Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Terror spreads to Central Nigeria

Nigeria (MNN) ― There's been yet another attack on churches in Nigeria.

According to police, gunmen fired on a Bible study at Deeper Life Church in central Nigeria Monday, killing at least 19 people--including the pastor--and wounding others. Hours later, bombers struck a primary school in Lokoja, the capital of Kogi state. There's also been an unconfirmed media report of another bomb discovered at the Revival Church in the same area.
The attacks represent a move into the central region of the country. Although no one has claimed it, the attack fits the style of Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect.

Boko Haram, whose name in Hausa means "Western education is sacrilege," is responsible for more than 660 killings this year alone in Nigeria, many of them at churches.

In preparation for this story, Christian Aid Mission Africa Director Rae Burnett spoke with the head of the mission agency they support to ask about the latest incident. While not dismissive of the tragedy, he indicated that there's more violence than what occasionally gets reported in the media. "'If we told you every time an attack occurs, or every time that shots are fired or bombs are thrown, cars are hijacked or people are just killed, I would do nothing but sit at my computer.'"

The tension levels are reaching critical mass. "Everybody is fearful--" explains Burnett, "Christians and non-Christians because you can be at the wrong place at the wrong time. It's not just churches that are being attacked."

Boko Haram has a singular focus: to re-create Nigeria as an Islamic state, instill Sharia law, and eradicate the Christian population. Despite U.S. sanctions imposed on three leaders of the group, they appear unfazed. In fact, says Burnett, "Just this past week they threatened the president and said that he has to convert to Islam and rule under Sharia."

The conundrum: the attacks open doors for the Gospel, but also have been problematic. This particular ministry partner also indicated that because they're using resources to assist the attack victims in multiple areas, they can't maintain the work goals they wanted to achieve. 
Even so, Burnett says, "These missionaries are even more committed to expending every ounce of their own lives for the Gospel of the Lord, so they're not at all intimidated."

The work of this ministry partner has now expanded geographically to cover most of the Islamic north of Nigeria. With 100 missionaries to oversee, there's a lot at stake. Burnett explains: "The headquarters is in extreme danger because people do know what it is. Tthey hardly even go to their office, but he needs to have a headquarters in which to operate."   

Christian Aid Mission helped buy land for a new building, but then funds ran dry. The partner reports that more than 50 pastors and missionary leaders have so far died at the hands of Boko Haram.Burnett says, "This is really a crucial thing for them. They're in extreme danger where they are now. It has nothing to do with the missionary leaving the field. It's not the field. It's the headquarters of the ministry. None of the missionaries have left the field and their places of ministry."

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