Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Niger casts a wary eye to the violence in Nigeria

Niger (MNN) ― Clashes continue in northeast Nigeria, the part of the country with the greatest Boko Haram activity.

Boko Haram is an Islamism sect with ties to al Qaeda. The group's name in Hausa means "Western education is sinful."

David Bast with Words of Hope doesn't doubt the flare up of trouble in the neighboring country, but he says there's something else to consider. "I think it's important to note that there's some question about Boko Haram. It's always possible for ordinary criminals or thugs to use that in order to cover their activities, so it's very difficult for us to know what's going on, on the ground."

Either way, the atmosphere across the North remains tense among Christians in Nigeria. Bast says while their Niger team is not being directly affected by the persecution, there's reason to be wary. "The tribal and linguistic group straddles that border--they're Hausa speakers, and something like 40 to 50 million."  

Words of Hope's French programs are trying to influence the region for good. Given that radio is the most important means of mass communication, it's one of the best ways to share crucial information.   

An overwhelming majority of the population has ownership or at least access to radios within their household and listens to radio faithfully. From the survey results, the respondents' favorite radio programs discuss news and religion. That's another plus. The Words of Hope team is producing daily radio programs in Hausa. Bast says, "They're on 30 radio stations throughout the country. They're very positive in the way they present the good news about Jesus. One of the things that they report is that their programming has made it easier for evangelists from the church to enter the villages."

Although Niger is majority Muslim country, the history with Christians has been peaceful. Radio capitalizes on that relationship to introduce Christ. "The Muslim population of the villages has already heard from the church, in effect, through the radio. They like the programs, and so they're willing to give a hearing to the evangelists that come in. It's kind of clearing away misconceptions and maybe popular prejudice."

Over the last five years, the number of listeners has grown exponentially because of what the ministry addresses. As a result, they've heard from missionaries and pastors who say the Muslim community is listening. There are several imams who listen to the programs and appreciate them.

As the situation continues to deteriorate in nearby Nigeria, the Words of Hope program director says despite the uncertainty of the time they're living in, "'We have a great duty which consists in loving our Muslim brothers despite the fact that some of them kill innocents every day. It's also the love that brought Jesus to the cross. We must redouble our efforts to bring the Gospel of peace, restoration, and forgiveness wherever it should be.'"

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