Judge rules Iranian convert from Islam requires protection from persecutors.
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 15 (CDN) — Mohammad Azbari, a Christian convert from Islam who has fled to Kenya, knows what it’s like to be deported back to his native Iran.
When it happened in 2007, he said, Iranian authorities pressured the government of Norway to return him and his wife Gelanie Azbari to Iran after hearing rumors that he had forsaken Islam.
“When we arrived in Iran, we were interrogated by security and severely beaten,” he told Compass in Nairobi, where he and his family fought to persuade the Kenyan government to decline Iran’s demand to deport him back. “My son got scared and began urinating on himself.”
A cousin managed to secure their release, but not before Iranian authorities had taken valuable – and incriminating – possessions.
“They took everything that I had – laptop, camera and some of my valuables which contained all my details, such as information concerning my baptism, and my entire profile, including that of my family,” Azbari said.
Azbari had been employed in the Iranian army before fleeing, he said, and authorities were monitoring his movements because they were concerned that, having left Islam, he might betray his country and reveal government secrets.
When he and his Christian wife, a native of the Philippines, first fled Iran in 2000, he was still a Shia Muslim. The previous year authorities had arrested his wife after finding a Christmas tree in their house in Tehran; Azbari was not home at the time and thus escaped arrest, but as authorities took his wife away they left their then 3-year-old son unattended.
“I was put in a small cell for two days,” Gelanie Azbari told Compass, through tears. “While in the cell two police guards raped me. It was the worst of all the nights I have had in my lifetime. Since that time I have been sick both physically and mentally.”
Authorities soon took her husband in for interrogation, suspecting he was a spy for foreign states.
Still a Muslim, Azbari allowed his wife to follow her Christian faith. He had grown accustomed to watching her pray as a Christian and watch the Jesus Film. As time went by, he developed an urge to embrace Christianity. They started reading the Bible together.
The idea of trusting in and following Christ filled him with fear, as it was against the law to convert from Islam – it would mean losing his life, he said.
“I started questioning our leaders, who see themselves as God,” he said. “The claim of Jesus as the prophet as well as the Word and spirit of God is indicated in the Quran. When I read in the Gospels of Jesus giving people rest, it made me want to decide to accept him as my Lord and Savior.”
Sensing danger, the family fled to the Netherlands in 2000, and it was there that Azbari embraced Christianity. In 2003 the family left the Netherlands for Norway.
Azbari was an avid student of his new-found Lord; while in Norway, he became seminary teacher of Christology.
Throughout, Azbari said, the Iranian government had been monitoring his movements. In 2007 Iranian officials persuaded the Norwegian government to send him, together with his wife and son Reza Azbari, back to Iran.
After their interrogation and mistreatment upon arrival in Iran, Azbari managed to call his sister, who connected him with the army general cousin who helped secure their release. His sister took them in, but his brother in-law was not happy with their Christian prayers; he began quarreling with his wife, Azbari’s sister.
“They began looking for trouble for us,” Azbari said. “Sensing danger, we then left the home and went to find a place to stay. Everywhere we tried to book in we were rejected, since we were people who had been deported.”
They began attending a church made up primarily of foreigners, where Azbari’s wife and son felt more at home than he did. His army general cousin found out and, angry that they had sought refuge in a church after he had secured their release, grew furious.
“He was very angry, as they had also discovered this information from the laptop they had confiscated and threatened that I should be arrested,” Azbari said. “I then decided to move to central Iran to look for employment, leaving my family behind.”
The couple felt they could not go to Gelanie Azbari’s homeland as the Philippines has such friendly relations with Iran, he said.
“To go back to Philippines or Iran is quite unsafe for us,” Azbari said.
In October 2009, his sister notified him that police were looking for him and his family.
“I then decided to flee the country through Turkey, then to Kenya where I was arrested and then deported to Turkey,” Azbari said. “In Turkey they could not allow me to enter the country, hence I was returned to Kenya.”
They were arrested in January for illegal entry into Kenya. On March 4, a judge at Chief Magistrate Court No. 3 of Kenya dropped the charges against him, declaring that Azbari required international protection from his persecutors. The court also directed that Azbari be given back all his documents and the 10,000 Kenyan Shillings ($US130) in bail he had deposited.
They had applied for asylum with the United Nations. Appearing before the court on behalf of Azbari on Jan. 15, a representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had argued that he deserved asylum because his religious status had forced him to flee from his country of origin. On March 4 the court found that Azbari and his family require international protection under Section 82 of the laws of Kenya, and he was set free.
“We have witnessed the love of God and the sacrifices of what it means to love one in word and deed,” Azbari said moments after the decision. “We saw the love of Christ from the people who understood and stood with us.”
He thanked friends who introduced his family to Nairobi Pentecostal Church, which provided them spiritual strength. Three attorneys represented Azbari: Wasia Masitsa, a legal officer for the Urban Refugee Intervention Program; Christian lawyer John Swaka; and Laban Osoro of the United Nations. Rene Kiamba of the International Christian Chamber of Commerce had helped him post bail.
Report from Compass Direct News
Al Shabaab extremists threaten widow of slain pastor of underground church.
NAIROBI, Kenya, January 26 (CDN) — Islamic extremists shot the leader of an underground church to death outside the capital city of Somalia this month and have threatened to kill his wife, his tearful widow told Compass.
Having learned that he had left Islam to become a Christian, Somali militants from the Islamic extremist al Shabaab murdered 41-year-old Mohammed Ahmed Ali at about noon on Jan. 1, Amina Ibrahim Hassan said.
He was killed sometime after leaving his home in Hodan, on the outskirts of Mogadishu, she said. She and other family members were not immediately aware that he had been killed.
“We waited for him that day, but he did not turn up,” said Hassan, who has since fled to Nairobi. “The following day, on Jan. 2, I was informed by the fellowship that my husband had been killed.”
Ali led an underground church. Christian sources said members of al Shabaab, said to have links with al Qaeda terrorists, had been monitoring Ali and his wife for indications that they had left Islam.
Ali had organized New Year’s Day festivities for Christians to take place in Medina, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) outside of Mogadishu. Al Shabaab extremists killed him after word of the planned party leaked to them, Hassan said.
Hassan, who worked for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) before leaving the country, said she received threatening calls from members of al Shabaab on Jan. 3.
“We know who you are working for,” Hassan said one extremist told her. “We also know your home and that you are a follower of the Christians, and we are going to kill you the way we killed your husband.”
Aware of the Islamic extremist militia’s determination to carry out their threats, Hassan called a relative in Nairobi and informed him of the death of her husband and her intention to flee to Nairobi.
She set out for Kenya early the next morning by bus with her only child, 2-year-old son Abdi Asis Mohammed Ahmed. They reached Ifo, one of the Dadaab refugee camps on the Kenya side of the border, on Jan. 11. She stayed there for a few days before continuing on, arriving at Nairobi on Jan. 20.
“I am thankful that I was able to reach Kenya safely having lost everything – my husband and property,” Hassan said.
Al Shabaab extremists have been monitoring Somalis who work with NGOs for signs that they have embraced Christianity, Christian sources said.
Ali came to faith in Christ under the influence of his late uncle, Ali Mohammed Nur, who died in 2000 at the age of 70. Ali, who had worked as a taxi driver, completed secondary education and converted to Christianity the same year his uncle died in 2000. He was baptized in 2005.
Hassan said she converted to Christianity in 2005, was baptized in 2006 and married Ali in 2007. She worked for various NGOs in Somalia before fleeing the war-torn country.
In 2009 Islamic militants in Somalia sought out at least 15 Christians, including women and children, and killed them for their faith in a campaign to rid the country of all non-Muslims. On Nov. 14, Islamic extremists controlling part of Mogadishu executed a 23-year-old Christian they accused of trying to convert a 15-year-old Muslim to Christianity, according to Christian sources. Members of al Shabaab had taken Mumin Abdikarim Yusuf into custody on Oct. 28 after the 15-year-old boy reported him to the militants.
Before Yusuf was executed by two gunshots to the head, reports filtered in that he had been badly beaten and his fingers broken as the Islamists tried to extract incriminating evidence against him and information about other Christians. A source later learned that Yusuf’s body showed signs of torture; his front teeth were gone, and some of his fingers were broken, the source said.
On Oct. 19 in Galkayo, in Somalia’s autonomous Puntland region, three masked members of another militant Islamist group in Somalia killed a Somali woman who declined to wear a veil as prescribed by Muslim custom. Sources said members of the comparatively “moderate” Suna Waljameca group killed Amina Muse Ali, 45, in her home; she had said members of the group had long monitored her movements because they suspected she was a Christian.
Suna Waljameca is considered “moderate” in comparison with al Shabaab, which it has fought for control over areas of Somalia; it is one of several Islamic groups in the country championing adoption of a strict interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). Along with al Shabaab, another group vying for power is the Hisbul Islam political party.
Somali Christians are in danger from both extremist groups and Somali law. While proclaiming himself a moderate, President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has embraced a version of sharia that mandates the death penalty for those who leave Islam.
On Sept. 28, a leader of Islamic extremist al Shabaab militia in Lower Juba identified only as Sheikh Arbow shot to death 46-year-old Mariam Muhina Hussein in Marerey village after discovering she had six Bibles, according to Christian sources. On Sept. 15, al Shabaab militants shot 69-year-old Omar Khalafe at a checkpoint they controlled 10 kilometers (six miles) from Merca after discovering that he was transporting Bibles, sources said.
On Aug. 18 al Shabaab extremists shot and killed 41-year-old Ahmed Matan in Bulahawa, near the Somali border with Kenya, according to Christian sources. In Mahadday Weyne, 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Mogadishu, al Shabaab Islamists on July 20 shot to death another convert from Islam, Mohammed Sheikh Abdiraman, sources said. On Feb. 21 al Shabaab militants beheaded two young boys in Somalia because their Christian father refused to divulge information about a church leader.
The extremists also reportedly beheaded seven Christians on July 10; Reuters reported that they were killed in Baidoa for being Christians and “spies.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Flood of refugees to camp in Kenya brings Muslims hostile to his family.
NAIROBI, Kenya, December 9 (CDN) — Somali Christian Mohamud Muridi Saidi last month fled a refugee camp near Kenya’s border with Sudan after Muslims threatened to kill him.
For Saidi, a father of four, the recent relocation of 13,000 refugees from the Dadaab refugee camp near the Somali border to the Kakuma camp, where he had lived since 2002, brought its own nightmare: the arrival of Muslims from Somalia’s Lower Juba region who knew of his father’s Christian activities in his home village.
After Somalis four times threw stones at Saidi’s iron sheet home in the Kakuma refugee camp – once in mid-October, and again on Nov. 17, 21 and 22 – word spread that they intended to kill him. Case workers for a Lutheran World Federation (LWF) service group confirmed the death threat.
“I know the attackers are the Muslims who forced us to leave Somalia in 2002,” Saidi told Compass in Nairobi, adding that he was unable to bring his family with him when he fled on Nov. 23. “They are not safe, and that is why we should be out of Kakuma as soon as possible.”
Saidi has reported the attacks to the LWF service group as well as to police in Kakuma. Case workers for the LWF service group confirmed that the stoning of his home had escalated to the threat of him being assassinated.
“Saidi has security-related issues fueled by the new refugees from Dadaab,” said one LWF service group worker, who requested anonymity for security reasons, last month. “I did some investigation and found out that Saidi’s life is threatened.”
On one of the occasions in which his house was stoned as his family slept, Saidi turned on a flashlight and neighbors rose up, scaring off the assailants.
He and his family had enjoyed some tranquility since fleeing raging conflict in Somalia, but that ceased with the transference of the Somali Muslims from Dadaab refugee camp to Kakuma in August. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees relocated the refugees to ease congestion in the crowded Dadaab camps of Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley, where close to 300,000 Somalis had arrived to sites designed to house only 90,000 refugees.
The influx of those refugees from the Dadaab camp more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away came with the quickly spreading word that Saidi and his family must be Christian, since his father was a well-known Christian while living in Somalia. A Somali Bantu from Marere, Lower Juba, Saidi’s family left Marere in 2002 after strict Muslims sought to kill them when they found out they were followers of Christ.
Saidi’s late father had coordinated activities for a Christian charity in Lower Juba. Since the death of his father in 2005, Saidi has been working as a translator for a Non-Governmental Organization. As a translator, he became known to the newly arrived Somalis from Dadaab.
Because of the dangers, Saidi has been forced to abandon his job for fear of exposing himself to other Muslims who might know of his father. He is the sole supporter for his family, including his 55-year-old mother, wife and four children.
“It is not safe for us to continue living in Kakuma – we have to move away, possibly to Nairobi,” Saidi said.
As a stop-gap measure, Saidi said he hopes to work as a freelance translator, for which he would need a computer, printer, photocopying machine and laminator.
“This would be a temporary measure – asylum for my family would be a permanent solution,” he said.
Despite the relocation of the refugees from Dadaab, overcrowding has not eased due an influx of newly displaced people fleeing fighting in southern Somalia. Earlier this month, radical Islamic al Shabaab militia recaptured three key towns, including the key town of Dobhley, in Lower Juba province along Somalia’s border with Kenya. They retook control from the more moderate Isbul-Islam militants as they each try to overthrow the Western-backed Transitional Federal Government of president Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed in Mogadishu.
Report from Compass Direct News
Bantu woman shot after wife of militant confirmed she had Bibles.
NAIROBI, Kenya, October 1 (CDN) — Islamic militants in Somalia this week killed a woman who led an underground Christian movement in the war-torn country.
Sources told Compass that a leader of Islamic extremist al Shabaab militia in Lower Juba identified only as Sheikh Arbow shot to death 46-year-old Mariam Muhina Hussein at 2 p.m. on Monday (Sept. 28) in Marerey village after discovering she had six Bibles. Marerey is eight kilometers (five miles) from Jilib, part of the neighboring Middle Juba region.
Local sources said that on Sunday (Sept. 27) Arbow sent his wife to the house of Hussein, a Somali Bantu, to confirm the presence of the Bibles. Pretending to be interested in Christianity, the militia leader’s wife confirmed the existence of the Bibles.
The sources said Hussein readily agreed to discuss Christianity with Arbow’s wife and read parts of the Bible with her. When Arbow’s wife requested one of the Bibles, however, Hussein demurred.
“She told her that it might not be safe for her, preferring instead that she could visit her regularly for discussions,” said one source. “She then left and promised to visit again soon.”
The next day, Arbow arrived at Hussein’s house with other men and, in a friendly manner, claimed that he wanted to check something in the Bible. Knowing only that Arbow was a fellow ethnic Somali Bantu and having met his wife the previous day, Hussein innocently gave one to him, sources said.
“Immediately, Arbow told her that their mission was to look for Christians who have defiled the Islamic religion,” a source said. “There and then she lacked words to say. She was ordered to get the other Bibles out, and she did.”
Upon receiving the Bibles, sources said, Arbow fired three bullets at Hussein, who died instantly.
The Bibles were published in Swahili; besides this East African lingua franca, Bantus in Lower Juba also speak Kiswahili.
Compass has confirmed the killing with various sources in Nairobi and Somalia who cannot be identified for security reasons.
Hussein’s death comes a few weeks after the rebel militants killed another one of the leaders of Somalia’s Christian movement for distributing Bibles. Al shabaab militants shot 69-year-old Omar Khalafe on Sept. 15 at a checkpoint they controlled 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Merca, a Christian source told Compass.
Al Shabaab, said to have links with al Qaeda terrorists, controls much of southern parts of Somalia, as well as other areas of the nation. Besides striving to topple President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu, the militants also seek to impose sharia (Islamic law).
In August al Shabaab extremists seeking evidence that a Somali man had converted from Islam to Christianity shot him dead near the Somali border with Kenya, sources said. The rebels killed 41-year-old Ahmed Matan in Bulahawa, Somalia on Aug. 18.
In Mahadday Weyne, 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, al Shabaab Islamists on July 20 shot to death another convert from Islam, Mohammed Sheikh Abdiraman, at 7 a.m., eyewitnesses told Compass. The militants also reportedly beheaded seven Christians on July 10. Reuters reported that they were killed in Baidoa for being Christians and “spies.”
On Feb. 21 al shabaab militants beheaded two young boys in Somalia because their Christian father refused to divulge information about a church leader, according to Musa Mohammed Yusuf, the 55-year-old father who was living in a Kenya refugee camp when he spoke with Compass.
Report from Compass Direct News
Muslim extremists kill convert from Islam they were monitoring.
NAIROBI, Kenya, August 22 (Compass Direct News) – Muslim extremists seeking evidence that a Somali man had converted from Islam to Christianity shot him dead Tuesday morning (Aug. 18) near the Somali border with Kenya, according to underground Christians in the war-torn nation.
Al Shabaab rebels killed 41-year-old Ahmed Matan in Bulahawa, Somalia, according to Abdikadir Abdi Ismael, a former leader of a secret Christian fellowship in Somalia to which Matan belonged. Matan had been a member of the underground church since 2001.
The early morning shooting comes at a time when Islamist groups led by al Shabaab are hunting down converts to Christianity as they seek to establish sharia (Islamic law) throughout Somalia.
Ismael, who fled the area in 2005, said he received a telephone call from Matan two weeks ago in which the convert told him that monitoring by the Islamic extremists kept him from leaving his home and carrying out his small-trade business across the border in Mandera, in eastern Kenya.
“I am afraid for my life – the al Shabaab want to get a proof that I follow the Christian faith,” Matan told Ismael. “They have not been seeing me in the mosque and seem to have realized that I am not part of them.”
Ismael subsequently learned from a member of the underground church who requested anonymity that on Aug. 18 Matan was shot dead as he was about to enter Mandera with a donkey carrying goods for sale such as sugar, batteries and shampoo. He was a father of three, his last child just 3 months old.
Since the beginning of this year, Ismael said, the Islamic militants had been questioning Matan about why he was carrying on business outside of Somalia.
“They then began monitoring him, especially from the beginning of this year,” said Ismael.
Besides his infant child, Matan leaves behind a widow, Fatuma, and children ages 7 and 4.
Ismael was visibly shaken by the death of his close friend.
“We have been going through difficult times because of choosing to follow Christianity,” Ismael told Compass. “We have lost everything. We even lack words to share our feelings. I have been always on the run from one refugee camp to another. The Muslims have issued a fatwa on me.”
Ismael had been the leader of the underground church in Bulahawa before fleeing in 2005. Bulahawa has gained a reputation for harboring Islamic extremists, mainly al Shabaab militants said to be linked with al Qaeda terrorists.
Matan, who is from a Maharan sub-clan called Habar Yaqub, was an industrious small-scale merchandise trader. His problems with the Islamist militia began long ago when he expanded his business sojourns to Kenya’s northern town of Mandera, Ismael said.
The border area near Mandera, including Bulahawa, has become the site of frequent kidnappings. Lack of security forces in the area has given free rein to brutal activities by al Shabaab, which kidnapped three foreigners in the area on July 17 and spirited them into Somalia. Ismael described Bulahawa as “a very insecure and sensitive area.”
In Mahadday Weyne, 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, al Shabaab Islamists on July 20 shot to death another convert from Islam, Mohammed Sheikh Abdiraman, at 7 a.m., eyewitnesses told Compass. They said the Islamic extremists appeared to have been hunting the convert from Islam.
The sources told Compass that Abdiraman was the leader of an underground “cell group” of Christians in Somalia. He was survived by two children, ages 15 and 10, and his wife died three years ago due to illness.
Intent on “cleansing” Somalia of all Christians, al Shabaab militia are monitoring converts from Islam especially where Christian workers had provided medical aid, such as Johar, Jamame, Kismayo and Beledweyne, sources said. Mahadday Weyne, 22 kilometers (14 miles) north of Johar, is the site of a former Christian-run hospital.
Already enforcing sharia in large parts of southern Somalia that they control, al Shabaab rebels have mounted an armed effort to topple President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s Transitional Federal Government and impose Islamic law.
The militants reportedly beheaded seven Christians on July 10. Reuters reported that they were killed in Baidoa for being Christians and “spies.”
Report from Compass Direct News
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 8 (Compass Direct News) – A pastor trying to visit Somalia’s autonomous, self-declared state of Somaliland earlier this year discovered just how hostile the separatist region can be to Christians.
A convert from Islam, Abdi Welli Ahmed is an East Africa Pentecostal Church pastor from Kenya who in February tried to visit and encourage Christians, an invisibly tiny minority, in the religiously intolerant region of Somaliland.
Born and raised in Kenya’s northern town of Garissa, Ahmed first traveled to Addis Ababa, the capital of neighboring Ethiopia. When he arrived by car at the border crossing of Wajaale on Feb. 19 with all legal travel documents, his Bible and other Christian literature landed him in unexpected trouble with Somaliland immigration officials.
“I was beaten up for being in possession of Christian materials,” Ahmed told Compass. “They threatened to kill me if I did not renounce my faith, but I refused to their face. They were inhuman.”
Ahmed said the chief border official in Wajaale, whom he could identify only by his surname of Jama, took charge of most of the torturing. Ahmed said their threats were heart-numbing as they struggled to subdue him, with Jama and others saying they had killed two Somali Christians and would do the same to him.
His pleas that he was a Kenyan whose faith was respected in his home country, he said, fell on deaf ears.
“I was abused, and they also abused my faith as the religion for pagans, which they said is unacceptable in their region,” he said. “I told them that I am Kenyan-born and brought up in Kenya, and my Christian faith is respected and recognized in Garissa.”
Jama ordered Ahmed’s incarceration, and he was locked up in an immigration cell for nine hours. The officials took from his bag three CDs containing his personal credentials and Christian educational literature. They also took his English Bible, two Christian books and US$400, he said.
Ahmed said he was released with the aid of an unnamed Ethiopian friend.
“They warned me to never dare step into or think of going to Somaliland again,” said Ahmed, who doubles as a relief and development worker.
On March 22 he sent letters of complaint to Ethiopian, Kenyan and even presumably less-than-sympathetic Somaliland officials; none has shown any signs of pursuing justice, he said.
Compass e-mailed a copy of the letter to Alexander O. Oxiolo, head of consular affairs at Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs ministry, who subsequently denied receiving it. When Compass printed the letter and took a hard copy to him, Oxiolo said he could not act on it because the complainant had not signed it.
He also questioned whether Ahmed was a Christian because of his Muslim name, apparently expecting him to have changed it after conversion.
Ahmed converted to Christianity in 1990. Soon after he was baptized in 1995, Ahmed came under threat from Muslims and fled to Niger in 1996, where he married. He and his wife returned to Kenya in 2000, Ahmed said, and since then he has received a steady stream of threats from Muslims in Garissa. On several occasions he has been forced to leave Garissa for months at a time, he said, waiting for tensions to cool.
Ahmed was ordained in 2004.
Report from Compass Direct News
Assemblies of God World Missions has evacuated its missionaries from troubled Madagascar, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa, reports Dan Wooding, founder of ASSIST Ministries.
Following months of threats and infighting for political position, Madagascar experienced a coup on March 17, as President Marc Ravalomanana apparently chose to step down.
“The military is divided as to who they are going to support,” explains Africa Regional Director Mike McClaflin. “The American Embassy very strongly urged American citizens to evacuate the island . . . and now the American Embassy has evacuated its staff.”
McClaflin says that Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) leadership made the decision on March 14, at the recommendation of the U.S State Department, to take AG missionaries in Madagascar out of harm’s way and moved them to Nairobi, Kenya, for the time being.
“With missionaries now in 212 countries and territories of the world, almost no civil uprising, conflict or disaster takes place in the world that does not touch the lives of some of our missionaries,” states AGWM Communications Director Randy Hurst. “The unrest and government takeover in Madagascar affects four missionary families and well as one single missionary.”
Included in the list of missionaries evacuated are the families of Nate and Tammy Lashway, Jay and Carey Rostorfer, and Aaron and Heather Santmyire, Zach and Shellie Maddox, missionaries from East Africa who were visiting the Santmyires, along with short-term MAPS worker Ashley Masten, were also evacuated. The Manny Prabhudas family, who also serve in Madagascar, are currently in the United States on their itineration cycle.
Hurst adds that “Madagascar is an example of how so many of the crises in our world today demand that we as a church must commit ourselves increasingly to intercessory prayer for our missionaries and fellow believers around the world.”
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Six months after attack, Muslim assailants still at large; weary congregation faces heat, rain.
GARISSA, Kenya, March 5 (Compass Direct News) – Six months after a gang of Muslim youths ruined a church building in this town in northern Kenya, Christians still worshipping in the sweltering heat of the open air say they feel disillusioned that officials have done nothing to punish the culprits or restore their structure.
On a sunny afternoon last Sept. 14, when angry Muslim youths threw more than 400 members of the Redeemed Gospel Church out of their church building, the Christians hoped they would be able to return to the ruins of their former structure. That hope is quickly giving way to anger, hopelessness and despair.
“After six months in the open, the church feels tired and cheated,” said pastor David Matolo. “We are fed up with the empty promises from the government administration.”
He said the church, which began worshipping in Garissa in early 2001 with only a dozen members, is fast shrinking.
“Our church membership has decreased, which is of great concern to me,” he told Compass. “The church thinks that the government has decided to buy time – almost every month I do book appointments with the relevant authorities, who on several occasions have given us a deaf ear.”
Since the attack, church members have been meeting at the town show grounds. Just a few miles from the Somali border, the site has few trees to protect the congregation from the scorching sun, with temperatures ranging from 92 to 104 degrees F (30 to 40 degrees C).
Asked why he thought government officials were reluctant to grant the church a permanent place of worship as promised, an irritated Matolo did not hesitate to reply.
“The administration has decided, ‘kutesa [inflict pain on us],’ always making promises that never come to pass,” he said. “At times the provincial commissioner deliberately decides not to take my phone calls. I have had a painful experience.”
Matolo said he has asked the administration either to allow the church to build a new structure on land lying idle near a police training college or to let them return to their original site. “We are ready for any eventuality,” he said. “We feel that the administration is not concerned about our spiritual welfare.”
Asked about the pastor’s complaints, provincial police officer Stephen Chelimo told Compass, “The issue at the moment is not within my docket, but wholly rests upon the provincial commissioner.”
But Provincial Commissioner Stephen Maingi said the onus rested on the district commissioner. “Let the district commissioner sort this issue with the pastor,” Maingi said.
District Commissioner Onyango Ogango, in turn, indicated the church itself was the source of problems.
“If the church is allowed to return to their original site, we will expect a fight to erupt with the Muslims,” Ogango said. “Earlier on, the church began very well during its initial stage of inception with controlled worship, but later it turned out to hold noisy prayers and loud songs.”
Further questioned about these allegations, however, Ogango said he would call the pastor to discuss a resolution. Even so, Matolo said previous contact with the district commissioner did not leave him with high expectations.
“Our district commissioner seemed to have no feelings for our predicament,” he said. “The faces of the congregation members speak a lot.”
A glance at the worshippers confirmed his appraisal. They looked weary and anxious, with impending April rains expected to add to the indignity of their situation. Matolo said his congregation feels that soon it will be difficult to worship at all.
Even a temporary home did not appear to be forthcoming. The pastor said their request for a site near the provincial commissioner’s residence was dismissed on the grounds that it would create a security concern.
Radical Islamic Influence
Tensions between Christians and the Muslim-majority population in the semi-desert town of 20,000 people began in June 2007, when Muslims built a mosque too close to the church building – only three meters separated the two structures.
Matolo said pleas to District Commissioner Ogango did nothing to reverse the encroachment of Muslim worshippers.
Land issues alone have not been responsible for tensions in the area. The Rev. Ibrahim Kamwaro, chairman of the Pastors’ Fellowship in Garissa, said Matolo had offended Muslims when he preached to a lame Muslim man. Muslims were said to be upset that the pastor persuaded the disabled man to stop going to the mosque and instead join his church.
Matolo’s alleged promise to the disabled man of a better life offended area Muslims, Rev. Kamwaro said.
Christians feel increasingly hunted and haunted as the spread of Islamic extremism is fast gaining ground in this town, located about 400 kilometers (249 miles) from Nairobi, the capital. In neighboring Somalia, newly elected President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on Feb. 28 offered the introduction of sharia (Islamic law) in exchange for a truce with a rebel extremist group said to have ties to al Qaeda, al Shabaab; the rebels said they would keep fighting. Many fear that Muslim youths in this lawless part of Kenya will be tempted to adopt the radical, uncompromising posture of the fighters.
To date, the gang of more than 50 Muslim youths who attacked worshippers and brought their church to ruins have not been apprehended. Members of the congregation feel justice is increasingly elusive.
In Garissa, Muslims restrict churches in other ways. Christians are not allowed to pray, sing or use musical instruments in rented homes owned by Muslims. No teaching of Christian Religious Education in schools is allowed; only Islamic Religious Knowledge is taught.
Garissa has more than 15 Christian denominations, including the East Africa Pentecostal Church, the Redeemed Gospel Church, the Anglican Church, Deliverance Church, Full Gospel Churches of Kenya and the African Inland Church.
Report from Compass Direct News