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Nigerian Christian Workers Stand Firm amid Boko Haram Violence

July 02, 2015

Remains of church building hit by explosives.

Far from allowing the Islamic extremist violence of Boko Haram to drive them out, native Christian workers in Nigeria's northeast have expanded their church-planting ministry to meet the needs of displaced people. Their courage has contributed to several members of Boko Haram repenting and putting their faith in Christ.

Boko Haram rebels continue to lash out after losing ground to government forces earlier this year. Nigeria's multinational military force, including troops and mercenaries from Chad and Cameroon, took back large swathes of territory in northeast Nigeria that Boko Haram had seized in its six-year crusade to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria. Despite the losses, Boko Haram has continued its campaign of terror, reportedly killing at least 2,700 people since the beginning of the year and some 300 in June alone.

An evangelistic ministry based in Nigeria has long focused its efforts on the primarily Muslim, northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, which have been under a state of emergency since May 2013. Many of the thousands of displaced people have fled to camps in Adamawa's state capital of Yola. The indigenous ministry is still working in northeast Nigerian villages, albeit much more discreetly, but it has expanded to camps for the internally displaced – not only offering humanitarian assistance, but proclaiming Christ at a time when few are bold enough to do so.

"There are more than 70,000 people in the camps there, so it becomes another mission field for us," said the director of the indigenous ministry. "We used to reach them with the gospel in their villages, but now we reach them not only with the gospel; we reach them with food, we reach them with medicine, we reach them with Bibles."

Many once predominantly Christian areas have become ghost towns with empty church buildings after residents fled attacks. While Boko Haram has killed thousands of Christians, the director said even more Muslims have succumbed to its bombings, and Boko Haram's declared Islamist goals and methodology have left many Muslims questioning Islam.

"They're asking a lot of questions: Why is Allah not fighting for himself? Why is Allah sending these young people to go and die? Must we die like that before he gives us life?" he said. "Apart from that, they're also asking who are those who are training these young people to go and die – why can't they go and die themselves? They're asking questions and coming to know the Lord."

Christian Aid Mission has been assisting the 32-year-old ministry for the past 28 years. Christian Aid's Africa director said the ministry has been straightforward in reaching the unreached.

"The ministry has been helping people who don't know Christ to get to know Him, but it has also been training and developing leaders, discipling people and doing work in difficult areas," he said.

The Nigerian ministry runs a seminary that trains young people to plant churches, and graduates are showing high levels of courage and commitment as they share Christ in villages. In the midst of beheadings, shootings and bombings, the message of Christ's salvation found fertile ground among several Boko Haram members, the indigenous ministry director said.

Following Boko Haram attack, people from Mubi, Adamawa state, flee to Yola 150 miles away.

Their faith has not come without cost. In retaliation for one member leaving and becoming Christian, Boko Haram sent video to him of rebel members slaughtering his wife and three children with knives, the director said.

"Sometimes he feels comforted that he has Jesus, but when he remembers his family, he feels like he shouldn't even be living in this world anymore," he said. "But then the good thing is that God has brought him to Himself, and by bringing him to Himself, God has saved some lives, too; this man would have killed others."

The former Boko Haram members are being discipled in a safe place far from the rebels' chief hub in the northeast, and they have shown a strong interest in learning the Bible in depth, ridding themselves of anything grievous to God and becoming spiritually grounded so they can reach Muslims, he said.

Boko Haram, which has announced that it has allied with the Islamic State (ISIS), has inflicted trauma thousands of times over. Christian churches put up security barriers and continue to worship, but the director expressed dismay that Boko Haram terror has quieted many Christians just as Muslims are questioning their own religion.

"Nobody is doing evangelism; the church is now indoors," he said. "So who does the job? Christianity is not an indoor thing. It is both indoor and outdoor. We must go outdoors. When the church doesn't do that, it is finished."

Graduates of the ministry's seminary and other team members are answering the questions that Muslims have, however, and many Muslims are turning to Christ, he said.

"Some of our young people who have graduated that joined the ministry are so courageous," he said. "In one village, Boko Haram was killing people, and our missionary escaped into the bush. And he called me from the bush and said, 'Boko Haram has invaded and they're killing people, and people are escaping into the forest, and they don't know the whereabouts of their children or their wives.'"

A few hours later the indigenous missionary called with an update, saying the Nigerian military had arrived and engaged Boko Haram in a firefight. The director said he would arrange for the worker and three other indigenous missionaries to leave the village for a season. The four young men refused to leave, he said.

When he asked them why, they told him, "Look, we have more than 100 people we're ministering to in this village. If we're going out, we're going out with them. If we don't go out with them, then it means we're not coming back, because if we came back, what kind of message of the love of God would we tell them, anymore? That we ran away when there was crisis, and now we've come back?"

The young people are ready to do what God has called them to do in the midst of atrocities, the director said. As indigenous missionaries, they are ministers who will not leave.

"In the midst of what is happening, we still thank God, because we are still alive; we are still working," the director said. "If the church is in hiding, who will know the church? There must be missionaries who are so desperate for soul-winning that they're ready to die."

At the same time, the ministry has seen its resources stretched through the provision of food, water and medicines that have opened the door to gospel proclamation.

"The last time I went to this camp for displaced persons, about 300 children in one camp alone were already orphaned," the director said. "The government is begging people for help to feed the children and send them to school."


SC: MIR