Boko Haram violence is forcing people in Cameroon to flee

While many countries around the world are in the midst of or are starting to emerge from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, countries across sub-Saharan Africa are just beginning to feel its impact – and many of the countries that are affected are places where Christians suffer some of the worst persecution in the world.

Sulieman*, director of Open Doors in West Africa, says, “We want to ask you to continue to pray… We have received calls from some pastors asking for help in the area of food. But also, believers in the [refugee] camps are now struggling with food support. Widows and orphans with small incomes due to lockdown are also unable to continue trading and we’re getting continuous requests for food and for (other) support.

“In the midst of these coronavirus challenges and this situation, the attacks on Christians have not stopped… Therefore, we want to ask you to stand with us in prayer and support that we can continue to serve the persecuted Body of Christ, even in these very difficult times that we are all passing through.”

Below is some information about how each country is affected by and combating the virus, and how you can pray:

SOMALIA (#3 IN THE WORLD WATCH LIST) 

The al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group has warned Muslims to beware of infectious diseases such as coronavirus, which it says are spread ‘by the crusader forces [Christians] who have invaded the country and the disbelieving countries that support them’.

Jo Newhouse, spokesperson for Open Doors’ work in sub-Saharan Africa, says, “Messaging like this is very terrifying for [Somali believers]… who are forced to practise their faith in absolute secrecy.”

Please pray that any rumours about the spread of the virus would be quickly quashed before they can take root and lead to violence and that persecuted Somali believers will know God’s presence and protection as they experience even greater isolation and scrutiny than usual.

ERITREA (#6) 

Eritreans are currently experiencing a 21-day lockdown. A UN special rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea urged the government to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading in its overcrowded jails by immediately releasing all political prisoners, low-risk offenders and others such as the sick and elderly who are particularly vulnerable to illness or death. Many prisoners of conscience – including Christians – are included in those held for many years now.

Please pray that any Christians released from prison will not have to return, and that the lockdown will be effective at curbing the spread of the virus.  

SUDAN (#7) 

In March, Sudan closed all airports, ports and land crossings. Only humanitarian, commercial and technical support shipments were excluded from the restrictions; China has donated 50 ventilators and 400,000 masks. However, rising food prices are causing distress.

Please pray that the Lord will provide for the poor and the most vulnerable in Sudan, and that local churches can continue to bless their communities. 

NIGERIA (#12) 

Nigeria was able to contain the spread of Ebola in 2014 very quickly, and so the country has an aggressive biosecurity plan. However, food distribution to those in need has slowed due to Covid-19 restrictions – and, despite those restrictions, Christians are suffering from more attacks in Plateau State and Southern Kaduna, targeting believers who are staying at home.

In northern Nigeria’s Sharia-governed Kaduna, Christians say they receive rations that are six times’ smaller than Muslim families.

Please pray that God will protect our Nigerian brothers and sisters from violence, and that He will provide for the most vulnerable. 

People fleeing Hura – brutal Fulani militant attacks against mostly Christian communities in Nigeria’s Plateau State continue with impunity despite Covid19 movement restrictions in place.

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC (CAR) (#25) 

CAR has suspended all flights, which will impact relief aid distribution: 70 per cent of health services are provided by aid groups. Armed groups have been asked to better implement ceasefire to prevent the spread, but there is continuing insecurity.

Please pray that relief aid and healthcare will get through to those who need it in CAR, and that God will pour out His peace on the nation. 

BURKINA FASO (#28) 

The coronavirus crisis threatens to overwhelm the health system and complicate efforts to respond. Almost 800,000 people have been displaced by near-daily jihadist attacks, which have also caused the closure of 135 health centres. Borders have been sealed and travel has been restricted to and from towns and cities with confirmed cases. Aid groups worry that this will prevent them from accessing needy people in violence affected areas. Limited testing will complicate matters. “Social isolation measures won’t be possible where people are living five or 10 to a room, or all together in small makeshift tents,” said Gustave Yamossou, emergency manager for Oxfam in Burkina Faso. “When the virus hits areas with high levels of displacement, it will spread quickly and could have a disastrous impact.”

Please pray that God will protect the vulnerable and displaced – especially those living in refugee camps and who are reliant upon aid. Please also pray that He will halt the spread of the virus in Burkina Faso.   

MALI (#29) 

Commercial flights from countries affected by the virus have been suspended until further notice, with the exception of cargo flights. Schools have been closed and public gatherings limited. Mali already faces a critical humanitarian situation; women make up over half the number of people who are dependent on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs. Over 200,00 people have been internally displaced due to insecurity and inter-communal conflict.

Please pray that aid would reach those who need it, and that God’s presence will be tangible among everyone who is displaced and without a home in Mali at this difficult time. 

ETHIOPIA (#39) 

In March, Ethiopian Airlines, the African continent’s biggest airline, suspended flights to 30 countries and announced that all arriving passengers would face mandatory quarantine. Ethiopia also announced that it would shut its land borders to nearly all human traffic as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Schools have been closed, and religious services have been almost entirely cancelled.

Christians have been affected economically by social distancing rules. Yohannes* (22) is a new believer who has found refuge with Christians after his community expelled him for his faith in Christ. But under Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the government, he is struggling to find enough food to eat as his own family won’t help him.

Please pray that the church will be able to stand strong despite being scattered and unable to meet, and that the country’s efforts to stop the spread of the virus would be effective. 

KENYA (#44) 

Kenya’s government has suspended travel from any country with reported Covid-19 cases; any travellers are placed into quarantine on arrival. In the event of a potential spread of Covid-19 to refugee camps, there is high concern that large numbers of people will be infected due to crowded living conditions and poor access to health, water, and sanitation services. According to UNHCR (the United Nations refugee agency), food distribution plans have been revised to deliver rations in two-month distribution cycles, rather than monthly or fortnightly, in order to reduce social contact.

Please pray that God would protect refugees living in the camps from the virus, and that, despite less-frequent deliveries, no one would go hungry or without the right medical care. 

CAMEROON (#48) 

In March, the Cameroon government shut down land, air and sea borders indefinitely; all international flights have been grounded except for cargo planes. More than 100,000 Nigerian refugees who fled the Boko Haram insurgency are living in Minawao refugee camp or in host communities throughout the region, but there are currently no details of any plans regarding a coronavirus strategy.

In the north, Boko Haram is forcing people to flee into the mountains or to camps in other towns where it will be very hard to protect themselves against coronavirus.

Please pray that God will be close to and provide for the Nigerian refugees living in the refugee camps, and that He would grant wisdom to the leaders and healthcare experts responsible for creating a strategy to combat the virus. 

As always women are the most vulnerable – Boko Haram is targeting people in Cameroon’s Far North, forcing them to flee into the mountains or to camps in other towns.

NIGER (#50) 

Niger’s borders have been closed, and there are grave concerns over violence in remote areas.

Please pray that closing the borders will be an effective strategy in curbing the virus and that God would protect those living in remote areas from violence.  

OPEN DOORS AFRICA DIRECTORS: “THANK YOU FOR YOUR PRAYERS” 

Sulieman says, “We thank you for your continued prayers and support for the persecuted church of our Lord Jesus Christ here in West Africa. The Covid-19 situation poses a threat and a challenge to us; many of our widows, those in the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps and other vulnerable believers, are really relying on support from us to be able to continue to live. It’s a challenge at this time, but we trust the Lord as we stand together, that He will help find solutions to these issues.

“We want you to know that we appreciate your prayers and your support, and that it means a lot to the Body of Christ here in West Africa, even in this season when we are all facing the challenge with the Covid-19. Please continue to pray. And we also pray that the Lord will bless you.”

Open Doors’ director for East Africa, Yasin*, also stated: “This season of the coronavirus pandemic is a very uncertain and difficult time for the persecuted church in our region in many ways. Your prayer is the most effective weapon to reach out to the heart of the persecuted believers wherever they are and in whichever condition they are. We know that you are praying already for the persecuted believers in Africa. I would like to encourage you to keep up your fervent prayer. The Word of God in James 5:6 says: ‘Therefore, pray for each other, so that you may be healed.’ The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Therefore, I would really like to encourage you with this word, to do that more and more…

“Thank you very much for your support and prayers on this. God bless you abundantly. Amen!”

*Names changed for security reasons 

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