This book is not just about “theology” but about living the way God did in this world when he put on flesh as Jesus Christ and lived among us. It has been profoundly influenced by our long term experience in Nigeria, a country which in many ways reflects the global challenges we all face.
In early 2010, surrounded by burnt-out buildings, with hundreds massacred in our area in the previous days and weeks, and rumours of terror on every side, the students at Christian Faith Institute, Bukuru, Jos, asked, “How did the early church get through persecution?” So we began to look, and that search began a journey that is turning our theology, our thinking and our living upside down.
What did the early church do? They loved their enemies, and they loved not their own lives unto death! They did this because they were not just Christians by name: they were followers of Jesus, who should do as he said and do as he did in following him. So we began not only to study what Jesus said, but also to pray that we might DO what Jesus said.
Many people were involved in deadly battles in our city: Christian and Muslim communities separated, with no communication between them. The problem was obvious. The bridges must be rebuilt. We saw such destruction, and in the middle of it all, so many youth and children with nothing to do and no hope for their future.
There were a few good stories seeping through of how Christians and Muslims stood against the tide and rescued those of “the other side”. Then some of our students found a hungry 6 year old child from a Muslim family, accidentally abandoned close by the college. They fed him, cared for him and took him to the local Mosque to be restored to his grateful people in another city. This also softened hearts.
Next, one of our team visited a Muslim friend, a man of peace and an elder in the local Muslim community at Salah, as an act of friendship. Many considered this a risky move at the time, venturing well inside “Samaria”. Then our team member invited local Muslim elders to my husband’s office, where we discussed helping their community to run a computer training centre for their youth, free of charge. They were amazed and asked, “Why are you doing this?” The answer is easy: Jesus cared for us when we were his enemies, and told us to love our neighbour the same way.
In May, 2014 our dearest friend and co-worker of more than 20 years was murdered when the vehicle he and my husband were travelling in together was ambushed by heavily armed Fulani men dressed as military. How my husband and other companions survived could only be God’s hand. It deeply impacted us. This is what people face every day: the devastating loss of friend, brother, husband, and father, and the insecurity of their own lives and property. What can be done to change the lives of those who think they have no alternative but to take such desperate acts?
After the burial and in our grief the Muslim elders, who grieved together with us, took my husband and a team member to a part of Bukuru destroyed in the violence of 2009/2010, another place where Christians never go. We thought it was only persecution of Christians but when we saw the destruction done by Christians, with so many Muslim homes destroyed, women made widows and children left homeless and destitute, we knew God was calling us as Christians to change the way we live. There is a big log in our eye.
The computer training school for youth in the Muslim part of Bukuru is up and running, along with a second one in Bisichi. Relationships are growing with peace-loving, honest, industrious Muslim people who are truly friends and partners in community. Together we started a Healing Justice Fund to help people in crisis situations. The team has been able to help victims, both Muslim and Christian, of the bombing in the Jos market last December to pay their hospital bills. Help is given to widows and breadwinners to get on their feet after their loss. Families in need, unable to pay school fees or pay for surgical operations receive help. The team serves refugees and cares for destitute children: homing, feeding, schooling, clothing, and loving them, providing community.
Many of our staff and students in pastoral training come from Boko Haram ravaged areas and have suffered loss of family, friends, property and livelihood, having to bring surviving family members to a place of safety. In enduring grief together and helping our friends, we have learned that suffering and killing has occurred to both Christians and Muslims, and Christians have at times been involved in retaliation, and even pre-emption. Muslims are killed by the terrorists as often, if not more often, than Christians.
This book is a call for us as Christians to support others, caring for those who often have nowhere to turn for help. Many Christians only pray against Muslims, for their destruction, and resist Christians wanting to show love to them. Some Christians believe more in Muslim-conspiracy theories than in the teachings of Jesus. We see these responses internationally, not just in this region.
Today, many of our graduates are planting churches, preaching the gospel, and serving victims right in the midst of horrific terrorism. Terrorists have been strongly enough armed to repel the nation’s army, overrunning whole regions, creating millions of refugees including many orphaned children in acute need. The graduates’ love for Jesus overflows and they follow him with joy, remaining in cities and towns under attack to serve. Many terrorists are forced into Boko Haram, so we cannot hate them. Some have been rescued by the Lord and have even enrolled in our Bible College.
Other graduates are seeing God move powerfully as people come to Christ peacefully where communities used to fight. Muslim and Christian elders have come together to learn about Jesus’ kingdom and way of life and ask forgiveness of each other. One graduate said of his community who persecuted him on conversion, “I had forgiven them, but I would have nothing to do with them.” That says it all: forgiveness without involvement is not really forgiveness.
A student from the Fulani people went completely blind after an attack and was in this state for about 6 months. Medical intervention achieved nothing. Students had been helping her and some grew tired. My husband told them, “When God has healed us, in our patience to serve, he will heal this lady.” Last December she received a passage from the Lord, from Lamentations. She asked two staff to read the passage to her and pray for her. That night in our hostel at 2:45 AM she saw a vision of a man telling her to get up and walk, just like in the Gospels. She complained, “I am blind, so where will I walk to?” She was then instantly and totally healed. This was a community miracle. Word went out and Christians and Muslims gathered to give thanks.
Healing continues to occur between our communities and we now enjoy peace in our city. Not even Boko Haram suicide bombings (there have been several here this last year) have had the power to stir up community enmity, as our hearts change. Most people have never heard of Jesus unattached to a political or cultural agenda. We pray for revival and renewal throughout our nation as great numbers of Muslims and Christians have the intervention of the Holy Spirit and come to know the real Jesus and follow him together.
If the last 15 years of international terror and domestic conflict have proved one thing, it is that further violence is not the answer. The only answer is in living like Jesus did and taught, building community, reconciling with each other and so building His kingdom of peace on earth and goodwill towards men. That is what this book is about. God bless you as you read.
Ruth Hodge, January 30, 2015.