By Jacqueline Solomon
Communications Associate, CBOQ
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Rev. Israel Obieje, Community Outreach Missionary at East Toronto Chinese Baptist Church, was once the Director of Missions for the Nigerian Baptist Convention, a family of 10,000 churches made up of over six million believers, worshipping God together.
Over six million Baptists.
With approximately 200 million citizens, Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world; it has the third largest population of young people after India and China. About half the nation is Muslim, the other Christian making the Nigerian Church one of the largest in the world. But all is not well for our Nigerian brothers and sisters.
In 2002, the Church was booming. Missionaries were planting churches in the predominately Muslim north. People were coming to faith in Jesus in peace with their neighbours.
But at the same time, an imported poison began to trickle in, spilling over from conflicts abroad. A cult of extremist Islamic ideology began to spread in the north, originating with the Afghani Taliban and eventually expanding and rebranding as Boko Haram. Loosely affiliated with ISIS, this despotic terrorist group uses inconceivable acts of violence and intimidation against Christians and ordinary Muslims alike, shattering the peace of huge swaths of Nigeria. They have bombed public buildings, churches and mosques, indiscriminately turned children into unwilling soldiers, abducted and raped women and murdered tens of thousands. They have created a climate of fear and suspicion where no one is safe and been the catalyst for a mass migration of internally displaced people.
From our homes here in Canada, it is hard to even imagine the pain that this group has caused to so many Nigerian families.
Rev. Obieje first ran into the Taliban in the northeastern part of Nigeria in 2002 while heading to the mission field. Driving along the road, he and his fellow travellers met a sudden volley of gunfire, bursting their tire. Even so, they kept driving until they were out of range, escaping unscathed.
Then, in 2004, in the formerly Christian area of Jos they were attacked while holding a mission meeting. The invaders destroyed the church and injured most of the people. Again they escaped by the grace of God.
Things continued to worsen for Rev. Obieje and his fellow Baptists as the conflict grew over the years. Once, on his way to Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja, a vehicle intentionally collided with the car he was travelling in, snapping his femur and leaving him certain of impending execution. Again, somehow they escaped, but each time death seemed to creep a little closer. “They know who is doing mission work in northern Nigeria, so you’re always in the spotlight and the focus. You’re always the target,” says Rev. Obieje.
Eventually, he and his wife, Christina, made the difficult decision to send their two children out of the country—a wise decision given that Boko Haram had begun targeting schools and abducting children. With no sign of improvement on the horizon, by 2014 they finally decided that it was time to leave, heading first to the US and then onward to Canada.
Since their departure from Nigeria, the persecution has increased. Within 10 years they planted many churches; since then all those churches have been destroyed. Ten or more pastors have been killed—those who weren’t able to escape. In the centre of the country, the killing is continuing on a daily basis even in areas that were once secure.
According to Rev. Obieje, 20 000 Christians have been killed in the last five years in northern Nigeria. 2000-3000 churches have been bombed and destroyed. Most of the Christians who have escaped are living in camps in the south, but even there they are unsafe. The government has been slow to respond, often ignoring the seriousness of the problem. With the same government recently re-elected for another four years, it seems unlikely that this will change, a heartbreaking development for Rev. Obieje and his family, who were hoping to return home to continue their work.
We’re worried about friends and family back home. We knew our lives were in danger. It could be in your home, in the church, or on the way… any group meeting. It’s difficult for Christians to gather and hold meetings, especially in the north. They send young children into the midst of Christians and then use them as suicide bombers. It has made everyone suspicious of everyone. It’s a terrible situation in Nigeria right now… Christians are being consistently exterminated but the world doesn’t recognize it as a problem.
Things are dire right now for Christians in many parts of the world. But how do those who face persecution feel about it? How does it impact their faith? How do they inherit the kingdom of Heaven? According to Rev. Obieje:
We knew these things would happen based on what Jesus has said in the Scriptures. Jesus warned about persecution. That’s our guiding principle. Christian martyrs have always existed. Sharing the word of God is going to cause problems. We’ve built up our faith to handle it when that happens. We decided to live and continue with the Gospel in the future. We’ve been through beatings and attacks and injuries, but God has saved our lives to this point. We’re hoping things will improve and then we’ll head back to spread the Gospel.
We have come to a point where our prayers are not for God to punish those who are persecuting us… We base our prayers on the Scriptures… We do not pray that God will pay the persecutors back, but that God will encourage the persecuted Christians… knowing that even if we die in the process, God is going to welcome us into his kingdom… We have kept our faith even up to death…. If we die we know that we live again. If we live, we live for Christ. If we die it is for our gain.
Despite persecution, the Church in Nigeria has continued to grow in some parts of the country, encouraging other parts to hold on to their Christian faith. Many have been motivated to receive Christ, knowing that Christians are strong in their faith despite all these tribulations.
What can we do?
Remember that when one part of the body is suffering, the whole body suffers. Our fellow Christians are one body and their sufferings are our concern. This month, as we focus on the persecuted, we ask that you join us in praying for the Nigerian Church. There is little we can do to alleviate the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, but there is much that God can do.
- Pray for safety, deliverance and hope for all people living in fear of groups like Boko Haram. Pray that God will hide the innocents from the eyes of those who would attack them.
- Pray for friendship and understanding between Christians and Muslims, that despite a difference in faith, they will have mutual respect and grace.
- Pray also for those who persecute our Nigerian brothers and sisters. Pray for Boko Haram’s members, that they would be delivered from evil and, like Paul, find their lives’ purpose in the mercy and redemption of Jesus.