Date: July 31, 2013
(Cover image courtesy Compass Direct News/Story photo courtesy Flickr/Creative Commons/GovernmentZA)
Nigeria (MNN) ― No one has officially taken credit for the bombings Monday night in the city of Kano, Nigeria. Spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA Todd Nettleton says one doesn't have to go far to find a group that's capable and willing. The attacks hit a Christian neighborhood. "It bears all the hallmarks of a Boko Haram attack. In fact, this same Christian area had previously been bombed by Boko Haram in March." Police and hospital reports have the death toll at 24 people.
President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency on May 14 in six northeastern states covering one-sixth of the country. It was an effort to control the Islamic uprising by extremists based mainly in the northeast.
Nettleton is quick to note that although Kano city and state are not part of that emergency, everyone is affected by the attacks. "There are Muslims who are affected in these bombings as well, but it does seem that the target was Christians, because this part of the city is identified as a Christian area."
The main group behind the violence is the Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language means "Western education is forbidden." The militant group boldly proclaims intent to impose Islamic law in all of Nigeria. The nation of more than 160 million is divided almost equally between Christians, who live mainly in the south, and Muslims, who dominate the north.
Lately, the Boko Haram has begun to include Muslim political and religious leaders who preach against their extreme form of Islam. In addition to churches and Christian leaders, they've also started targeting schools, killing scores of students and some teachers. Their network is blamed for more than 1,600 deaths since 2010.
The pattern of persecution in Nigeria has become complex. Conversion is dangerous, and Muslim-background believers are most at risk. Persecution levels vary across the country and are underlined by terrorist action and an unpredictable environment, which leaves Christians living in fear. However, Nettleton says, "Our ministry in Nigeria includes a ministry of encouragement and really connecting with believers; just one of the very simple things is letting them know ‘you're not forgotten. There are people who are praying for you. There are people who are remembering you.'"
The Voice of the Martyrs also opened a prosthetics clinic for attack survivors and provides scholarships for the children who've lost parents to the Boko Haram's murderous rampage. The other part of that help is training, says Nettleton. "We also provide Bibles, we provide other Christian materials, and we're helping to train people to reach out to Muslims. Some of the most effective people who are doing that are former Muslims."
Training brings a confidence that responds to the fear being planted by the Boko Haram. "Our call is to be salt and light, and share the Gospel. That's obviously a lot harder when even the simple act of going to church could result in your death."
The Islamist agenda for Nigeria is to bring the whole country under the House of Islam. Many Christians fear the new elections in 2015. The future does not look bright, with emerging links between al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Boko Haram making more violent persecution likely.
What can you do? "The first thing that you can do is pray," says Nettleton, adding, "Particularly, when we're talking about a bombing just last night (Monday night), we're praying for the Lord to heal. We're praying for the wounded. We're praying for the families who've lost loved ones."
There's trauma involved, emotionally, spiritually, and physically, he explains. "Pray for the strengthening of our Nigerian brothers and sisters that something like this won't take away their courage or won't take away their sense that God is still at work in their country." Pray that many members of Boko Haram will come to a saving knowledge of Christ.