Nigerian soldiers stand guard outside the church as the sound of worshipers singing; “blessed assurance, Jesus is mine” is heard coming from inside. One hundred yards away the smoldering city dump fills the air with the stench of burning waste. If you could see it you might be reminded of the Gehenna Jesus spoke about and likened to Hell. Pushed to this least desirable side of town by the overwhelming Muslim population, this group of Christians is just one of the many groups whose houses of worship line the streets here. But only a few still come to worship. It has become very dangerous to be a Christian in this part of Nigeria.
The group is only about half the size it once was. Many of the families fled when the Boko Haram terrorists began targeting churches with their bombs. Striking often during services and killing worshipers, but on this Sunday a faithful remnant continues to meet under the watchful eyes of armed guards.
I received an email today from Thomas (not his real name) the evangelist working with this church. It will soon be two years since our team of four visited with them and met with the churches’ Elders. The Elders are gone now, but the smaller flock continues to worship under Thomas’ capable leadership. The small farm that was located in another part of town used as an outreach of love is no longer operating, but the well continues to provide water to all who are thirsty and come to drink. A testimony to the living water that is also still available.
As I read the email from Thomas I was reminded of a different time and a different struggle, but the words of Martin Luther King still ring true as I think of this “little flock” meeting in the face of danger in northern Nigeria.
“Throw us in jail and we will still love you. Threaten our children and bomb our homes and our churches and as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you. But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. “From: Loving Your Enemies.
Tertullian [160-220 AD], one of the early Church Fathers is credited with saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. There is something powerful about a person’s willingness to love rather than retaliate, even when faced with death. Is that not the power of the cross? Is it not also our power? Roman could not stamp out Christianity by physical force and the threat of death. In fact the more she persecuted the more the Church grew.
The email from Thomas reminded me that love is stronger than death. Jesus told the persecuted church in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, [even if being faithful leads to death] and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10).
Will you join me in praying for those who continue to love their enemy even at the risk of death?
“So in many instances, we have been able to stand before the most violent opponents and say in substance, we will meet your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.” Dr. Martin Luther King