By Katelin van Zyl

On Sunday, 25 February, a Catholic church was attacked in Essakane village in Burkina Faso during mass. At least 15 people were killed, and at least two were reported injured. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it is believed to have been carried out by Islamist militants. This is one of a series of attacks targeting churches and worshippers over the last three years. Clergy have also been abducted in the region and Christian communities nationwide have suffered other traumatic acts of violence. After years of such religious violence, Catholic missionary priest Father Pierre Rouamba told Aid to the Church in Need that forgetting the atrocities is impossible, but their work is focused on forgiveness.

Essakane village is situated in the northeast of the country, in an area known as the “three borders” zone because of its proximity to the porous borders shared with Mali and Niger. The prevalence of violent extremism has grown in the Sahel region following Libya’s civil war in 2011 and the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012. After the jihadist insurgency spilt over the border from Mali, Burkina Faso saw its first terrorist attacks in the capital, Ouagadougou, in January 2016, and the country has struggled to combat the insurgency since. France was asked to end its operations in the country at the beginning of 2023, with the Burkinabè military expressing the desire to defend itself. However, earlier in February this year, President Ibrahim Traoré announced permission for Russian troops to help fight jihadists in the country if needed.

Christians are not the only target, and on the same day of the church attack, a mosque in the east of Burkina Faso was also attacked, as well as military detachments in the north and east. Mr Traoré seized power through a coup d’etat in 2022, which became the country’s second coup in less than a year. One of the contributing factors in both coups was discontent over the incumbent’s inability to deal with the Islamist groups linked to the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Yet, till today, more than a third of the country remains under the control of insurgents. Thousands have been killed, and over two million have been displaced, resulting in a growing humanitarian crisis. Many Christians are among those displaced. In this Muslim-majority West African nation, the Joshua Project records 21.17% of the population as professing Christians, with 10.6% being evangelicals. The country is ranked by Open Doors as 20th in the world for the level of persecution against Christians, which is lower on the list than Mali but higher than Niger.

Abraham, A friend of INcontext in Burkina Faso, confirmed that many Christians have been killed in the Islamic extremist violence that has spread across the country since 2016. Many churches have been closed and villages and towns emptied as residents have fled the violence. One of his pastors was killed in an attack during a church service. Many Christians have been discouraged, and sadly some have left the faith. However, those who have remained strong in the faith hold fast to Jesus’s words in Matthew 28:20, where He declares: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Abraham said: “Jesus encouraged His disciples to know that they will face difficulties and have problems in their faith life. This is what we are [experiencing] in Burkina Faso. [But] we know for sure that Jesus is with Christians always…and He can help us to gain victory”. Because of this, the national Church has organised days of unified fasting and praying for peace in Burkina Faso. They ask the global Church to join them in praying for peace in their country.

Please pray with us for the following:

  • For peace in the country and wisdom for Burkina Faso’s government to deal with the humanitarian crisis
  • For those who carry out such violence to encounter Jesus and have their hearts changed by His love
  • For the Church in Burkina Faso to be strengthened in the face of adversity and attacks from the Evil One