Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Nigeria in talks with Boko Haram

(Cover photo courtesy Compass Direct. Story photo courtesy Open Doors)

Nigeria (MNN) ― Nigeria's president has taken a controversial step in trying to end the insurgency plaguing his country.

President Goodluck Jonathon is engaged in back-channel talks with leaders of the Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group blamed for the murder of over 600 people since the beginning of 2012.

The group's main targets of elimination are Christians, and their near-weekly attacks on churches have borne out their commitment.

President and CEO of Open Doors USA Carl Moeller reacts to news of the negotiations: "Having talks with these people? It's a bit crazy, in my opinion." Specifically, precedent has already been set for the success of such talks. "The experience of the Afghan government talking with the Taliban, the experience of the Pakistani government talking with the extremists in Swat Valley shows that you don't engage conversation with terrorist groups and expect them to compromise."

Compromise does not exist in Boko Haram's lexicon. "Boko Haram has committed itself ideologically to  the elimination of Christianity, particularly in northern Nigeria, but making all of Nigeria an Islamic state." Boko Haram, whose name in Hausa means "Western Education is sin," has gotten both better funding and better organized in their efforts.

This marks the second time the government has engaged Boko Haram in negotiations. Moeller disagrees with the notion. "I feel like it's absolutely a dead end for the Christian community in Nigeria--for the entire nation of Nigeria--for them to engage in conversation with those that are so intent on destroying the fabric of freedom and the church in Nigeria."

Since most of the victims have been pastors and Christians, there has been growing concern that the Church will begin to fight back, which could lead to civil war. However, last week, the National President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor denied that. At the end of a special council meeting, Oritsejafor said that the association will continue to pray for the peaceful co-existence of the country.

According to a news release from their Web site, Oritsejafor is quoted as saying that "we will not encourage our people to carry arms against anybody whatsoever the situation may be. For those that are behind Boko Haram, you come to us with AK47, bombs, charms and other dangerous weapons, but we come to you in the name of God."

Moeller agrees. The first line of defense is prayer. "Pray that the Nigerian government would understand that compromising on the rights of its citizens, Christians, in the north in order to obtain a political solution to this crisis, will only result in losses of more freedoms, more restrictions, and more violence against Christians in those areas." 

The second defense: awareness. That's where Open Doors can help. They've got more information about partners they work with and the back story to the scenario in Nigeria at their Web site. Once armed with the facts, Moeller encourages believers to get involved.

The last line of defense, says Moeller, are the tools. Open Doors equips church leaders with training, tools and mentorship to help them work toward a consensus for peace and biblical response to the campaign of violence.

Despite the fear and concern rising in the Church body, they haven't forgotten their first love. Moeller notes the courage of believers under fire. "Some of the most dynamic and growing churches in the world are in southern Nigeria. The progress of the Gospel continues to go forward."

Believers are gearing up for more, but not for the reasons you might think. Moeller calls it the "paradox of persecution."

"As extremism rages in people's hearts, it produces a deeper vacuum, and that vacuum can only be filled by Jesus. 

Sometimes they don't even know that, but Jesus is still moving in people's hearts, even in the midst of this violence."

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