Muslim extremists are pouring resources into east Africa resulting in an increase of attacks against Christians. Read this report to find out more about the challenges Christians are facing in this region.
Islamic extremism is on the rise in three formerly safe, majority-Christian countries in east Africa.
Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have been havens for Christianity, welcoming Christian organisations, Bible translators and missionaries, and becoming hubs for theological training. Church growth in the last 20 years has been remarkable. In Kampala, Uganda, more than half the population attends evangelical church services. Nearly 50% of Kenyans identify themselves as Protestant, up from 17% in 1960. And in Tanzania, evangelicals have increased to nearly 18% of the population.
In hopes of reversing the trend of Christian growth, Muslim extremists to the north, in Somalia and the Middle East, are pouring resources into east Africa, fuelling a rise in radical Islam among the Muslim population which has resulted in increased attacks against Christians over the past three years. Some of the recent violence in Kenya is motivated by political tensions between the government and al-Shabab militants in neighbouring Somalia, but it is also due to the perceived threat of the spread of Christianity.
In July 2012, terrorists targeted two churches in Garissa, Kenya, with grenades and gunfire, leaving 15 dead. VOM USA is supporting several children orphaned in the attacks. Garissa is 145km from the Somali border and most of the population is Somali. In November 2012, another pastor was killed in a grenade attack on a church on the Administration Police compound.
Then, on 7 February 2013, three assassins gunned down Pastor Abdi Welli in Garissa. A Somali Kenyan, Abdi converted to Christianity from Islam in 1992. After completing several years of mission work, he and his wife Helen felt called to ministry in Garissa where they led many to Christ. Helen told Voice of the Martyrs that anti-Christian forces often opposed her and Abdi.
“When we received death threats, we’d pray together and that would give us peace, because God said He would be with us.” She says God will use her husband’s death to advance His purposes. “We have a triumphant God,” said Helen. “We know He is going to triumph in this situation.”
Several other churches around Kenya have been attacked, including an attack in Nairobi.
The militancy growing in Kenya and Uganda has also spread to Tanzania.
In February 2013, Pastor Mathayo of Buseresere, Tanzania, was attacked by Muslim extremists with machetes after speaking out about the right of Christians to slaughter and sell livestock ‘ a business that had been kept off-limits to Christians by Muslims who insisted that all meat must be “halal” (permissible according to Muslim law). He died shortly afterward.
Pastor Mathayo’s wife, Generosa, told VOM workers, “They did something they didn’t understand; they didn’t know what they were doing. We read in Scripture that God wants us to forgive those who offend us.”
Generosa thinks the persecution is strengthening the church. She said Christians have grown more unified since her husband’s death and she believes God desired that Mathayo die this way “so that it would serve as a lesson to the people, but also so the Lord can bring harvest into His kingdom.”
As Christians in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda face the increasing threat of extremist Islam, we pray you will be inspired by the faith of those who are committed to stand their ground in this spiritual battle, and as they forgive and show Christ’s love. Please remember our persecuted brothers and sisters in your prayers.