Two stories from the news this week concerning the Christian church undergoing persecution.
The first concerns Fr Tom Uzhunnalil who was kidnapped from an old people’s home on 4 March 2016 in a raid that killed 4 nuns and 20 others. The religious organisation that Fr Tom belonged to, the Missionaries of Charity, and the diocese of Southern Arabia continue to say that no one has claimed responsibility for the raid.
This did not prevent an internet rumour that ISIS were to assassinate Fr Tom by crucifixion on Good Friday, March 25. This got picked up by the press and several newspapers ran the story as fact. The Daily Mail and the Catholic News Agency has also run the story that the execution has taken place. The Catholic News Agency retracted the story on March 28, saying there was no confirmation that this took place.
What is known about Yemen is that it is not secure. Al Qaeda insurgents have been active in the country for some time, at least from 2001, and killed 10 army officers loyal to the government last Thursday, 7th April.
Latest news from Christian Today is that Fr Tom is believed to be alive and that his brother, Mathew Uzhunnalil, is asking for prayers for his safety. However Christian today is still claiming the unsubstantiated report that it was ISIS that did the kidnapping.
The thing that worries me about this is the way Christians have been spreading rumour as being truth. I have seen the news of Father Tom’s crucifixion being shared as fact in those viral reports that Facebook is so good at spreading. A quick search for Fr Tom Uzhunnalil in a search engine would have found messages from the Missionaries of Charity and the diocese of Southern Arabia, showing the truth of the situation, rather than a rumour started by e-mail with unconfirmed source.
There is substantial persecution of Christians in the world. And we are doing well to bring that to people’s attention. But unsubstantiated rumour seems to spread faster than truth. Christians on Facebook and the Twitterati are nothing better than gossips. Too lazy to bother to do a 20 second internet search they spread rumours, and in some cases lies, without thinking. We are not told to lie people into the kingdom of God, we are told to tell the truth in love. Jesus said the truth will set us free. Take a little time to be truthful.
The second story concerns northern Nigeria. At least 500 people are reported to have been murdered in new attacks by Fulani herders in more than 10 villages in the area. That level of persecution is typical for northern Nigeria. But out of that comes the story of Danjuma Shakura.
13 year old Danjuma Shakura was attacked by terrorist group Boko Haram on January 2015. Yet despite suffering horrific injuries from a machete attack which cut out his right eye. Danjuma has every right to be angry, but he says that he has forgiven his attackers because, he says, that they acted the way they did because they did not know the love of Jesus.
This is the kind of story we should be sharing. It is true, not mere conjecture of rumour, it reveals the horror of living under persecution, and yet it still offers hope.
And we should continue to pray for Fr Tom.