(Photos courtesy Open Doors USA)
Nigeria (MNN) ― Security forces in Northern Nigeria warn more violence is coming.
The grim report was confirmed by an e-mail released by the Boko Haram confirming their plans for the coming weeks. In Kaduna and Zaria where churches were bombed last week, a curfew is still in effect.
The United States has imposed sanctions on three people associated with the militant group Boko Haram. It's a move aimed at disrupting the group's finances, since it appears the group has gotten both organized and funded since its re-emergence in 2010.
Open Doors reported two thwarted bombings over the weekend. Open Doors President and CEO, Dr. Carl Moeller, explains, "Boko Haram concealed a bomb in a coffin, claiming that it was a corpse. Fortunately, soldiers at a checkpoint insisted on seeing what was inside, and there were bombs in there. The men were arrested."
In the second attempt, a man was arrested when he masqueraded as someone who was interested in learning about Jesus Christ and to submit his life to Him. The man approached the pastor in the church. While talking, the pastor noticed a bag a few yards away. When he asked the possible convert about the bag, he denied knowing anything about the bag. But after the police discovered that the bag was filled with explosives, the would-be suicide bomber was arrested.
Then, with Sunday came a prison break, a fire fight, and the escape of 40 inmates who are members of Boko Haram. A top radical Islamist sect member blamed for a deadly Christmas Day church bombing in Nigeria was shot and killed by security forces in the fight. However, Habibu Bama's death may cause more problems than it solves.
Boko Haram released a statement announcing it was happy about Bama's "martyrdom." Moeller says, "The jihad declared by Boko Haram is enough to push many of the extremist-influenced Muslims into violence against the Christian community, when you add the component of a martyr--someone who was intentionally sprung from jail this last week. He was killed in the ensuing fight, and that takes it to a whole other level."
Meanwhile, the Nigerian government fired the West African nation's security adviser and defense minister. However, Moeller notes, "The firing of the national security leader in that country is not the worst part of it." It may have been calculated to keep dialogue open, but the real concern is that they hired a Muslim to replace the outgoing adviser. Moeller says, "Most of the Christians in the country are viewing this appointment as a mistake, because what will the orientation of this new Defense Minister be? Probably oriented to sympathize with a number of the Muslim communities."
It's a desperate move as the country continues to battle an insurgency that has cost hundreds their lives and displaced thousands. Militants are increasingly attacking civilians--in particular, Christians, which has inflamed religious tensions in Nigeria's volatile Middle Belt region.
Despite last week's reprisal violence, Moeller says by and large, "The only thing that's maintaining any level of social stability in the country is that the Christians have not taken on the jihad against them with equal acts of violence." And yet, "You have a situation where it's almost untenable for the Christian community to do nothing."
What can be done? Pray. It's the first line of defense. "We are calling on Christians to seek God's face in the midst of this and let God fight the battle for them."
Moeller goes on to say that there is still a lot of fruit, despite the circumstances. "I just read a report from Operation World that had Nigeria's Christian church growing at three or four times the population growth. As big as the population growth is in Nigeria, the church is growing at a remarkably rapid pace."
An Open Doors co-worker is asking for prayer: "We really appreciate your concern and prayers. Continue to pray for us, and don't get tired. Our office might be among the places which the sect members may aim to attack at any time and any day. Pray that the Lord will deliver us."
Moeller agrees. "Pray for the Christians in Nigeria. Pray for the peace of the church in Nigeria. Pray for those that would be bombers against the church that they would have a dramatic Damascus Road conversion in some cases, and that testimony would also go out to encourage believers."
Nigeria is ranked No. 13 on the 2012 Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries which are the worst persecutors of Christians. According to the World Watch List, Nigeria had at least 300 martyrs in 2011, although the actual number could be closer to 1,000.