Nigeria (MNN) — A recent report from the Council on Foreign Relations says that more than 25,000 Nigerians have been killed in the last four years by Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, the Islamic State, and other militant groups.
Other groups have noticed the ongoing slaughter, too, Open Doors USA, an organization whose World Watch List ranks countries where Christians experience the most persecution, documented almost 4,000 people killed last year alone. That’s likely lowballing it, too; the list only uses names of Christians whose deaths can be verified. The real numbers are probably even higher.
“We believe it’s tipping into the point where we need to start talking about determining whether or not this is a genocide against Christians in Nigeria,” says David Curry of Open Doors. The United Nations legally defines genocide as any action “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” and the extremist groups in Nigeria are not shy about their intent to do exactly that.
“The Fulani and Boko Haram and ISIS, they’re not denying that they’re out to get Christians and eliminate Christian faith in the north,” Curry says.
Each of these three groups identifies with extremist ideology and anti-Christian sentiments. Unlike some regions where Christians might have to avoid one terrorist group, Nigerians have to worry about at least these three, especially the Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram.
Most of these terror attacks are concentrated in the north. After all, 12 Nigerian states in the North have Sharia law, so pro-Islamic sentiment makes it easier for extremist groups to operate in the area.
That forces Christians in the area to make an impossible decision; do they stay in the north where they risk losing their lives, or do they abandon communities and homes their families spent generations building up and head south? Villages that are primarily Christian are especially prime targets for extremist assaults, but do families want to give up their local believing communities?
What’s more, families that are relatively safe in the southern part of Nigeria may not stay that way.
“You have these extremists in the north that are gaining territory in power, you have a government that’s corrupt and ineffectual, and you have a massive population of Christians in the south,” Curry explains. “It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see that the problem is going to creep to the south and you’re going to have tens of millions of Christians in danger of terrorist activity, bombings, murders, etc.”
Curry predicts that Nigeria is going to see increased persecution as terrorist activities make “serving Christ and going to church a very dangerous thing.” He predicts “a persecution that is going to shock a lot of people and probably be the most violent in the next decade.
Trauma Centers and Prayer Guides
So where does the Church come in? Well, who better to provide hope in the face of such a sobering future than Jesus Christ and his Church?
“We know that as Christians, we’re going to be persecuted,” Curry says. “We have a lot of joy in what we do, and the Christians there, there’s a lot of victory in what they’re experiencing. But I do think we need to be sober about it and understand that our brothers and sisters are being persecuted so we can pray for them.”
Keep the Nigerian Church in mind as you go forward. Pray for their courage and tenacity in the face of persecution. Pray for their wisdom and discretion as they make decisions about their future. Pray for hope and grace as they attempt to show Christ’s love even to their enemies. Pray for a shift in the persecution running rampant across Nigeria.
If you want to take your support of the Nigerian Church even further, you can check out Open Doors’ website and see their work with trauma care centers in Nigeria.
“We’re helping Christians who’ve been raped, who’ve been attacked, and really suffered significant pain to get the trauma care and counseling they need to help rebuild their lives,” Curry says. “This is trauma on a massive scale, so people can adopt that project.”
In other words, despite a bleak future for Nigeria, this could be an opportunity for the Church to rise up and take action.
“We needn’t be wringing our hands and feeling like it’s all hopeless, but we do have to be aware that it’s real and it’s happening,” Curry says. “We can, as believers, make moves to try to help and pray.”
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