|Nigerian Christians Tested by Fire
16 January 2006
Religious intolerance continues to spread in parts of northern Nigeria. Nigerian Christians are under attack by radical Muslims and are paying a high price for their faith. But one ministry is helping the victims recover.
In Nigeria, radical Muslims are making life very hard for Christians in the north. Yet the ministry of the Voice of the Martyrs, is helping Christians in Nigeria, overcome tragedy.
Over the past five years, thousands of Christians in Nigeria have been killed and many more have been injured as Muslim militants seek to turn their country into an Islamic-controlled state.
All too often one sees Christians in caskets and funerals. Churches have been burned and the homes of Christians have been destroyed.
For the followers of Christ, especially in the northern part of the country, the killing and destruction isn't expected to end anytime soon.
The Rev. Dr. Pandang Yamsat is the President of the Church of Christ in Nigeria. He explains that the persecution of Christians is by ‘militant Muslims’ who feel they are losing their grip in areas like Plateau State where there is a high percentage of Christians.
Rev. Yamsat told us, "The Muslims feel like they have to have the upper hand, no one should oppose them.”
He explained, “In the past, the Muslims were the ones in control, economically, politically, and in all other areas. But now they seem to see that things are slipping off their hands.”
They want to be ‘in control,’ so he added, “And the only way to do so is to bring about Jihad, then they can have their control again."
Saleh Hussaini is an evangelist in the northern state of Kano, which is under Islamic sharia law. There, Muslim violence has inflicted a lot of pain on the church there.
Hussaini is a former Muslim cleric who, himself, persecuted Christians until he came to Christ in 1977.
Saleh said, "Most of our women are now widows, they are on the street because of the religious persecution. We have so many children on the street. The church cannot care for them, because the church has not yet seen the need to take these children."
For many Christians the pain they have had to endure in Nigeria will go with them the rest of their lives. One such person is Hajara Magaji.
On February 22, 2000 Hajara suffered an unspeakable tragedy. Militant Muslims were upset that Christians were trying to block sharia law in Kaduna State. The Muslims went on a rampage and surrounded Hajara's home where 30 people had gathered for a meeting.
Hajara Magaji lost 8 family members, killed by that riot, in February, 2000.
Hagara said that, "I heard my name being called from outside. They said they were going to kill me and my children. I asked why? All they said was ‘Today we are going to kill you and your family.’ They started stoning the house, and they were throwing burning tires into the house, some were armed with guns. We were shouting for help!”
Hajara added, "The children were praying. This went on from 7 a.m. until noon. I saw some of my children on the ground dead. Other people in the house were shot down. My husband said to me, to do my best to rescue some of our children. But there was no way to get out of the house. It was surrounded. He told me to still try. I tried to escape with 2 of the children."
So she grabbed 10 year old Sarah, and 6 year old Benjamin and ran out. They escaped.
Benjamin is one of dozens of children being educated by the school of Voice of the Christian Martyrs, VoCM. in Abeokuta, 80 kilometers northwest of Lagos in Ogoon State.
Benjamin, now an 11-year-old, is a bright student who says his favorite subject is English. As to what he wants to do in the future…?
I asked him “What do you want to do when you get older?”
Benjamin told me, “I want to become the President.”
“President of Nigeria?”
Benjamin replied, “Yes, sir.”
“If you were the President, what would you do?”
Benjamin said, “I will help people who do not have their parents.”
“Because you, yourself, lost your daddy, didn’t you?”
He replied, “Yes sir."
Benjamin is one of more than a hundred children who have lost one or both parents due to this crisis. Called Nigeria's Special Children they are receiving a quality education at no cost in Abeokuta. Children like 4-year-old Ruth and her 2½-year-old sister Faith also lost their father. He was killed in Kano State. At Abeokuta, they get free board, food and clothing, from pre-nursery to secondary school.
But the school and orphanage are already overcrowded. So, construction is underway to expand the facility, to meet the increasing needs.
Some of the children who lost one or both parents were on hand for the opening of the National Headquarters for Stephen House, in Lagos—named after the first martyr of the church, told of in the New Testament.
I saw the Stephen House building. It's here where the Voice of the Christian Martyrs in Nigeria coordinate their work. It was a day of mixed emotions.
Denominational leaders, pastors and guests from all over the country had gathered, even on a rainy day, to both celebrate the fulfillment of a vision, with singing and praise to God. But they also reflected on, and prayed about, why such a ministry center is needed—in the wake of wide spread persecution of Nigeria’s Christians.
Isaac Newton-Wusu is the Director of the Voice of the Christian Martyrs, VoCM, in Nigeria. He founded this work over 3 decades ago.
Newton-Wusu said, "The Stephen Center is dedicated for this goal of relieving the suffering of God's people, where ever they may be found on the globe: to share their passion, to share not only their pain, but their victory! “
And Newton-Wusu said there is another reason for the Stephen Center, “To let Christians who are still free, anywhere, realize that we have much to learn from our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted for Christ."
The printing press at Stephen House in Lagos puts out many thousands of pieces of material, to help strengthen the persecuted Christians and books that point Muslims to Christ; not only in Nigeria, but all over Africa.
At the Center, they are also producing videos to educate Christians in Nigeria—not only about the suffering of their brothers and sisters in Christ in their own country—but around the world.
Also, the Stephen Center operates vocational centers in Kaduna and Plateau States. They train widows in trades, including sewing, and computer education, so they can support their families. Another such center will soon open in Kano State, with a school for computer training.
In spite of all that these women have endured—the loss of husbands, children, family members and friends—they still have reason to celebrate and sing: they know this life is not all there is.
Written by Greg Musselman - CWNews
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