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STANDING STRONG

Attacks by terrorists in north east Nigeria have forced thousands of Christians to flee for their lives. Release’s Kenneth Harrod recently spoke to some of those displaced – and saw first-hand how your support is helping believers stay strong in their faith.

Despite attacks by terrorists, Rev Danjuma chose to stay with his congregation.

When Boko Haram terrorists attacked his village in northern Borno State Rev Danjuma saw many of his congregation flee. But he remained.

‘I stayed with my people. To the last drop of my blood I can’t run away – I am their pastor,’ he told me. ‘Only God sustains my life.’

Over the past decade once strong Christian communities in the northeast of Nigeria have been decimated by the Islamist terrorist group. Churches have been destroyed and many Christians have fled, either further south or into the Borno capital of Maiduguri, which offers a measure of protection.

In Maiduguri many Christians live difficult lives in camps set up for internally displaced people, where they rely on support from various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for life’s necessities.

Many are farmers – but farming on land just a few kilometres outside of Maiduguri is impossible because of the risk of attack. Yakubu (pictured), a pastor, told me: ‘Many Christians are struggling because of poverty and fear of death, because no one is farming. If you try to farm you might be killed. We want to go back to our area, but Boko Haram wants no Christians in the place. But by God’s grace, we still hope to go back.’

Rev Daniel (pictured) is one person who has been living in a camp for several years. Originally from the Gwoza area of Borno State, he was forced to flee when Boko Haram attacked his community. More than 150 people were killed in the attack, said Daniel, most of whom were men.

Three of his children, aged between 7 and 14, were shot dead.  His father was beheaded. His wife was kidnapped and forcibly married to a Muslim.

I could see a deep sadness in his eyes – and yet a Christian resilience in everything he told me. ‘Life is not easy in the camp. When the NGOs come we all survive,’ he said. ‘But I have surrendered my life to Christ.’

Pastor Simon fled to Maiduguri after terrorists attacked his village in the north of Borno, near the border with Chad. He told me: ‘In 2012 Boko Haram started targeting Christians. In 2013 there was another attack. They attacked again in 2015. When they attacked in 2018 we escaped to Maiduguri.’

Initially, many who fled were living in fear, traumatised and suffering from anxiety attacks.  However, things are a little calmer now, Simon said. Last year a group of 11 Muslims came to faith in Christ, which was a great encouragement to Christians in the camp.

Church elder Andrawas (pictured), also displaced by violence, told me: ‘We are managing – but our biggest challenge is the education of our children. Please pray that we will stand firm in our faith.’

I was in north east Nigeria to visit a Release partner who is working alongside displaced Christians. Their vision is to train, equip, support and encourage pastors in the north east, strengthening their faith, and encouraging them, despite these violent attacks, to continue to reach out with the saving power of the gospel.

Your support enables hard-pressed leaders in northern Nigeria to receive Bible teaching and encouragement at local conferences.

Hard questions

This significant ministry began after terrorists attacked one community, killing over 50 people. ‘One of the pastors expressed his frustration and inability to answer questions from the people about God’s love and justice,’ our partner told me. ‘I saw there was a great need to teach pastors in the community how to answer these questions of suffering and persecution.’

Thanks to your support, conferences in the north east are now bringing together pastors, evangelists and church leaders for vital training, aimed at both sustaining churches and developing strategies for outreach.

After one of these meetings, a pastor from Maiduguri told our partner:

‘Thank you for giving us hope and skills to continue in our calling. At  first I was confused, without any hope for the church and missions in this area. Now I know and am confident that nothing can stop the church. I will work here and I will die here. I have no other work to do but to carry on the mission of Christ. If I get killed doing that, so be it.’

During my visit I was privileged to participate in one of these conferences, where more than 200 pastors, elders and church leaders had gathered.

One of those attending was Pastor Moses, originally from Chad.  He has been attacked by Boko Haram four times. Three years ago his wife Tabitha was killed in a bomb attack.

‘But I am not afraid,’ he told me. ‘I pray to continue preaching the gospel.’

Danjuma, who spoke at the beginning of the conference, summed up the faith of these courageous believers who had gathered: ‘I have faced so many challenges. I have lost some of my property. I have faced many threats. But God is faithful. We have many young people and we need to keep discipling new believers.’

PLEASE PRAY

Please pray for this vital and strategic work in north east Nigeria that Release is supporting.

  • Pray that pastors will be encouraged to persevere in their ministry and will continue to serve Christ in the north east.
  • Pray that, by God’s grace, they will be effective in reaching out with the gospel.
  • Pray for their on-going protection.

NIGERIA

Fulani militants and Boko Haram terrorists have escalated their war of terror against Christians in northern and central Nigeria: attacking their communities and driving them from their homes.

‘Things have gone from bad to worse in the Middle Belt since the beginning of the attacks in Jos in 2010 when several communities were attacked by Fulani herdsmen,’ said one Nigerian partner.

‘Thousands of churches have been attacked and destroyed, some at least three times. Thousands of Christians have been killed in the conflict between Islam and Christianity in Nigeria since its independence in 1960. Pastors and their families have been specifically targeted.

‘There is a deliberate plan to destroy and take over the predominantly Christian communities in the region,’ he added.

In addition the terrorist group Boko Haram has targeted everything and everyone it views as being outside ‘true Islam’. This includes not only Christians, whom the group has labelled ‘infidels’, but also secular schools and moderate Muslims.


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