A trauma care centre is being constructed in Nigeria to support Christians who have suffered religiously motivated violence or abuse at the hands of Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen.
The centre is being built by Open Doors International, a charity which supports Christians under pressure for their faith. In April, the charity took a group of UK-based church leaders to visit the parents of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls and Christians in internally displaced people (IDP) camps – in Yola in the north-eastern state of Adamawa, and Jos in the central state of Plateau.
During the trip, the group met with Isaac*, a church leader who survived a Boko Haram attack. Isaac said he learnt that his name was on a Boko Haram list on Christmas Day last year. A few days later, the Islamists moved from house to house, killing everyone they encountered, but Isaac and his family escaped unharmed. When his 500-strong church was due to meet again a few days later, Isaac, his wife and the caretaker were the only ones there.
“As a shepherd, as a pastor, we don’t take pleasure in burying our members,” Isaac told the group. “I’ve seen orphans in the church and widows in the church. Whenever we see them, we feel bad, because we need to take care of them and we have no resources.”
In the video below, captured by Open Doors, another church leader, Rev. Ishuwa Abari, speaks about his family’s traumatic encounters with Boko Haram and how frequent attacks have affected his church: (Click ‘CC’ if subtitles don’t automatically appear.)
The group also met with Valerie*, a young mother in a village in Kaduna State, part of Nigeria’s Middle Belt. She was asleep when Fulani herdsmen attacked late one night. They killed many people, slaughtered animals and burned houses to the ground one by one. As people ran away, the Fulani followed and continued shooting and killing. Valerie stood by her door, trying to hold it shut. She was shot three times in her chest and stomach. Her husband was killed. Fifty people who were hiding in a straw house were locked inside and burnt to death. Two churches were also burnt down.
Valerie had previously spent 18 months in a refugee camp and had just returned home to pick up the pieces and start again.
One of the visiting group, Dr. David Muir, a lecturer at a London university, described how he felt after hearing such stories.
“When you listen to some of the mothers of the kidnapped girls; when you hear the harrowing stories of mothers whose sons were either killed by Boko Haram or Fulani herdsmen – in front of them; when you listen to fathers who are traumatised because they could not protect their families; when you see hundreds of orphaned children in a camp for families who have been forced to flee, with little prospect of education or being re-united with their families; when you listen to pastors who have buried hundreds of members of their congregation [who were] slaughtered in the Boko Haram insurgency, then you understand something about the hardships, struggles and challenges faced by Christians in Nigeria,” he said.
Over the last 150 years, the Christian population in Nigeria has grown from virtually nothing to 31.2 per cent of the 187 million inhabitants. But Nigeria is currently No. 12 on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
According to that index, between 2006 and 2014, up to 11,500 Christians were killed and more than 1 million Christians faced religiously motivated pressure of some kind. Many were driven from their homes and 13,000 churches were abandoned or destroyed.
Church attendance has more than halved in some of the most violent areas. In many places, the Christian presence has almost been extinguished, particularly in north-eastern Nigeria.
*Names changed for interviewees’ safety.