A Land in Turmoil

By Jay Church

10/14/2021 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The ground was freshly muddy, causing tire tracks and mud splashes everywhere, but for the seedlings in the ground, the rain was a lifeline. Something so simple as a sprouting seed carried the weight of the livelihood of so many Nigerians.

Nigeria’s troubled Middle Belt region was just entering its rainy season when two staffers from ICC’s headquarters landed in Abuja in June—their first trip to the country since COVID-19 broke out in the early months of 2020.

Farmers in the surrounding states were busy readying their fields for the rains, looking forward to the satisfaction of seeing shoots come up and crops ripen as the wet summer months progressed. Some were fortunate enough to see this come to pass. It was a blessing for them to see another season of rain.

But others, victims of religious persecution, experienced devastation as ravaging malicious groups swept through their farmland, hacking down hundreds of acres of crops, setting fire to houses, and attacking and killing villagers. Their livelihoods were destroyed, and many were left directionless, asking themselves, “What do we do now?”

To bring assistance to the region, ICC helped develop several farms in the Middle Belt. Headquarters staff (from Washington, D.C.) and local staff travelled around Nigeria for two weeks, checking in on the farmers and listening to their stories.

Each story was unique, but they shared common threads of loss, grief, and hope for the future.

ICC’s communal farms are a huge part of the solution for these persecuted communities, but they aren’t everything. The Nigerian government’s lackluster response to the malicious groups, Fulani militants and Boko Haram, allows them to roam about, largely impervious to prosecution for their crimes.

In fact, during the June trip, there were many reports of attacks and murders. On his way back from the market, an ICC farm beneficiary was killed in an ambush. An act as innocent as gathering household supplies can result in a death sentence.

In another village where ICC works, four people lost their lives in an attack, including a five-year-old girl and a woman who was eight months pregnant. Women and children in Nigeria’s Middle Belt do not have the luxury of living in peace without wondering in the back of their minds if they are safe or in danger.

ICC’s staffers missed a daylight abduction outside a village they visited by about an hour. The militants blocked the highway and abducted several carloads of people, taking them into the bush to demand a ransom.

Areas all throughout the Middle Belt are waiting targets for religious persecution at the hands of Boko Haram and Fulani militants. Every day is a game of roulette—not a matter of if the bullet will fire, but when.

The government of Nigeria casts itself as a helpless actor, struggling valiantly against overwhelming sectarian violence. The narrative goes that Nigeria’s main problem is a lack of resources. While there is a grain of truth to this argument, the government is largely misusing the resources it already has and failing to use its capacities to protect Christian communities fairly in the central and northern parts of the country.

As with every trip to the field, the biggest takeaway is the personal cost of persecution.

Numbers and statistics can be helpful, but nothing can replace seeing the faces of the persecuted, speaking with them, and hearing their hopes for the future.

May the Church around the world continue in steadfast prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Nigeria.

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