An armed policeman guarded the preacher in the pulpit; another ten officers sat spread among the congregation; two stood watch at the church entrance, and a police car patrolled outside the church. During Christmas 2011 and New Year 2012, Niger's authorities took the threat to Christians so seriously that they protected most of the larger churches in the capital, Niamey, with a heavy police presence.
Traditionally Niger has been a country with considerable freedom of religion. The small Christian minority of less than 1% has lived peacefully and unthreatened alongside the large (98%) Muslim majority. But in recent years this stability has been greatly under threat.
Al-Qaeda-linked separatist rebels are becoming increasingly active in the country, especially in the desert areas of the north. It is feared that Islamist aggression in the neighbouring countries of Mali, where Islamists seized control of the north in the spring of 2012, and Nigeria, where Boko Haram continues its violent anti-Christian campaign, may spill over into Niger.
Tensions between Muslims and Christians are also escalating, perhaps partially brought on by the ongoing anti-Christian violence in Nigeria. Radical groups supporting strict and aggressive interpretations of Islam are on the rise. In September 2012 hundreds of Muslims streamed out of mosques after Friday prayers in Zinder, Niger's second city, and attacked a church, trashing it and setting it on fire, in protest against the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims.
A different threat to Christians in this already greatly impoverished country is the serious food crisis that has engulfed the Sahel region. Crop shortages as a result of drought have caused food prices to soar; many people can neither grow nor afford to buy food. In some regions Christians have resorted to eating boiled leaves.