Struck down, but not Destroyed
Nigeria is a country torn in two. While southern Nigeria enjoys economic stability and relative peace, northern Nigeria is troubled by continued violent attacks from extremist groups, by social and economic insecurity, and by ethnic and religious conflicts.
Christians living in affected areas bear the brunt of this ongoing violence and insecurity. Northern Nigeria is home to a substantial Christian population; with an estimated 30 million adherents in the northern region, Christians form the largest minority in a mainly Muslim region. In recent decades, especially in the past 15 years, this region has become increasingly hostile towards Christians, leading to growing marginalization and discrimination, as well as widespread attacks against believers.
Though Nigeria is officially a secular state with a constitution guaranteeing freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, the reality in northern Nigeria is radically different. The situation is dramatically different, not only in the Sharia states where the pressure of Islam is greatest, but also in the non-Sharia states where Islamic law has not been formally implemented.
An Open Doors International research report has sought to identify the impact of violence on Christian communities, church activities, and individual believers.
The report has discovered that the past several decades of targeted religious violence has had an even larger impact on the church in northern Nigeria than previously expected. The violence against Christians in the region has resulted in thousands of people being killed, including a conservative estimate of between 9,000 and 11,500 Christians. A large number of Christian properties have been destroyed, including 13,000 churches that have been destroyed, abandoned, or forced to close.
According to this report, up to 1.3 million Christians in northern Nigeria have been affected by the waves of violence and persecution, many internally displaced in search of safety and security. In several areas in northern Nigeria, the Christian presence has become virtually extinct or been substantially diminished, while other areas have experienced significant growth in church congregations due to an influx of Christians fleeing violence and a number of Muslims converting to Christianity.
Mutual trust between Muslims and Christians has disappeared, resulting in these religious groups becoming increasingly separate from each other, clustering within their own communities in suburbs and in distinct rural areas.
While ethnicity, political conflict, and competition for resources are long-standing sources of violence in northern Nigeria, violence against Christians has the added dimensions of religious, economic and social undertones. Targeted acts of violence against Christians share a common religious denominator—defending the interests of northern Muslims, Muslim identity, and the position of Islam within Nigeria. These motives underlie the actions of not only radical Islamic groups such as Boko Haram, but also Muslim Fulani herdsmen, and the northern Muslim political and religious elite.
Despite the decades of intense suffering and loss for believers in the North, a large Christian presence remains in northern Nigeria with the potential to unite and stand strong against the storm. The body of Christ will need to avoid the understandable temptation to disengage from society and, spurred on by Christ’s call to reach their communities with the hope of the Gospel, to instead work for justice, peace and reconciliation by sharing the love of God through the resources of the body of Christ for the benefit of all.
Father, we thank You for faithful believers in northern Nigeria who continue to worship and serve You in the presence of the constant threat of suffering and danger. We pray for unity in Your church in Nigeria as they consider God-honoring responses to the violence. We pray for the work of the church in finding ways to support Christians who have been affected by the violence and in working toward peace and positive interaction with their neighbors of different faiths. We pray for the international Christian community as they labor hand-in-hand with Nigerian Christians toward transformation among Christians as they struggle to live faithful lives in the midst of trauma. And we pray for comfort, courage, and provision as Christians face the challenge of living not only in the face of danger, but also in the midst of marginalization and discrimination. We pray this in the name of Jesus who lived among us marginalized by the religious leaders—in the name of Jesus who suffered and died as a criminal and outcast that we might be made holy and pure, calling You Father. Amen.