Samaritan's Purse is assisting suffering families who’ve fled in the wake of violence against Christians.
A teacher innocently walking down a dust-red road was the first victim gunned down that May 12 morning. The attackers then moved toward a nearby church in Fantio, a village in northwestern Niger along the border with Burkina Faso. Militants vandalized walls, burned hymnbooks and vestments, and turned their guns on churchgoers.
“We were forced to recite passages from the Koran at the point of a gun,” one man recounts. “We feared for our lives if we could not prove our knowledge of the Koran.”
These attacks, targeting Christians in the days following the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, left at least five people dead, some of the victims murdered within sight of their families. Since January, more than 300 people in the region have been killed in such attacks. The United Nations estimates more than 10,000 people fled over two days from the Tillaberi region in western Niger.
Samaritan’s Purse ran agricultural and livelihoods programs in the area in the past; we also rebuilt a church in 2019. Violence in the region has been ongoing in recent years, a tragedy that has now created a community of displaced families in Niger’s capital, Niamey. Today Samaritan’s Purse is again helping in Jesus’ Name, providing relief to scores of struggling people as they arrive in the city without any resources.
Fearful, Weary, and Facing New Threats
Salou Mamane, a 21-year-old man from Dolbel, a village in the Tillaberi region, said these attacks are nothing new to the area and expects them to continue.
“There were three attacks nearby before the attack that took place in our village. When the terrorists arrived, they attacked our church,” Salou said. “I was beaten on the back and sides, until they thought I was dead. The terrorists killed some of the men, took the church and the money. Later we evacuated our village and rode in trucks to Niamey, because, with the attacks and the likelihood of more in the future, we were not safe.”
Since arriving in Niamey, many fleeing Christian families have been taken in by members of local churches. Others are living in makeshift homes and communities, without proper protection or sanitation. In the midst of Niger’s rainy season, these displaced people are especially at risk, including from the threat of malaria.
Samaritan’s Purse is actively working through churches to distribute food, water, cooking supplies, hygiene kits, and other essentials as families seek refuge. We also distributed mosquito netting.
“These people fled here with nothing, but now, thanks to the distribution, they have what they need to get by,” said Sakina Hassane, communications officer with the Samaritan’s Purse Niger office.
In addition, we are also providing literacy education, so that families can enjoy reading the Bible in the regional Djerma language. Right now, around 46 displaced people are regularly attending these training classes, which take place multiple times a week. This includes both young children and the elderly.
“Many of these people did not go to school, and so even though Djerma is their maternal language, they do not know how to read or write it,” Sakina said. “We started the training so they’d have the opportunity to learn to read, and therefore be able to read the Bible. We pray this will help these Christians grow spiritually.”
As part of this educational program, our teams are also teaching women the livelihood skill of soap making.
Ongoing Work Among Persecuted Christians
These tragic events in May are a clear echo of similar attacks five years ago when churches burned throughout Niger, a majority Muslim country in West Africa. Extremists protested and took to violence after a disparaging depiction of Mohammed appeared in the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Pastors in affected towns were encouraged when Samaritan’s Purse came to rebuild churches destroyed in the chaos.
“Now my people can see that God is coming to help His people in their distress,” said Hamadou, pastor of Emanuel Baptist Church in Goudel, Niger. “This strengthens our faith—even if they burn this church, we know that God has something better.”
Samaritan’s Purse has helped construct more than 60 churches across Niger as part of an ongoing commitment to provide aid to persecuted Christians in the country.“In Niger, all Christians experience persecution. Every day there is some form of persecution from society and in people’s behaviors,” said Sakina, a native Nigerien. “There are places that will not hire or sell to Christians, and so it can therefore be difficult for Christians to get a job or even buy or rent a house. It is important that we support our fellow believers in times like this.”
Please continue to pray for these hurting families that God would provide comfort to them in their affliction and that the light of Christ would shine through the Church and transform hearts through the power of the Gospel.