Trying Times and Dangerous Days - in Africa and Beyond
“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine penned those words in 1776 during America’s Revolutionary War. Eventually, thanks to much prayer and innumerable heroic battles, those early American challenges passed into history. A new, free country emerged from the fiery battlefield.
Today, however, messages of “trying times” are echoing across the planet — and particularly among Christian believers. These really are times of trial, testing the souls of Christians in every corner of the world. And believers are not only experiencing spiritual battles. In countless places, they are facing the edge of the sword, the blazing fire of arson in their homes and churches, and the death or disappearance of their loved ones.
We continue to receive reports of violence and the killing of believers in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh; in Myanmar, India, and in Pakistan. Severe persecution of Christians continues to rage in much of the Middle East, North Korea, and Afghanistan. A look at Open Doors’ World Watch List for 2023 provides a clear and concise picture of the worst abusers of Christians. In one country after another, they all deserve our prayers.
However, Africa is an increasingly lethal danger-zone for believers.
In 2021, Nigeria accounted for nearly 80% of Christian deaths worldwide. More than 5,000 Christians were massacred in Nigeria just in 2022. As we have often reported, Nigeria has been the focus of deadly violence against Christians for many years, and the number of victims has only escalated in recent months. Violent incidents at the hands of radical Muslim groups specifically focus on churches and Christian schools. Young girls are targeted for kidnapping and unspeakable abuse by terrorists. Priests and pastors are also primary targets; dozens of them have lost their lives as Christian martyrs in recent years. And the violence never ceases — on Wednesday, 25 Baptists were kidnapped at a Nigerian church.
Nigeria is clearly a worst-case scenario. However, Nigeria is far from the only danger zone in Africa, where anti-Christian persecution is rapidly exploding across the continent.
In Burkina Faso, Open Doors reported on May 11, “Living in fear is a daily reality for believers in Burkina Faso, where Islamic militants have driven more than two million people from their homes since the insurgency in Mali began spilling over in 2016.” These radicals attack Christian villages, shooting at “everything and everyone. … [T]hey set fire to the marketplace, to people’s houses, their possessions and their animals. … [M]any people were burned alive in their houses.”
In Libya, at the time of this writing, six Christians have been sentenced to death for converting to Christianity and for proselytizing. “The women and men — some from Libya’s minority ethnic groups, including the Amazigh, or Berbers, in the west of the country — were separately detained in March by security forces.”
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), International Christian Concern reported that during 10 days in April, 80 Christians were killed and hundreds abducted. The atrocities were perpetrated by the Allied Democratic Forces, one of many extremist Islamic groups in the region.
In Sudan, during the raging civil war that is rapidly spreading bloodshed across the country, Christianity Today reports that churches are under attack and Christians are fleeing life-threatening violence across the country. In Khartoum, the Evangelical Presbyterian church suffered a fire as munitions exploded in a nearby market. The Coptic Orthodox church was struck by a rocket. And All Saints Anglican Cathedral was occupied by militant forces. Over 500 people have been killed, with more than 4,000 injured.
In Mozambique, hundreds of Christians have been slaughtered in recent years during Islamist massacres. Currently, an American missionary pilot, Ryan Koher, is being held in the country, accused of “terrorism” — he was actually flying relief aid to an orphanage. After some four months in prison, Koher was released, but his case is far from over. Missionary Aviation Fellowship’s CEO David Holsten explains, “It was a provisional release. … He doesn’t have possession of his passport, he’s not allowed to leave the country, and the investigation process is still proceeding. So he’s out [of prison], but it’s not completely resolved.”
The reality in today’s world is that wherever Christians reside, they are experiencing intensifying persecution. As American believers, we face our own concerns about cultural and political challenges to our faith and freedoms. Increasingly counter-cultural and anti-biblical forces are at work politically and, at times, violently against us, and our prayers must never cease. But as we continue to intercede on behalf of our own concerns, let’s never fail to remember the Christian community across the world. For so many millions of believers, along with countless others who face unspeakable abuses, these truly are the times that try their souls and — too often — end their lives.
What can we do? Let’s just keeping praying. First, let’s thank the Lord that we are richly blessed and are able to intercede for our distressed Christian brothers and sisters. Let’s seek wisdom and grace for all believers, whatever their circumstances. And let’s ask our Father in Heaven to place His hand of protection over His people — here, there, and everywhere.
Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council and Fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.