RLPB 501. Burkina Faso: Church Targeted for Terror
also: Remember the Captives
— by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
Burkina Faso is 52 percent Muslim, 26 percent ethno-religionist and 21 percent Christian (11.5 percent Catholic; 8.5 percent Protestant). While it might be landlocked and poor, it has long a history of religious harmony and openness. In October 2014 the long-time Islamist dictator Blaise Compaoré — president since seizing power in a coup in 1987 — stepped down from the presidency in response to popular protests. In November 2015 Roch Marc Christian Kaboré (a ‘devout Catholic’) was democratically elected as president. Today, both al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) are active in Burkina Faso (BF). Islamic terror first struck BF on 15 January 2016. Since then, there have been more than 230 militant attacks. More than 65 people died in militant attacks in April 2019 alone.
On 31 December 2018, after a surge in terror attacks and high profile abductions, President Kaboré declared a state of emergency in several northern provinces bordering Mali. On 18 January, after months of spiralling insecurity, Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thieba resigned, along with his entire cabinet. Christophe Joseph Marie Dabiré has since been appointed Prime Minister. Compounding the crisis, attacks are no longer confined to the capital, Ouagadougou, and the far north. Exploiting the insecurity, criminals, ethnic militants and terrorist groups are also escalating their activity in the east and south-west. More than 150,000 people have been displaced since July 2018. In the regions most effected by violence, 1111 out of 2869 schools have closed, affecting the education of more than 150,000 children. The country is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
On Sunday 28 April around a dozen gunmen on six or seven motorcycles attacked an Assemblies of God church in Sirgadji village in north-eastern Soum province, which is under a state of emergency. They swept in at around 1pm, firing their weapons in the air, as believers were mingling in the grounds after the worship service. A local community leader told World Watch Monitor that the assailants asked the Christians to convert to Islam, but they refused. After seizing and burning their Bibles and mobile phones, the gunmen took their captives behind the church building, one by one, and shot them dead. Martyred were Pastor Pierre Ouédraogo (80), his son Wend-Kuni and brother-in-law Zoéyandé Sawadogo (a deacon) and church members Sayouba and Arouna Sawadogo, and Elie Boena. Before leaving, the militants set fire to the church and stole supplies from the pastor’s house. Pastor Ouédraogo is survived by his wife and another six children. His relatives had advised him to leave the area, but he had refused, saying he ‘would rather die for his faith than leave the community he has been serving for about 40 years’. The day after the massacre, the gunmen — described by locals as ‘young men who have been radicalised’ – returned in search of more Christians. More than 100 Christians have fled the area; remnant Christians and local Muslims are grieving together.
This was the country’s first terror attack to target the Church directly. Possibly inspired by the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka, it comes as Islamic State (IS) leader, Abu Bakr al al-Baghdadi (47), reiterates IS’s intention to target ‘crusaders’ (Christians and Westerners) to avenge the Caliphate’s territorial losses in Iraq and Syria. For quite some time now, IS has been encouraging its supporters to unleash terror in their homelands. In a propaganda video released on 29 April, al-Baghdadi commends the terror attacks in Sri Lanka and accepts pledges of allegiance from groups in West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali). While no-one has claimed responsibility for the Sirgadji church massacre, it is very likely that the gunmen were IS supporters.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL
* grace President Kaboré and all those in authority in Burkina Faso with wisdom, strength and all the international support they need to tackle Islamic radicalisation, defeat the Islamic jihadists and restore peace and security.
‘The nations [or in this case Islamic jihadists] roar like the roaring of many waters, but he [God your Saviour] will rebuke them, and they will flee far away, chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind and whirling dust before the storm.’ (from Isaiah 17:12-14 ESV)
* redeem all suffering to advance the Kingdom of God; may the seeds of the Gospel, sown in love and now watered with tears, take root and grow as Jesus Christ continues to build his Church in Burkina Faso.
* protect, preserve, sustain, comfort and bless his precious Church in Burkina Faso, that she might continue to grow and be a blessing to the nation.
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
TERRORISTS TARGET THE CHURCH IN BURKINA FASO
On Sunday 28 April gunmen attacked a church in Sirgadji in north-eastern Burkina Faso. The worship service over, the believers were chatting outside when a dozen militants swept in on motorcycles, demanding everyone convert to Islam. The believers refused. After burning their Bibles and phones, the militants executed their captives one by one. Pastor Pierre Ouédraogo (80), his son, his brother-in-law and three other church members were martyred. Relatives had advised Pastor Pierre to flee the region, but he refused to leave the church. Both al-Qaeda and Islamic State are active in Burkina Faso; terror is escalating. Islamic State has long encouraged its supporters to unleash terror at home and recently declared it will specifically target ‘crusaders’, i.e., Christians and Westerners. Please pray for Burkina Faso and its Church.
REMEMBER THE CAPTIVES
Located in Soum Province, Sirgadji is not far from Djibo from where Australians Dr Ken Elliott and his wife, Jocelyn, were abducted on 16 January 2016 [RLPB 341 (27 Jan 2016)]. It is also not far from the village of Bilhore, from where Pastor Pierre Boéna and several members of his family were kidnapped in June 2018 [RLPB 465 (25 July 2018)]. Whilst Pastor Boéna was subsequently released, the fate of his family members remains unclear. Jocelyn Elliot also was subsequently released but Dr Ken Elliot (84) remains a captive of al-Qaeda affiliate JNIM, along with at least four other foreign Christians [RLPBs 413 (5 July 2017) and 445 (7 March 2018)]. In December 2018 JNIM ominously announced that they would no longer be releasing videos providing proof-of-life or demanding ransom [RLPB 487 (30 Jan 2019)]. Please pray for Dr Ken Elliot and all Christian captives being held in the Malian desert.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).