NIGERIA’S Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for weekend attacks in Jos, Plateau state. It was the latest outbreak of anger in a violent cycle of aggression and reprisals.
In a press release by a Boko Haram leader, the sect said, “We thank God for our success in the attack on Christians at Barikin Ladi and Riyom, whereby security agents, Christians, and two state and national assembly members were killed.”
This is what makes the recent attacks noteworthy. Todd Nettleton, Communications Manager for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says the extremists are bent on removing Christian presence in the north. In this latest press release, Boko Haram also essentially told Christians that they must either convert to Islam or “they will not know peace again.”
It is a jihad, a religious war against Christians for refusing to embrace Islam. Nettleton explains, “In other words, ‘We’re going to keep up these attacks; we’re going to keep up this violence until every single Christian in northern Nigeria has either converted to Islam, left the area, or been killed.'”
Attacks occurred during a Saturday mass funeral of 63 Birom church members. Birom reprisals raised the weekend death toll to 200. Word of talks between the government and the sect were not independently confirmed. Because the government has not had an effective security response, people in the north and central Nigeria are feeling vulnerable.
There were reports that some churches were beginning to go empty on Sundays in Kaduna, Bauchi, and Kano States. However, in Jos, Nettleton says, “I spoke with a Nigerian Christian recently who said the people were taking machetes with them when they went to church because they knew that in just the act of going to church, they could become a target. They wanted to some type of way of defending themselves if there was an attack while they were at church.”
The face that believers have not been intimidated away from their churches in Plateau State is interesting. It’s part of the “paradox of persecution,” explains Nettleton. “It changes your entire mindset if going to church means ‘I could be killed.’ That really does raise the significant issue of how important is it to gather with other believers for worship, Bible study, and for other things when it literally means you could give your life.”
The scale of persecution of Christians by Muslims has accelerated and is expected to continue. It has caused the death of thousands–including pastors, and the destruction of hundreds–even thousands, of churches. More than 2,000 people have been killed since the Boko Haram insurgency began in late 2009.
On the up side, says Nettleton, the threat does two things: “Nominal Christians become more serious about their faith and make it much more personal. The other thing: Gospel activity can produce fruit because in times of upheaval, people are thinking about eternity.”
The ministry has an active presence in Nigeria. VOM Medical helps victims of persecution, and they partner with a school to help orphans whose parents were martyred for their faith. “The other thing that we’re involved in is Bible distribution and providing Gospel material, children’s Bibles, full Bibles, New Testaments, and other Gospel presentations for the churches there.”
Pray for wisdom and guidance for Nigeria’s Christian president, Goodluck Jonathan, and for all those who serve with him as leaders of this nation. Pray that Christians will not retaliate but will demonstrate Christ’s love and peace.