On Sunday July 26th a radical Islamic group calling itself Boko Haram, meaning Western Education is Sin, launched a series of attacks on at least three northern Nigeria cities. The capitol city of Maiduguri in Borno State suffered the most devastation and loss of life. Mohammed Yusuf, the self proclaimed leader of Boko Haram also had his headquarter in this city.
The first attacks over ran the local police station and prison. All prisoners were freed and the police station and prison were set on fire. At about the same time in the section of Maiduguri called Wulari – Jerusalem, where most all of the local churches are located, another assault began. At least 9 churches were burned to the ground and a number of people were killed. The Wulari Jerusalem Church of Christ was in the midst of all of the violence, but was left untouched. Other houses of worship within a few feet of this building were burned, but the Wulari Jerusalem Church building was left untouched. Ebenezer Udofia, our representative in Maiduguri filed the following report. (Edited for communication purposes)
“The EYN Church was first attacked and burnt down along eleven vehicles in the compound. The Pastor of the Church, Rev. Yuguda – Zibagai and his family escaped by scaling a high fence and jumped to safety at the rear of the Wulari – Jerusalem Church of Christ. At the Celestial Church of Christ, the whole compound was set ablaze including the Pastors quarters. Evangelist R.C. Eze reported that they escaped with their lives and lost everything except the clothes they were wearing.”
“Pastor Olusola Joseph is the Pastor in-charge of the Elijah Apostolic Church, described how he saw the militants coming in a group, numbering about 50 in uniforms that could be easily mistaken for military uniforms except for head and hand bands. They were armed with guns, machetes/knives and bombs. His church is just three meters away from Wulari – Jerusalem Church of Christ. So, he and his family used a wooden latter to safely climb over the wall into the W-J- C.O.C Compound and escape with their lives.”
“The National Evangelical Mission suffered not only the loss of their build but the loss of lives as well. Their pastor was slaughtered and abandoned to bleed to death. At the time of the attack eleven members were having all night prayers when the attackers broke in on them. Only one of eleven members escaped alive. The other ten members were burnt to ashes inside the Church building. The Deeper Life Bible Church and the Lord’s Chosen Church of God were also burned but suffered no loss of life.”
“In another part of Maiduguri the God’s Mission International Church and The Jehovah’s Witness Church buildings were burnt and both of their Pastors were killed. Word spread to the members of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) at Jajeri in Maiduguri and eight of their members prepared to defend their property against an attack. Sadly they were overpowered by the Nigerian Talibanes and were all killed and their Church building destroyed.”
Ebenezer also reported that when Christians were found or captured they were given the choice of renouncing Christianity and becoming a Muslim or face death. Ebenezer continued, “Bodies littered the streets of Maiduguri. The actual number cannot be ascertained, but somewhere between 300 and 500 people were killed including three prison officials, police men and the military personnel. The Nigerian Government rose to the challenge and defeated this militant who had intended to turn Maiduguri into his operational headquarter. Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf had a compound of about 4 kilometer square in Maiduguri. He was a 39 years old man and a Western educated member of the Nigerian elite who told all followers to rid themselves of all material wealth from the West, while he himself lived in luxury. In his compound, he had a medical clinic where medical attention was given to those injured or sick as well as a chemical laboratory where bombs were manufactured. His compound was penetrated by government troops on Thursday and finally, the “almighty” Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf was killed after being captured Thursday night in a goat pen at his in-law’s house outside Maiduguri.”
“Friday morning was full of mixed emotions after Mohammed Yusuf’s death. People moved in groups to see his dead body on display at the police headquarter before it was taken away for burial. The tensions have gradually reduced and we can once again feel safe in Maiduguri. This must definitely be an answer to the prayers of the Saints committing the situation in Maiduguri to God in prayers.”
“There has been religious violence in other parts of Northern Nigeria including Maiduguri at other times; but in every respect, none can be compared to what happened during the four days of deadly clashes in Maiduguri. Personally, apart from the psychological effects of the violence, there are other events that cannot easily be deleted from my memory. The home of our Bro. Raymond Pegu was completely burnt down by the militants leaving him and his family with only the clothes on their bodies as their only properties.” And the saddest memory of all is the loss of a dear brother. On Saturday night a group of about sixty militants armed with guns and hand grenades attacked a police station in Bauchi State, and there was a gun battle between this group and the government troops resulting in the death of about 42 people. Among them two soldiers and a police officer. One of the soldiers killed in the clash was my dear brother in Christ, Ikechuku N.”
“Ikechuku was a devoted Christian in word and deed, the epitome of humility, a youth leader of the Wulari Jerusalem Church, and a very close family friend. Even before his departure to his duty post at Bauchi, he was in our home to bid us goodbye only for us to receive the sad news that he is dead. Ikechuku was the only person other than Brother Brad Blake that traveled all the way from Maiduguri to attend my wedding in Abuja March 29th 2008. He was very instrumental to the progress of our mission in Maiduguri. This late brother was concluding plans for his wedding that was supposed to take place by Nov.2009. But he is now no more…, we are being consoled by the hope and trust in Christ Jesus that he is now resting from his labor and pilgrimage on earth. We miss him greatly…the next thoughts in our minds are: what will happen to Sis. Peace (his fiancée)? She is a young convert in faith. Where does she start and how does she cope with this sad situation? How do we encourage her, a lady of about 25 years old very close to our family, but living with her relatives who are not members of the Lord’s church?
“We desire you all to help us in prayers and advice in any way you can to help us in our present situation. Every member of the church in Maiduguri has been touched by the violence and indeed the whole Maiduguri community is affected. Hundreds of people are hospitalized, others are thinking on where to start from here with their lives, and desiring that the episode should not occur again.”
“A belief of the Islamic religion is that when a leader is killed, the gate of Paradise is closed, so anyone who is killed after him will go to hell. So when Mohammed Yusuf was killed, people rejoiced knowing that his followers would flee.”
“I wish to stop for now as it is time for us to prepare for the burial of our late brother, I will keep you updated in any other issue arising from the violence.”
It should be pointed out here that the general Muslim population abhors this kind of violence. Radical forces from outside of Nigeria are most often the reason for this kind of thinking. Our workers in Maiduguri have always had a cordial and open working relationship with the Muslim majority of this city. Ebenezer was recently appointed Vice President of the Borno State Youth Empowerment Forum, an Islamic organization working to deal with the problem of street children. Ebenezer said, “Our relationship with the Muslims before, during and after this episode is very cordial.” In fact he reported that the president of the BSYEF and other executive members of the forum have been calling to find out if they are alright and safe. Ebenezer also learned that one of the members of this forum had his own home destroyed during this attack. They are as shocked and dismayed as we are at the events that have taken place.
Why was the churches property spared when all around it there was death and destruction? Ebenezer had this to say. “One thing I cannot tell is why the Wulari Jerusalem Church building was not burnt down by this mob of Islamic militants despite the fact that Churches in the neighborhood were destroyed. Could it be God’s providence, or the fact that we engaged in humanitarian service?” I believe that at least apart of the reason is that many of you reading this have lifted this work up before God in your prayers.
What about the future? The followers of this radical kind of thinking are in 12 of the northern states of Nigeria. It is believed that some of Yusuf’s 12 children by his four wives are studying in the Middle East and their specific whereabouts is not known. So we will continue to believe that love is stronger than death, and that not even the gates of Hell can prevail against His purpose.