Are Christians Aware of the Growing Trend in Religious Riots?
Rev. Isaac Oluwole Wusu,
The National Director,
Voice of Christian Martyrs, Nigeria
I remember that some years ago, I spoke in a church in Owerri about the persecuted church under the Communist Regime in Soviet Union and the people said, "that can never happen in Nigeria. So, why should you ask us to pray for the persecuted church?"
I came to Kaduna and Christians told me the same thing, "it can never happen here".
There was this incident in Kafanchan, where there was this young man preaching and a Muslim lady jumped on the podium and said "if the men cannot defend Islam, women will do it". From that moment, it has been riots upon riots, persecutions and killing of Christians in the northern parts of Nigeria.
Due to my early exposure to the travails of the persecuted church in Communist nations, through my association with the Voice of Martyrs, I used to visit various Universities and churches all over Nigeria. My ministry then was creating awareness about the persecuted church and mobilizing prayer support for Christians facing inhuman treatment in nations hostile to Christianity. In a number of instances, I was opposed by Christians! I remember that in ABU, Zaria as well as in the University of Jos, some Christian students came openly to attack us. They challenged us for talking about Christian persecution in Russia because to them, Russia was a model of the perfect society. In those days, the influence of Russian Socialism was prevalent in the universities where many of the students were either Leninist or Marxist.
The situation in Nigeria today is fast approaching the unenviable record of the Communist regimes in Christian persecution. For example, consider the post election riot in April 2011. For what reason should dissatisfaction with elections result in the destruction of churches? For those of us who are on the ground, who see thousands upon thousands of dead bodies, Christians, killed, murdered, you are not satisfied.
People have asked me how religious riots can be stopped. I have often replied that it cannot be stopped until the Almajiris are taken off the streets. Until you take these children off the streets, you cannot know peace. Let me tell you, the leaders in the North will not do anything about taking them off the streets. Their belief is that in any city in which you do not have these beggars on the street, the city cannot be blessed. So these children grow up in hopeless conditions. They sleep on the streets; they are covered with flies and live in inhuman conditions. They therefore kill without passion because they themselves grow up in hopeless conditions.
I challenge the church in Nigeria to come forth and help the persecuted church. I think the church needs to pray more. To stand up and be serious about issues that affect Christianity. When the government sees us that we are serious, they are ready to dialogue with us. However, the current culture of corruption that has entered the church hinders the effectiveness of the church. A government that gives you "Ghana must go" is telling you to shut up.
We are making a lot of mistakes. They keep burning the churches and the Christians will rebuild it and the cycle continues. We can keep on building and multiplying churches, every denomination wants to build its own cathedral in the North. But the more we build, the more they are tearing them down.
I think a major project that the church should embark upon is to create funds to produce books that will gear people to become Christians. For example, we have some books in Hausa that are going round the North with positive results. The church should aim to produce millions of such books that will encourage and convict the people to accept Christ.
We must be able to give the Bible as well as the gospel clearly in the language that people can understand. Let the church mobilize resources to provide the gospel and make it abundantly available that tracts in Hausa language will be available everywhere. If we can do that, we are bound to see a lot of conversions.
How did the Stephen Centre Start?
In 2000, while I was distributing relief materials donated by international organizations, I came across two women in a refugee camp who gave birth to two girls and named them Mary. It was a story of Mary and Mary. The circumstances leading to their birth was very touching. By the time I went back searching for the two Marys, I discovered that one had died with the mother. The other Mary, whom I carried, survived and I brought her with me to Abeokuta.
Stephen Centre was not actually founded as a school. While we were in Lagos, the harassment during the Abacha regime was so terrible that my brother suggested that I move to his apartment in Abeokuta. Incidentally we spent little time there since the situation in Nigeria was not conducive for our activities so we moved to Ghana.
After the death of Abacha and Abiola, I decided to use the apartment which I was given in Abeokuta as a computer school and Christian library. That is why the name of this school is called Stephen Centre.
I first brought 8 children here from Kaduna. I called them Kaduna Special Children. Without funding support, we increased the number to 14, then 40, later to 50. We later brought children from Kano, Bauchi, Jos, Maiduguri, and from Boko Haram uprising. Now, there are 300 of such children here. We call them the family of martyrs. Each of them lost either both parents or one of the parents in religious uprising in northern Nigeria.
When we brought them in those days, we could not communicate. I cannot speak Hausa very well, none of the children could speak English, so we used signs to communicate.
By the end of July 2011, we shall had 44 of them who have graduated from the College here. 7 of them are in the University. Till today, they are not sponsored by anybody, apart from us. We did not get any external help for them. To date, we have only paid their Acceptance Fee. We have not been able to pay their school fees in the University.
What has been the contribution of Nigerian churches in supporting the persecuted church?
Coming to real participation in Stephen Centre, I think I would still challenge the church to come forward. I remember the General Secretary of CAN asking me, "Isaac, this your kind of mission, assume people from overseas did not support you, what would have become of it?"
What we usually notice is that whenever there is religious riot in the North, churches collect used clothes of the members and send them to the North. There is no reason for our church leaders to think that the only way they can help the persecuted church in the northern Nigeria is by giving them some small relief, some rice, and such like.I think we still see Voice of the Christian Martyrs giving more to the church in Nigeria.