EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated March 24 in the 18th paragraph to clarify the source of fundraising efforts for Nigeria’s persecuted and displaced Christians.
IBADAN, Nigeria (BP) — Nominal Christianity fueled by a lack of discipleship is a major obstacle in standing against Boko Haram’s persecution of believers in Nigeria, a leader of more than 10 million Baptists in Africa told Baptist Press.
Yet, Baptists in Nigeria still manage to teach the Gospel at refugee camps and other locations where 1.5 million have been displaced by Boko Haram violence, said Durosinjesu Ayanrinola, general secretary of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship of 62 unions and conventions from 33 African countries.
“The issue of nominalism is nothing more or nothing less than lack of discipleship, when Christians are not discipled; so you have a case where they will not grow their relationship with Jesus,” Ayanrinola said. “We discovered that even though many attend church, the issue of discipleship is the case. Not many have gone through what it means to be Christian. Not many can stand on their own. They go to church, but they don’t have that in-depth relationship that can make them to stand [during] the difficult times like this.”
Ayanrinola spoke to BP while in the United States in March, when he greeted worshippers at First Baptist Church in Nashville and visited his alma mater, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“But the good thing is that during this time, there are people who are ministering today, even in their refugee camps, to assure them of God’s presence, to assure them that they are not alone,” Ayanrinola said. “It’s just like when the Israelites were in exile and God is raising up prophets to minister to them. I believe that even during these difficult times, there are some pastors who have seen it as a ministry, even to minister to these displaced people, to pray for them, to comfort them, to assure them. They go to them one by one and collectively. And where it is possible outside the Boko Haram place to meet, they are meeting.”
Christians who are not strong in their faith are easily sidelined by the terrorists who seek to drive out Christianity from the country and establish strict Islamic law.
“This is a difficult time in their Christian journey. Some of them came out from idolatry and because of this attack on their faith, some of them are saying ‘Where is the God that we’ve heard can save us in difficult times like this?'” Ayanrinola said. “So you have some of them going back, who are not strong, going back to their idolatry, especially for protection.”
Boko Haram has intensified attacks in northeastern Nigeria since President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in the region in May 2013, and at one point had captured territories totaling more than 20,000 square miles, establishing Islamic caliphates under Boko Haram rule. The violence forced Nigeria to delay Feb. 14 national elections until March 28.
Security forces in neighboring Chad and Cameroon, where refugees have fled, have joined with Nigeria military in pushing back the terrorists in some areas, including the towns of Yobe, Adawama and Bama, Nigerian national security spokesperson Mike Omeri said in news reports.
Boko Haram has killed more than 13,000 Christians and nominal Muslims in Nigeria since 2009, according to some counts. In a video posted online March 7, a man believed to be Boko Haram caliph Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance and obedience to ISIS.
The All Africa Baptist Fellowship has received lists from the Nigeria Baptist Convention detailing Boko Haram destruction among church memberships in the area. Although the lists are not exhaustive, they give faces to the victims of violence often reduced to numerical estimates in news reports.
Representative of the thousands included on the lists: Mrs. Esther J. Ahidjo: father killed; Joseph Jingi, killed; Hauwa Tizhe, husband killed; Rev. Ezra I. Chitang, house and office looted; Hajara Ibrahim, brother killed; Andrew Ngargwa, farm destroyed; First Jerusalem Baptist Church, farm destroyed, members raped and scattered. The needs of survivors are comprehensive, including financial resources, food and supplies in refugee camps, Ayanrinola said.
“There is need even to get some money to help build the schools that are destroyed. In the Nigeria Baptist Convention, I know that the president said in order for students in the Boko Haram [affected areas] to continue with their education, they have moved them to another state that is free [of Boko Haram],” he said. “So they are going to school in another state which is free, and they are allowing these students to go to school [at no cost].”
Southern Baptists can help by praying for the specific needs persecuted Christians face in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, Ayanrinola said.
“So we need to pray that the Lord Himself will encounter His people in a new way that their faith will continue to grow. We need to pray for boldness because what Islamic agenda is, is to create fear in the hearts of Christians so that on Sundays they may not be able to go out and worship, and they are achieving that,” he said. “It takes the grace of God for the committed ones who are even ready to die for their faith, to go out on Sunday. So let’s pray that their faith in the Lord will increase. … Let’s pray for those workers among them who are helping them to grow in the Lord, that they should not be terrified, that God Himself will protect them.”
Pray also for the salvation of Boko Haram insurgents, Ayanrinola asked.
“Let’s pray for the Boko Haram too. Like Paul persecuting the church — and in a very dramatic way — he became an instrument in the hand of the Lord. Let us pray that the Damascus experience will also happen among Boko Haram, that many of them will come to encounter Christ,” he said.
The All Africa Baptist Fellowship has helped persecuted Christians by raising awareness of Islamic insurgency, alongside fundraising efforts of the Nigeria Baptist Convention and its member churches. The AABF fights nominalism by encouraging Christians to faithfully endure and training Christian leaders to write educational discipleship materials.
“What we are doing is to work with the country where these Islamic fundamentalists are, one, to create awareness, because in some countries they even know the agenda of the Muslims. We are creating the awareness that they need to be very, very careful, especially Christians,” Ayanrinola said. “What we are doing is that we are also encouraging them to be strong in their faith. We are fighting nominalism.”
Ayanrinola served as associate pastor at two Southern Baptist churches in Kentucky before returning to Africa in 2000. He holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Missiology degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“In my traveling around Africa, I have seen one great deficiency. The study of God’s word is lacking, it is seriously lacking. In many churches, they don’t have any literature. They don’t have something to help them grow spiritually, no devotional materials, no Sunday School materials. It is something that is dear to our hearts — no Sunday School materials even to teach,” Ayanrinola said. “We have taken it upon ourselves to see that in the next few years some of our conventions in Africa will be writing their own literature.”
Formed in 1982, the AABF is a regional arm of the Baptist World Alliance.