Why does the son of a Nigerian martyr still cling to Jesus?

November 3, 2021 by Christopher Summers in Persecution updates

In the Middle Belt of Nigeria, 13-year-old Sele is dressed in his Sunday best—a modest suit consisting of a white shirt and a pair of trousers decorated with dark piping. Nearby, his family is getting ready for the Christmas eve service, ready to worship God in their finest clothes.

Tomorrow, they will return for the Christmas Day service. You might think that attending two church services in such a short period of time would be the last thing a teenager would be excited about. But not Sele.

“My favorite thing about Christmas is the dramas we watch in church and the songs we sing, and how they share Christmas gifts,” he says.

After the church services, Sele’s family and neighbors enjoy a humble meal and sing together. And if there is a little extra money, each person might open a small gift.

But during dinner, there is an empty seat at the table. The celebrations are a little quieter than they ought to be. Something is missing—something the family is painfully aware of. Sele’s father Solomon is not there.

During the evening’s celebration, Sele picks up a photo of Solomon. In it, you can only see Solomon’s side profile—but even from that angle, the resemblance between father and son is obvious.

“He was killed for being a Christian,” Sele says.

See why Nigeria is No. 9 on Open Doors’ World Watch List

‘We heard gunshots everywhere’

Sele may not remember the day of his father’s death, but it’s forever seared into the memory of Sele’s mom Cecilia. “My husband died in 2011, on a Sunday,” she shares. “That morning, he went to the market. His cousin had died, and I was preparing food to take to the family’s house.”

Cecilia and the children were waiting for Solomon at his cousin’s house when suddenly attacks broke out. The family knew that Christians were likely being targeted. “We began to hear gunshots everywhere.”

Cecilia remembers: “There was smoke everywhere. The last call we had [from him], Solomon said I should go home and take care of the children. He said everything in town was on fire, but I should stay calm … My heart was troubled. I sat down, and I tried his number [several times], but it wouldn’t connect.” 

The next day, Solomon had still not come home. “Later that day, they told me that my husband was killed, and his body was brought to a hospital close to our neighborhood,” Cecilia continues. “I hurried there. Outside I saw his sweater (discarded on the ground).” 

In the afternoon, someone came to the family’s house with a shovel to bury Solomon. 

“It was at that point I began to scream and shout. When my husband was alive, we were living peacefully,” Cecilia continues. “He was a farmer and provided for all our needs.” 

The day Solomon was killed, his attackers undoubtedly knew they had struck at the heart of a Christian family’s future. Cycles of violence against Christians have left countless widows and their children in deep economic strife. When Solomon was killed, the chances were good that Cecilia would become yet another widow exploited by her in-laws, left to fend for herself with hardly enough to keep her children under a roof, fed and in school. It was easy to imagine Sele as another boy without his dad, growing up desperately poor and completely alone. 

But God never left Sele’s family, and the attackers’ plan failed.

“I decided to hold on to Jesus,” Cecilia says. 

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There are many believers around the world like Sele who have lost family members to extreme persecution and rely on their Christian family around the world to not only survive but also become leaders in their families and churches. You can help spread light in the darkness for believers facing trauma. Your gift today can provide: Christmas gifts and funds for events and activities Christian education and Bibles Trauma counseling Discipleship training and materials

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An opportunity to dream

“My concern was just to feed my children and make sure they go to school,” Cecilia says. 

Thanks to Sele’s uncle and aunt, his family has a house to live in. “This house you see behind me, is an answered prayer; God blessed me with it,” explains Cecilia. 

Cecilia has managed to carry on farming without her husband. In the afternoons and over weekends, the family cultivates the farmland surrounding the house. She and her kids must work long, hard hours, but it has helped keep them fed and clothed. 

For some children, the field surrounding their house is as far as their future will go, simply because there’s no extra money for school. 

But thanks to your support, Sele can go to a school where he can study and dream of making an impact on people’s lives. 

Sele’s school is not just any school. The classroom is simple, and so is the furniture. But every pupil has their own desk space, and a teacher neatly dressed in a dark suit delivers a well-prepared lesson. It’s all very structured and far removed from what it could have been: an overcrowded place where students battle for a space to sit and limited supplies. 

In the classroom, Sele studies hard. He is focused and participates enthusiastically. The school has helped Sele dream about his future—dreams the extremists who target Christians wanted to stamp out. “My favorite subject is mathematics because I love calculating, and after school, I like to read my books and do my assignments. 

“I love my school,” Sele says. “My teachers teach me very well, and they are helping me to become what I want to be. When I grow up, I want to be a doctor; I want to save lives and help people.” 

After the Christmas church service, Sele’s family and neighbors gather for a humble meal and to sing together.

After the Christmas church service, Sele’s family and neighbors gather for a humble meal and to sing together.

Growing in wisdom and stature

Sele’s school is also a place of spiritual growth. This is a Christian school where it’s safe for Sele to pray and share his faith openly. The school emblem, stitched to his shirt, proudly shares their motto: “The fear of God.” 

Sele’s favorite Bible story is that of David and Goliath. “I want to be like David, who had faith in God and defeated Goliath,” he says. 

Outside during a break, Sele is surrounded by a group of boisterous, energetic friends. It’s easy to spot him as he kicks around a small, deflated soccer ball—his shirt buttoned to the neck, and his pants cuffed to fashionably hide the seams that have been taken out. He’s found a community here and grown into a boy who loves Jesus and His people. Even with the loss of his dad, Solomon, and the long-term ramifications for his family, God has redeemed the life of Sele and his family, telling a story through them of His love and hope. 

While visiting Sele, our field team wanted to surprise him with a Christmas gift. They called beforehand to ask his mom Cecilia what he needed. Shyly, she admitted they didn’t have any spare money to even think about new clothes. Her teenage boy had outgrown the clothes he had. So our team gave Sele a new formal shirt, trousers and an illustrated Bible. 

The joy and surprise he displayed is priceless. 

Sele looks happy and wholesome, something that seemed unthinkable after Solomon’s death. But God provided Sele with a faithful mother, loving relatives, great community and brothers and sisters abroad who continue to enable his education. 

“I want to say thank you to the brothers and sisters who are helping me to pay my school fees; may God bless them,” Sele says. 

Cecilia echoes these sentiments. “I thank God for Open Doors,” she says. “They are helping me, especially with Sele. They constantly come and visit me, and always support me with Sele’s school fees. We thank you a lot … Especially Sele, after each of his exams, when he receives the results, he asks me if I can call the [Open Doors] office to tell them he came first in his class!” 

How you can pray for Sele and other Christians in Nigeria

Join us in thanking the Lord for His faithfulness as a Father, so visible in Sele’s life. 

Pray that Sele will continue to study hard at school and that if God wills, he can one day study medicine. 

Pray Sele will follow David’s example and always put his trust in God first and seek His will in whatever he does. 

Pray the Lord will protect Sele and his family from harm so that they can continue to be salt and light in their community. 

Pray for Christians in Nigeria who have experienced so much violence. Ask God to heal His people in Nigeria and provide hope and peace. 

Pray that Sele and millions of other Christians in sub-Saharan Africa will enjoy a peaceful Christmas celebration this year. Pray that the hope and joy they experience, despite their circumstances and because of Christ’s birth, will be a testimony to all those who have not yet accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. 

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