a place where they can flee to — where they can enjoy religious freedom. As the SPLA resistance movement wins more territory, we can expect even more Muslims to take advantage of the protection this can offer them to come to Christ without the fear of being executed by the Muslim government of Sudan.

The desperate needs and challenging opportunities for ministry in Sudan are overwhelming. God is clearly doing an incredible work of grace in Sudan and it is our privilege to present ourselves as willing  instruments to do whatever needs to be done to serve his suffering church.

What You Can Do You may ask: "What can I do?"

1. Be informed. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge"(Hos. 4:6). Obtain the book Faith Under Fire in Sudan, and other reports from Chalcedon and Frontline Fellowship News on Sudan. Pass on copies of this information to editors, pastors and congressmen.

2. Be interceding. "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them . . ." (Heb. 13:3). Pray for the persecuted. Encourage your pastor to pray for the persecuted from the pulpit.

3. Be involved. "In as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Mt. 25:40). Speak up for the persecuted. Write letters to the editor of your local magazine or newspaper. Write to your elected representative, urging pressure on the persecutors and assistance to the persecuted. Organize donations of Bibles, medicines or other essentials. Last year alone, Frontline Fellowship made 13 missions into Sudan, delivering over 60,000 Bibles and Christian books in 17 languages; and we conducted over 550 church services and leadership training lectures inside Sudan. This year we hope to do even more. Your partnership could make the difference.

The Christian church in Southern Sudan is on the very frontline of the fight for faith and freedom. We can strengthen the Christians in Sudan not only to survive the severe persecution, but to win their persecutors to Christ. We are making disciples of the emerging New Christian Sudan. We can have a part in helping to make history in the Middle East. We can roll back the southward expansion of Islam and reclaim Sudan for Christ. "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. Those who dwell in the wilderness will bow before Him, and His enemies will lick the dust . . . Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him" (Ps. 72: 8-11). Send gifts                                                         to:

Frontline Fellowship P.O. Box 74, Newlands 7725 Cape Town, South Africa Tel: (011-27-21) 689-4480 Fax: (011-27-21) 685-5884 E-mail: [email protected]

  • Peter Hammond

Dr. Peter Hammond is a missionary who has pioneered evangelistic outreaches in the war zones of Angola, Mozambique and Sudan. Peter is the Founder and Director of Frontline Fellowship and the Director of United Christian Action. He has authored numerous publications, in particular he has written Holocaust in Rwanda, Faith Under Fire in Sudan, In the Killing Fields of Mozambique, Putting Feet to Your Faith and Renaissance or Reformation. He is the editor of both Frontline Fellowship News and UCANEWS. Peter is married to Lenora and they have been blessed with four children: Andrea, Daniela, Christopher, and Calvin.

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