Out of the mountain of despair: Christian lives matter in northern Nigeria
Nigerian Christian leaders around the globe have called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague to act now against the “pernicious genocide” in northern Nigeria.
The Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) letter to the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, opened by commending ICC’s role in the capture and potential extradition of the genocidal despot Al Bashir, Sudan’s popularly-deposed president. But the church leaders go on to boldly flag that the ICC is failing Nigeria by not acting against the blatant genocidal persecution now unfolding in the north, as ongoing atrocities perpetrated by Fulani militants, Boko Haram and other murderous extremists mount day on day.
We report 171 deaths in our newsline today that occurred in the space of a little over three weeks. And these are only those we know of. In reality, the toll is likely to be far higher. Many thousands are also being displaced by the violence from homes and such livelihoods as they had left after covid lockdown brought economic havoc.
As a Nigerian church leader recently told Barnabas after the massacre of 21 believers at a wedding, “it is as if the lives of Christians no longer matter”.
Our news desk has been swamped by such stories for many months, yet this relentless and bloody toll of Christian lives is disturbingly absent from wider mainstream media.
Enough of the bloodshed
A gathering of hundreds of Christians, dressed in black, protested on Sunday, 2 August against the slaughter and called on Buhari’s government to “rise to their responsibility” in Nigeria’s Kaduna State also seemed to go unnoticed by the world.
The day was marked by “fierce prayers for peace” asking God to intervene in the troubled region, reported Ibrahim Wuyo of Vanguard News, Nigeria, as the peaceful protesters waved heartrending banners. One simply said, “Enough of the bloodshed, widows and orphans are increasing.”
“The arc of the universe tends towards justice”
The arc of God’s universe, long though it is, “tends towards justice”, as a courageous man of God once said. Dr Martin Luther King Jr gave his historic address in front of Abraham Lincoln’s statue 57 years ago this month to claim the bounced “promissory note of freedom”. The “long night of captivity” had ended with Lincoln’s abolition of slavery, but racial justice and socio-economic freedom were yet owed to African Americans 100 years later.
A group of upstanding Muslim men are clearly visible in the assembly, standing close behind Dr King in support, as he spoke of conducting the struggle for freedom on the “high plain of dignity and discipline” and never allowing their righteous protest to degenerate into hate and violence.
What would such men of morality and decency make of the horrific slaughter of Christians unfolding in West Africa today at the cruel hands of Islamist extremists?
“Soul force” overcomes the force of hate
The covid-lockdown frenzy of anti-Christian violence that has spiked this year in West Africa, particularly in northern Nigeria, has barely been opposed by police or military intervention. Militants are mercilessly killing young and old with impunity – destroying lives and families, homes and hope.
The “new militancy” Dr King spoke of in 1963 answered physical force with “soul force” – love alone can conquer hate. It is just such magnificent spiritual courage we hear of from our partners in Nigeria, and other Sahel countries, where a flood of extremist violence is engulfing Christian communities.
Christians caught in this spiritual battle are forgiving their persecutors, rebuilding shattered lives amid post-covid hardships and pointing men of violence to the Prince of Peace.
In April, Rose, the 27-year-old widow of Nigerian pastor, Matthew Tagwi, prayed that her husband’s Fulani militant killers “will get to know this Jesus I know” as she forgave them and asked the Lord to save their souls.
“Creative suffering” is redemptive
What Dr King described as “creative suffering” is a profound and redemptive force in a fallen world. Just as he called for hope at that pivotal moment, we are moved to echo his words and ask Christians in these uncertain and difficult times of accelerating global persecution not to “wallow in the valley of despair”. We place our complete trust in the Lord, knowing that, to His glory, He will exalt every valley, make the rough things of this present world smooth and every crooked place straight (Isaiah 40:4).
“With our faith we hew out of the mountain of despair the mountain of hope.”
– Dr Martin Luther King Jr