The pastor of Living Faith Church had completed the first worship service at 9:15 a.m. and had just begun the second service when the congregation heard a loud blast that shook the sanctuary. “The glass windows were shattered, the roof of the church building was shaking and almost collapsing on us,” the pastor reported. “Our church members were scattered, and they were running and jumping through all available entrances out of the sanctuary. There was smoke and fire all over outside.”
Mbami Godiya, pastor of nearby Harvest Field Church of Christ, said 10 members of his congregation were injured – three critically – when the explosion collapsed a wall of his church building. He had noticed two cars, the second of which contained the suicide bomber, being screened at the security point in front of the church compound. When he turned his attention away from them, Godiva said, “Suddenly, there was a loud bang which brought part of my church building down. Our church became very dark as fire engulfed it. In the midst of this darkness and the cries from the members of my church, I shouted and called for calm, and asking them to lie down in case there were multiple explosions.”
Church leaders at a press conference on Monday, June 4, said that 45 Christians were considered injured either by the bomb blast or from gunshots by soldiers. The government had sent security agents to keep watch over the churches based on threats to the area, but Godiya faulted the government approach. “They should have mounted security check-points far away from the churches, but they came and mounted such check-points close to our churches, and that was the reason the bombers were able to get close,” he said. Additionally, the Rev. Lawi Pokti, chairman of the Bauchi chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria claimed the military shot several Christians to death. The Nigerian military has yet to respond to the allegations.
Amid allegations that soldiers were responsible for at least eight of the 21 deaths surrounding the suicide bombing of the two churches in Yelwa, sources told Compass Direct News that most of those injured by the blast and alleged military shooting were in critical condition. The Muslim extremist Boko Haram sect reportedly released a statement claiming responsibility for the suicide bombing of the Living Faith Church in Yelwa, a Christian settlement on the outskirts of the northern Nigerian city of Bauchi. The deadly explosion also collapsed a wall of the nearby Harvest Field Church of Christ, leaving three people there in critical condition.
Boko Haram, literally meaning “Forbidden Book” and translated as “Western education is forbidden,” has targeted churches, state offices, law enforcement sites and some moderate mosques in its effort to destabilize the government and impose a strict version of sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria.
Nigeria’s population of more than 158.2 million is divided between Christians, who make up 51.3 percent of the population and live mainly in the south, and Muslims, who account for 45 percent and live mainly in the north. The percentages may be less, however, as those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World.
Five victims of the bombing were buried June 6 amid weeping and wailing. Gauis Biyal, pastor of Living Faith church, urged mourners at the service not to seek revenge against those who think they are fighting for God by killing Christians. “Vengeance belongs to the Lord; vengeance belongs to Jesus Christ who was persecuted for our sake,” Biyal said. “It is He that can fight on our behalf. He knows what to do. If we try to do it ourselves, we will die in the process.”
Father, so many Christians in northern Nigeria have sustained wave after wave of persecution, suffering, death, injury and emotional trauma. Yet You are with them, there in the midst of persecution, there in the midst of their Muslim neighbors, there in the midst of uncertainty. Guide them as they serve You. Give them favor with their neighbors that their testimony might lead many to follow Christ. Protect them as they continue to worship You. Bring healing, physical and emotional, to those who have suffered trauma. In the name of Jesus who is present with us, Amen.