Baptists bury dead, look to future after seminary attack in Nigeria

Thursday, March 30, 2000

By Mark Kelly

KADUNA, Nigeria (BP)--Baptists in Nigeria are sifting through the ashes and counting the cost after the Baptist seminary in Kaduna was attacked during riots in late February.

Eleven people -- including two students and a retired maintenance man -- were killed when a mob overran the campus Feb. 22. Another student had been killed in town the day before.

The cost of replacing buildings burned during the assault may run as high as $5.3 million, reported Uche Enyioha, president of the seminary. And that doesn't include the cost of replacing school furnishings, personal belongings and library books, which had just reached the 10,000 level required for accreditation.

But the destruction of buildings and even the loss of life will not stop the growth of God's kingdom in Nigeria, Baptist workers say.

Rioters killed 21 members of one Baptist church and burned 17 Baptist church buildings and 13 pastors' homes, reported Southern Baptist missionary Don Copeland. Another six church buildings only were looted, apparently because they were located too close to Muslim homes to be burned.

Four days of clashes between Muslims and Christians in the northern Nigeria city broke out Feb. 20 as Christians protested Muslim activist appeals to institute Islamic criminal law in Kaduna state. Hundreds of people were killed. Mosques, churches and businesses were burned. Hundreds of vehicles were destroyed or damaged.

Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, a southern Christian, condemned the violence, which quickly spread to the southeastern town of Aba, where Muslim traders were killed by Christians in revenge for the Kaduna attacks.

Within days, leaders of Muslim northern states agreed not to pursue strict "Sharia" law in order to preserve peace. Newspapers in the country speculated the violence actually was inspired by northern politicians ousted in the elections that brought Obasanjo to power.

Emeritus Nigeria missionary Payton Myers had traveled to Nigeria to help repair a single men's dormitory on the Kaduna seminary campus. He was unable to reach the campus Feb. 21 because of the rioting.

After the violence subsided, Myers bought corn, cassava and other foodstuffs and took them to the Kaduna air force base, where both Muslims and Christians had taken refuge from the fighting.

He watched as the people killed at the seminary were buried in a mass grave in a nearby cemetery -- where the battle for the seminary had raged two days earlier.

"These people are witnesses that there is more to life than simply escaping death," Myers said. "I'm very grateful for being able to have a little part to play in helping meet some of the needs of the people at this time."

Southern Baptist missionary physician Dale Gray helped care for the wounded at the air force base, and chaplains there ministered to people's needs as well, Copeland said. Nigerian Baptist churches and their national convention have provided disaster relief assistance to victims of the rioting.

Classes for graduating seniors will resume after Easter at a temporary location, the seminary's board of governors decided, but other students may not resume their studies until August or even January.

The board of governors is discussing whether to rebuild the seminary campus at its present site or relocate, Copeland said.

Despite the physical damage to buildings and the loss of life and personal possessions, the attacks in Kaduna are no setback for churches there, Myers said.

"The church, the kingdom of God, is not in buildings made with human hands, but in the hearts of those who have been touched by God," Myers said. "The burning of buildings will never stop the movement of the church in Nigeria or anywhere else.

"From the ashes will come a strong, more alive church."

Baptist Press
Used with permission.