Originally published in Christianity Today
Christians in Burkina Faso are mourning a deadly attack on a Protestant church as “a new turning point in terrorism” in the West African nation.
Sunday’s shooting at an Assemblies of God congregation in a northern village left six people dead, including the pastor, and represents the first church attack among the recent surge of Islamist violence.
A dozen gunmen on motorcycles stormed the courtyard of the Sirgadji church after worship, fatally shooting its longtime pastor as well as five other congregants after demanding they convert to Islam, according to a statement sent to CT by the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Burkina Faso, Michel Ouédraogo. The attackers also stole from the church and burned its pulpit.
The church was one of the oldest Protestant congregations in the region, which borders Mali to the north, and pastor Pierre Ouédraogo had served there since its founding in the 1980s. The longtime pastor had sensed danger, but told family members “he prefers to die for his faith rather than leave the village where he has served for nearly 40 years,” said his son-in-law, according to the AG statement.
The victims include the pastor’s son and his brother-in-law, who served as a deacon in the church.
Burkina Faso declared a state of emergency in some of its northern providences last year, due to ongoing violence. The church attack comes days after another half-dozen people were killed by assailants elsewhere in the country. Islamists have been blamed for the abductions of a Spanish Catholic priest and a Canadian geologist earlier this year.
After 200 attacks over the past three years, the government considers Sunday’s shooting to be the first at a house of worship, a sign that the violence could be shifting from indiscriminate to targeted. Burkina Faso is about 60 percent Muslim and about 25% Christian (around 20 percent Catholic and 5% Protestant).
An op-ed in L’Observateur Paalga suggested that pastors will begin to fear their public worship gatherings could become targets. “Evidently, the forces of Evil who are imposing their dirty war on us, and who know … where it hurts, now want to set religions against each other in a country where, nevertheless, peaceful coexistence between the different religions has always been the bedrock of social cohesion,” read an English translation of the article.
Pope Francis offered prayers for the entire Christian community in Burkina Faso after the Assemblies of God attack.
The country has faced a growing threat of terrorist violence ever since 2016, when al-Qaeda affiliates took hostages and went on a shooting spree in the capital city of Ouagadougou. Seven missionaries were killed in the incident.
The incidents in Burkina Faso in recent years have been attributed to Ansarul Islam, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims, and the Islamic State of the Great Sahara (EIGS).