Nigeria (MNN) ― Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has declared a state of emergency in parts of the country following attacks from the Islamist group Boko Haram.
Boko Haram means "Western education is a sin." The group is pushing to establish Sharia law and has been the source of explosive discontent over the last few years. They have been carrying out increasingly deadly attacks throughout 2011, including an August suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja and Christmas violence that triggered fear and anger.
Authorities temporarily closed international borders, and the military is in place, a measure meant to reinforce the emergencies in Yobe, Borno, Plateau and Niger states.
This came in response to a threat issued by the Boko Haram, an extremist Muslim sect with close ties to al Qaeda. They issued an ultimatum, warning Christians to leave the North by January 3, which led to a response from Christian leaders that they would defend themselves if such attacks continued.
Bruce Smith, President/CEO of Wycliffe Associates, says their translations teams have not been directly affected by the threat. However, the emotional and spiritual toll has been much higher. "It's an extremely stressful circumstance for them. They're very concerned. They're seeking wisdom about how to respond in these circumstances. They're actually looking to God's Word for the answers that they really need in terms of how they relate to their neighbors and other members of the community that are part of this stressful situation."
While Jonathon has been urging calm, a religious war weighs heavily on recent memory. Even with the stepped-up security, their teams have not allowed the situation to disrupt their deadlines for translation work. Smith acknowledges, "It's definitely creating a climate of uncertainty and increases their concern about how to continue carrying out their work." However, "They know that God's Word has the real power to change people's hearts and that continuing to move forward in Bible translation is the best way to remedy the situation that they face."
There's "news," and then there's the story behind it that impacts local Christians, Smith explains. The team has a testimony in the local community, and fleeing impacts the mission work and Bible translation, in terms of its ability to move forward, he adds. That's why they're laying low and being extra vigilant. "The people that are primarily working in Bible translation right now are Nigerians. These are people that are working in their own communities. They are well aware of the local circumstances; they know who is affiliated with which groups and where their allies are. They're wired into the local situation and very attuned to it."
Tension is a normal part of living in a country like Nigeria. For the local translation teams, they work around it and pray. "Pray for God's protection. But also pray for God's wisdom that these circumstances will actually yield opportunities to speak a testimony for Him, to make His name known, and for hearts to be changed, because that's the ultimate solution."
Boko Haram is blamed for three murders this week that could be a precursor to a bloodbath, and Smith says their team wants other Christians to pray for change. "Pray that God's Word and the truth of God's Word continues to impact the communities across Nigeria. It's not government, it's not political, it's not military force that's going to change people's hearts and minds. Ultimately it's the truth of God's Word."