Where every 2 hours, a Christian is killed for their faith

March 3, 2022 by Tim Dustin in Persecution updates

In Nigeria, a Christian is killed for their faith every two hours; that’s nearly 13 Christians a day and 372 Christians a month.

They’re sobering statistics—each number is a man, woman, father, mother, son or daughter who die violently Just because they follow Jesus.

Research for the 2022 World Watch List reveals that in 2021, more Christians were murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country. Last year, Nigeria accounted for nearly 80% of Christian deaths worldwide, with more than 4,650 believers killed. The death toll once again makes Nigeria the world’s most violent place for Christians—for the second consecutive year.

“We can document that 4,650 Nigerian Christians were killed during the previous reporting period for the 2022 World Watch List,” says Open Doors CEO David Curry. “Those are just those we know about—and can report. They were tracked, targeted, raped and killed . . . because they were Christians.”

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The epicenter of jihadist violence

The numbers paint a horrific picture of what’s happening in Nigeria.

Today, persecution in Nigeria is—simply put—brutally violent, as Islamic extremist groups work to carry out their agenda to Islamize the world’s seventh-largest country. Leveraging the country’s political instability and poor economy, these groups have turned Nigeria and the surrounding Sahel region (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Niger) into an epicenter for jihadist violence.

“Generally speaking, there is no single part of Africa that is spared of Islamist insurgency,” says Illia, Open Doors analyst for Nigeria. “The phenomenon—the issue of radicalism—is now expanding and gaining territories. Radical preaching and teaching continue to lead to hostility towards religious minorities, such as Christians.”

In Nigeria, people are living their lives under constant threat of attack from several main groups: Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Fulani militants and criminal gangs who kidnap and murder for ransom with few consequences.

Nigerian Christians risk their lives to gather for worship.

Nigerian Christians risk their lives to gather for worship.

An ongoing and horrific insurgency

In 2015, Pastor Andrew’s village was attacked by the Islamic extremist militant group, Boko Haram. The group destroyed Pastor Andrew’s church and set fire to the entire village. Villagers fled for their lives and went running into the brush to survive. In the panic, some children were separated from their parents and left on their own to care for themselves.

“We saw how the fire consumed the whole village,” Pastor Andrew said. “The persecution was so much that I never imagined we would come together again to worship in the church.”

Pastor Andrew’s village is one of many Boko Haram has attacked since it was founded in 2002. Despite attempts and claims by the Nigerian government to bring down Boko Haram, the extremist group has long been one of the world’s most infamous terrorist groups. The group exploded onto the scene in 2009 during a failed uprising in northern Nigeria and in 2014 generated world attention when they kidnapped more than 300 girls from a finishing school in Chibok.

Boko Haram doesn’t hesitate to specifically target Christians. They see Christianity as a great evil with ties to the West and frequently target churches, often attacking villages where Christians are the majority religious group. To them, Christians are outsiders to be killed.

“The Christians realized that the attacks were against their faith,” Pastor Andrew said. “But after losing everything, they realized God is all you need.”

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Kidnapping Christians with impunity

Although Boko Haram targets Christians, they also go after anyone who doesn’t share their narrow view of Islam. That means they often also target more moderate Muslims, or Muslims who don’t come from the same school of radical, hardline preaching they claim.

Continued targeting of Muslims is one reason Boko Haram split into factions in 2016. Now, there are two rival groups, one claiming allegiance to ISIS (now known as ISWAP, or the Islamic State Western Africa Province) that does not attack Muslims and one still primarily known as Boko Haram that continues to attack mosques and Muslim civilians. However, both share a passionate hatred for Christians.

ISWAP has quickly become a formidable force. Most recently, on Friday, January 21, 2022, ISWAP attacked Piyemi village in Borno State, Nigeria. An estimated 21 houses and shops were burnt after being completely looted, a church was destroyed to its foundation, several people were killed and 16 others were kidnapped, including 15 girls. A week earlier, they led an attack on nearby Kautikari village, where they opened fire on villagers, killing three people. They went on to kidnap four girls and loot and raze two churches.

Four years ago, the same group kidnapped Leah Sharibu and 100 other classmates from their girls finishing school in Dapchi. Nightmarishly, Leah’s story is just one of thousands of stories of persecution that happen every year in Nigeria at the hands of extremist groups like ISWAP and Boko Haram.

Congregants leaving their new church building

Congregants leaving their new church building

Middle Belt clashes that impact thousands

Over 38 million people belong to the larger Fulani cluster of ethnic groups found in pockets across 19 Central and West African countries. They speak a variety of languages, including Hausa, English, French and Arabic and are the world’s largest nomadic group. The Fulani people roam a wide territory for their cattle to graze. Among the Fulani, less than one percent are professing Christians; almost 100 percent of them follow Islam. Traditionally, the Fulani are herders, driving cattle across the wide grasslands of west Africa. But climate change and desertification have driven them south, often setting up conflicts with settled Nigerian farmers—many of whom are Christians.

There is an extremist faction of Fulani that goes beyond being just simple herdsmen. Pastor Jeremiah’s village was attacked by Fulani militants in April 2020, and it’s part of a massive wave of violence against Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. In this region, militant Fulani herdsmen push their cattle through the regions where Christians have lived for generations. When these radicals attack, they do so with brutality, burning down homes and churches to gain more land and wipe out the Christian presence in the region.

Pastor Jeremiah described the attack on his village: “We heard gunshots close to our vicinity, so we told our women and children to go to the next town while the men stayed guard. About 15 minutes later, armed Fulani surrounded our town. They came bearing automatic weapons, shooting anyone in sight, and torches to burn down the village.

“It was impossible to protect the town against such heavily armed men, so everyone fled. Some ran deep into the bush, others to the rocks and others tried to run to the next town. The radicals shot at me while I was running. Some of us didn’t make it out alive.”

The militants went from house-to-house and set everything ablaze. Miraculously, Pastor Jeremiah’s church survived the fires. But his village and church is one of thousands that has suffered at the hands of militant Fulani.

Pastor Jeremiah in Nigeria captures the fear and trauma in Nigeria that our family lives with every day: “When we go to sleep at night, we are never sure we will make it to the next day.

Our Nigerian family needs our prayers

Now is the time for us—as brothers and sisters in Christ—to raise up our Nigerian church family in desperate prayer. Our Nigerian family lives each hour under threat of attack, kidnapping or death, simply because they believe in Jesus as Savior.

Let’s pray for the government in Nigeria, that they would quit turning a blind eye and instead support Christian Nigerians.

Nigeria was removed from the U.S.’s new list of “Countries of Particular Concern.” Pray the international community would recognize the insecurity in Nigeria that is allowing violent extremist groups and armed bandits to continue and even increase their terrorist activity.

Let’s pray for those who are harassing, terrorizing and murdering Christians, that God would work in their lives and that their hearts might become flesh again (Matt. 5:44).

Let’s pray for the widows and children growing up without one or both of their parents, that God would comfort them and hold them close to His chest. Pray they’ll feel His supreme peace in the scabbed pits of their hearts.

And let’s pray for those who are being persecuted or who live in fear of persecution, that they might feel God’s abundant comfort in their valleys, His amazing hope in their storms and for their souls to be made whole again amidst painful struggles and unbearable loss.

top photo: Manga’s scars from near-fatal injuries by Boko Haram reveal the horror of persecution and the power of God to heal and restore in Nigeria.

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