Nigeria (MNN) — Ongoing attacks in Northern Nigeria have put Nigerian Christians at risk, but Rob Myers of DOOR International says Deaf Christians are especially vulnerable.
The two primary groups responsible for what many are calling “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” are Boko Haram, known for kidnappings and attacks against Christians in Northern Nigeria, and the Fulani militant herdsmen.
“Most of them are shepherds, which sounds kind of innocuous, but they’re shepherds with AK-47s and other large-scale weapons,” Myers says. Although he says some authorities claim the conflict is land-based, but “Those Fulani militants have gone into churches and Christian funerals and slaughtered the people who were attending those services.”
“Just within the last six months, thousands of Christians have lost their lives because of these attacks.”
And Deaf communities feel it even harder than most. Many parents of Deaf individuals don’t have access to sign language training, making it a struggle for Deaf children to connect with even their own parents.
“Deaf children end up very isolated, and that makes them vulnerable,” Myers says. “They can be vulnerable to being taken advantage of even within their own homes, so many of these militant groups will target Deaf people.
“These Deaf people don’t have a lot of information about what these groups stand for and what they’re doing, so they end up involved before they really know what’s going on. They also can be taken advantage of because if they end up in these groups and they want to get out, it’s very difficult for them to communicate with other people.”
Many Deaf individuals are used as fighters or even suicide bombers because they can’t fully understand what’s happening or why, thanks to a lack of appropriate training or education.
“As Christians are targeted, Deaf Christians are among those that the Fulani are trying to break up and keep from being able to worship in the states where they’re operating.”
So, how can the Church respond?
Most of the violence is in Northern Nigeria, while the more democratic southern part of Nigeria sees more of a Christian influence. That means ongoing work DOOR is doing in the south has yet to be seriously endangered by the violence in the north.
“This translation in Nigeria is pioneering and critical,” Myers says. “It’s the translation that’s farthest along among all of the sign languages in West Africa right now.”
If the translation is complete, it could be a source resource for other translations in the area. In other words, the work in Southern Nigeria could be a launch point for further work around West Africa.
“We have four Deaf teams that are operating in evangelism and church-planting work in Nigeria, but their work to this point has mostly been in Southern Nigeria, and we’ve had requests from several Deaf Christians in the north that we come and provide that same training,” Myers says.
So DOOR is moving north come August.
“There’s a city that these leaders plan to all come together and have a small training conference for Deaf people in the North who want to begin to learn how to reach out to their Muslim neighbors.”
The training will help leaders in the north learn how to reach a community that’s hostile to the Gospel, supply them with tools in their heart language, and help Deaf leaders reach Deaf communities with the hope of God’s Word.
The bottom line? The Gospel is about grace, and if DOOR can help spread that message, they will.
“The ministry that’s happening is particularly among Deaf Christians. Deaf communities in Nigeria are among the least of the least, and when I think of the least of the least, I think that they are the closest to God’s hear,” Myers said. “They’re the people who don’t have someone else to defend them, and many times they don’t have anyone advocating for them. God calls us to be a voice for the voiceless and a defender for the defenseless.”
Consider contacting your government representatives to ensure this situation is not looked at as “just a clash of communities but a terrorist organization coming in to promote ethnic cleansing among the Christians there.” You can also support DOOR’s work by clicking right here.
Header photo courtesy of DOOR International.