By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)– With a deadline looming to leave their homes or be killed, Christians in northern Nigeria were urged Tuesday, January 3, not to retaliate against Islamic violence.
“We have appealed that there be no retaliation and we continue to preach peace…” said Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of the volatile city of Jos where hundreds of Christians have been killed since last year.
Fighters of the Islamist group Boko Haram, or “Western education is a sin” on Sunday, January 1, issued a three-day ultimatum for Christians to leave the African country’s northern state and called on Muslims in the south to move north.
However, Kaigama said, he is still “hoping that all of us in Nigeria, Muslims and Christians, will be able to work and live happily” and added “We continue to appeal to reason, for dialogue.”
Boko Haram warned it would fight government troops in parts of the country where President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, declared a state of emergency following a series of bombs killed at least some 50 Christian worshipers on December 25, Christmas Day.
The group has pledged to establish Sharia, or Islamic, law in the country, although its 155 million population is roughly equally divided between Christians, who live mainly in the south, and Muslims in the north.
Christians in the north have made clear it is very difficult to leave their homes behind as they no where to go and are in many cases already facing the daily burden of life in the impoverished nation.
Archbishop Ignatius, who is also the Vice President of the Nigerian Bishop’s Conference, said he appealed to Nigerians not to allow their country to be overtaken by terror.
“Churches have been destroyed and lives were lost and there is no sign that this might end, until the government intervenes decisively. We continue to ask Christians to be vigilant and aware of the issue of safety when they go to church and even in their own homes,” he said in an interview with Vatican Radio, monitored by BosNewsLife.
Yet, This is our position: no violence, no retaliation. We want to live in peace,” he stressed.
PATIENCE RUNNING OUT
There were signs, however, that patience was running out among religious Christians, whonews reports linked to a bomb that detonated in an Islamic school last week.
A spokesman of Open Doors, an advocacy and aid group supporting “persecuted Christians”, said colleagues urged local believers not respond with violence to ongoing attacks. “Really, if we want to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, retaliation is not the way to do that. In fact, that would just make it harder for them to
see us as Christians,” said spokesman Jerry Dykstra.
He acknowledged that some believers, who reportedly watched their families killed, “are beyond thinking that way” though.
Dykstra quoted an unidentified young man as telling an Open Doors worker, “It’s no longer a time for forgiveness; they have pushed us to the wall. So no pastor can stop me from killing and destroying the lives and property of the Muslims.”
BEGGING FOR ANSWERS
In published remarks, Dykstra said that Christians are “begging” for answers. He said his workers had received questions that included “Should we fold our arms and watch our killers kill us and take our land because we want to share Christ?”
Other Nigerian Christians reportedly asked: “Should we begin to show love the people who are killing us on a daily basis? Haven’t all of our efforts to live at peace with them failed?”
However, “I think the questions are questions that we would ask too in that situation,” Dykstra explained.
He said his group has urged believers worldwide to pray for Nigeria. “Pray that our brothers and sisters in Christ would respond exactly as Jesus would want them to. Pray that bitter hearts would be made at peace, and that forgiveness would reign. Pray also for those who need trauma counseling after watching family members killed. Above all, pray that this would build God’s kingdom rather than hinder it.”
Bishop Ignatius said it remains unclear “who the Boko Haram really are” and, for instance, where they get their weapons from. “What is certain is that there are some forces behind them, either in Nigeria or abroad, who want to profit from instability in our country.” Yet, he pledged, “We will not give in to terrorism, we will not allow these fundamentalists to ruin our country.”