Towns taken over by Islamic extremists. Christians on the run. Killings and abductions. This isn’t Iraq or Syria. This is northern Nigeria. Here, the terrorist group Boko Haram are fighting to create an Islamic state of their own – and it’s starting to look like a fight they might win.
Boko Haram made the headlines in April after abducting over 200 girls in Chibok, a mainly Christian town. However, they’ve been about for a couple of years. In 2009 thousands fled the city of Maiduguri after police stations and government buildings were attacked.
In the five years since, an estimated 3 million people have been affected by Boko Haram attacks, which have included bombings, abductions and killings. In May last year a state of emergency was declared in three of the northern regions, Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa, and this has been extended three times since then. Human Rights Watch says more than 2,000 civilians have been killed by Boko Haram this year alone.
Christians are in the minority in northern Nigeria and have regularly been targeted. “Dozens of our churches have already been completely razed down and many pastors killed while others have fled along with their members,” Rev. Samuel Dali, President of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, has said.
In recent months Boko Haram have begun to take and hold territory, declaring Gwoza the capital of their ‘caliphate’ (Islamic state). 178 churches around Gwoza have been destroyed.
The Catholic Bishop of Maiduguri has said that Boko Haram now has control of 25 towns in the north-east of Nigeria. “As a nation we are almost losing this battle because it is spinning out of control,” he said.
“We are living for the gospel and we have to hold on to Him. The lamp in our hands should never be extinguished.”
While thousands have fled the states where the conflict is most fierce, many pastors have chosen to stay and serve these broken communities. Peter Wakawa, a pastor in Yobe state, is one of them. He told us, “We are living for the gospel and we have to hold on to Him. The lamp in our hands should never be extinguished.”
As well as offering spiritual support, in many cases the church is also providing practical help for those affected by the ongoing violence; in Gulak, just 14 Christian families are caring for 300 children who have been orphaned or separated from their parents.
One pastor in Maiduguri had 56 people turn to him for help after their village was attacked; he fed them for three days until he had nothing left to feed his own family.
Open Doors has been able to partner with the local church to provide food and emergency relief in situations such as these.
Without help, the light shone by the church in these broken communities could go out. “If the situation does not stop, there is a real danger of eliminating churches in north-eastern Nigeria,” Rev. Samuel Dali has said.
Pastor Daniel Dogo has chosen to stay, and his family comes under direct threat from Boko Haram; his wife’s brother is a member of the militant group, and they have threatened to kill her unless she converts back to Islam. “They want us to leave,” he says, “but, by the grace of the Lord, we are preparing ourselves to bear what comes.”
Open Doors has launched an appeal to support the church in Nigeria. £30 can provide five days of leadership training to help a pastor like Daniel to survive, stay and shine in a community that has been shattered by violence.
In Maiduguri – the home of Boko Haram – churches are meeting every month to pray, pleading with God to intervene. An Open Doors worker has said, “Only God can come to our aid in this situation.”
Source: Open Doors; the Economist; BBC; the Times (South Africa)
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