ASENDABO, Ethiopia (BP)–Muslims have killed at least one Christian and wounded several others in anti-Christian violence in western Ethiopia, according to International Christian Concern, an organization that helps persecuted Christians worldwide.
ICC also is reporting that Muslims have burned down 69 church buildings, 30 Christian homes, a Bible school, a Christian orphanage and a church office.
The anti-Christian attacks started March 2 after Muslims allegedly accused Christians of desecrating the Quran, the Islamic holy book. Violence continues to affect residents of the area. During the initial days of the attacks 3,000 Christians were displaced; ICC reports those numbers now have climbed to 10,000.
Although Ethiopian Orthodox churches are predominant throughout the country, at least the first 55 churches burned belong to evangelical denominations, according to Sam Parkman*, a Christian worker who served in Ethiopia from 2007-10.
Mike Turner*, an International Mission Board strategy leader in North Africa, said none of the 55 churches identified thus far are Baptist. The denominations of the 14 other churches have not been reported.
“What’s happened in Asendabo is unfortunate, and we are brokenhearted for the people who have been affected by the attacks,” Turner said. “But it is not unexpected, because the Lord Himself said we would face hard times and struggle with hardships as we boldly follow in His steps.”
ICC reported that military forces have been sent to curtail the attacks in Asendabo and surrounding areas. Federal government officials removed the local administrator, a Muslim, for his failure to protect the Christians. Voice of America reported that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi blamed the attacks on a little-known Muslim extremist group called Kwarej. Some reports indicate 130 Muslims believed to be involved in the violence have been arrested.
Asendabo also was the scene of anti-Christian violence in 2006, when Muslims killed more than a dozen Christians and destroyed several churches.
“Islamic radicals are fighting to establish an Islamic state in Christian-majority Ethiopia,” ICC’s regional manager for Africa, Jonathan Racho, asserted. “… Christians will continue to be killed unless the government of Ethiopia starts taking serious measures to stop Islamists from carrying out similar attacks.”
Turner, however, disagrees that Muslims have an agenda to take over the country. “While I have seen Islam advance in [Ethiopia],” he said, “I do not have any concrete evidence to support the notion that radical Muslims are trying to make Ethiopia an Islamic state by using violence or any other means.”
Although Turner said he has no firsthand knowledge of what happened in Asendabo or why, he speculated the attacks could possibly be credited to staunch Muslims who are unhappy that Protestants in their area are growing in number.
Parkman said Muslims in Ethiopia are getting more vocal in hopes of boosting their numbers. “They’ve stepped up their voice by doing events, like rallies,” he said. “… Also, violence seems to be getting more and more frequent.”
Turner also said evidence of Islam is increasing. “You can see that visibly just from the number of mosques going up,” he said. “And the more you get into the culture and engage people in conversation, [you discover] there are more Muslims than there used to be.”
Nearly 40 percent of Ethiopia’s 90.8 million people are Muslim, according to the CIA World Factbook. An estimated 43 percent are Ethiopian Orthodox and 18.6 percent are Protestant. From the fourth century until 1974, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was the official state church.
“There are strong Islamic bases all around Ethiopia,” Turner said, referring to nations like Sudan and Somalia. “But it has historically been a ‘Christian’ nation. If that was going to ever change … you’re talking about a massive revolution that frankly I just don’t see on the horizon anytime soon.”
Meanwhile, ICC reports churches in western Ethiopia are struggling to provide members with basic necessities like food and clothing. Organizations like ICC and missions agency SIM are providing emergency relief.
Parkman’s wife Rebecca*, encourages believers to pray that Ethiopian Christians will be “strong in the face of persecution” and “not back down” from their faith.
“The church of Jesus Christ is going to continue to face opposition, whether in Asendabo or Atlanta, Ga.,” Turner said. “Hard times will come, because the Bible tells us they will. … Church buildings can be destroyed, but ultimately it is the body of Christ that must look squarely in the face of opposition and be encouraged by God’s Word that He has already overcome this world.”
*Name changed. Melanie Clinton is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Africa.