(Niger)—[ANS] As a result of the vicious Charlie Hebdo terror attack in Paris, France, Niger, a normally peaceful nation, erupted in violent protest in late January that led to 84 churches being burned down, and at least 10 people being killed. (Photo via ANS)
In this former French colony, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Niamey's grand mosque, shouting, "God is Great" in Arabic.
During a demonstration in Niger's second city, Zinder, protesters raided shops run by Christians and attacked the French cultural center. They also threw stones at police and burned tires outside Niamey's grand mosque a day after at least four were killed in Zinder.
One group badly affected by the violence, was Global Recordings Network (GRN), also known as Gospel Recordings, but amazingly its in-country director and staff, survived the attack, but the distribution base was demolished and all of its equipment, including computers, cameras, CDs and cassettes duplicators, and picture books, were lost.
Many Muslims see any depiction of Islam's prophet as offensive.
Soon protests began around the world, including Niger, which is 98% Islamic, but up until now has always maintained a respect between majority and minority religious groups. The violence was fueled by anger over the French magazine that posted another picture of Mohammed and is now targeting Christians in the country. (Photo via ANS)
John Coquerel, West Africa Regional Coordinator for GRN has now paid a visit to Niger to access the damage, and he said in his report about what he called "the incredible violence" in the country, "More than 84 churches and missions were burned of which many destroyed to the ground after being robbed and ransacked. More than 69 houses and stores knew the same treatment.
"The most dramatic is the emotional stress caused by the death threats. Pastor Djergou Barage, our partner in Niger, testifies that his house has been marked to be burned down. Threats repeatedly sent by SMS said: 'We are going to slit your throats. You and your family are going to die. We are going to burn your house'. The threats were real and not just for intimidation.
"There had been man hunting in some cities, with Muslims going after Christians to kill them. To carry out their attack, the assailants move in a large group of people about fifty to the targeted site. They pull out the water faucet in the courtyard to prevent any attempt to put out the fire. A group of people enter the church to steal, another group break and another one spray gasoline to set up fire. In less than three hours they burned around sixty churches and houses, which mean that they are well organized and well informed. They even have the pastors' phone number, which they use to threaten them. Many groups proceed at the same time.
"Islam is showing its true face as a religion of terror. An old Koranic teacher, who has now become a believer, told me that everything that is going on is the real and true character of Islam. Terror, killings and blood shedding are in the genes of Islam.
"To stop this flood of violence the authorities finally stood up to arrest the suspects and threaten to put to prison any troublemaker."
Coquerel then pointed out what "God has done with this disastrous situation," citing:
1. No Christian has lost their life. The deaths WERE ALL Muslims who ended up killing each other in the violence and confusion (Photo via ANS)
2. About the material losses, there is hope that the government will compensate the victims, one way or another. It's not an absolute certainty but there are signs of hope. Niger authorities have already helped by lodging the victims who have lost their house and by giving food to them. Some Christian organizations such as African Service, Samaritan's Purse and SIM have also helped in providing food.
3. This turmoil has led to a revival first in Christian community. Those who have stopped going to church by laziness woke up and started attending church again. Their faith has been refreshed somehow.
4. Above all it's in Muslim communities that marvelous things are happening. Many of the Muslims were shocked by the terror they are capable of. Christian leaders have publicly offered their forgiveness to the authors of the terrorist acts. This forgiveness has profoundly marked the Muslims. They have hard time to believe it. They say: "If it was the Christians who have committed, say less than 10% of what has happened, we are going to kill them all. How can you forgive such acts?" In amazement, an Imam called a Pastor and asked him: "Is your forgiveness real? Isn't it that you are planning your revenge in the guise of forgiveness? If it's real, expect many to come to your church. We're watching you." It's exactly what's happening. Muslims, curious and astonished, now go to church, seeking to know the God of the Christians, the God who asks his people to forgive. Many of them start buying the Bible and read it.
5. An anecdote: In a Christian Bible store, the sales clerk advised her Muslim client: "Don't you want to buy a cover for your Bible, so that you can read it without bringing attention to you?" The client responded: "No, thanks. I will read it openly. Let's them tell me I don't have the right to read it." This story indicates to us that the fear of reading the Bible is diminishing among Muslims. Let's pray that this emancipation lasts and would not be the fruit of one season.
Coquerel went on to say, "Nigeriens [citizens of Niger] in their majority were not aware of Christian Nigeriens. They thought that Christians in Niger are foreigners from neighbor countries and missionaries from Europe or the USA, not nationals. Now, they found out that their own countrymen are Christians. This may appear an insignificant detail but it is important in a country that boast having 99.90% of Muslims. Christians are now solicited to pray in meetings when difficult subjects are raised and discussed."
He stated that there was so surprising news that included, "In many cases, it's the Muslims neighbors who took the defense of Christians, preventing their own to set fire on the houses. That's the case with our collaborator, Pastor Djergou. The alibi to discourage the terrorists is simple: the fire set in a Christian house can reach their own houses. We do know that it is in the favor of good neighborhood relationship." (Photo via ANS)
Coquerel pointed out what the enemies of God reap through their violence, saying, "One must not mock God. It is reported that some of the people who have participated in the attacks against Christians died. 169 people are arrested and are still in detention, waiting for the results of the investigations."
Others, he stated, know more tragic aftermaths:
1. In Zinder, the man who financed the terror in the region was killed in a car accident.
2. A young man who stole money in a church and bought a motorcycle with the money was also killed in an accident. Before his death, he confessed his crime and looked for forgiveness.
3. Two young men were killed in a house set on fire by their friends, not knowing they were still inside.
4. Cases of insanity are also reported among the aggressors.
5. Some of them returned what they took in the churches, fearing a punishment from above.
He concluded by saying, "A certain fear has seized the population as they connect the misfortunes that are happening to the attackers with their participation in the attacks. They now say that 'you cannot get away when you provoke the God of Christians'. God is revealing himself before their eyes.
"Let's pray for all the Muslims who start going to church or read the Bible, curious and eager to know the true God. Let's pray that Christian communities be united and give an encouraging testimony."
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon