Nigeria (MNN) — The last few weeks have been a blood bath for Christians in Nigeria.
"In the last month, there have been several attacks on the communities in Plateau, leaving more than 100 Christians dead, including the elimination of several entire families," says Paul Estabrooks with Open Doors, USA.
Plateau is a Nigerian state dividing the Muslim north and the Christian south. Nigeria remains roughly 50-50 in its allegiance to either religion.
Attacks in this area are common, but as Estbrooks points out, "It's really become even a little more serious than it has been in the past."
In the first couple of weeks in September, in particular, attacks were occurring almost daily. Compass Direct reports that on September 4, eight Christians were killed; on September 5, 11 were murdered; on September 8, 10 died; on September 9, 14 lost their lives; on September 10, 13 more were killed.
Attacks have ranged from machine gun shootings of entire homes, to machete raids on pregnant women. One villager told Compass Direct, "This is becoming too much to bear."
But why the severe increase of attacks? Muslims and Christians have a history of fighting in the nation, but why so many deaths so close together?
Estabrooks says it's a complicated situation. A lot of it has to do with land ownership, some to do with tribal differences. Estabrooks adds, "It's also generated when the Islamic community sees the church growing."
Growing churches in Plateau mean that not only those with animist backgrounds are turning to Christ, but Muslims are as well. "When the Muslim community sees this kind of church growth, it distresses them greatly because they are obviously stressing toward the south. They see this as a hindrance to their objective of Islamicizing the entire nation."
This "Islamicizing" is becoming such a priority in the face of growing churches that Muslim groups appear to be seeking those they can add to their numbers. Some victims of recent attacks report hearing their attackers speaking the Fulani language, spoken by nomadic Muslims from far away who would be familiar with rural terrain to help in attacks.
Much more troubling, however, is the involvement of the government. Christians say that despite reporting attacks, they have seen no increased protection. In fact, soldiers may be responsible for some of the violence.
"Some of the survivors of the attacks have claimed that many of the men attacking them were actually wearing military uniforms of the Nigerian army," says Estabrooks. "That's very disconcerting."
Based on Compass Direct reports, it seems that many believers would now rather have no soldier presence at all. One onlooker of an attack reported that a soldier was standing outside a home as a family was being murdered, keeping anyone from entering or exiting.
The nature of the religious conflicts in Nigeria is undoubtedly worsening. It is worth noting that church growth may actually be the catalyst for persecution, making it clear that people are indeed coming to Christ. But Estabrooks says Christians around the world need to be in continual, daily prayer for the believers in Nigeria.
Believers can also get involved through direct advocacy. Visit opendoorsusa.org to appeal to your representatives, ambassadors and government officials to speak up against the violence.