(Morning Star News) – A pastor, his wife and their nine children have been sleeping on the floor of their small church building on the island of Zanzibar since Muslim extremists set their house on fire in August.
Pastor Damson Maonesho has seen his 9-month-old baby contract pneumonia since his family had to take refuge in the 42-foot by 21-foot structure outside Zanzibar City, on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania.
“Sleeping on the cemented floor, which is very cold at night, made our 9-month-old child catch pneumonia,” he told Morning Star News, adding that church members have brought them a few mattresses as well as some food. “We are appealing for friends to settle us in a rented house, which will require about $500 dollars, because I have a large family.”
The 53-year-old pastor of the Calvary Assemblies of God church of 25 people said that Muslim extremists from outside the area came to his home in Kidimuni on Aug. 13 and burned it down at 2 p.m. Sources suspected the assailants had connections with local Muslims who objected to his evangelistic work and who have also harassed other churches.
Previously Pastor Maonesho had found leaflets near his door warning that he should stop evangelizing Muslims and leading them to Christianity, he said.
Unknown people also left messages on his phone, such as, “Your Christian activities will not be tolerated here – if you continue, then soon you will regret it,” he said.
A local church leader said Pastor Maonesho, who has been pastoring the church for 10 years, has endured common harassment such as stones thrown at the church roof during services, but that this was the first serious attack on him. Other churches less than four miles away have also been attacked, the source said.
“He didn’t get any serious persecution like this before,” he said. “And he has gotten very little support from his denomination, not sufficient.”
A neighbor who witnessed the arson said a group of five people in Islamic attire were lingering near the pastor’s house beforehand.
“I saw five people around the pastor’s house, and immediately fire broke out and the people fled away,” the neighbor said.
Pastor Maonesho said the assailants had been monitoring his home, and that his baby and 6-year-old were near the house when it was set ablaze.
“My wife had visited a close neighbor,” he told Morning Star News by telephone. “Usually in the afternoon the baby is asleep. I think one of the targets was the small baby.”
The pastor, whose oldest child is 23, said that the attack has been reported to police. His church building is near police posts, and officers have been vigilant in patrolling the area.
The fire destroyed household goods and ruined his motorcycle, the church’s Public Address system and musical instruments, he said. He had kept the church items at his home because of lack of storage place at the church building.
The church leader in the area told Morning Star News that the suspects are Muslim extremists opposed to the work of church leaders in Zanzibar. He said the pastor and his family are in desperate need of financial help to find a place to stay.
“The pastor feels that the place is not safe for the family, health-wise as well in terms of security,” he said. “The area is predominantly Muslim and is a difficult place to evangelize.”
While Tanzania’s population is 34.2 percent Muslim and 54 percent Christian, according to Operation World, the Zanzibar archipelago is more than 97 percent Muslim.