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Nigerian Christians under high state of alert

By January 19, 2012

Nigeria
(MNN/ODM) — Hundreds of Nigerian Christians fled from Yobe State after
incessant Boko Haram (a militant Islamist sect demanding the rule of strict
Muslim law in Nigeria) attacks took refuge in Jos, the Plateau State capital.
Fleeing is a bit like jumping "out of the frying pan into the fire."

Jos also experienced recent violence in which Chrisitans bore
the brunt of the attakcs. Carl Moeller, President and CEO of Open Doors USA, says, "The larger population of Jos tends to provide a concept of more
security because there is more security and more official response than in the villages."

Many
of the refugees are afraid to go back home to Yobe State because of the threat
to wipe them out. At the same time, the
end of a nation-wide strike over fuel prices came as a relief to the Open Doors
team in Nigeria. The five-day
strike over the government's decision to cancel fuel subsidies spiraled into
violent clashes between demonstrators and police, compounding the situation
considerably. 

The Boko Haram's campaign began during the Christmas season
and left Northern Nigeria reeling. There
are concerns that the violence could tip into civil war. Moeller notes that "nobody wants to use
that 'civil war' concept, but I don't know how you can conceive of what is
taking place. It's a societal conflict. It's a deeply-held conviction on the
part of Boko Haram to wipe Christianity out of the north. We have seen where they are not ashamed also to do attacks in the more southern regions."

However, since the week before Christmas, the attacks have
been noticeably on the rise. "As Christian leaders in Nigeria have
struggled, what is the Christian response to do? The government seems to be
relatively unable to do more than speak words of safety to the Christian
community. The actions of Boko Haram, as we've seen, have been more than just
words. They've been deadly actions targeted against Christian churches and
Christian communities."

The hardest question to answer is: Can believers say that as
long as they strive for peace, defending themselves in the midst of this
violence is legitimate? Moeller says
the teams are praying. "We're
continuing to support the church as it calls for calm and government
intervention for the protection of Christians. But at the same time, we're
recognizing that Christians will need to defend themselves against this
violence."

The line between persecution and religicide is getting
equally fuzzy. Moeller says Open Doors
defines it as when one group of religious zealots and extremists want to wipe
out an entire religion in that region. When examining the situation in Nigeria, he notes, "All of those circle around the identity
of Boko Haram as an Islamic extremist group and the identity of the victims of
their violence as Christians, so it may involve other ethnic issues, and it may
involve other tribal issues, but it is, in fact, a religious conflict."

Open Doors workers have been swamped in efforts to confirm
and address the most urgent needs of Christian believers who've been caught up
in the situation. Boko Haram has vowed
to "cleanse the North of Christianity," which has kept the affected areas in
the grip of uncertainty. However, Moeller says, "The question is: Will we continue to do what we're doing there? And the answer is: Of course, because the church needs us, and they've asked to stay and to help equip and
rebuild these congregations that have been impacted."

This
atmosphere of fear and mistrust across the North complicates the work for Open
Doors teams, who need much wisdom and discernment in their decision-making
process. If staff teams are caught up in the violence themselves, this will
complicate urgently-needed assistance even further.

At
the end of 2011, some Open Doors training sessions were disrupted by Boko
Haram activities. While a training seminar was going on in Maiduguri, 10 bomb
explosions occurred in different locations of the city within three days.

Two
of the participants in the seminar were gunned down by Boko Haram members after
returning home. One of them was a pastor of the local Church of Christ in
Nigeria (COCIN) congregation. Despite the great shock to all the participants
and the ongoing danger, they persisted to complete the training. In one
instance, it was confirmed that the movements of an Open Doors relief team were
being monitored by members of Boko Haram. 

The
local team has confirmed that more than 50 Christians have been killed in the
violence since the beginning of January. In order to contain the violence, the
government has set in place dusk-to-dawn curfews in Kaduna, Niger, Kano and Zamfara
States, although reportedly these curfews are being relaxed.  

The
Open Doors teams ask for concerted prayer as they work to meet the most urgent
needs in the face of the remaining uncertainties in Nigeria.

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