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4 Mar, 2009 06:36

African minister claims he’s victim of racism

A black minister from West Africa working in a church in Norway says he has fallen victim to racial harassment, but locals refute his allegations.

He says he came to preach about love among people, but claims he encountered hatred instead.

Like their ancestors three centuries ago, residents of small Norwegian town of Oppdal come together for Sunday service. Young and old, they praise the Lord for his mercy and his gifts.

For more than two years, Reverend Joseph Moiba had conducted services in this church, but now he only sees it from his window. Born and raised in Sierra Leone, he is Norway’s first black minister to be invited to lead this predominantly white congregation.

“This in one of the most lucrative areas in Norway. They have a lot of rich people here, one of the best parishes,” Moiba said.

Looking back, Reverend Moiba says he has always liked the town even though he says he has been harassed because of his skin colour. In one instance he says a family asked for another priest to perform a funeral service. In another, a stranger at a petrol station uttered racial slurs.

But what upsets Reverend Moiba the most is that his congregation did not take his complaints seriously.

“They have already sent me some flowers but what I am really expecting now is some kind of action,” he said. “So I expect the people to actually speak out loudly ‘Stop this against our priest because we love him’.”

While Reverend Moiba has never been attacked physically, the stress seems to have taken its toll. Since last August, he has been on sick leave, claiming severe body pain and fear of the public.

He wants police to provide him with protection and the Norwegian government to establish an independent anti-discrimination commission.

Until then, he says his health will not allow him to perform his duties as a minister.

While Reverend Moiba waits for his health to improve and for his demands to be met, his parishioners continue singing psalms every Sunday.

Many say they miss their former minister, but find his allegations of racism unfair.

“The fact is that Oppdal received Joseph very well, I think everybody was happy,” said Ula Eric Domaas, an Oppdal resident. “There were a lot of people applying for the job, he got the job. It would be very wrong to say that Oppdal is a racist town.”

“He’s very welcome back. I think a lot of people think it is a pity he is not here. They miss him,” said Hanna Lovrod Tiranheim, another resident.

Reverend Arne Espeland who’s currently filling in for his absent colleague says Reverend Moiba may be asking too much from his parish.

“I think that people are supporting him, but going on a demonstration is not the local way of doing it,” he said.

With immigration accounting for about nine per cent of the country’s population and rising, many Norwegians have had to get used to new faces on their streets.

And while immigrants often complain of being inadequately treated by locals, some Oppdal residents now feel they are being looked down on by their own priest.