Stirring Stories From Jos, Nigeria
Posted by Michael Ramsden, on July 10, 2018
It has been an absolute pleasure to spend the last few days in Jos, Northern Nigeria, with three OCCA graduates who are now part of our African team. They are doing an amazing job sharing God’s love in a deeply dangerous and divided setting. By the time we left we felt privileged to have been there. Many of the Christian leaders we ministered to asked for prayer, as they struggled with the reality of enduring brutal opposition to the gospel with little support and protection. Their primary prayer request? That the Lord may fill their lives with love for those who were seeking to end theirs.
Sadly, the challenges in and around Northern Nigeria–made famous by the kidnapping of 276 school children a while ago–continue to overflow into violence. A few days before we arrived, a village church was attacked and destroyed leaving a large number dead, injured, and homeless. As I write this, we have just heard reports that five further villages have been attacked leaving over 100 dead–our team there really do need your ongoing prayers. There is great tension within the country, split between the predominately Muslim north and the Christian south. This tension is not only felt, but visibly obvious, with dozens and dozens of military and police check points. Hassan, one of our African Adjuncts, pointed out parts of local towns of which, if we entered, we would never come out; when we first landed we had to wait for daylight before even attempting the car journey to where we were heading.
Yet, as we arrived at the invitation of the Archbishop, we were greeted with such joy and warmth. There’s something beautiful about experiencing the heart of a vibrant, worshipping community, made even more moving due to its challenging environs. Jesus likens the Kingdom of Heaven to a city set on a hill and in places like these this phrase really comes alive in a new way. The beauty of their witness was both encouraging and infectious.
At every event, the question of violence was raised: When is there the right to defend loved ones, and what should that defense look like? At the end of the leadership conference therefore, I couldn’t help but pull out my phone and film the choir singing “Jesus, do with my life whatever you want to do.” A refrain that carries a far higher price than it does when sung in the West. Forgiveness and a relationship with God are free gifts open to all, but the cost of following Christ comes with a price.
These issues came to the forefront in the two university open forums. When the opportunity was given to ask questions, so many cards were filled out it felt like you could measure the thickness of the pile in feet, rather than inches. The following night, the evening started with Q&A just to try and clear some of the backlog from the previous evening, followed by the message and an opportunity to respond. Almost a hundred people gave their lives to Christ across the two evenings and many hundreds more asked for follow up.
While there, we had the further privilege of meeting with those who would seek to justify violence against the Christian community. These are never easy discussions and, given the tensions within the community, we had a meeting before the official meeting to set the tone for the interaction. It is at times like these that we are so appreciative of your prayers for wisdom and protection and are so thankful for the support which makes encounters such as these possible.
When we left several hours later, one of our team stood outside afterward and simply said “Wow.” As far as he knew, this was the first time the gospel had been openly discussed by the senior leadership. Although many other dialogue meetings had been set up in the past in which he had participated, the discussions had always descended into a back and forth about who had done what to whom, and when. His joy was wonderful to behold and all the more striking given that a few minutes later we stood in the ruins of his church which had been destroyed by the very same group. Some of the rubble had been pushed aside to make room for a simple wooden altar and plastic chairs, so that it was now a place of Christian worship again. The church property borders the university at which I spoke. We prayed together: That not only would the church be rebuilt, but that accommodation would be built there, too, so that those who came to know Christ while studying could be then be trained in apologetics and sent from that place to take the Good News into the tough places that surrounded them.
People sometimes question the need for apologetics in places such as these–the assumption being that other needs simply make apologetics unnecessary. However, the response from those on the ground demonstrate that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Confidence in the truth of the gospel is what lays an even stronger desire to share the gospel confidently. Those with whom we met specifically asked for me to pass on their deepest thanks to all who enable us to do the work we do. Without you, none of this would be possible. The battles we are facing in this world are real, both physically and spiritually; the need for your prayers and support is so desperately needed and your partnership is a deep encouragement to us.