JOS, Nigeria (BP)–At least 12 Nigerian Baptists were killed and five Baptist churches burned during Thanksgiving weekend riots sparked by local election results in Jos, Nigeria.
International Mission Board workers in the area were unharmed by the violence that began Nov. 28. The workers and several Nigerian Baptist congregations are reaching out to comfort and house those left hurting and homeless.
News agencies report more than 300 people killed and thousands injured in fires and riots. Dozens of churches, mosques, businesses and homes were burned in Jos, a city located between Nigeria’s largely Christian south and Muslim north.
When gunfire quieted Dec. 2, a local Baptist pastor ventured into the still-smoldering city to assess the damage.
“One Baptist church lost five members and one deacon,” he reported. “At least one pastor’s home was burned down. It was a very, very sad day.”
Unscathed by the violence, the pastor’s church is housing some of those who have lost their homes. Other local Baptist churches are doing the same. Church families also are helping to house boarding students evacuated from the Baptist high school there.
“Everyone is sad and afraid, but we have faith,” the pastor said, noting rumors swirl that the fighting may start again. “We can only do our part to help. We will find out more about the damages in coming days and find out what we can do.”
While local churches are serving as shelters, armed police and military troops patrol the streets to keep the peace among local groups clashing over issues steeped in tribal identity, religion and land. Local news agencies report the Red Cross and government agencies have set up shelters and brought in large-scale relief materials such as mattresses.
When a local pastor needed medicine for his sick daughter discharged from a hospital to make room for incoming riot victims, IMB worker Mary Lovett was able to find what the girl needed.
Tennesseans Mary and her husband, Mike, also have helped other local friends like Paul*.
“[Paul] is a very strong Christian, and he’s not afraid to tell people,” Mike said. Paul lives in a neighborhood where Christians and Muslims live side by side, which caused Mike to worry when he started hearing gunfire in the city Nov. 28.
After the tumultuous weekend, Paul showed up at the Lovetts’ house on Monday with only one shoe. Nothing else in hand.
“He said his house was burned down, and he lost everything,” Mike said. “I lent him some of my shoes. We just happened to be the same size.”
Tensions in Jos have erupted into violence a few times in the past decade, but Muslims and Christians typically have lived in peace in Africa’s most populous nation. According to the World Values Survey, Nigerians are known as some of the world’s friendliest and happiest people.
Knowing this, IMB worker Harriet Bowman from Georgia is confident peace will be restored and workers and volunteer teams will continue taking the Gospel to countless villages that have never heard the message of Jesus.
“We may have to be a little more cautious, but this won’t change anything that we’re trying to do at all,” she said. “In fact, we’ll just try harder.”
A Jos pastor asks that Christians pray:
— for comfort for those who have lost their loved ones.
— that the fighting does not continue.
— for Nigeria to have peace and unity.
— for hearts to be open to hear the message of Jesus.
*Name changed. Emily Peters is a regional writer covering West Africa for the International Mission Board.