JOS, Nigeria (BP)–Tensions mounted in two Nigerian cities in late December as sectarian bloodshed left 80 dead, including a Baptist pastor and two church members. Dozens of others have been seriously injured.
Violence erupted on Christmas Eve when militants of the outlawed Islamic sect Boko Haram attacked two churches in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri. Jihadists belonging to another Muslim sect set off a series of bombs in the city of Jos.
Bulus Marwa, pastor of Victory Baptist Church in Maiduguri, was dragged from his residence, shot and killed after two choir members rehearsing for a late-night carol service were hacked to death inside the church. Two passersby also were killed and the church building was set ablaze. At a nearby Church of Christ, a security guard was killed and 25 people injured by bomb blasts when Boko Haram members stormed the church in two vehicles and detonated bombs.
In Jos, bombs exploded simultaneously on Christmas Eve in two Christian neighborhoods, hitting shopping centers, restaurants and a Catholic church. The death toll there stands at 80, with 120 hospitalized. A previously unknown Islamic group claimed responsibility. Since the Christmas Eve violence, 20 homes have been burned and two mosques and a church vandalized.
Maiduguri is the capital of Borno state and is predominantly Muslim. Jos is the capital of Plateau state. Borno’s state governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, visited Victory Baptist Church on Christmas Day. He told those attending that the attacks on the Christian communities there and in Jos were an attempt to create conflict between Christians and Muslims. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also condemned the attacks.
“It’s obvious that Islamists are bent on giving us a black Christmas,” said Timothy Olonade, executive secretary of the Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association.
While several churches cancelled services on Christmas Day because of the violence, many did meet, Olonade reported. “Those who threw bombs in the city and killed innocent people didn’t expect us to gather in our churches, but we did,” he said.
On Christmas Day, Olonade visited the sites of the bombings in Jos. “I went to one of the bombed spots,” he said. “I saw bodies yet to be evacuated. I saw lots of soldiers all around, presumably guarding us and the city. But alas, I remembered the Bible: Unless the Lord watches over the city, the uniformed men are mere decorations. Then I prayed for our land.”
Christians in both cities have taken refuge to avoid further attacks while soldiers and police keep watch at churches and other Christian locations in the area. Southern Baptist missionaries living in Jos heard explosions and gunfire two miles from their home, where they had gathered with colleagues and friends for Christmas celebrations. Later they saw houses on fire and a large military and police presence.
Nigeria has a history of sectarian violence. In January and February of 2010, hundreds died in incidents throughout the country. In March, violence broke out in Jos when members of local Muslim and Christian communities fought each other in retaliation for previous killings. Police said 109 people were slain, mostly women and children.
The country is unofficially divided between the Christian south and Muslim north. Jos lies in the center of the split. Since 2001, killings of both Muslims and Christians have plagued Jos, leaving more than 2,000 people dead.
“I don’t mean to make Nigeria sound like a war zone because it is not,” one missionary said. “Rather, I ask for prayers in the midst of difficult circumstances. It breaks my heart to know that there are people out there who do not know our Savior. Some of them don’t want to know Him and even hate Him.
“Even so, there are so many who would like to hear and are curious about the Gospel. I pray that many who see these radical actions will begin to understand that there has to be a better way.”
Charles Braddix is a writer for the International Missions Board.