A Light has dawned
“For me, doing ministry in Nigeria is likened to a situation where you are trying, by all means, to make friends with a violent madman.”
These words, from Pastor Chris Joseph of Climbing For Christ, sum up the challenge of Christians evangelizing in Nigeria's oppressed north.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with more than 140 million people. It is an oil-rich nation (ranked 11th in the world for its oil reserves), but the average annual income is about US$1,400 and more than half of the population reportedly lives on about US$1 per day.
The country is divided nearly 50-50 when it comes to faith — with Muslims occupying the north and Christians the south. This is cause for a religious civil war.
“Little has been done to stem the growth of violent Islamist groups or to stop persecution of Christians in the north,” writes Jason Mandryk in Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation.
In the past decade, an estimated 2,100 Christians have been killed, hundreds of churches and businesses owned by Christians have been destroyed, and 50,000 people have been displaced by violence. Open Doors, a ministry that assists Christians who are under attack, ranks northern Nigeria as the 27th most persecuted place on its 2010 World Watch List.
Nine states in the north (and parts of four others) have imposed shari'a law — the sacred law of Islam. This law restricts church buildings, bans Christian religious education in public schools, and is often accompanied by violence against Christians. Unfortunately, violence can beget violence. Christians have been guilty of returning an eye for eye against Muslims. This is not Jesus' way, of course. Even on the cross, he beseeched: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus instructed us in His Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
This is why Pastor Chris Joseph's church, the Climbing For Christ-supported Lives Aglow Global Outreach Center in the southern state of Rivers, has a mission of ensuring “that nations of the world are liberated from Satanic-controlling spirits through the introduction of the light of the Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ to the hearts of men.” Joseph bases this vision on Isaiah 9:2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” He willingly takes this Light to the north, where he was born.
In 2011, Pastor Chris will help Climbing For Christ deliver the Light to the Adamawa state along the Cameroon border, a place where numerous people groups are “scarcely affected by the modern world and deeply trapped in the fearful world of spirits and ancestors,” according to Operation World. Many of the people in this mountainous region are unreached. One group that is being evangelized, the Koma Hills dwellers, serve as an example of the paganist practices enslaving a culture:
They are a people, primarily subsistence farmers, who believe god is the skull of their dead mother or grandmother. That skull is kept as a family idol and considered a link to the spirit world.
They are a people who have long regarded a twin birth as evil and, as such, “babies of multiple births used to be buried alive with the women who had the misfortune of being their mothers,” Nigeria's The Spectator newspaper reported in July 2010. “The custom nowadays ... is to separate the twins and send them away from one another and their mother, to grow up in different homes. (But) in the out-of-the-way settlements on the hills, the ancient practice (of killing twins and their mothers) still thrives untainted.”
While Christian ministries are making in-roads with this particular group, the Muslims are not to be outdone. “Islamic organizations have their camps in Koma, where they work hard to convert as many as possible,” according to Nigeria's Sunday Trust newspaper.
This is war, after all.
The challenge for Christians is to make friends with the violent madman while climbing the hill to share the Light with the farmer who has it in his head that grandmother's skull is god.
This story originally appeared in Climbing For Christ's quarterly magazine, The Climbing Way (Volume 20, Winter 2010-2011).