AFRICAN CHURCH MUST PROMOTE PEACE, FORGIVENESS AND RECONCILIATION
African church leaders concerned by the devastating consequences of conflicts across the continent have pledged to focus on preventative efforts. The continent has been among the worst-hit by violent conflicts in recent decades. Countries in West and Central Africa have been particularly affected. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), more than 6 million people have lost their lives in what the BBC described in 2013 as the world’s bloodiest conflict since World War II, “a conflagration that has sucked in soldiers and civilians from nine nations and countless armed rebel groups, known as the Great War of Africa, has been fought almost entirely inside the DRC”.
Despite an official end to the war, numerous armed groups are still active in the north and eastern regions of the country, creating havoc among civilians. Over the last three years, neighbouring Central African Republic (CAR) has been ravaged by civil war. Though the country is gradually regaining stability, entire regions in the north and north-east are still occupied by armed groups. Against this backdrop, more than 250 scholars, church leaders, civil servants and politicians from the DRC, CAR, Ivory Coast, Chad and Cameroon recently debated the role of the Church in reconciliation efforts in Africa in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). The workshop was jointly organised by three leading francophone schools of theology, and the University Shalom of Bunia in the DRC.
Professor Nupanga Weanzana, Dean of one of the Schools which hosted the workshop, said that the aim of the workshop was to equip churches with a biblical and theological basis with regard to their current commitment to working towards peace across the continent. “We wanted to offer them some tools that enable them to better carry out their role in the reconciliation process,” he said. Professor Weanzana said it was difficult to imagine that predominantly Christian countries like Rwanda, Ivory Coast, the DRC and CAR have witnessed deadly conflicts in recent decades. He said this shows that the Church has failed in its teachings, or that its teachings have not been sufficiently grounded in biblical principles.
“In its quest to make new converts, the Church in Africa was focused on statistics, but missed the importance of teaching,” he said, urging churches to “profoundly” re-examine their vision and strategies. “The Church should first humbly admit that it has failed before seeking to understand what really went wrong,” he said. “Actually there are churches with thousands and thousands of members. But why is the teaching still not profoundly rooted in biblical principles?” He said the workshop helped to set the basis for profound theological debates. Dr. Isaac Mbabazi Kahwa lecturer at the University Shalom of Bunia said the workshop was a call for the Church to focus on forgiveness, instead of revenge, in a conflict or post-conflict environment.
“The Church should promote a culture of peace through its teaching and practice of forgiveness and reconciliation,” he said. His colleague at the DRC-based university, Dr. Corneille Kibuka Kutionga, insisted on the need for a proactive approach. He urged churches to play a “prophetic role” by denouncing evil and promoting dialogue and peaceful living between communities. All the speakers and attendees were unanimous: the Church’s efforts for reconciliation requires new vision and strategies. Instead of focusing on making new converts, they said they should make disciples. The workshop also recommended that the schools of theology set up new modules aimed at equipping African church leaders with new skills, enabling them to play a key role in their communities.
It also praised the efforts and commitment of CAR’s interfaith platform, formed by three clerics to promote peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims. In the midst of CAR’s on-going civil war, often portrayed as a religious conflict, the clerics, Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou (President of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance), Monsignor Dieudonne Nzapalainga (Catholic Archbishop of Bangui), and Imam Oumar Kobine Layama (President of CAR’s Islamic Council), have been dedicated in speaking out against religious extremism. Their message: violence in the CAR is not primarily a religious conflict; instead, the root of the conflict lies in the struggle for political power.
PRESIDENTIAL CHANGE IN SOMALIA UNLIKELY TO IMPROVE SITUATION FOR CHRISTIANS
Air traffic over Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, was halted on 8th February as MPs and senators gathered at the airport to elect former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo as the country’s new president. The outgoing president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, congratulated the winner, though many challenges lie ahead for the new leader. President Farmajo will have to try to unite a war-torn country that is still very much divided, while facing an ongoing Islamic insurgency and corruption crisis, as well as the threat of famine. Last month, the UN warned that Somalia was heading for its second famine in six years, with people already dying from hunger in the north of the country, which is in the grip of an intense drought, induced by two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall.
The election was seen as a step towards a stable democracy. Because of security concerns and the threat of an attack from militant Islamists, it was held in a heavily guarded hangar at the airport. Considering this and the final outcome of the US’s contentious travel ban, which includes residents of Somalia, there are more pressing concerns for the new president, who holds both Somali and American citizenship. Little is expected to change for the small community of Somali Christians after these elections. Former President Mohamud, shortly after his inauguration in 2012, said that his government would be dedicated to creating a Somalia “at peace with itself and with its neighbours, that would values kindness, respect and human rights”. However, since then the position of the Christian minority has not improved.
On the contrary, on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where life for Christians is the most difficult, Somalia is ranked 2nd behind North Korea. In 7th position in 2016, its rise to 2nd can be ascribed to an increase in violent incidents, which have two root causes. First of all, Christians in rural Somalia are being targeted by jihadists and tribal leaders with impunity. Secondly, all over the country, families, communities and authorities target Christians, particularly converts from a Muslim background. The estimated number of Somali Christians is very low, consisting of Protestants (0.01%), Independents (0.04%), Anglicans (<0.01%), Catholics (<0.01%) and Orthodox (0.28%), according to Open Doors.
Even as a new president takes charge, the country’s constitution leaves little room for changes in the realm of freedom of religion or belief. Article 2 of the constitution indicates that Islam is the religion of the State, that no religion other than Islam can be propagated in the country and that no law which is not compliant with the general principles of Sharia can be enacted. Although Article 17 indicates that every person is free to practise his or her religion, it reiterates that no religion other than Islam can be propagated. And so today only the ruins of ancient church buildings exist in Somalia, serving as reminders of a time when there was a more vibrant Christian community.
EGYPTIAN JUDGE SENTENCES INNOCENT CHRISTIAN BOY TO 15 YEARS JAIL
A 15-year-old Coptic Christian boy has been sentenced to 15 years in an Egyptian prison for sexual assault, even though forensic reports showed no evidence of a crime. His mother says her son, Fadi, is innocent and was targeted only because her Muslim neighbours, whose eight-year-old son was the alleged victim, “don’t like Christians”. The Muslim boy’s grandfather is imam at the local mosque. Fadi’s lawyer, Naguib Gabriel, who is head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights, told World Watch Monitor he was “surprised” at the verdict and the length of the sentence because Fadi “didn’t commit any crime”. “The two medical examiners who examined the Muslim child are Muslims and acquitted Fadi because of a false allegation,” he said.
The alleged incident took place in May last year, after which Fadi’s family were ordered to leave their home in the city of Shibin El Qanater, 30km north of Cairo. They have not been allowed to return since then. In June last year, the results of a forensic examination of the eight-year-old boy showed no evidence of sexual activity. Fadi’s mother, Hanaa, said she thought their ordeal was over, only to be “shocked” to learn the charges against her son remained. Fadi’s case was brought to the juvenile court in Banha, capital of the Qalyubia Governorate, in November. After several hearings, he was pronounced guilty on 28 January. “The judge convicted my son to 15 years because he is a Christian,” Hanaa said
“If he was a Muslim boy, the judge would acquit him when he saw the forensic report, because the forensic report absolved my son, but the judge wasn’t convinced of it because my son is Christian, so he believed the speech of the Muslim boy’s father instead of the forensic report. “I want to know what my son did to be sentenced to 15 years. What is the crime he committed? Where are our rights? Our rights are lost in this country. The forensic report said that my son did nothing, so why is the court verdict 15 years? It’s because we are Christians.” Hanaa added that she believed her Muslim neighbours disliked them because their business had been successful and they were rich.
“The boy’s father was very angry when he saw our trade growing over time,” she said. “He wanted us to leave the area because he hates Christians; he and many members of his extended family belong to the Muslim Brotherhood.” “What did Fadi do to get such a harsh verdict” asked lawyer Gabriel. “If Fadi was a murderer, the sentence wouldn’t be this long. He is a child and didn’t commit any crime. “The judge’s verdict wasn’t related to law, but faith. He said he was not convinced about the forensic report and believed the allegation of the father of the Muslim child.” Fadi’s family are appealing against the verdict. Their appeal will begin on 7 March.
MUSLIM PUPILS OUTNUMBER CHRISTIANS IN DOZENS OF BRITAIN’S CHURCH SCHOOLS
Education experts have called for some church schools to become secular institutions after figures revealed Islamic pupils outnumber Christian students in dozens of the institutions, including one with a “100%” Muslim attendance. About 20 Church of England (CoE) schools are estimated to have a majority Muslim population, as do 15 Roman Catholic schools, latest available figures reveal. One school, St Thomas in Werneth, Oldham, is reported to have no Christian pupils at all, according to the local diocese. While some school and church leaders say the institutions are merely serving their community. Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education at the University of Buckingham, said the experience could be “uncomfortable” and “confusing” for children of both faiths.
He told the Sunday Times: “The Church of England has traditionally provided education in this country but now that risks being an uncomfortable experience for the Muslim pupils that fill many of these schools. “It must also be very confusing for the handful of Christian pupils in some of them. It would seem logical these schools become secular institutions.”St Thomas’ website states: “St Thomas is a Church of England school and at present most of the children who attend are of the Muslim faith. “We begin each day with a school worship when we say prayers to recognise the place God has in our lives. “All children follow a course of Religious Education and we observe both Christian and Muslim Festivals.”
Other schools with an overwhelmingly Muslim population include Staincliffe CoE Junior School in West Yorkshire, where 98% of students are reported to come from a Muslim background. The school is said to hold religious assemblies with both a local imam and a priest, who are jokingly described as “the men in black” by staff. Training days are scheduled along with the festival of Eid, a traditional holiday for Muslims where children would not be expected to go to school. In Bolton, Bishop Bridgeman CoE Primary records a 90% Muslim population, although the CoE’s chief education officer Rev Nigel Genders said the school “feels like a Church of England School”. He said: “It goes back to the principle that we are not faith schools serving a Christian population but church schools serving the local community.”
GAMBIA TRANSITIONS POWER PEACEFULLY BUT LEFT BROKE BY FORMER PRESIDENT
West African countries held their breath recently to see if Gambia would achieve a peaceful transition of power, something rarely seen in young African democracies. Yahya Jammeh ruled Gambia for 22 years after his successful 1994 coup. However, he was defeated in the election last month by Adama Barrow. Jammeh vowed he would cling to power, but West African leaders stepped in and wouldn’t allow it, an action that was a real encouragement to fledgling democracies in Africa where often presidents insist on ruling for life. Barrow remains in neighbouring Senegal until the country stabilizes. When Jammeh finally agreed to go into exile in Equatorial Guinea, the country as well as the continent breathed a sigh of relief until the startling announcement by Mai Ahmed Fatty, advisor to the new president.
He revealed, “As we take over the new government, Gambia is in financial distress. The coffers are virtually empty.” Jammeh’s final act of defiance was to loot the country of more than $11.4 million in banks in his last two weeks in the country. He even managed to take numerous luxury cars onto his plane. In recent years, African governments have had some success in pressuring Western governments and banks to help recover public funds looted by African dictators. Pray this will be the case for Gambia. Thank God Gambia is not on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians in the world.
Please pray for:
* western nations and banks to secure Gambian public funds they are holding and return them to the rightful government of Gambia.
* new President Adama Barrow as he leads his country. May he pray Solomon’s prayer for Gambia. Let us pray God gives him wisdom, and that President Barrow walks in honesty and provides justice for his nation.
* former President Jammeh to be stricken with guilt for stealing from his country. Pray that he repents and immediately returns the funds that belong to the people of Gambia. Pray he comes into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ
POLL REVEALS MAJORITY OF DEMOCRATS CONSIDER CHRISTIANITY AS VIOLENT AS ISLAM
Nearly 66% of Democrats believe that while Islam is dangerous, Christianity is just as bad. This trusting attitude towards Islam is revealed in a new CBS poll. According to the poll of more than 1,000 adults, about 70% of Democrats believe that Christianity, Judaism, and Mormonism, encourage just as much violence as Islam. Only 14% of Democrats believe Islam encourages more violence than other religions. Republicans, meanwhile, have a much chillier view of Islam, 63% saying Islam is more violent than other religions and only 2% calling Islam less violent than other faiths. The survey comes following 17 years of attacks on Americans inspired by Islamic ideology, including: the 9/11 attacks in 2001; the San Bernardino shooting that left 14 dead, the Pulse Nightclub attack in Orlando that killed 50, as well as attacks in Paris and Nice, in the last 2 years.