COVID-19: An Update on Persecuted Christians in Africa
In 2020, when the pandemic began, persecuted Christians suffered with everyone else the economic impact of lockdowns. But they also experienced hardships particular to their faith.
Pastors serving in the most volatile rural areas faced great difficulty to feed their own families because church incomes declined so radically under lockdown that salaries couldn’t be paid. Typically when hardship strikes, Africans can depend on their community for support. But Christian converts cannot, because of their faith. Therefore, during the pandemic they faced increased pressure to either revert or be prepared to face even greater marginalization.
Violence continued in some areas, like Nigeria. In some places, Christians faced discrimination in government assistance. In some areas, Christians were blamed for causing the pandemic. We received such reports from Somalia, Uganda and Niger.
However, thanks to the generous support of believers around the world, Open Doors was able to deliver emergency assistance to nearly 4,000 families in East Africa and around 25,000 families in West Africa over the course of 2020.
But difficulties continue into 2021. Generally speaking, African countries rank fairly low on reported COVID-19 cases, but while that is partially due to its warmer climate and younger demographics, it’s likely that numbers are higher than they seem. Some countries’ governments lack the transparency to release full testing numbers, and many deaths are never formally registered. In some places, total case numbers seem low, but the positivity rate is high, indicating that more cases may exist than are reported, due to less extensive public health systems. The impression among many African nations remains that the virus is not something to be worried about, leading experts to be concerned that another wave will hit many at-risk citizens.
The African Union has secured approximately 400 Million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to date, and is set to receive millions more. However, at the time of writing this, only a few nations have begun vaccine rollout.
Amidst the uncertainty about the continuing pandemic, the church faces challenges. Yasin*, Open Doors’ director for work in East Africa, says “The true extent of the psychosocial impact of Covid-19 on individuals, families, and communities may never be fully understood, but we have already seen signs of trauma, increased gender-based violence and even suicides. Persecuted believers faced unprecedented challenges because they had no access to spiritual and material support at the time of their desperation, while persecution incidents increased and became diversified across the region. Underground believers are some of mostly affected by these realities.” Reduced ministry funding and ability to travel to remote locations has made church ministry difficult.
Heading into 2021, Open Doors is working to help the most vulnerable Christians: widows, orphans, displaced persons, as well as new converts facing persecution. Tens of thousands more families in Africa will need aid, which is only possible with the support and prayers of the body of Christ around the world.
Pray that believers in Africa will remain strong despite the increased challenges brought on after one year of the pandemic.
Pray that increased vaccination efforts will bring healing and stability to the nations.
Pray that the most vulnerable members of society will receive the relief and aid they so desperately need.
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