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Across Africa, Converts Are Being Abused, Disowned, and Murdered by Their Families for Their Christian Faith

Cameron Thomas, Regional Manager for Africa

08/09/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – To many in the West, the face of persecution is repressive governments, infuriated mobs, and radical militants, but for many of its victims, the face of persecution is much more familiar. All across the world, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters are being abused, disowned and even murdered by members of their for having forsaken the religion of their ancestors for redeeming faith in Christ.

In Uganda, Nanvunani Shamimu, 17, and Nawudo Hasifa, 19, converted from Islam to Christianity after envisioning the same dream of “a man dressed in white clothes” who told them to “go and be prayed for in the church.” The following Sunday evening, after attending service at Kawaga’s United Believers Church in Kamuli District, their father, Abdul Hakim Ibanda, beat his 17-year-old daughter to death, sparing his elder daughter so that she could fetch clean water for him to perform Islamic ablution.

Instead, Nawudo Hasifa fled to the home of one of the elders of the church, leaving behind her father, exhausted from the beating and resting over the corpse of what to him was once a daughter, but was now a disgrace that had irremediably violated the purity of his Islamic home.

A terribly gruesome example of familial violence toward Christian converts, Nanvunani Shamimu’s murder speaks to a culture of impunity that enables reprehensible action against apostates (those who leave their faith).

While apostasy and blasphemy have been made illegal in Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Mauritania, and even Nigeria, for centuries religions have relied on the family, not the law, to intimidate adherents from leaving the faith, and to punish those who actually do.

Yet, knowing their conversion could cost them their lives—even at the hands of loved ones—thousands are choosing to dedicate their lives to Christ. All across Africa, Christians understand and are actively living out Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew 10:37, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Safia, a Muslim divorcee and mother to a son and disabled daughter, recently converted to Christianity. When her family found out, they organized the community against her, inciting outraged Muslim neighbors to throw rocks through her windows and pledge violence against her and her daughter. With the help of the pastor who had led her to Christ, Safia left the community, received business training, and is now living with her daughter free from harm. Saved from the violence she had fled at the hands of family and former friends, Safia now excitedly awaits the grand opening of her small business, funded by the global church.

While families across Africa continue to coerce members to adhere to “their ancestors’ religion,” the Kingdom of God adopts its believers into an international, interracial and interethnic family of love, respect and encouragement. In the case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, a spiritual battle between her Islamic family and her family of fellow believers played out dramatically on the world stage. And now, by the grace of God, Meriam and her family are free and have made their way to join a community of like-minded believers in the United States.

A mother of two and wife to an American citizen, Meriam was sentenced to death in May for committing what, in Sudan and many other countries, is now-considered criminal: converting from Islam to Christianity. In June, after a tenuous legal bout and amidst immense international pressure, Meriam was acquitted of all charges and released from prison, where she not only birthed her now two-month-old daughter while in shackles, but spent 126 days incarcerated with her toddler son.

Immediately following her release, Meriam and her family tried to leave the country, but were rearrested by more than 40 members of Sudan’s notorious “Agents of Fear.” After three additional days of arbitrary detention, Meriam and her family were released into the protection of the United States, where she and her family waited impatiently to board a flight from Khartoum to Rome: from oppression, to freedom.

Outraged by her release, Meriam’s alleged extended family—all devout Muslims—not only called for her execution, but filed an appeal against her acquittal and, until Wednesday, a claim for custody. While the competing claims, one for custody of Meriam and the other for her state-sponsored murder, raise skepticism as to the family’s actual desires, no doubt can be raised over their intention to utilize every means possible to restore Meriam to the Muslim faith, or see to her punished, should she continue to embrace the Christian faith.

Radical Sudanese Muslims, enraged by Meriam’s release and acquittal, march in the streets of Khartoum, demanding Sharia law trump the human rights that Sudan has vowed to protect, including the right to freely choose and practice one’s own religion. Meriam’s defense lawyers received death threats regularly as Meriam’s alleged family continued to demand she receive the ultimate punishment for leaving Islam: death.

Today, Christians the world over are thanking the Lord for Meriam and her family’s safe departure from Sudan, are praying for the many thousands more Christians still suffering in and beyond Khartoum, and demanding their political leaders do more to ensure the free practice of religion everywhere.

And yet, Meriam, just like Nanvunani Shamimu and Safia, is only one of too many examples of familial violence against apostates throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

It has to be made absolutely clear that the international body of Christ, the worldwide Kingdom of God, the Christian family has to care for and adopt all those removed from the family unit, by force or intimidation, for their conversion to the Christian faith. Family, perhaps the most human of all social bonds, mandates responsibility, and the responsibility to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted for their faith is one the Scriptures takes very seriously.

“But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” – 1 Timothy 5:8

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