Nigerian Christians struggle against retaliation

By January 2, 2012

Nigeria (MNN) — After years of attacks and a recent bombing responsible for the death of 40 believers, Christians in Nigeria are fed up.

For the past few months, Open Doors USA workers have heard reports, from Nigerian youth, in particular, that Christians are ready to retaliate after the numerous attacks on believers by Islamist group Boko Haram.

But after the fatal Christmas Day bombings, those threats are getting serious.

Many Christians feel that the government is slacking in their defense. Three of the bombers in the Christmas attacks were reportedly arrested. But leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pentecostal pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, has criticized President Jonathan Goodluck's government as not taking threats against Christians seriously.

Following the Christmas bombings, Oritsejafor said last week, "The consensus is that the Christian community nationwide will be left with no other option than to respond appropriately if there are any further attacks on our members, churches and property."

There is some speculation already that a bomb that detonated in an Islamic school last week was launched by Christians.

Jerry Dykstra with Open Doors says the ministry has yet to hear of any specific retaliatory attacks by Christians, adding that Open Doors workers are advising strongly against such a response. "Really, if we want to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, retaliation is not the way to do that. In fact, that would just make it harder for them to see us as Christians," says Dykstra.

Some believers who have watched their families killed are beyond thinking that way though, says Dykstra. One young man told an Open Doors worker, "It's no longer a time for forgiveness; they have pushed us to the wall. So no pastor can stop me from killing and destroying the lives and property of the Muslims."

Nigeria is split nearly 50-50 between a Christian and Muslim population. With such large populations of both group, Dykstra says it's possible that some of the Christians armed for retaliation may be more nominal than evangelical. But even so, as attacks against Christians continue to ramp up–attacks which have actually placed northern Nigeria as #23 on the Open Doors World Watch List for the persecuted church–it's easy to understand where they're coming from.

"Christians that are victims also are begging for answers," explains Dykstra. "Such a question that we got from one person was, 'Should we fold our arms and watch our killers kill us and take our land because we want to share Christ? Should we begin to show love the people who are killing us on a daily basis? Haven't all of our efforts to live at peace with them failed?"'So those are the questions they're asking, and I think the questions are questions that we would ask too in that situation."

Open Doors is now pleading for believers around the globe to pray. Pray that our brothers and sisters in Christ would respond exactly as Jesus would want them to. Pray that bitter hearts would be made at peace, and that forgiveness would reign. Pray also for those who need trauma counseling after watching family members killed. Above all, pray that this would build God's kingdom rather than hinder it.

To learn more about the work of Open Doors in Nigeria and other volatile nations around the world, click here.

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