Fearless believers expect riots to multiply churches in Nigeria

Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Fearless believers expect riots to multiply churches in Nigeria

By Sue Sprenkle

KADUNA, Nigeria (BP)--The building's walls crumble when you touch them. Chipped and broken cinder blocks litter the floor, along with charred scraps of wood and broken glass.

During the night, attackers threw Molotov cocktails inside the Baptist church in Kaduna, Nigeria. The attackers ripped down the large cross hanging behind the pulpit and burned it outside for all to see. The final touch of vandalism involved spray painting "Shari'a or War" on the wall in bright red letters.

Despite the terror of that night in late February, church members walked fearlessly onto the grounds the next day. They came in pairs, as families or even alone. Each carried a cinder block, a small wooden stool or a woven mat. It was time to worship and everyone needed a place to sit.

"Nothing can ever stop us from worshiping our God," said Bidam Mallam, a member of the church. "We will come back and keep living the way we have always lived. We will live for our God."

Riots between Christians and Muslims began Feb. 21 over a proposal to institute Islamic criminal law in northern Nigeria's Kaduna state. An estimated 1,000 people died in the violence. Tension between the two sides still runs high, but most people are simply trying to pick up the pieces.

Uche Enyioha, president of Kaduna Baptist Seminary, said that, for many people, moving past the riots involved taking a stronger stand for Christ.

"I saw courage in the local Christians after the major bombings. People still assembled on Sunday in the bombed auditoriums all over town," Enyioha said. "They told me that they must worship the way God has called them to worship. They have decided not to run, but to stand strong in their faith."

The perseverance in continuing worship services has been a powerful witness. The very first Sunday after the riots, 30 people attended the service at First Baptist Church of Kaduna. Since then, attendance at services has almost doubled each Sunday.

Enyioha attributes the surge in attendance to curiosity. He said people want to know how Christians can be persecuted and still worship openly. Enyioha prays that the seminary will serve as an example for local Christians in persevering and reaching the lost.

As the riots reached a pinnacle Feb. 21 and 22, the seminary bore the brunt of the destruction. Thousands of attackers rushed the walls of the compound. More than 800 students, faculty and staff members held off the attackers for a day before escaping over the back wall and taking refuge at the air force base.

The seminary campus was totally destroyed as the attackers beat down the walls, bombed the chapel, library and classrooms and looted student housing. Enyioha estimates it will take millions of dollars to rebuild.

Despite the loss of buildings and textbooks, classes for seniors resumed May 2 in a makeshift classroom. Graduation is slated for July 2. Plans are to start rebuilding after graduation and reopen for the rest of the student body in January 2001.

"Jesus Christ suffered 2,000 years ago, but today he is reigning supreme. This is just a temporary setback," Enyioha said. "God doesn't want destruction; instead, he loves to build. And when he is part of the rebuilding, it is stronger than ever."

Historically, the process of rebuilding riot-damaged churches in northern Nigeria always has resulted in more people coming to Christ. In 1987, attackers burned churches and killed Christians. The church buildings not only were replaced, but more congregations were planted in the process. In 1992, church buildings once again were burned to the ground and the number of congregations more than doubled.

This time, local ministers are more determined than ever to carry the gospel message to the community.

The fires ignited the Christian community, said Isaac Gbadero, president of the seminary student body. Standing over a mass grave containing the bodies of Christians killed during the riots, he said, "Our brothers and sisters died for Christ. We must be willing to do the same."

As Gbadero spoke, his eyes moved from the grave to a stone wall not far away -- a wall that separates the Christian cemetery from the Muslim cemetery. On the other side stood an identical mass grave of Muslims killed in the riots.

"I pray that God will break down the walls that separate us," Gbadero said. "Many families are split because of that wall.

"Pray not only that hearts will be open to the Holy Spirit but that someone else will step forward and risk their life for the spread of the gospel.

"That is the only way the wall will ever come down."

Baptist Press
Used with permission.