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Sub-Saharan Africa and the coronavirus: “Your prayer is the most effective weapon to reach out to persecuted believers”

14 May 2020

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.  

A resident of Kassa in Cameroon flees with his belongings to somewhere safer.

 

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) 

Many infections are going undetected due to limited capacity to test. “With a health system already at breaking point, shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health staff and deep-rooted stigma of those affected, if no urgent attention is given to this looming crisis, Somalia will likely suffer the effects of the pandemic more severely than many other countries - which has already been shown by the rapid spike in reported cases on a daily basis,” explained Iman Abdullahi, Somalia/Somaliland country director for CARE. 

Not only food distribution has become a problem but also pesticides to control locust swarms. All local and international flights have been cancelled, and schools and universities have been closed. Public gatherings have been banned and the government have urged people to stay home, but the need to earn an income makes it almost impossible for people to adhere to these rules. 

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) 

There is now a ban on gatherings of ten or more people for any purpose. Up to two members of a household are allowed out to buy essentials at a time. Punishment is being meted out for any individual in violation of the current rules. 

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) 

Authorities have announced a three-week lockdown in Khartoum and Omdurman. Essential services such as supermarkets and pharmacies remain open, but only for limited periods.

Individuals are allowed limited movement within their neighbourhoods to purchase necessities. A night-time curfew is in effect nationwide from 8pm to 6am, and a ban on domestic travel remains in place. 

The Covid-19 restrictions are having a negative influence on humanitarian work. 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) 

There is now a ban on gatherings of 50 or more people, and lockdowns are in place in Abuja, Lagos, Ogun and Federal Capital Territory – but hospital and medical institutions, food, petrol, electricity and private security companies are exempt from these restrictions. 

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. 

Central African Republic (CAR) (#25) 

The country has only one dedicated Covid-19 treatment centre with just 14 beds, a nationwide total of three ventilation kits, one oxygen concentrator and zero isolation units to treat milder cases to provide quarantine. 

Schools, bars and places of worship have been told to close, and gatherings of more than 15 people have been banned. But recently published photos show daily life in Bangui continuing as normal, according to Al Jazeera (Arabic news network). 

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) 

A state of emergency has been declared. New regulations prohibit gatherings of more than four people, and most people are working from home. Spreading information that can cause public confusion or alarm is prohibited and all media professionals must report Covid-related news in a way that is neither exaggerated nor understated, and is not likely to create confusion or alarm. 

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) 

A public health emergency has been declared and there is a daily curfew in place. 

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. 

Niger (#50) 

So far, Niger has over 600 reported cases and 20 deaths. The government has isolated the capital Niamey from the rest of the country, declared a state of emergency and imposed a dusk till dawn curfew. The measures were extended until April 25 and places of worship and schools remain closed. There are grave concerns over violence in remote areas, as well as in the capital.

On 19 April, there were reports of clashes in the capital over the government's preventative curfew. Fr. Mauro Armanino, a missionary of the Society of African Missions told the Fides Catholic news service, “There have been scenes of urban guerrilla warfare for several days in Niamey…In both cases, the police intervened to disperse the demonstrators". There is also one report of intimidation against a pastor, with stones having been hurled at his house, located next to his church. 

Please pray that closing the borders will be an effective strategy in curbing the virus and that God would protect believers 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