COVID-19 makes life harder for hundreds of thousands of Africa’s persecuted Christians

People from South Sudan stand near a tent used as a church at a railway station camp, where they have spent the last four years, in Khartoum, May 11, 2014.
People from South Sudan stand near a tent used as a church at a railway station camp, where they have spent the last four years, in Khartoum, May 11, 2014. | (Photo: Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)

As the COVID-19 outbreak begins in sub-Saharan Africa, hundreds of thousands of Christian believers, who are already persecuted for their faith, are now also bearing the brunt of the restrictions being imposed in the region to fight the pandemic, according to Open Doors USA.

Persecuted for their decision to follow Jesus, believers in four of the five most virus-vulnerable countries in the region “are now doubly vulnerable” to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, says Open Doors in a report.

The Christian ministry’s World Watch Research data indicates “a direct correlation between the countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are most vulnerable to the virus and the countries where Christians face the most pressure for following Jesus,” referring to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Sudan and Cameroon.

The pandemic “gives way to even more ways believers can be discriminated against, exploited and attacked for their faith,” it explains.

Citing one example, the report says that after a 22-year-old believer, Yohannes (not his real name) from Ethiopia’s Tigray region put his faith in Christ, he was abandoned by his Muslim family, as they saw his decision as a betrayal to their family and tribe, as well as by the community.

Yohannes found refuge with other believers. “Now under government-imposed coronavirus restrictions, life has changed once again for Yohannes. His struggle to live has become that much more difficult. Because his own family has turned their backs on him and the Christians he knows are now living hand-to-mouth due to not being able to work, Yohannes is struggling to find enough food to eat,” the ministry shares.

The situation is similar in northern Nigeria.

“We are facing persecution because of our faith and we are also facing a global pandemic,” a local Christian minister, the Rev. John Joseph Hayab, is quoted as saying. “We run away from our persecution … or we run away from the global sickness that we are facing. We have a double problem.”

Open Doors’ director for West Africa, identified only as Suleiman, said he’s receiving constant requests for food and other vital support from overcrowded camps for internally displaced persons — those displaced by attacks from Islamic radical groups like Boko Haram, ISIS, Fulani militants and the Allied Democratic Forces across the region.

In some Shariah-governed areas, the government is discriminating against Christians, the report reveals. “Believers from towns in northern Nigeria’s Kaduna State, including Ungwan Boro, Sabon Tasha, Barnawa and Naraye, report they get six times smaller rations from the state than Muslim families,” Open Doors notes.

“In the midst of this coronavirus challenges and situation, the attacks on Christians have not stopped,” Suleiman said.

In Somalia, Uganda and Niger, “extremists are exploiting the opportunity to blame Christians for causing the pandemic,” according to the report.

However, persecuted and vulnerable believers continue to hold on to their faith.

As Rev. Hayab said, “But in all this, we still come back to remember the Word of Jesus: ‘Be ye of good cheers, for I have overcome the world.’ But He didn’t start with that; He says: ‘In this world, you will have many troubles.’ This is another additional trouble we are facing.”

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