Boko Haram strikes again but Christians persevere on two fronts

Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram.  (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram.
(Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Nigeria (MNN) — Sunday morning, services at four different churches in Nigeria near Chibok were interrupted by gunfire.

The Boko Haram are suspected behind the murders of over 30 people–a tally that continues to grow. Along with the attacks on churches, the insurgents shot villagers and burned homes.

The name Boko Haram which means western education is evil, is finally hitting mainstream media and getting the attention of the western public.

Emily Fuentes of Open Doors USA says this fact alone speaks to the intensifying violence of the Boko Haram.

Unfortunately, as it is brought to the attention of Americans, the stories quickly become stale as people become desensitized or choose to ignore them.

It’s true for Christians, too.

This inattention could stem from the fact that many people are unaware of who the Boko Haram are.

Fuentes puts it simply, saying, “Boko Haram is the Islamist extremist terrorist group in Nigeria, and their name literally is translated: ‘western education is evil.’ So to them, anything associated with the west is evil and something to be destroyed. This includes educational institutions and westernized government, but specifically Christians or churches.”

She says, “In the early 2000s, there were rarely any instances between Muslim extremists and the rest of the country. But every year it’s progressed because of this group.”

When Fuentes visited Nigeria in 2012, she said things had already turned for the worse. In some villages, Boko Haram attacked daily.

And now, Fuentes explains they are finding new ways to attack the Body of Christ.

“They’re stepping up their tactics, too,” she says. “They’re going in [disguised] sometimes as pastors, sometimes as police officers, just to trick people into getting into their cities.”

And it continues to get worse.

Fuentes is an individual who hears the stories of violence from Nigeria on a regular basis. For someone in that position, it can be easy to look at the attacks as Nigeria’s condition without considering that they are individual events affecting real people. In other words, it’s too easy to forget compassion.

So how does Fuentes keep it all in perspective? Scripture.

She draws our attention to Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (ESV).

This verse, she says, helps her remember to pray for the Christians in Nigeria. And it is a reminder for all of us that no matter how hard it gets, we are still responsible to do the good that Christ has called us to.

“It’s just such an important reminder of the need to pray for our brothers and sisters who are risking it all to attend church, to be Christians, to not give into this extreme version of Islam just for their own safety.”

The Body of Christ in Nigeria gets it.

“One of the most amazing things is that these Christians are still so faithful to gather at church together.”

While in western culture it is common for Christians to miss church when we feel sick, Nigerians insist on going to church when they know it could be their last day alive.

It is common that during attacks, members of Boko Haram will give Christians an ultimatum: die or convert to Islam.

“These Christians are knowing what could face them every Sunday, that Boko Haram could target their church, and yet they’re still gathering. They’re being faithful to follow Christ in spite of all of this,” Fuentes says.

“The number one thing they’re asking for is our prayers: pray that God will change the hearts of members of Boko Haram, because He has done that in the past. Former members have come to Christ. [Pray also] that He would really just protect His church and allow them to be the light in this region.”

Their faith is steadfastly grounded in the Gospel.

While in Nigeria a few years ago, Fuentes and the team she was with met a pastor whose primary ministry was to establish security for nearby churches. There is disagreement as to whether is biblical to hire security guards. Many consider it to go against the turn the other cheek principle that Christ taught.

When asked about the danger of newcomers to the church, the pastor admitted it was hard. There’s no way of knowing whether these people are pretending or whether they’re sincere.

And the pastor said the struggle hits close to home, explaining that his name was Muslim–which meant somebody took a chance on him to share the love and truth of Christ.

Can you imagine questioning in fear every visitor that comes to your church?

Fuentes says, “It’s just amazing–dilemmas and moral dilemmas that never would cross my mind here.”

Pray as our brothers and sisters have asked. Pray for the softening of the hearts of Boko Haram. Pray for the Christians’ strength, courage, and boldness. Pray that God would guide them in security decisions.

Stay updated on Nigeria here, and consider supporting the work of Open Doors.