NAIROBI, Kenya (Morning Star News) – A congregation on Tanzania’s semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar has been without a place to worship this year after local authorities demolished their church building, the pastor said.
Local government officials gave no prior warning to church leaders before a bulldozer arrived on Jan. 7 and razed the building in Zanzibar Town to make way for a state university to use the land, pastor Charles Madama of Zanzibar Pentecostal Church of Jesus said.
“It came to us as a big surprise when the bulldozer pulled down the church building without prior notice, and we lost everything,” the pastor told Morning Star News. “This is a calculated move here in Zanzibar of total disregard and disrespect to Christianity. It has been extremely difficult for us as a church to assemble for worship.”
The local government on the 99-percent Muslim island had allocated the land to the church 20 years ago, but the State University of Zanzibar (Suza) has been slowly encroaching on the church property, he said. Officials allowed the university, founded after the church began using the land, to put up a structure next to the church building a few years ago, and university management worked with the local officials to get the Christian site demolished, Pastor Madama said.
Asked about the demolished church building, a university official who declined to give his name would say only, “It is not right for the church to be on the same land with the university.”
The university has several branches, with the main campus located near the church site in Tunguu, 12 miles (19 kilometers) from Zanzibar’s town center.
The Jan. 7 destruction took place at about 1 p.m., when the service had ended and church members had left. Among the losses were chairs and musical instruments, the pastor said. The church has about 100 members, not including children.
When the pastor and church elders tried to go the site, they were refused access.
“It has been extremely difficult to access the place where our church was located,” Pastor Madama said. “We lack money to appeal our case in court.
But we know that church cases in Zanzibar have been thrown out, and we are very sure that even if we go to court, it will be dragged for many years, and in the end we might not get justice.”
The church threatens to break apart, he said.
“At the moment it a very difficult time for the church leadership in keeping the church members intact,” he said. “We do request prays at this trying moment, so that God may give us a place to worship. We are like orphaned children.”