Missionaries spared as violence erupts in Nigeria

By December 3, 2008

Nigeria (MNN) — "Our house shares a fence with an Anglican church in Jos. The church was burned down by rioters who attempted to set our house on fire as well, but several people defended it until security forces arrived. They told me this morning (30 Nov) that soldiers are stationed outside our compound, but it and the rest of our neighborhood are safe."

A development worker from Jos, Nigeria, who is currently on speaking tour in North America for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (www.crwrc.org ) reported in an e-mail received by the home office this morning that fellow Christian Reformed Church staff members are not only safe, but they placed themselves in harm's way on his behalf.

While most international eyes were focused on the terrorist attack in Mumbai over the weekend, CRWRC released $10,000 in emergency funds to provide immediate aid to desperate survivors displaced by the mayhem and arson in Jos. Agency staff in Jos are expected to request additional emergency relief funds early next week.

"The crisis in Jos is really bad," staff reported. "Estimates here are that hundreds of lives have been lost already. Thousands are displaced and have sought refuge in now-overcrowded public buildings — police stations, army barracks, and hospitals, as well as with relatives and friends…. The situation is not good."

Nigerian authorities reported that more than 400 people are confirmed dead in the last three days of fighting. This week the AP identified Jos, the capitol of Plateau State in central Nigeria, as a sort of religious dividing line spanning the African continent from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. Plateau State is home to numerous ethnic groups who dispute land ownership in addition to being on the front line between mostly-Muslim northern Nigeria and the predominantly-Christian south.

The agencies of the Christian Reformed Church in North America have had a presence in Nigeria since the 1920s. CRWRC currently has about a half-dozen staff people located in Jos as well as dozens of other CRC agency staff spread throughout the country. The agencies partner with many churches and Christian development organizations that have contributed to peace talks between rival ethnic and religious groups, including those in the Takum area, where a ten-day Nigeria Peace Walk involving hundreds of marchers occurred in October 2007.

In Jos, the government deployed nearly 300 armed soldiers to control the violence which centered on burning down churches and mosques. Several senior Nigerian officials condemned the violence as a political ploy disguised in a cloak of religious oppression. Some national officials called for calm, including Elder Statesman Solomon Lar who assured victims that the country would "get to the root of it for a lasting solution."

CRWRC staff are grateful no missionaries were harmed in the violence. They are now providing relief to both Muslims and non-Muslims with the hope of sharing the Gospel. "The fact that it's still the Christians who are involved in the relief and there is no discrimination will go a long way in speaking to them."

"Certainly," staff members say, "the need is great."

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