Baptists respond with compassion, prayer and peacemaking to Nigerian conflicts

Nigeria is increasingly in the news, and not for its tourist attractions. Headlines amplify the spiral of hatred, civil unrest, violence, kidnapping and destruction that is “spinning out of control” in many parts of the African nation, according to some observers.

IMB missionaries serving in West Africa are aware of how complicated the news-making situations seem to others. Deron Thomas*, who serves in the region, said the events are complex and built on long-standing distrust of people who are different — different tribes, different religions, from different parts of the country. And sometimes, it’s just violence against innocent victims.

The situation is complex, but the ministry doesn’t have to be. Thomas says that through Send Relief, missionaries and national Nigerian partners are offering assistance to Christian brothers and sisters — including converts from predominantly Muslim people groups — who have been targets of violence.

“We want to help those communities of believers heal from the trauma and attacks and be restored,” Thomas said.

That includes rebuilding homes and churches that have been burned down, providing seeds to replant farms and offering psychological and spiritual healing.

But the ministry isn’t reserved for Christians alone.

Extending an olive branch

“We’re actually working on our first project to extend a kind of olive branch to the community that has sponsored some recent attacks,” Thomas said.

Christians have formally approached those who attacked them, asking, “What is something we can do to serve your community?”

The community leaders were taken aback at the offer. They said they need a medical clinic and a veterinary clinic for their cattle.

“There is going to be this component of tangibly turning the other cheek because one of the big problems here is this endless cycle of violence and retaliation,” Thomas explained. “Turning the other cheek is something that no one can do apart from the power of the Holy Spirit working in them, especially when things as devastating as these attacks happen.”

As missionaries and national believers direct people to how Christ would respond, Thomas and his local Baptist partners hope that the violent cycle might be interrupted, and that peace will be seen as a true option.

“We’re hopeful that this Send Relief project will be a small step in the right direction,” he said.

Breaking the cycle of violence

Shirley Crowder, an Alabama Baptist and the daughter of former missionaries to Nigeria, said she also believes the gospel can break the cycle of violence.

“There are centuries of tribal warfare, but traditions can be changed as people come to know Christ and they become new creations,” she said.

Although Crowder’s family left the field 50-plus years ago, she said Nigeria is still home to her.

“The all-too-frequent reports of my dear Nigerian brothers and sisters being kidnapped, tortured and killed breaks my heart,” she said.

Crowder, a member of Valley View Baptist Church in Leeds, asked for prayer for Christians in the country to stay strong as they try to live out their faith.

“Our missionaries, Nigerian pastors, Christ-followers and their families are in grave danger; yet, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, they faithfully preach and teach the Word of God as they introduce people to Jesus Christ, the only real source of Hope they, and any of us have,” she said.

How to pray

Thomas also offered these prayer requests:

  • Pray for comfort, healing and restoration for those who have been attacked.
  • Pray those who have been attacked will be so filled with the love of Christ that love would flow out of them back onto their attackers.
  • Pray those involved in the attacks would be receptive to the gospel and would turn and leave their hatred behind and follow Christ.
  • Pray for Nigerian Baptists to remain strong in the truth of the gospel and be willing to be used by God in their own country as instruments of peace with each other and peace with God.

For more information about relief work in Nigeria, visit Send Relief.

*Missionary name changed for security

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