Nigeria (MNN) — Suspected Boko Haram militants in northern Nigeria have killed at least 34 people since Christmas–including 27 Christians attending church services.
So far, the body count tops more than 2,800, roughly a third of them Christians, according to Human Rights Watch.
Frustration is growing with the ineffective government response, although President Goodluck Jonathan celebrated the arrest of significant number of terrorism suspects accused in the bombings of the Nigeria Police Headquarters and the United Nations building in Abuja. These terrorists are also believed responsible for a church bombing in Madala which killed scores.
The name Boko Haram means "Western education is sacrilege." In the past, they have attacked other Muslims they felt were on an immoral path but have increasingly killed Christians. Greg Musselman, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs, Canada, explains, "They want to turn the northern part of Nigeria into an Islamic state. That is their goal, and those that would stand against that are seen as legitimate targets for the Boko Haram."
Musselman goes on to note that even if they accomplish this goal, it won't likely stop the violence. "Eventually, they would want to take over the whole country. So again, those that would get in their way are seen as legitimate targets."
The U.S. State Department has accused Boko Haram of attacking mosques and churches to incite tensions between the two religious groups, hoping to drive a wedge between them. That's one explanation for the spike in attacks. Another, says Musselman, is "because the Gospel is advancing into the North, and many are becoming Christians. We need be praying that the Church will not be bogged down in fear."
That's especially true now. "What terrorism tries to do is to bring terror to people, to lock them up and prevent them from advancing the Gospel," says Musselman. The pressure is refining the Church, and the boldness of Christians is having a direct impact on the community. "Pray that there will still be boldness and wisdom in how they go about advancing God's kingdom. We need to also ask the Lord how we can practically help through ministries like Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors, Christian Solidarity Worldwide."
Under the current pressures, it is dangerous to convert and dangerous for churches to integrate new converts. However, Musselman says that won't stop the Gospel or the workers they support. "Be praying and then supporting the church the best that we can, helping them, encouraging them (i.e. with orphanages for the young victims who have lost parents because of the violence)."