Suffering & Grace Collide in Prison

August 30, 2017 by Sarah Cunningham in Africa

*representative image used

One might guess it would be difficult for a Nigerian to be a Christian while living among the Fulani who are 99% Muslim, but as Bulus* found out, the cost is sometimes higher than anyone imagines.

Until his mid-twenties, Bulus led a semi-nomadic life that is typical of the Fulani people. Like other boys, hee tended his father’s livestock and learned to hunt. And he was raised to have a deep respect for his elders and to fear Allah. For most of his life, Bulus joined the other men in his community in the customary ritual of praying five times a day. He faithfully rolled out his prayer mat towards Mecca as he was taught, despite feeling no inspiration in his heart to do so.

That was until the day God sent inspiration to him when a group of Christians visited his village. “An outreach team came to our village. After I heard their message I gave my life to Christ,” Bulus explains.

Bulus was not surprised when his relatives were greatly offended by his new found faith. “In their minds being Fulani means being Muslim. The two are inseparable and they had an obligation to do whatever they could to make him return,” He explains.

When Bulus did not head his relatives’ initial warnings, his father determined to disown him. He lost his inheritance, everyday support from his extended family, the status of the clan, and the privilege of an arranged marriage. From his relatives’ perspective, they were punishing him by taking away his entire future.

But God had a plan for Bulus’ future that none of his family knew about…though it would not be easy.

When being ostracized did not make Bulus reject Jesus, his clan members eventually threatened to kill him. This is when Bulus knew it was time to go. He fled to Jos, where no one knew him, and he enrolled in theological training.

“I completed the training in four years. In that time I learned a lot about Christ and experienced His provision in my life. But it was a very lonely time. I had no friends, no family and no support network. I was angry at my family for how they had treated me. But during the course I learned a lot about forgiveness. After I graduated I wanted to go home to see if there was any way my parents and I could be reunited.”

But when Bulus returned home, seeking reunion, he was met with just the opposite.

“Their hatred had increased, especially when they heard I had become a pastor,” Bulus remembers. “Before I could leave, relatives trapped me and started beating me. I thought I was going to die, but they dragged me to the police station and accused me of stealing some of their goats. Despite the fact that there was no proof, the police locked me up. Five days later they took me to court. I did not have the opportunity to defend myself but was kept in prison anyway.”

This is how Bulus got to his current living situation– a shared cell in a Bauchi prison.

Here, Bulus’ days seem endless. The cell is crowded with many more people than is healthy. At night it is a battle to find enough room to even lie down comfortably on the cold and dirty floor. As a result of their living conditions, Bulus and the prisoners’ bodies are emaciated from terribly insufficient nutrition and regular bouts of diarrhea.

These developments suit Bulus’ family just fine. It is exactly what they intended as punishment for leaving Islam. But just like in the Biblical story of Joseph, what others intended for evil, God has used for good.

“I wasn’t happy when I first got here. The allegations of theft against me were very disheartening,” Bulus admits, “But then I remembered that even Jesus, who didn’t sin, suffered. He died a painful death on the cross alongside criminals. I realized I had to live as He did and take up my cross. From the moment I decided that, my burdens were lifted and I saw the sufficiency of God’s grace in my life.I decided to use my time in prison to preach the gospel. Many people don’t like it, but I continue anyway. I have received hope and strength from God to keep doing the work which He has called me to.”

When Open Doors visited Bulus recently, we were encouraged to hear many prisoners have since come to believe in Christ because of his testimony. His fellow prisoners regularly come to him for advice and prayer. One warden told us, “Bulus is different. He seems at peace even when he faces difficulties.”

Open Doors has an advocacy program that has provided a lawyer to defend Bulus’ case. Because he is a former Muslim, there will be a lot of pressure on the system to have Bulus tried in Sharia court, but Open Doors’ appointed lawyers are working hard to have this case heard in secular court.

Unfortunately, Bulus is not the only one who has fell victim to Nigeria’s broken justice system. Police can arrest people on a whim. Brutality and corruption in the processing are common. Those arrested can wait years to be convicted.

In 2014, only about 30 percent of inmates in local prisons had been convicted of any crimes—the rest were simply awaiting trial. And prison conditions are notoriously terrible. Congested cells and poor living and sleeping conditions cause immense suffering and hundreds of prisoners have died from neglect or mistreatment.

This lawlessness coupled with the vices and with the application of sharia law in 12 of Nigeria’s northern states has brought untold suffering to Christians who often find themselves illegally subjected to sharia hearings.

Please pray that God will continue to strengthen and equip believers like Bulus in Nigeria. If you would like to donate to Open Doors’ efforts in Nigeria, click here.