Nigerian Christians find hope amid persecution
NIGERIA (BP) -- The Nigerian church leader was secretly housing new followers of Jesus, former Muslims. When the time came for his second child to be born, he left his house to carry his wife to a clinic.
"While he was away with her, his home was attacked and the group scattered throughout the area," said Aaron Bryson,* an International Mission Board worker in Nigeria, recalling the situation in 2010.
One man was killed at the scene and the group leader's son, who was about 7, had his leg broken during the fight. The child was left lying unattended in the home while the attackers waited to ambush the father once he to returned.
"We were able to get a friendly Muslim to go to the home and carry the boy to a clinic for treatment," Bryson said.
Pain, suffering and loss have left scars on the church in Nigeria, yet hope sustains them. Many appear to be standing strong.
"Parts of Nigeria are in crisis due to the violence of Boko Haram and their attacks on churches and schools. They also kill other Muslims who do not agree with them. However, the work of the Gospel goes on and goes forward," Bryson said.
Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group, is responsible for the most recent abduction of more than 200 girls, aged 16–18, from a Nigerian school.
The girls were a matter of prayer during the recent 100th anniversary of Baptist Convention Meetings in Nigeria. Charlotte Cearley, IMB prayer strategist for sub-Saharan Africa, along with more than 10,000 participants, gathered together to worship and pray for Nigeria.
"The persecution of believers and the abduction of the school girls from the north highlighted several times in prayer reminded participants of places in Nigeria where celebration of belief in Christ is not celebrated, but cursed," Cearley said.
Though persecution remains, God is using it to bring Nigerians to Himself, Bryson said.
"[Persecution] is making the church stronger," he said. "We are hearing reports of large numbers of Muslims coming to Christ in spite of these persecutions."
Following Jesus in Nigeria can result in a variety of consequences, Bryson said.
"Some of the persecution is 'low level,' such as families excluding someone who has accepted Christ," he said. "It can also be very violent … homes being burned and converts being killed.
"Sometimes a new convert will have his wife taken away from him and his children also. Usually the wife will be taken back by her family and then given as a wife to another man."
In a country with such harsh religious and tribal strife, Cearley said it was inspiring to see believers working together to follow Christ in the face of difficulty.
"To sit on the stage (with 100 or so others), and look at that sea of believers brought me hope and inspiration," she said of the Baptist meeting. "These people live and worship in a country divided by religious beliefs and tribal differences, yet together they met to hear the challenges and celebrate the work accomplished in Africa's most populous nation, and beyond its borders.
"Well-educated, prosperous and affluent Nigerians met alongside herders and market sellers, their dividing walls broken down because of Christ," she said. "As we sang 'Now Thank We All Our God' and 'Faith of Our Fathers,' we celebrated God's purposes and plans for Nigeria in the past and into the future."
Bryson praises God's works among Nigerians. He also noted the great need for many more to hear the Good News.
"Muslims are coming to Christ and we are grateful for the way God is working here," he said. "We need serious help [in northwest Nigeria] due to the large numbers of UUPGs (unengaged, unreached people groups) yet remaining to be engaged with the Gospel."
Bryson and the IMB team in Nigeria encourage U.S. churches to adopt UUPGs to consistently pray for them and engage with the Gospel and to receive training provided by the team.
"God is calling out committed churches to do this work [and] we need help on this team to facilitate those churches," Bryson said.
To learn more about how a church can become involved, contact affinity connections strategist Greg Queen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Name changed. William Bagsby is an IMB writer based in London. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).