Compass (12/12/05) For Pastor Zacheous Habu Bu Ngwenche, time is running out. In the next two weeks he may find himself back in police detention if he does not produce a convert from Islam abducted from his house by Muslim militants in September.
The 31-year-old pastor of Foursquare Gospel Church in Akwanga, in central Nigeria s Nasarawa state, was arrested twice in September for harboring a Muslim who converted to Christianity. After the second arrest, he spent seven days in a cell in Lafia, the state capital.
One of Ngwenches disciples, Adamu Bello, had gone to Bauchi state, in northern Nigeria where sharia (Islamic law) has been imposed, to proclaim Christ among Muslims. In the village of Bura , in Ningi Local Government Area, Bello preached to Bature Suleimanu Idi, a Muslim who in January gave his life to Christ. Sensing that Idis life was in danger because of his decision to become a Christian, Bello sent him to Akwanga to take refuge with Ngwenche.
In August, Shiite Muslims in Akwanga discovered that Idi had converted to Christianity; they abducted him on September 10.
Idi was abducted in front of my house and taken to a mosque belonging to the Shiite Islamic sect on Wamba road in Akwanga town, Ngwenche said. I went and met the leaders of the Muslim community in this town to protest the abduction. But they claimed that I was holding Idi against his will and was teaching him Christianity without the consent of his relations.
The Muslim leaders reported the matter to the police, who arrested Ngwenche. Questioning both him and Idi, Ngwenche said, police discovered that Idi had decided to become a Christian without outside pressure.
But police said that the case was very sensitive in view of the volatile nature of religious issues in Nigeria and took Ngwenche and Idi to police headquarters in Lafia. In the criminal investigation department, the assistant police commissioner questioning them found only confirmation of what Akwanga police had discovered that Idis conversion was voluntary and uncoerced.
Police released them but instructed Ngwenche to arrange for Idi to be taken back to his hometown of Ningi. But Idi told police that he would not go back to his village, as his family would kill him for renouncing Islam.
After Ngwenche and Idi returned to Akwanga, on September 12 the Muslim militants again abducted Idi. Ngwenche again reported his abduction at the Akwanga police station that same day. The police asked him to go home but report back the following day if Idi did not return.
I returned the following day to the police station when Idi did not return home, Ngwenche said. I was arrested by the police and detained.
Police again took him to Lafia, where they held him in detention for seven days, he said. Ngwenches church helped him to win bail.
I have now been told to produce the Muslim convert, even when the police know that it is the Muslims that abducted Idi, Ngwenche said. My fear is that he will be killed. We have raised teams of searchers to help rescue Idi.
Police have told Ngwenche that if he does not produce Idi before the end of the year in the next two weeks he runs the risk of going back into detention.
Though not a clear majority, Muslims have large populations in Nasarawa state. Some officials in the state have campaigned for sharia to be imposed, as in 12 northern states, but so far without success.
Ngwenche, also a former Muslim, became a Christian as a young adult and soon thereafter heeded the missionary call. After graduating from the Foursquare Gospel Church missions school, he decided his first mission field would be his family; his Muslim parents were the first to convert.
My family members became the first members of the church I planted in my village, he said.
In April of 1997, he planted the Nasarawa states first Foursquare Gospel Church in Aban village, which today has about 100 members. Hes also planted a church in Agyaga with 60 members; in Ningo village, 20 members; and in Goho village, 25 members. Other villages where his church plants are budding are Ninga, Anjida, Andaha and Buku.
On the whole, Ngwenche has planted 18 churches in eight years with a total of about 300 members. While developing 26 pastors as well as missionaries working in 22 areas, Ngwenche has seen opposition rear its ugly head.
In 1989, I planted two churches in the villages of Nunku and Nunku Chu, he said. These villages were Muslim villages. I was frustrated there; I was beaten up by the Muslims, our church was attacked and all we had was destroyed.
The 15 members the church in Nunku, including 14 converts from Islam, scattered. Likewise, the 25 members of the church in Nunku Chu dispersed; 15 of those members had been Muslim. The two churches existed for just one year.
Because of the opposition he faced in those two villages, Ngwenche moved to Akwanga to plant the church hes now leading. Of its 34 members, three are converts from Islam.