Nigeria (MNN) — The Nigerian middle-belt city of Jos recently became a battleground between militant Fulani Muslims and innocent villagers.
On September 27, Fulani men stormed a Jos neighborhood and murdered 20 people in their homes. Nigerian military personnel did nothing to stop them. This led to a community riot when villagers became fed up with both the Islamist Fulani attacks and the lackluster military response.
These attacks continued for several days. During that time, more people were killed and properties destroyed. Seven students at the University of Jos were also murdered.
The Voice of the Martyrs has local staff in the area. One staff member reports, “The people who have been injured include children as young as 2 years old. We have been attacked multiple times starting from 2001. However, this is one of the most brutal attacks.”
Todd Nettleton, VOM’s Chief of Media Relations and Message Integration explains, “One of the things that’s very concerning about the attacks in September [is that] some of the Fulani attackers were dressed as soldiers. So if someone knocks on your door wearing an army uniform, you open your door…. Well, if it’s the attacker, then that raises all sorts of questions. How did they get these uniforms? Why were they wearing these uniforms? And why weren’t soldiers stopping these attacks?”
Nettleton adds this caveat: “When I say Fulani, I always want to be careful to say Islamists from within the Fulani tribe, because Fulani is a very large tribe. We don’t want to paint all of them with the same brush also because thousands of Fulani are becoming followers of Christ. So we want to be very careful to say these are radical, Muslim Islamists from among that tribal group who conducted these attacks.”
Militant Fulani Muslim attacks are motivated in part by land wars and in part by religious zeal to drive out Christians. Both Nigerian Muslims and Christians have been targeted and feel unprotected by the government.
“Nigerians are frustrated that these attacks keep happening because they think there should be security.”
For Nigerian Christians, however, they also have a supernatural response. Nettleton says, against all odds, they are embracing joy, growing in their walk with the Lord, and even praying for their persecutors.
But here’s one of the best, untold stories in the midst of Nigeria’s dismal circumstances. Nettleton says, “Thousands of Fulani are following Jesus Christ. So this traditionally Muslim tribal group, ethnic group, thousands of them have left Islam behind and are now following Jesus Christ. So the Church there sees that and that tends to bridge some of these gaps.”
Staff on the ground with VOM are responding to the tragedy in Jos with aid and encouragement. The ministry is in a position to respond to situations like attacks and displacement across Nigeria.
“Earlier this summer, there were more than 10,000 Nigerian Christians displaced. Voice of the Martyrs was able to help several thousand of them just with basic necessities — food and mosquito nets and a sleeping mat.”
It may seem like a situation far-removed from the lives of believers outside Nigeria. But their story is not the story of “others”. It’s the story of “us”.
“We should care because this is our family. These are our brothers and sisters, they are going through a very difficult time, they are being attacked.” Nettleton says, “I have two brothers and I often think if one of my brothers was being attacked, of course, I would be upset about it and I would be like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m going to help, I’m going to step in, I’m going to bang the drum and make sure everyone knows my brother is being attacked.’”
So what can you do? “It’s interesting because the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is coming up in just a couple weeks. That’s the number one way that we can help is to pray for these Nigerian Christians as well as for the attackers. We pray for our enemies as well, just as Christ asked us to do.”
As we pray for the attackers to come to Christ, the Church in Nigeria is growing more diverse with believers from various backgrounds. “We pray for unity within the Nigerian Church, that these ethnic tensions won’t spill over into the Church but that there will be unity there.”
Header photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs.