Nigeria (MNN) — Airstrikes Wednesday in Maiduguri, Nigeria may have taken out key Boko Haram hideouts and scattered the rebels in neighboring countries.
The extremist group is blamed for the deaths of 800 Christians throughout the northeast part of the country. Their agenda: to bring Nigeria under the “House of Islam,” especially in the twelve northern Sharia states.
Since beginning its armed insurgency in 2009, Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in Nigeria, often targeting Christians for some of the most brutal acts of violence. Two years ago, extremists demanded all Christians leave or be removed. Since then, Boko Haram has claimed church bombings, shootings, and Christian massacres.
Greg Musselman, spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs Canada, says, “They’re very well organized, they’re very well financed. Nigeria has a Christian president, Goodluck Jonathon, who has made it his mission, in many ways, to stop this kind of violence. But even with the state of emergency, putting in troops, and lots of resources in trying to stop this, the situation has not improved.” Now going on eight months, there seems to be little deterrent that works effectively to end the insurgency.
Christians are targeted in their homes, at their businesses, on farms, while traveling on highways, and even in their churches. Musselman says, “In some ways, it seems to be getting worse. We’re hearing of attacks every week against Christians.”
Many Christians fear the new elections in 2015. The future does not look bright with emerging links between al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Boko Haram making more violent persecution likely. “The Boko Haram are not going to stop until they accomplish their goal or until they’re wiped out,” explains Musselman. “When you’re fighting an enemy like that, it’s difficult, even with strong military power, in a nation like Nigeria, to be able to slow this down.”
Even in the 12 Sharia states that exist in the north, that’s not enough to satiate the Boko Haram. “They want an even more militant Islam where you have no choice. You have to be a Muslim. They want to force all the Christians out of there.”
Musselman says they’re determined to continue coming alongside these believers and help them accomplish their goal: heading back into society to share the gospel as Christ’s witnesses. “We need to be praying for Nigeria. It has been concentrated prayer for Nigeria, and yet this battle is so brutal that it continues to rack up the casualties, destroy families.”
One of VOMC’s largest fields is Nigeria. In addition to providing Bibles and Christian literature, they also provide medical help for the survivors of attacks, as well as a place of refuge where persecuted Christians can safely hide from angry families, extremists or government authorities. In addition, “Our ministry, Voice of the Martyrs, and our partners around the world are involved in an orphanage in the southern part of the country where you have more than 300 children there who have lost one or both parents,” says Musselman.
Aside from the obvious toll on Nigeria, there is another cost, observes Musselman. “It is destroying much of the culture there in Nigeria. It’s become a culture of violence. So, unless there is a divine intervention by the Lord, you wonder how this will be solved.”
Musselman says putting faces and names to the victims’ stories will help distinguish one report from another. It makes their pain and suffering ours. “We have to continue to tell their stories about what’s happening there, and not just say, ‘Well, that’s what goes on in Africa.’ No, these are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we need to hear their stories.” (Click here for more ways to pray.)
Pray that Christians in Nigeria will demonstrate the love of Christ as they face opposition. Pray for the cruelty and injustices of Sharia to be exposed. Pray that one law, with equality for all, will govern the nation of Nigeria.