JOS, Nigeria (BP) — The bombing of a mosque by the terrorist group Boko Haram sparked destruction at two churches in Jos, a major city in Nigeria’s north-central state of Plateau.
The churches were attacked the night of July 5 amid a week of violence attributed to Boko Haram in which as many as 300 people were killed, both Muslims and Christians. The terrorist group’s stated aim is to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout the country.
An initial bomb was detonated at a shopping complex near the University of Jos while the second blast targeted the Yan Taya Mosque just minutes later, according to a report from a pastor in Jos relayed to Baptist Press.
The explosion at the mosque, according to the information received from the pastor in Jos, has been widely seen as direct retaliation against Sheikh Sani Yahaya, who has encouraged Muslims to coexist peacefully with those who hold other religious beliefs.
Subsequently, a crowd of Muslims attacked St. Michael’s Parish of the First African Church Mission and, near the mosque, the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) Good News Church. The attacks on the church buildings occurred at about 11 p.m.
Isaiah Oluwagbayibi, pastor at St. Michael’s, told Morning Star News he is at a loss to understand how the bombing of the mosque should lead to the gutting of the parish property.
“A bomb exploded in a mosque, and then they came to burn down our church — what has our church got to do with what happened in their mosque?” Oluwagbayibi said. “Are Boko Haram terrorists members of our church?” he asked rhetorically.
“Why are they doing this to Christians in northern Nigeria?”
The pastor also reported that assailants looted and burned shops owned by Christians while leaving shops of Muslims intact.
“We love Muslims and have shown love to them in practical ways,” Oluwagbayibi said, “but in return for our love for them, they repay us with evil attacks. Why so?”
The church building had been ruined three times before Sunday’s destruction. Since he arrived as pastor in 2012, Oluwagbayibi said, Islamic extremist attacks have caused members of the church to flee the area, reducing the congregation from 500 to about 20.
“I reported as the pastor of this church in March 2012 but, prior to my coming, this worship auditorium was destroyed thrice by these Muslims,” the pastor said. “When I came, the church was completely destroyed. I had to write letters of appeal to other Christians soliciting funds to carry out major repairs. We’re only able to worship here on Sunday under protection from the police.”
When he went to the church property Monday morning (July 6) to examine the damage, Oluwagbayibi said a large number of Muslims were still loitering about the burned structure, and he could not enter in.
“I called the church warden and a member to accompany me to the church,” he said. “We eventually entered the premises and saw the destruction inside the church. As you can see, the pews, the chairs and equipment inside the church have been destroyed.”
The pastor said he went to police to request that officers be stationed at the site for protection so that leaders might salvage what they could from the ruins, but the officers declined.
Oluwagbayibi said he was slated to have moved into the pastor’s house within the church property, but could not do amid heightened tension in the country prior to elections in April. “If I had moved in as earlier planned, myself and my family could have been attacked last night when these Muslims stormed the church,” he said. “It was divine providence.”
The pastor said that each time his church has been attacked, neighborhood Muslims would visit and promise to prevent further attacks, but to no avail.
“This cycle of vicious attacks on the church has continued even without the slightest provocation from Christians,” he said. “We do not know what else we can do in order to avert such attacks on our church. I must tell you that we are helpless.”
Joshua Tuwan, pastor of the ECWA Good News Church, recounted more redemptive circumstances, telling Morning Star News that on Monday morning (July 6) he found tires in the building that assailants would have burned.
“On Sunday night we pleaded with the security agencies to intervene to save our church from being destroyed,” Tuwan said. “Quite a number of window glasses were destroyed. The quick intervention of soldiers led to prevention of major destruction on the church building by the Muslims.”
The pastor learned that soldiers shot guns into the air in order to repel a large crowd of Muslims bent on burning down the church.
“We really appreciate the efforts made by the soldiers to stop these Muslims from destroying the church building,” Tuwan said.
The pastor said the church has been under pressure from the Muslims the past 14 years, and that it was attacked in 2008.
“We’ve been forced to insure this church building instead of using the funds for missions, for we do know that the church has become an object of attack by the Muslims,” he said. “And it is our desire that no matter the pressure, the hate, and the threat from these Muslims, we intend to ensure that the church remains standing in this place until Jesus comes.”
At the end of the Islamic Ramadan fasting period in 2008, Tuwan said, hundreds of Muslims stormed the ECWA Good News Church building after mosque prayers, overpowered security men and setting it on fire. Christians who had run into the church auditorium for safety escaped before the building was ruined.
“No support came from the Nigerian government to enable us rebuild the church building, but through members’ contributions, the building was rebuilt, and now the attempt to set fire on it again,” he said.
Tuwan, who is also vice chairman of the Jos District of the ECWA, said he prays the Muslim assailants will come to love Jesus Christ.
“He [Jesus] really loves them, and He is the real author of peace,” the pastor said. “I have always prayed that Muslims in northern Nigeria would know Jesus, and I know that it shall come to pass as these same Muslims who are destroying the church of Jesus Christ, would [see] their children one day becoming followers of Jesus, and they shall use their resources to build the churches they are now destroying. That is my prayer for them, and we love them.”