“Smite the shepherd, scatter the sheep,” the prophet Zechariah wrote. Hunt down the pastors and fire-bomb the congregation is the modern equivalent familiar to Hassan from Nigeria and Isaac from Sudan. Both know firsthand the tribulations of caring for a flock of Christians surrounded by a Muslim majority. Besides coming under attack as Christian leaders in their own countries, they now count among the scattered.
Hassan was up close and personal with the militant Muslim group Boko Haram: Members bombed his house in April 2011. He lost everything but his family. Fleeing southwards from Bauchi, Nigeria, the family took refuge in Lagos—Africa’s largest city.
Other Nigerian pastors he knows also lost homes and livelihood to Boko Haram’s rampages. Armed members of the jihad group murdered one of Hassan’s evangelist friends in nearby Borno State in August 2012 as his family fled its village by night . According to Hassan, most pastors and evangelists who escape maintain their missionary focus, going to work among Muslims in the more Christian states of Southern Nigeria, which are less fraught with religious tension than the North, despite burgeoning Muslim populations.
Or they go work in Chad. Despite the tragic persecution of his family and church, Hassan believes God wants him to shepherd a new ministry, so in April 2013 he moved again—this time eastwards to Chad—to preach and teach in the bustling city of N’Djamena.
Isaac is also acquainted with sorrow stemming from Islamic violence. The Khartoum church and Bible school where he taught were both destroyed in September 2012. No one died in the fire, which was videoed and viewable for a time on YouTube, though some teachers were taken in for questioning by police. In April 2013 Isaac fled alone—westwards to Chad—but he still feels the heat: His wife and school-aged children are unable to leave Khartoum legally because authorities in Sudan have refused to give them exit visas—another form of harassment that Christians experience.
Through phone calls and Facebook, Isaac keeps track of his loved ones and the church members he left behind. Even if the government grants members of his family permission to leave, they have no money and no clear plan for reaching N’djamena—over 1,000 miles away—to be reunited with him. He has linked up with a Chadian church to try and create a teaching job for himself, and he encourages others in the faith while writing an apologetics book for Chadian Muslims, in keeping with his background in theological education.
Pentecost Sunday (May 19), nearly two months after his arrival in Chad, Isaac affirmed his trust in God for daily bread. Lacking money is not the problem, he says. In his view, the bigger issue is that Muslims persist in spiritual darkness.
“Pray for us,” say Isaac and Sudanese pastor, Hissein, who also took refuge in Chad early this year. Three months after his solo arrival, Hissein managed to get his wife and younger children to Chad through help from many people. But his older children remain in Sudan. Military service is mandatory for young men, and he laments that his oldest son can leave Sudan only one way: “The authorities will see from his papers that he is a Christian. And they will send him straight to the front lines in Kordofan or Darfur. To be killed.”
Niggling questions accompany those who go to Chad: Though they might bless Chad, how will pastoral work get done in Sudan and Northern Nigeria as pastors and churches continue to be targets of violence? Will the scattered ever be able to go home without facing even worse treatment?