“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Matthew 5:43-44
Nigeria is divided religiously along the tenth parallel. On the north side Muslims are in the majority. On the south side Christians are in the majority. Along the border between these two groups much blood has been spilled repeatedly in recent years.
One pastor says, “We are facing persecution from our neighbors, the Muslims. They don’t want to see the gospel progressing…and they feel envious that we have more church buildings…and our businesses are expanding as well.”
Another pastor adds, “They see that they must stop the expansion of Christianity into the north, and that has to be done physically.”
And a bishop of one church denomination is wearying from the many attacks. He is quoted as saying, “We have turned the other cheek so many times, we have no more cheeks to turn!”
One violent incident took place in Tudun Wada. It began when a young student was accused of drawing a picture of Islam’s prophet Mohammed. All of a sudden the matter was taken seriously. They started burning churches and rioting with all kinds of weapons.
Nineteen Christians were killed that day, leaving behind mourning widows, family members and friends. Ten churches were burned. Thirty-six homes and one hundred forty-seven shops belonging to Christians were destroyed. But, God gave spiritual courage to His followers on that terrible day. And they refused to run.
Looking back on the situation, a pastor in the area says, “The churches that were destroyed…in fact there is none that has been rebuilt that is not bigger than what it was before. And the attendance by members has grown astronomically.”
As soon as our Open Doors co-workers heard about the violence, they rushed to Tudun Wada to see the circumstances for themselves. They provided for the spiritual, emotional and practical needs of the pastors and the entire Christian community.
Again the pastor comments, “They distributed to us Bibles and other reading materials. All of us pastors were very, very excited. We were happy.”
Another added, “Open Doors through the Standing Strong Through the Storm seminar has lifted up our hearts, and has given us a heart of love for our enemies…Just like Jesus Christ said that we should pray for our persecutors…our attitude towards them is actually to pray for them, and love them.”
The critically important need facing Nigeria is forgiveness. Christians are seeking to express it in tangible ways as they live out the love of Jesus Christ, just as He did two thousand years ago. He forgave the very people who nailed Him to a cross. That is the example Nigeria is witnessing today. And it is what will open the hearts of millions to the truth of the gospel.
RESPONSE: I will be an example to others in loving, forgiving and praying for those who hurt me.
PRAYER: Lord, bless the believers in central Nigeria today as they struggle responding to violence.