On Sunday May 12th, between 20 and 30 gunmen entered a Catholic church during Mass in Dablo, Burkina Faso, and started shooting the congregation. Six people, including Father Simeon Yampa, were killed. The attackers then set fire to the church with some worshipers still inside.
Probably 95 percent of Americans couldn’t find Burkina Faso on a map. But that doesn’t make what’s happening to Christians there any less serious or any less deserving of our attention.
In fact, this was the second such attack on a church in the region in two weeks. The Sunday after Easter, “gunmen on motorbikes” attacked a Pentecostal church in a neighboring province, killing the pastor, Pierre Ouédraogo and five worshipers.
Burkina Faso, which was called Upper Volta until 1984, was not a particularly dangerous place for Christians until just a few years ago. While Christians are only a quarter of the population, the country, unlike other Muslim-majority nations, hasn’t been ranked on lists like Open Door’s.
As the Christian Post put it, “Although Burkina Faso is a majority-Muslim country … religious groups have largely coexisted peacefully there.”
These recent attacks owe their origins to neighboring Mali, a nation that is on the Open Doors list. Since 2012, Mali has been locked in a series of conflicts pitting the central government against Islamist and Islamist-backed forces.
Even after the initial conflict was put down by the French military, jihadis have continued to operate in Mali, which has been characterized as “fragile,” with “… weak state legitimacy leaving citizens vulnerable to a range of shocks.” In this case, the violence in Mali has spilled over into Burkina Faso in the form of Islamist attacks on not only Christians but also those deemed insufficiently Muslim.
After killing Father Yampa and his parishioners, the attackers “destroyed all places serving alcohol,” as part of an ongoing campaign to establish a so-called “caliphate” in the part of Africa between the Sahara and the rain forests of Central Africa.
Since 2016, there have been more than 200 attacks, and in the past two months alone more than 70,000 people have been forced from their homes.
As order deteriorates and the government’s authority diminishes outside the capital, jihadis, mostly from Mali and other countries in the region, are free to operate with something close to impunity. That freedom is expressed by attacking Christians both inside and outside of church. In addition to the attacks I just told you about, jihadis have also targeted missionaries. Three years ago, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb killed six Canadians who were in the country on a mission trip.
Given these developments, I suspect Burkina Faso will soon appear on Open Door’s “World Watch List,” given the threat against Christians by those who hate them and the increasing chaos in the country.
Scripture commands us to “always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” This is especially true for our persecuted and suffering brothers and sisters. They are paying a price we can scarcely imagine for bearing the name “Christian.” The least we owe them is to become acquainted with their situation so that their suffering doesn’t go unnoticed. Yampa’s and Ouédraogo’s names were known to God. Likewise, they should be known to us.
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John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.