’God is alive!’—in Nigeria, this pastor finds hope in the rubble

March 26, 2021 by Lindy Lowry in Africa

“When we go to sleep at night, we are never sure whether we will make it alive to the next day.”

 

As Pastor Jeremiah says these words, he’s sitting among ruined mud walls, blackened by scorch marks.

 

This was his home.

His village was attacked in April 2020—part of a massive wave of violence against Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. In this region, militant Fulani herdsmen are pushing their cattle through the regions where Christians have lived for generations. To take their farmland, they employ violent means, killing and ravaging.

Not all Fulani are militants. It’s the radicals within the Fulani who are specifically targeting Christians. Churches are burned and Christian communities are brutally attacked while nearby Muslim communities—who largely live at peace with their Christian neighbors—are usually left untouched. This violence places tremendous stress on herder-farmer relationships—and it’s exploited by political and religious leaders who drive a radical Islamization agenda.

Pastor Jeremiah is wearing a tan button-down shirt and a kelly green basketball jersey underneath. He has the voice of a shepherd, gentle but firm, even as he shares the painful memories of the attack—and the lingering effects that continue to impact the Christian community where he still lives. The government has failed to stop the persecution of Christians in the region.

“We have cried to the government to intervene, but they have done nothing,” Jeremiah says. “We still pray for [the Fulani militants] to change their ways because some of them were forced into it, while others had hardened their hearts to do this evil.” But, he tells us as if he’s reminding himself, “nothing is [too] difficult for God.”

Because of its remote location, Pastor Jeremiah’s village in northern Nigeria’s Kufana area is more susceptible to Fulani militant attacks. There is no electricity, no boreholes for clean water, no roads—and dense forest surrounds them.

The attack

The dirt road leading to Pastor Jeremiah’s village in Kaufa territory—the remote location makes the village a target of militants.

On April 23, 2020, around 4 pm, people in Pastor Jeremiah’s village heard gunshots nearby. They knew an attack was imminent.

“We told our women and children to go to the next town, while the men stayed guard,” the pastor says. In the next 15 minutes, armed Fulani had surrounded the town.

He remembers many of the attackers being tall and wearing uniforms. They approached carrying automatic weapons and torches.

Abandoning any hope for protecting their village, the men frantically scattered in different directions as they fled. Some ran deep into the bush, others to the rocks, and others tried to run to the next town. Some didn’t make it out alive. Pastor Jeremiah remembers the bullets flying over his head as he ran.

Systematically, the attackers went from house to house, setting fire to everything in their path. They also went to Pastor Jeremiah’s church building where they stacked plastic chairs inside and piled them in a heap on top of the wooden pews. Then they set fire to the chairs to create a firestorm and destroy the church. But the benches didn’t catch fire.

“God, in His divine way, allowed only the plastic chairs to burn and melt instead of fueling the wooden benches and engulfing the roof,” Pastor Jeremiah shares.

Christians in Nigeria are under attack

In northern and central Nigeria, Islamic extremist attacks against Christians are growing at an alarming rate. Open Doors is committed to serving and standing with these believers who are persecuted and even killed because they follow Jesus. Will you join us? When you do, you become part of the largest on-the-ground network serving the persecuted church—joining God where He is working ... and where His name is being proclaimed to the ends of the earth.

Give today

Salvaging the loss

The next morning, Pastor Jeremiah and others returned to their village. The militants left little to salvage.

“All we saw was fire and smoke rising from houses and stored grains,” Jeremiah shares, remembering the scene. “Those who were around began pouring water on their fields to salvage their grains, to have something to eat, even for just a few days.”

He describes the scene in detail. Layers of rubble, mud bricks, dishes, burnt corrugated steel, all laid in piles across the village. Homes stood naked without rooftops, and the mud-brick walls were pockmarked with black stains from the fires.

Even now, Pastor Jeremiah walks around the outside of his home. There’s still a doorframe with no door; the roof is gone. Ash and soot cover the ground.

“They did this because they want to own this area, from here into all the bush,” he says. “That’s why they attacked. They intended to kill the people here. But God did not allow that to happen.”

A snake and man

Pastor Jeremiah steps into his home, places his hands on the now-brittle walls and chips off some debris with his fingers. This kind of violent persecution is part of the Christian life for many believers in Nigeria today—No. 9 on Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, deadly attacks increased across the region.

“Before, we talked freely with the Fulani, but now we have become like a snake and man—when you give your hand to the snake, he will bite it. This has become heavy on us today,” Jeremiah shares.

Despite this terrible attack, the pastor is still shepherding his people toward hope—reminding them they survived by the grace of God—and that the Lord still has plans for them. Plans to bring glory to His name.

“We should give glory to God. He is alive and will help us,” Jeremiah adds. “Just as a hen opens its wings to cover her young.”

The fear of more attacks always looms, but Jeremiah says the Christians in his area and the surrounding areas have never fought by carrying guns to kill people.

“Even if we die, we are in the hands of God,” he says.

Pastor Jeremiah’s house after the attack.

‘If you had not come’

After Open Doors learned about the attack, our partners helped Pastor Jeremiah and the other believers living around Kufana with critical support to buy food, medicine and materials to rebuild their homes—along with spiritual support and trauma care to help encourage them in their faith and strengthen the church in this area.

“If you had not come, we would have suffered even more,” Pastor Jeremiah says. “Open Doors, on behalf of my people, we are saying, thank you.”

The Christians of Kufana represent hundreds of thousands of believers across Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. They risk their lives every day to live out their faith in Jesus in regions hostile to the gospel. Their need for support, trauma counseling, discipleship and emergency relief is critical.

But what is also critical is what that support represents: fellowship.

“God has allowed us to fellowship with one another,” Pastor Jeremiah shares, speaking directly to Christians who have prayed and sent support to their village. Even with all our differences, together, because of Him, we are One.”

Pray with our Nigerian family

  • Pray for the Christians of Kufana area as they continue to return and rebuild from this violent Fulani attack. Ask God to give them strength and faith to keep gathering as the church and to be a light for Christ in the region.
  • Pray for those who lost loved ones in the attack. Ask God to give them comfort and peace to rest in Him.
  • Pray for the Nigerian government to do more to intervene and protect the Christian community from violent militants. Pray also that the government will reach these communities with relief and the resources to rebuild.
  • Pray for wisdom, courage and strength for Pastor Jeremiah as he continues to shepherd the Christians of Kufana and point them toward forgiveness and hope.
  • Pray for our partners on the ground in Nigeria. Ask God to give them wisdom and success when they deliver support, trauma counseling, discipleship and training.
Share Your Comment

Related Stories

Giving Tuesday - Send 100,000 Bibles to persecuted believers! Give your persecuted family the gift of God's Word! Thanks to a challenge grant, your Bible and discipleship material gift will double in impact, up to $50,000.