Christians in North Eastern Nigeria have suffered the most devastating persecution in modern history. Nigeria has been declared as the most dangerous place in the world for Christians to live in. Over 200, 000 people, mostly Christians, have been killed by the Boko Haram Islamic terrorist group.
In Borno State, almost all the churches in villages and towns, where Boko harm declared its Caliphate, have been destroyed.
“The surviving churches are those in Maiduguri, Biu and Damaturu townships. Most of the churches in most of the rural areas are gone. Because these are the war front,” said Venerable Dr Ifechukwu U. Ibeme, Chaplain of the Chapel of Grace, University of Maiduguri.
“Within just the Anglican Church, 24 churches have been destroyed, only six, in Maiduguri town centre, are surviving,” he added. In the entire Diocese, only an average of 451 people now attend Sunday Services in the entire region, a far cry from the thousands that used to go to Church on Sundays before the Boko Haram insurgency.
Global Christian News was in Maiduguri this week and observed that with millions of dollars flooding in from
humanitarian organizations and governments, the town is undergoing reconstruction and many villages are undergoing rehabilitation, even if they are mostly Muslim communities. The story of hope and resilience permeates the Christian communities in Kirkasama and Bulunkutu communities in Maiduguri. The relaxed and relatively busy street life can give a misleading picture of normalcy in these areas.
In many Church services in Maiduguri people are more resolute in serving the Lord. Congregations shout ‘hallelujah’ louder in Church and clap and sing, play drums in the most exciting way they can.
Ayo Oni said, “We are now hardened and toughened Christians. We have grown resilient. When we go out to the streets as we often he to, you hear people say, ‘oh it not more than a bullet!’ (To kill a Christian) and in any case if God says your time is not up, you are not going (to die).
Though many pastors were targeted and killed and many more had fled the Boko Haram Jihad in North East Nigeria, there are many more that have remained and held on to both their faith and upheld the Church. We spoke to many Christian who have remained and who attend Church activities in spite of persecution and smaller numbers. The churches are more determined than ever.
The Venerable Professor Ayo Oni, Vicar General of Anglican Diocese of Maiduguri, said, “It is just a determination to remain… we are here because of conviction to be here. I have been here (in Maiduguri) now over 30 years. I heard the call of God to come over here and i will not leave unless I hear God say ‘go’ and because I have not heard God say go, in spite of all the threats here and pressure from family members and friends, I remained undaunted.”
The Vicar general, who is also a professor at the University of Maiduguri, said that one of his most traumatising experiences in the Boko Haram was being called to the bedside of one of his church members – shot together with his daughter.
“By the time I got to the hospital, the man was dead, I watched helplessly as the daughter who was bleeding from the gunshot wound soon died. It was a horrible time,” Oni said. “Even now as we speak, I still have in holes in my house perforated by bullets and where a bullet came through the roof. We have stories of the shelling and bombs by Boko Haram.”
Other observers, say that many “Christians seem to have found a new hope, a new faith that defies explanation but can only be God at work on the hearts of people.” This is the view of Maryamu Andrawus. She declares: “Virtually every Sunday now, we have newcomers to Church. There are people also coming back after a long while.”
The Ven Oni explained, “When you would expect people to keep away from Church buildings for fear of bombs or to avoid being identified as Christians for fear of attacks by Islamist Jihadists.”
A church member, Musa Bulama, said, “People are coming back and this is simply God’s Church rising from the ashes of the destruction of Boko Haram Jihad. It still proves that Christianity is real, Jesus is Lord of people’s heart and they know that no terrorism or bombs or death can make them convert or deny Jesus Christ.”
The unexpected turn of events in the Boko Haram Jihad against Christians in Nigeria is that it has not destroyed and vanquished Christianity. bubakar Shekau, leader of the terrorist groups, has admitted several times in his online videos, Christians in Maiduguri have held more passionately to Christ.
An Immigration officer and a member of the cathedral in Maiduguri said, “The Boko Haram insurgency, indeed, has toughened Christians in this area. More than getting us down, oh, it has toughened us, churches that were destroyed are now taking a new shape. Instead of decreasing, the churches are increasing.”
Oni added that, “As far as i know no Christian has converted to Islam in this town except those perhaps by force in the Boko Haram camps.”
Talking to a number of Christians, their passion and determination is evident. Andrawus told Global Christian News: “They have done their worst. Death is an inevitable end. So if we are killed worshipping God, fine and good. So that is our attitude now in Maiduguri.”
Showing Global Christian New a picture of a destroyed church, Ayo Oni said, “The all-night vigils and prayer meetings, cancelled long ago (in the midst of the insurgency), have resumed. In fact, we have gone back and are rebuilding one of our churches burnt by Boko Haram… We have gone to reclaim our Church and cleared it for prayers. We will start by going to do open prayers there as we look forward to rebuilding it. We will have even open services there now while we plan and raise funds to build the destroyed church.”
The Anglican Diocese of Maiduguri, Oni said, wanted to go back to start rebuilding churches destroyed in villages by Boko Haram, “but the army is saying they are carrying out mop-up operations so we were asked to wait. As soon as the security operatives give us a go ahead, we will move into the villages.”
Ven. Ibeme said, “The Church needs to keep focus in all it does, once the church has a focus, it will have a future.”