Boko Haram 2011 – 2015

The Boko Haram terrorist organisation had been building for some years and by 2011 had become strong in the north east of Nigeria. Part of the background story to this is the marginalisation of the regional economy and the affect upon the people. This isn’t just a story of local corruption, but also of global economic structures that transfer large sums of wealth from poorer communities to the wealthiest. Added to this was the downfall of Ghaddafi of Libya, as an act of international terrorism by NATO, bringing massive instability to the wider region. This is still bringing suffering to millions of people and it has greatly impacted outcomes across the Sahara in many nations like Nigeria.

Jos had for 100 years been a centre of missions to the Islam-dominate north of Nigeria and this may have been one of the reasons why Boko Haram publicly announced its next move: a jihad against Jos. It announced that Christians in Jos had two choices: to leave the city or die. This began a three-year onslaught against the city. It started with suicide bombings in different parts of the city. A church near where I lived with a team member and his family was struck and about 80 people were killed. Muslims were randomly killed along the streets and in their houses in revenge attacks any time a bombing happened. In this local fighting, more people were killed than by the initial Boko Haram attack. We would drive to the office each morning around 6:00 AM, through deserted streets filled with debris from conflict and burnt-out buildings and the eerie presence of military. We never knew what was coming next.

Churches were bombed or their meetings scattered with machine gun fire, killing many. Local bombs shook our house and my office. Cars were banned near any church building, due to suicide bombers driving into church buildings. Until this jihad was over, we had to walk the last 500 metres to our meetings.

We could soon see the strategy of Boko Haram. They weren’t large enough to take over things. They had to create the chaos with the help of others. They had to spread their hatred. The suicide bombings were designed to spread this hatred and chaos among the general population, greatly escalating Boko Haram’s terror-causing capacity. CFM’s team went into overdrive to build and strengthen community cohesion. This would be our weapon against the evil. We visited hospitals and supported those recovering from bomb blasts, whether they were Muslim or Christian. One of our collaborating team members was a Muslim barrister, highly respected in the community. Every day we promoted forgiveness, care of our neighbour and love towards one another. We prayed that God’s grace would fill our hearts with mercy towards others and not revenge. And God answered this prayer.  People began to see who our common enemy was.

Then, in 2014, I flew into Abuja airport from England. It was a Sunday. I was picked up by Emmanuel Razack, with 4 of us in the car. We had worked together with Emmanuel (who grew up as a Muslim) since 1991 when he joined Benson Idahosa’s bible college as a student, and as he grew and became staff. He became one the founding members of CFM in Jos. As we were taking the four-hour drive towards Jos that morning we were in a rural area when we noticed what looked like a military check point ahead. Checkpoints along the road are common. The men ahead were dressed in military camouflage fatigues. But when they began to fire on another car, we then knew these were not the military. Emmanuel was driving that time (we usually alternated in driving) and he stopped the car and made a very hasty U-turn. But more men came out of the bush on our other side and we were ambushed. They began firing on our car, repeatedly. I thought escape was impossible and we were all going to be killed. I just waited to be hit by one of the bullets ripping through the car. Then the car went off the road, into the ditch and stopped against some trees. Emmanuel had been hit by one of the bullets and was killed instantly.

The militants ordered us all out of the car. They searched our belongings, took what they wanted and threatened to kidnap me. I told them I was a missionary, not a businessman. They were angry, but after about half an hour told us to walk into the bush. We expected to be shot in the back, but the bullets did not come. We kept walking without reaching a village and after half an hour we heard traffic on the road, so turned and headed back to it. Soldiers arrived and we waited for an ambulance.

At times like this all your ambitions seem pointless. Ruth and I had often discussed these dangers. We thought, are we doing the right thing, being involved? If Jesus is our model, then we see that God came down into our mess and showed us his love. He didn’t stay far away, telling us what to do. God had com-passion (to suffer with) he suffered with us. There is nothing more beautiful than this love: the passion of Christ, God in the flesh showing us his rule of self-giving to restore his creation.

The soldiers took us to the local police station. The policemen cried with us, and told us how they were sitting ducks, the targets of militants with much superior weapons. We found ourselves encouraging these men. We so often hear complaints in the international community about these police, but the majority of those we meet are very good people, who lay down their lives. They have families. We saw the vulnerability not only of these men, but of all the villages around. Defenceless. We only tasted a bit of the insecurity people live with all their lives.

This heightened our learning curve. Ruth and I looked back over the years. We had helped train thousands of missionaries and pastors. We had raised much support for these and others, all in a bid to stem the chaos, to bring the love of God. But the chaos grew worse. As we came up against evil face to face on the road that day, our biggest question was, how do we overcome evil? All our efforts seemed vain. Evil was mocking us. We didn’t feel any anger towards the aggressors. It is the evil that is overrunning them. We thought of our own good parentage and nurtured childhood. We felt for these aggressors. We thought they needed a good spanking and telling off from their mum, followed by a warm meal and caring home. This threw us more into the journey of seeking how evil could be overcome. It wasn’t to be by “fundamentalist missions,” by which I mean a counter “jihad” against our enemies. It was the way of the cross. This is where Jesus met with evil and defeated it. We would have to follow Jesus.

It’s a strange feeling living through an experience like that, something I have never had before. Shaving in the morning being shocked to see myself in the mirror, having been certain of my death. That soon passed but the abhorrence of violence (I mean in my own life, ego and attitudes) just grew stronger. I mean violence in all its forms, even economic violence which kills far more, or social violence that refuses hospitality towards strangers. People may say Jesus was violent when he cleansed the temple, however he harmed no one, but called them to serve the stranger instead of enriching themselves and he took away their religion of sacrifice of others.

Three days after the ambush we were driving into Jos, with our dear brother’s body in the ambulance in front of us. He was greatly loved by all our team and this was a severe blow to every one of us. He had risked his life often for the cause of CFM. He always said he would die serving the Lord. He embodied the heart and mission of CFM and served all neighbours in our community, as one of those leaders who laid the foundation of CFM’s gospel character. He was loved by our friends in England who brought him there to gain a master’s degree from Wales University. Our own children loved him dearly. His body is buried today on the CFM’s permanent site, but I believe he is already in the resurrection: the new heavens and new earth, in which evil has been utterly banished.

Even Einstein could see there was something about time we don’t understand. We live in the miraculous cross over between two spheres: heaven and earth. For us, this body and the whole natural order of this creation shall be changed, shall put off its bondage to corruption (death) and be completely transformed, but in God’s kingdom it is already a reality where our departed live. Isaiah called it the veil of blindness over the nations being taken away, death being swallowed up. It’s like the dam walls breaking and heaven rushing in, in a flash overrunning and filling the whole creation, the two becoming one.

Driving into Jos, we neared our rented facilities were my office was, we passed by the church building I referred to earlier and the Muslim widow’s house next door that had both been burnt down. Both still lay in ruins. The Christians had asked the Muslims if they could return and rebuild their site, but they were denied. As we passed in our cars, a Christian leader of our city called us on the phone and gave condolences for our loss. We thanked him. He then asked, “How can we respond to this evil?” I answered, “Rebuild this widow’s house next to the burnt-out church building, and the Muslims will beg us to return to share the suburb with them.” Isn’t this old widow like our own mother? Aren’t we to treat others as we want them to treat us? Is this new behaviour to start with us, or with someone else?  I explained the church building I was referring to, which I think he knew about. If only we could build together then we could remain together, and we would show the gospel while doing so. This is how we overcome. Sadly, the church leader did not respond.

In the days that followed hundreds of well-wishers visited us in CFM’s offices to give their condolences and pray with us after our loss. It’s a very encouraging culture and these visits always help a lot. Among those who visited were the Muslim elders. After we spoke and they mourned with us for the loss of a brother they loved, I asked if they could take myself and another team leader of CFM through their community ruins.  This was about two kilometres from our rented facilities. We had never been to this area. No Christian would venture into that area. But I had recently heard a bit about the damage done there during the first community youth-led violence starting back at Christmas 2009. The elders agreed and we started a stroll around the area.

Our CFM leader and I were shocked at what we saw. I am used to poverty, but I have never seen it on this level. This was a marginalised community. We didn’t count them, but we saw hundreds, maybe even up to 800 buildings that had been destroyed in that earlier one month of rampage. In one ruin we saw a widow and her little children cooking under a makeshift lean-to of corrugated iron, the rainwater dripping down on to her pots and fire. Other children joined us, and we played a little football. We saw hopeless drug users. No one had told us about this destruction. It was in none of the reports that circulated in Christian circles. We came away from there knowing that if we want Christian minorities to be cared for further north, then we must care for Muslim minorities near us.

To this day destroyed communities all over our region remain in ruins and the global elite have no genuine interest in their restoration. Norway was the one nation that apologized for its weapons being used in Boko Haram atrocities but did not rebuild the region or restore the widows. Turkey also apologised for the same. No other nation, as far as we are aware, confessed, although they make billions from the international arms trade, through which people in Nigeria, Yemen and many other nations constantly suffer. They walk away from nations like Iraq, leaving them to rebuild themselves, while also demanding they repay war costs to the army that destroyed their country. Just as legal slavery was stopped, when this seemed impossible due to business interests, the arms industry must be brought down. Nations like Australia continue to support the ruling business structures and the propaganda of fear that encourages billions to be handed over to this weapons elite, instead of using it to restore poor and marginalised communities. No wonder peace evades us. If we fear the rise of other nations, our propaganda and injustice only ensure it. The Torah and the Prophets constantly cried out for us to move our security strategy from the military to justice. This is God’s sabbath/ jubilee rule (rest from oppression) for restoring our neighbour and the creation. This was the centre of Jesus’ ministry, teaching, and passion. This is what the world refuses to hear.

About one week after our walk through the Muslim neighbourhood a student of our bible school came to our office grieving. He said Boko Haram had just attacked the church in his township in Borno State, near the Cameroon border. They killed three church members and three Boko Haram militants were also killed. We prayed together. A couple days later we heard that the people of his township had gone to three neighbouring Muslim villages, burnt houses, and killed Muslims at random, because they recognized one of the dead Boko Haram boys as coming from one of those villages. When we heard this, we were deeply troubled. We said this is very wrong, and as a result much worse things will happen. Two days later we heard something terrible. Boko Haram had returned pretending to be the army. They said they had an announcement from the government and all the men of the town should gather. When the men gathered, they were all gunned down, and almost all killed.

Suddenly we discovered that we had six students from this remote town in our bible college. They all came into my little office crying. They had lost fathers, brothers, and uncles. Two of the students were married but couldn’t make contact to hear about their wives and children. The women and children had fled into the mountains of Cameroon where they trekked for weeks, losing more lives.

I had no idea how to console the students. Thankfully, our other leaders are much better at this and they did an excellent job, as always, helping to put lives back together. All I could think of was Job, how his counsellors just mourned for one week without saying anything. So we just mourned with them, giving no trite encouragement. They had to go through the mourning. Then later we began to slowly encourage them about their future and why God had saved them to help restore the region and people.

Missions agencies around the world reported on these events, just like they did for the Jos community wars that started in Christmas 2009. But in none of the reports that we saw did they mention what the Christians had done. Only half the story was told. It was the same with many Muslim groups, only telling half the story, from their own side. This was a very sad situation, because unless we tell the truth, unless we have compassion for all the people, and recognise what we have done (or had not done to serve others around us in need) then we have no hope of rebuilding a peaceful nation. There is only one way to save the nation and that is to rebuild relationships by truth telling and not by driving more wedges between us as separate groups. Denial of complicity can only increase the injustice and bitterness and push us all over the precipice.

Attacks like the one on the township above happened in region after region, with the same intensity and many of our staff had families and friends involved. One man working for a state government was targeted and his brother was killed in a case of mistaken identity. He fled to Jos and joined CFM as a lecturer. Many others came into Jos and looked for accommodation or stayed with our staff members in their houses, until they had recovered and were later able to go back home. Millions of people were displaced from their homes, towns, and villages.

About this time we were ready to open the first youth computer training centre in our local Muslim township. The elders said they had planned a great ceremony of gratitude. They would block the streets, erect marquees and the dignitaries would come with all the common people to give thanks and cut the ribbon. The week before the event we had a suicide bomb attempt in this Muslim community, just one block from our computer centre. So we said we didn’t need the opening ceremony but could quietly go ahead and start training the youth. “Boko Haram” means anyone having anything to do with modern political or educational structures must be killed. The “haram” is similar to the word used in the book of Joshua for “devoted to destruction,” and abominable thing. It is a sacrificial term, to do with cleansing “evil.”  So the elders were at risk, and the whole Muslim community, for coming out against the aims of the terrorist organisation. But they replied us, “No, we will go ahead with the full celebration. We utterly abhor the terrorists. They have nothing to do with Islam. They are destroying our youth. We stand with our Christian neighbours as one community. We will not be splintered by these killings and threats.” So, the ceremony went ahead, and it was a great event for the whole community to see.

Boko Haram was not part of a Muslim plot for Nigeria. It is simply a criminal gang wanting power and wealth for themselves. Their methods and practices are entirely irreligious by all standards and un-Islamic. It was clear that after a year or two of Boko Haram’s escalated activities, almost all Muslims in the nation stood against the terrorist organisation. They refused to cooperate with it. Now, when a suicide bomb went off in Jos, or any other part of the nation, there would be no reprisal killings. Only those who died in the initial blast were lost. The blast was where the violence stopped. We had turned the corner. Suicide bombings were now failing to ignite the nation. From this time onwards Muslim and Christians in the danger regions would almost always stand together. The community became one and isolated the criminals. They were then seen plainly for who they were. The terrorists were on their own. Story after story continues to unfold of Muslims and Christians who served each other at risk to themselves.

And for this the Muslim community would pay dearly. When Boko Haram saw the Muslims had rejected them, they turned on the Muslim people. During subsequent years, about twice as many Muslims were killed as Christians. Mosques became the targets of bombings. And their suffering must be recognised by Christians. If the Muslims stood with and protected us in the days of Boko Haram, at great cost to themselves, and then we forsake them in the aftermath and care for only our own, we are rebuilding exactly the same nation as we started with: one of injustice, not from the government, but from ourselves.

This is why CFM doubled up its care for the suffering. The Lord helped us wonderfully. We served those who were cast out of their towns and cities and left as refugees, whether they were Christian or Muslim. We opened and ran a school in a displaced persons camp. We paid the fees for orphans in other local schools, both Christian and Muslim (because we had killed each other’s parents,) hundreds of orphans for many years. We visited many displaced persons camps with support for Christians and Muslims. We served widows, brought food to the poor in Muslim communities, rebuilt water supply to their homes. At the same time, the Belgium government was helping us to rebuild water availability in destroyed communities in the far north east. Whole townships there were totally destroyed. We started a safe house for persecuted Christians, so they could flee from danger and be nurtured in their faith. We opened two crises homes for children who were the worst affected by the violence and loss. Today we have 300 children in these homes, receiving care and love, health care, and education.  We stopped building on our permanent site for 12 months: not one block was laid. All our funds were put towards restoring the peace by caring for the suffering, building a new community where the lion and the lamb care for one another, overcoming evil with good.

Earlier, while our relationships were building, we had two reports of serious potential hazards ahead. One was that the USA had offered to “assist” the nation with drone strikes. Look at any nation America has “assisted” in this way, and where is that nation today? For our own little part, we strongly rejected this. Drone strikes would bring much more suffering. They would splinter the community beyond repair. This is what the terrorists wanted. The only way evil could be overcome was to build grassroots cohesion and hearts of service towards each other. The problem must be fixed at the grassroots. We must build the cohesion, not tear it down. Only justice at the grassroots can do this. The American “solution” would push us over the precipice. We prayed. Thank God it did not happen.

It often shocked us when we heard the attitude towards Muslims in the Western church. After speaking in some churches and drinking coffee, members would say things like, “We are in the end times and God is going to use America to wipe out the Arabic nations with pre-emptive nuclear strikes.” Don’t we know that Muslims are just like us? They put their children’s socks on for school each morning just like we do and send them off with great love. Don’t we know that Western greed has destroyed the Middle East since the aftermath of WWI, and ruined so many innocent lives? Then this suffering spills over in political movements that fill our minds, divide our communities globally, and we justify it with religious sentiments, completely misconstruing the nature of Christ, whom we claim to follow. And when the victims of terrorism spill over on to our shores for help, we lock them in refugee camps, as an additional act of inhumanity. If we don’t want a flood of refugees, we must repair nations, not bomb them: we must stop the political manipulation for economic hegemony. People love their nations. They don’t want to leave them.

We visited one church and one of our main supporters at that time was there. He asked me, “What do you think of Jeruslem?” I avoided the question. He pressed me on it till I had to answer. I said, “We believe it isn’t about Jerusalem, but Jesus.” Oh, the suffering we perpetuate in our sacrificial religions. This is what killed Jesus. Many who hold these views are dear Christians, greatly loved by God and they love and support the gospel and the lost in the world with all their heart and substance. I wouldn’t at all want to measure my faith against theirs. I know I would come up short. And there is much good in their view, much foundational truth that is so important and we can never judge ourselves as being better, throwing away the baby with the bathwater, deciding not to learn from those we need so much. These people are my family, whom I love deeply and support against any who are cynical against them. But we must stand by the Prince of Peace who entered Jeruslem on a donkey (not a war horse) and refused to take sides in our wars for land, power, wealth, or position. He became a slave for us. This is our call towards all other people.

The one we must learn from in history isn’t Constantine but Francis of Assisi. This will revive the church. “Constantine’s” promises to defend the church today are a sham. They only implicate us in his sins. When we try to fix things with power, the power we use destroys our souls, relationships, and witness. “I am not ashamed of the gospel (the cross of the naked, weak slave, in the face of Roman might and boasting), for it is the power of God to salvation,” to fix things. “The weakness of God is stronger than men.”

The second report of potential hazard ahead was when the private jet of a Christian leader (who at that time officially represented Nigeria’s Christians) was caught in South Africa with $21 million in cash on board and international arms dealers, to purchase weapons for Nigeria. This leader had already called on the government to arm Christians for the “battle ahead.” Many pastors in the nation were preaching in favour of such things. Many were using their money to buy personal weapons, instead of helping the wounded and hungry, unwittingly ensuring mutual destruction. They misquoted the books of Joshua and Esther, ignoring the words of Christ. Joshua did not achieve salvation. Christ parts the Jordan River and leads us into the true promised land by the giving of his life. We were devastated at the report. Some such pastors would be safe, but those living in the Muslim-dominated north would become fodder. This happened in church history, as Christians in one area took weapons to defend themselves, this hardened enmity against Christians in other territories. See the demise of Christianity in the Middle East over the last century, stemming from oil colonialism.

This misinterpretation of scripture requires a strong theological response. A violent God is too commonly posited, who demands blood and visits his wrath by the destruction of many. Not that God doesn’t have wrath. His wrath means handing us over to our own pride and destruction, which we bring upon ourselves in our own blindness. All scripture must be infused with the true Christ. We wrote, taught, printed books, held pastors’ conferences in different states, and released videos. We had to show Christ by our actions first.

Ruth and I knew this Christian leader whose jet was impounded. A bishop (whom we knew when he was a student in bible school) in the far north east, in the centre of the danger zone then, asked us to contact this leader and plead with him to publicly change his position. Our efforts to contact the man were not successful. We prayed. Muslim elders came to us and said, “So this is your real agenda, while you fatten us by kindness for the kill.” (I have paraphrased here what was the very strong sentiment that was aroused by this action to bring in weapons for the Christian community.) We replied, “No, we are genuine in our words and actions. We have no part in such things and we publicly renounce them.” They believed us and our community cohesion continued to grow. Nigeria was on a knife edge at this time. This report almost pushed us into full-scale civil war. Thank God, he allowed mercy and grace to win in our hearts. This is the gift of God, the most valued gift we must cherish. We later discovered that the Christian leader’s jet had been chartered by the government in a legal arms purchase arrangement.

The violence died down in Jos before it did in the regions further north east. After about three years it was ok for children to return to school. Driving to the office in the morning we would see groups of children walking on the side of the road, older ones holding the hands of younger ones, with backpacks looking like tortoise shells on their backs. This site was more beautiful to us than any mountain range vista on the planet. We shed tears for months over the beautiful daily event. How valuable our schools are, our education, our freedom, our children. I think this is why I hate lockdown and social distancing. It is evil. We would never take our education and our social relationships for granted again.

By mid-2015 the Nigerian army had turned the tide on Boko Haram. The arms Boko Haram had, their financial backing, their brand-new vehicles, were mind boggling. But that was before we understood how the global financial systems work. Billions of dollars are siphoned off from developing nations into offshore accounts set up by Britain and America. This money is secretly owned and pumped back into Western society through fake companies. It can’t be traced. No one knows what is being done with it and who is doing it. With all the political platitudes we get globally, what a corrupt world it is! What a complete lack of consideration for the welfare of humanity, for the most vulnerable people! The world knows what to do to change, but doesn’t do it, because the corrupt ways make some of us rich.

Once the Nigerian army got abreast of things the job was swift because they had the full cooperation of the whole Nigerian community. An undivided grassroots population brings the end of war. No army can establish peace. It isn’t the government that brings peace. It is us and the relationships we all build together. We don’t vote for this; we decide to live it every day.  If we don’t have peace in our hearts and actions the government can do nothing.

Boko Haram still terrorises on the margins where development is lacking, where people aren’t cared for. This lack of care still enables interests supporting terrorism to grow in splinter groups in sectors of society. The only way to defeat it is through bringing down the corruption of the elite everywhere, to restore lives at the grassroots level. This requires genuine change at the global level, which at this stage is not at all on the horizon. Instead, global offshore secret banks continue to funnel away billions of dollars of global funds. This is what is killing the multitudes.

Emmanuel Razack had planned to hold a conference to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of Ruth and I in Nigeria, so we went ahead with this in April 2016, but with a change. Since Boko Haram had claimed their jihad was to eradicate Jos as a Christian centre for missions, we invited missionaries from around the north to encourage and help restore them after the atrocities. 2,000 missionaries from northern Nigeria and the surrounding nations came. We paid their travel costs to and from their mission station to Wurin Alheri; we paid their accommodation and feeding costs during the conference; gave out books to help them in their work; and practical help to many, like generators, grain grinding machines, bicycles, audio bibles in the Hausa language and other tools. We invited leading mission speakers from around the country, fathers and mothers of missions who have done so much for Nigeria over the years, who have also helped parent Ruth and I during our stay in this wonderful nation. It was challenging, but the Lord paid for it all and all the missionaries made it safely back to their stations and continued their work encouraged. It was our “fingers up” to Boko Haram after they inflicted so much pain on so many.