Story Burkina Faso | 19 April 2022
How jihad unfolded in peace-loving Burkina and scattered the Church


Show: true / Country: Burkina Faso / Burkina Faso
Pastor Pengdwende used to care for a congregation in Bobo-Dioulassou in southwestern Burkina Faso. Under the ever-increasing danger of jihadist attacks, he was compelled to leave his home and congregation and join throngs of other Christians in displacement, hoping and praying for the day the Lord will entrust to him once more his own flock. He spoke to OD about the way jihad came to Burkina Faso, a country that has always been known for peaceful relationships between Muslims and Christians and about the cost of it all to the Church.

Pengdwende looks young, almost too young for the responsibilities he shouldered. He met and spoke with OD visitors who came to Burkina to deliver trauma care and emergency relief. His tone is almost matter-of-fact, maybe stemming from his resignation to the fact that there are certain (terrible) realities human beings can do very little about other than accept.

When asked about how the changes came to his country, he explains: “First, a Muslim preacher, Malam Dicko*, came to our area and started preaching a new Muslim current in mosques. People started joining that new current. Then he brought weapons. Those who refused to fight, were killed, one by one at night. Then it was the turn of pastors, town councillors, village chiefs, and all those who cooperate with the state authorities,” pastor Pengdwende says.

“I don’t really know the content of the new Muslim teaching, but this new branch did not consider moderate Muslims as good Muslims. This new branch wants all the men to have shorter trousers and the women to be totally covered... So, if you are a Muslim and you did not practice these principles, you were in danger.”

“Even those who joined the branch (at first) didn’t know the depth of the thing. It is when they brought weapons to distribute to them that they understood the depth, and recognized that it’s not God’s (business)…They are more radical in their type of faith than the others and if you don’t obey, they just kill you.”

“We heard about it in Mali, Nigeria, but we didn’t see it before (in Burkina Faso). Unfortunately, it slowly started coming to us. Some Burkinabe travelers to Mali started telling us that there are people with guns in the bush.”

A Fulani man who had befriended Pengdwende told him about this between 2016 and 2017. He used to herd his cows around the Burkina Faso and Mali (border) after the harvest. “He told me me that there were many terrorists in the bush with guns. He even told me that to be there with your animals, you had to pay them Zakat - a tithe - from your herd. If you give them the tithe, they would allow you to graze your animals there and they will multiply because there is very good grass there. But if you refuse to pay the zakat, you have a serious problem. So, the thing started like that, and as Fulanis mainly go there, they became the most involved.”

Then the attacks started in Burkina Faso. “In the beginning, they would come to a village for just one person, to kidnap him or to kill him and leave. Only men were affected by their killing. Sometime later, they didn’t distinguish. They entered a village, and they would kill men, women, even sometimes the children, both Muslims and Christians.”
But what complicated the situation, was that it was very hard to predict their actions.

“There are many terrorists groups that are fighting. Some are fighting to become rich, some for religious purposes, some for territories…. Every region has its own kind of violence. For example, in Banfora, they are asking women to cover themselves and the men to wear shorter trousers. Two churches’ members have been brought to a mosque to be forcibly converted. …Last year, a pastor from Djibo travelled to Ouagadougou and was on his way back in a bus when terrorists stopped them. They checked everyone’s ID to find Christians to kill. But by God’s grace, when they came to the pastor, they missed him. That is how he escaped.”

Death all around
Pengdwende watched the violence get closer and closer every day. One day, the jihadists kidnapped one of Pengdwende’s fellow pastors – an overseer. “The leader of the group called a colleague to tell him that the president is a Christian and this is why soldiers are arresting (and killing) some Muslims, while sparing Christians. He called to inform Christians that the terrorists were going to avenge those Muslims by killing Christians. That’s how Christians have become targets.”

Attacks started happening in short succession.

“In my village the terrorists came to one of my uncles. They entered my uncle’s house and shot him three times. He received one bullet in his abdomen, the second in his shoulder, and the third one just brushed his head. They left thinking he was dead. We brought him to hospital (and survived).

“Another pastor from our area, ran into terrorists as he was coming back from a funeral and was killed. He was serving God in a neighbouring village, about 15 km from my village.

“The third case was also my neighbouring village pastor. He and his family left the village; he returned to collect some of his things that remained in his house. They found him there and killed him.

“After all that, they came again to another village not far from ours, to the Catholic church and killed five persons. From there they continued to the Assemblies of God’s church of the same village. The pastor hid in a toilet. They asked the pastor’s wife where he was, and she said that he went out. At that moment, a sick man arrived at that place, and thinking that he was the pastor, they shot him dead.”

Forced to leave
That was a Friday. The next day, the area leader of their denomination instructed Pengdwende and his family to leave because all the pastors of the area had left. For Pengdwende this was not an easy situation to come to terms with.

“We had spent 7 months without any rest. As pastors, we did not sleep in the same place twice. Sometimes, we slept in the bush for safety, sometimes, we stayed indoors for a long time so no one would know that we are there. Our village chief even sent a message to tell me I should leave, otherwise I could be killed.

“Many people were telling me: ‘Pastor, leave the village, because you as Christian, and above all a pastor, are more sought out.’ At that time, they were really looking for Christians and killing them. Despite these facts, I made the decision (at first) to not leave.”

But the situation was becoming so bad that there was no way they could stay.

“I explained to my church members on Sunday about the obligation for me to leave. I was asked to go to a village 7km away to be safer.”
That Sunday morning, Pengdwende was preparing to leave and tried to make a plan with his animals, his food supplies and so on, when he noticed terrorists moving around the area.

“Before they arrived, I told my family members to get ready, and I told the members who came to the Sunday service to go back home. I told them that if they found us there, it would be very dangerous. While I was still speaking, they surrounded the compound. I didn’t know what to do or what to say.”

Thankfully, the attackers left as suddenly as they had arrived that day. “It’s only God’s miracle, otherwise I don’t understand why they surrounded the compound and left without entering to kill us. They just went back like that. When they left, they met a man on the road, killed him and went their way.”

God miraculously protected them that day, but Pengdwende knew it was time to leave. He knew he was also being watched. “Every morning, these terrorists used to come and inquire about me. Even in the evenings, they used to come. It was like that every day.”

He left, but only one week after Pengdwende had settled in the other village, he faced an attack. “They surrounded the village and just started shooting. Some of them came to the church where we live now, and bullets were flying everywhere and striking the donkey-cart.”

The Church today
This situation has left the church in dire straits.

“I can say that in the north of Burkina, Christians are in sorrow and tears. When you have been born and raised somewhere, and you wake up one morning with only a few minutes to flee with only what you are wearing, and if your wife maybe has to bring only a few things with her to join you where you hide, it isn’t simple.

“We have been scattered. Some are in Ouagadougou. Wherever they have relatives who can receive them, Christians just go there. That’s how people were scattered. No one has returned home. It is only Arbinda and Gorgadji that still have some local inhabitants. It is also there that more than 80 people were killed last month. When people from there want to travel, they make a convoy to be accompanied by soldiers ... Even that type of convoy has been attacked.”

Asked if he can see anything good coming out of this situation, Pengdwende says: “The good thing that can come of this situation for Christians is to prepare their lives. Before, when they read the Bible, it was like stories to many, but now, it’s a reality. The Bible said that a time will come when people would kill you, believing that they are doing a work of God, but that they do not know God or Jesus. …I told you that we spent seven months without sleeping. When you sleep just a little, you wake up in fear to check if you are still alive. And if it is so, you just thank God. Because of that, everyone was just preparing himself, so that whenever he is killed, he may see Jesus.

Pengdwende believes this is a time when false and true believers are separated. “The situation has caused the faith of many to end. When pastors left, the faith of many Christians ended. …Maybe soon this terror will finish. A committed Christian needs to be in Christ when the terror come to an end or to be with Christ in heaven.”

What OD’s help has meant for the Church
“Your ministry is very useful to us,” Pengdwende testifies. “Some time ago, you came to help us when we were in Kaya as displaced. We needed food and you gave us food. While being in Bobo (Bobo Dioulassou) you helped us with some money so that we may start doing some jobs.

“If not for that, maybe our tears wouldn’t have been wiped away, we would haven’t been taken care of. But many are still suffering and if they don’t get comforted, they will die. For example, I have pain in my heart because of the things that happened. When something startles me just a little, it feels like my heart will stop.

“When I sit and think about my church which had more than hundred members, and how it just ended one day, while many were crying asking me to not leave, and others were begging me to go so as not to die, it causes pain.

“So your organization is helping many people to have peace of heart, because when you are in difficulties and someone is encouraging you, there is nothing (better) than that. You could have had no interest in us or said that it is because of our sin that we have such difficulties. In that case, what would you do?”
please pray

“Please pray for the healing of the pain in my heart because of thoughts. It is only two months after I arrived in Bobo that I started sleeping again. For five or six months, I had severe headache. The daylight caused me more pain through my eyes, and at night I was sleepless because of the many thoughts, until morning. So, pray for our healing from pain and fear. Sometimes when we hear a cry, it reminds us of the cries of someone who sees his relative being killed, and it’s very distressing for us. “Secondly pray for my ministry. A pastor cannot just sit idle like this; I want God’s help me to have a ministry again where I am, that’s what I want you to pray for.”

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