NAIROBI, Kenya — Muslim extremists on March 15 seriously injured a pastor and his 14-year-old son as they were preparing for an all-night prayer vigil at their church site in eastern Uganda.
Pastor John Balidawa, 35, and his son were hospitalized after a mob of Muslim extremists attacked them after 8 p.m. and destroyed their church building in Kigulu village, Mayuge District, he said.
Pastor Balidawa and his son, Gilbert Sanja, were setting up for the all-night prayer vigil of Ebenezer Christian Center when they heard stones hitting the roof of the church structure, he said. Then six Muslim extremists entered, with Sheikh Shafi Mukama ordering the father and son to leave, while others from the mob kept watch outside, the pastor said.
“When I refused to obey their orders, the sheikh and two others started slapping me and then pushed me to the floor and thereafter stepped on my stomach,” Pastor Balidawa told Morning Star News. “Others started boxing my son, who started wailing and crying for help. For me and my son to survive is by God’s grace.”
Beaten unconscious, the pastor awoke alongside his son in a hospital in Buluuba to find the church’s senior pastor, 39-year-old Gerald Kato Wakabi, standing beside their bed. Pastor Balidawa learned that the assailants took their mobile phones and destroyed them along with the church building and its more than 70 chairs, he said.
Pastor Balidawa sustained a broken leg, a broken bone in his hand, swelling in his face and injuries to his intestines and stomach, Pastor Wakabi said. Pastor Balidawa’s son suffered a deep cut on his forehead, a broken bone in his right hand and swelling of his face.
Pastor Wakabi said on March 16, he found a written note at the site of the demolished church that read, “No more church in this area. This area is holy ground for Allah’s worship only.”
In August 2022, Mukama sent a threatening message to Wakabi that read, “You should remove your church, because we cannot watch our members turning to Christianity and keep quiet,” the senior pastor said.
“This incident has scared many believers,” Pastor Wakabi told Morning Star News. “I believe they will be restored spiritually, but, all in all, it is not easy as per now.”
The church began in January 2022, and now with 47 in attendance, including 12 converts from Islam, has broken into small house fellowships. The senior pastor encourages members to stand firm in the faith. The congregation is searching for another place of worship about 30 kilometers (19 miles) away, distant from the town mosque. After settling there, they will consider filing a police report, Pastor Wakabi said.
“The priority now is to safeguard the faith of the Christians from falling away from the faith, especially those members who converted from Islam to Christianity,” he said.
The assault was the latest of many instances of persecution of Christians in Uganda that Morning Star News has documented.
Uganda’s constitution and other laws provide for religious freedom, including the right to propagate one’s faith and convert from one faith to another. Muslims make up no more than 12% of Uganda’s population, with high concentrations in eastern areas of the country.