Prayers for Nigeria Day 8

I saw something that I must mention, and it requires me to give an explanation. Due to the increasing (and very dangerous) trend of religious segregation in the country, Muslim areas are increasingly Muslim, while Christian areas are increasingly Christian. The clearest sign that you are entering a predominantly Muslim area is in the clothing, particularly that of the women.

I knew that and expected it, but what I did not expect was my own personal reaction to the sight. One of my chief hobbies is people-watching, and I have rarely enjoyed it as much as I have enjoyed it in Nigeria. The people are loud, boisterous full of life and laughter. Not so in the Muslim areas.

The women there walk with downcast eyes, furtively shuffling from place to place. Frowns of worry crease faces that have lost the contours of smiling. Even through the stifling veil of the hijab you can see fear in their stance and carriage. Every time that we cross into a Muslim dominant area I notice this shift on a visceral level.

Above all the things that I have learned in this trip is that Nigerians are a free people. They hold their heads high and stand up straight. It grieves me to see these women so broken.

All that was just background. Now let me tell you what sight compelled me to post this. As we were passing through a muslim section of town I my attention was drawn to 7 Muslim schoolgirls, in matching hijabs of pale Nigerian green preparing to cross the street.

One girl in particular caught my eye. She couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 years old, but she was leading the group. She grasped her sisters hands, holding back one girl who tried to step out into the street early and shouting encouragement to her sisters as she prepared them to cross the street.

All of this happened in perhaps 4 or 5 seconds as we made a turn and then the flow of traffic took us along. As I looked at her face, at the life flashing in it, I suddenly realized that this girl was just like the Christian schoolgirls, that we had visited earlier in the day. She had the same life, the same passion, the same core of freedom. Immediately following the first recognition came the second, that all those women that I saw so downcast and fearful, they weren’t born that way. No, they were made to be that way. They had been broken.

I wondered what will happen to that girl’s spirit, to the life in her eyes and the smile on her face, when she grows up in a Muslim world, surrounded by a culture that denies her the right to her own self. What will happen to the laughter on her lips in ten years or so when she marries a Muslim husband and is broken to his will?

I mentioned this line of thought to my traveling companion, and he looked at me with a curious combination of sympathy for my ignorance and distaste for the truth that I was not seeing. In ten years? he said. Three or four, max. She will be a child bride bearing child after child, growing old before her time.

What response to that can there be but prayer?

Oh Lord, I pray for that Muslim schoolgirl. I pray that by your mercy and grace that you would preserve the joy in heart. Lord give her enough time to learn and grow up.

Lord I have no patience for feminists in the States, their irrational sense of entitlement garners no sympathy from me. But oh God my heart breaks for those girls who really are forced into lives they would never choose for themselves. Whose value is measured in the sons they bear and the amount of work they can do in a day. Like beasts of burden their minds are left to rot in darkness and their hearts grow cold.

Oh God I praise you for the transformation, for the converts that have come and are coming among the women of the Muslim world. Lord your truth is right, your word makes us to protect the weak, not break them to our will. Oh Lord we know that true submission to God means that in humility we cannot force someone to give God their heart.

Lord I pray that you would protect us in the days ahead as we travel to even more exciting places.

Amen

Prayers For Nigeria Day 7

Dear Friends

I left the States a week ago today. I have not yet spent a full week in Nigeria, as the trip itself consumed all of Monday night and most of Tuesday but it has been seven days since I slept at home. Since I arrived, it has been like riding a whirlwind. Almost everyday we have spent more than three hours in the car, traveling from city to city.

This morning we were able to travel with Congresswoman Martha Bodunrin, who took us to the scene of the 2010 Dogo Nahawa Massacre which killed at least 500 people.

As a side note, Congresswoman Martha Bodunrin is a faithful and exemplary representative of her constituents. When notified of the attack, she immediately flew from the capitol of Nigeria to Jos, but by the time she arrived the Massacre had already taken place. She was only able to witness the awful aftermath of the attack.

Even now, 2 years after the Massacre, the scene haunted the Congresswoman, and she was able to recall casualties in gruesome detail, without any prompting from the locals. We were unable to meet with the pastor, but I talked to several women who had lost their husbands to this violence.

Yet through the lingering horror God’s grace shown a beautiful ray of hope. One of the women gave birth to a child on the day of the massacre. In another place and culture such a child might have been hated as a reminder of the grief and loss. But if I have learned anything about Nigerian it is that they treasure and protect their children. This child was loved God’s constant reminder that there is beauty and life and joy, despite the agony of this dark world. It was a good reminder for me as well.

Lord

I thank you for the gift of life. For reminding me that your grace triumphs over adversity. That all the lies and all the hate and all the violence that comes against your people cannot quench your love and does not shake your faithfulness.

Lord thank you for signs. Thank you for that precious promise child, growing up with the all the love that the wounded community can muster. Lord I pray that you would strengthen that village. Let it grow strong and bright once again. Let that child grow up in a place where hope shines brightly.

Lord I thank You for Christians who have the humility to recognize where they are most needed and best applied. Lord I thank you for PhDs who are willing to teach children their ABCs because that is where they are needed most in the community that You have placed them. Lord I thank you for generosity of Christians to give and the stewardship of Christians to see that gifts are well used. And Lord God I praise You for appointing me to be there as a witness to see Your handiwork. I marvel a pattern that is so much bigger than any one person or organization.

Lord I praise you for the sense of “place” that you have given to Nigerians, the recognition of the ties to the land and the sense of belonging. Lord I know that that sense of place will only be finally fulfilled and justified in heaven, but as I watch these Nigerians I think that many of us in America have forgotten what we should long for!

Lord I pray that you would give me wisdom as I work. Thankfully I know that there is no solution in my hands and I am not called to save Nigeria. But Lord as I see these people in the light of faith and grow to love them, I desperately want to help them. To build up based on a strong foundation, not tear down or worse, build something that must be torn down because it does more harm.

Lord smarter people than I have failed, caught in cultural currents and internal politics that they were unprepared to face. I do not pretend to be better than they. I cannot outsmart all the players, I cannot see all the angles and manipulate everyone. And even if I could, what would it profit?

Lord I ask that you would make me your instrument, that you would use me and this trip as one small part of the work your are doing in Nigeria. Clear the way, and make the way clear before me so that I might not stumble.

Lord preserve Your people.

Amen.

Prayers for Nigeria Day 6

Dear Friends

I greatly enjoyed my first Sunday in Nigeria. Today I was struck by the vast differences between people. In the morning I attended a church service in the capitol city of Abuja. The church campus was very large containing several buildings which serve both the church and the Christian school attached to it.

The inside of the church was very technical, with modern earbuds, wireless mics, and massive video screens. The sound system was impressive to say the least, in fact I’ve been to rock concerts with lower average decibel levels. The sermon was inspiring, full of hope and joy, and I felt very welcomed.

In the afternoon we visited one of the northern states to interview an Anglican bishop concerning the persecution of Christians in his state. The entrance to the Church compound was guarded by a soldier so old and so fierce that it would not surprise me to learn that he had been originally trained by the British! The man was half-deaf, but very committed protecting his bishop.

The Anglican bishop was one of the most impressive men I have met so far in Nigeria, and I have met some impressive men. He was concise, even pausing for me as I was taking notes. Unlike most of those that I have interviewed, this bishop had clear requests for the international community. Put pressure on the Nigerian government to arrest these people (whom he listed by name), add their names to the list of known terrorists, and seize their foreign accounts to make it harder for them to fund large-scale attacks.

The thing that struck me most was how close these two churches were in space yet how far apart they were in the realities they faced. I’ll have to think more on the subject but that was my initial impression.

Dear Lord

I thank You for bringing me to Nigeria, to bear witness to the way that Your children bring honor to Your Name. There is so much pain in what I have seen, so much horror and the wreckage of human lives has not grown any easier to bear in my short time here. Yet there is still hope.

Lord, You remind me that whatever happens in the North, or even to Nigeria as a whole there is still always hope for your people. And You will continue to provide, in marvelous and miraculous ways. Lord once again, I thank you for preparing the way for this trip. In so many ways I feel that I am not assessing what needs to be done, but discovering what is already unfolding in your marvelous plan.

Lord I thank you for the generosity of the Nigerian people, for once again providing me a place to stay tonight. I pray that you would help me to rest well. Lord as tomorrow the schedule of meetings picks up once again, I pray that my mind would be sharp and alert as I strive to serve you well.

Amen.

Prayers for Nigeria Day 5

Dear Friends

Today is a day of rest. Half way through my time here, we only had one informal meeting today. The rest of the day was spent in helpful rest and thank God, we are in the home of an extremely gracious Nigerian host not another night in a hotel.

Not that I have anything against the hotels we have stayed in, they have been very nice places. But there is something special and significant in being invited into someone’s home and given a room there. About receiving advice from a gracious lady on how to endure the Nigerian heat, and hearing the stories of wise man who has walked with God for a long time.

I was privileged to join their family devotions, which they do every night before they go to bed. As we sang songs, read a brief scripture passage and listened to a section from the Daily Bread, I was struck by the fact that none of the couple’s own children were present. Two of the girls there were relatives, nieces as it happens, and another was a longtime family friend. But they still called it family devotions and if I had stepped into the house at that moment, I would have assumed that the three girls were their daughters.

During the prayer at the end of the devotion my host went mentioned  cities in the north by name, praying for the Christians there. Over the past two months, I have been studying northern Nigeria intensely and over the past week I have interviewed people from most of these places. So the prayer tonight will be a simple list of 7 cities in Nigeria and a short description of what the Christians have suffered there. I hope that as you go about your weekend that you will pray, knowing that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Lord we pray for your Children

In Maiduguri, the longtime headquarters of Boko Haram in Nigeria, where churches are burned and Christians killed almost at will.

In Potiskum, where houses were tagged with Arabic graffiti to identify the Christians for house to house killings done “ethnic cleansing” style.

In the city of Kaduna, where there is a literal bridge between the Muslim and Christian halves of the city and tensions run high.

In  Kano where Boko Haram killed over 200 people in a single attack less than a month ago.

In Tafawa Balewa where Christians have experienced decades of systematic discrimination and targeted violence in an effort to push them off of their ancestral lands.

And last but not least, Jos, beautiful Jos which has known an entire decade of violence, wiping out a reputation for peace that was known throughout the whole of Nigeria.
Lord we pray that You would hold Your children close. Give them peace even as they live with death every day. Lord we thank you that of all people we can grieve with hope, and that those Christians who have lost family and friends can take comfort in Your promises. But Lord we also pray for justice to be done, that your name would be vindicated. Lord the blood of innocents cries out to from the ground. Let justice be done.

In Your name oh Lord

Amen

Prayers for Nigeria Day 3 & 4

Dear friends

I apologize for failing to post last night. It was a very exciting day interviewing Christians from many of the wide and varied parts of Nigeria. The tales were heartrending and left you awed by the faith of these followers of Christ. Before we get to the prayer, I want to share with you this brief account that one of our team wrote up about a convert we interviewed.

EDIT: The convert whose story follows this is a different person from the 79 year old pastor. The pastor was one of several hundred internally displaced persons from Yobe State who had been driven out of their ancestral lands by Islamist attacks.

“He lost his entire family because of his conversion to Christ. The sharia court granted his wife divorce on the grounds that her husband was now a pagan. She married a muslim. His first son wanted to go with him but the convert told his son to wait because he didn’t want the boy to grow up without a mother.

Fearing the boy would persist and become a Christian too, his muslim relatives poisoned and killed him. After a few years his wife died of an illness. His remaining son, the only remaining member of his family was given a “scholarship” by the state government to study Islamic studies in Libya. On his way to Libya, the vehicle carrying him crashed, killing the boy.

After 5 attempts on his life, he finally relocated within Nigeria. We offered him to consider political asylum abroad. He said he is the only Christian in his entire local government area. He told us “I was born in Nigeria. I will die in Nigeria.”

After all I saw today February 9th 2012, I wonder if I have ever been or seen a Christian.”

In the light of that story let us pray.

Lord, in the wake of all the people that I have met over the past few days. I thank you for the pastors that you have given to Nigeria. Perhaps, indeed it is likely that you have guided my steps to exceptional representatives of their ranks. But again and again when I meet these pastors I meet people who are exceptional, the best and brightest that their communities had, offered to Your service.

Lord I pray for our efforts in Nigeria. The recent violence has drawn attention and efforts from all over the world. I pray for these efforts, so many of which either fail to help or do even greater harm because of misinformation, inaccuracies, and outright lies. Eventually the truth will win out. Lord God may that day come quickly.

Lord I pray for the honest men of Nigeria. Lord the irony that those who try to do their jobs without favoritism are slandered and often fired on charges of corruption. I pray that you would strengthen and encourage those who choose to do the right thing anyway, knowing that at any moment it could mean the end of their careers.

Lord I pray for those who have been forced to flee from their homes. Lord I listened to a man explain that when people go from house to house killing Christians that it is not safe for children. And in his eyes there was a sense almost as if he was ashamed that he had left, shamed that he fled a coordinated religious cleansing! Oh Lord, I do not deserve to be counted next to such a man!

Lord God I pray for their elderly, for that magnificent 79 year old man who preached the Gospel for so long, held the line for so long. Lord my heart breaks that after such a lifetime of service that this reverend, this shepherd, this father and grandfather, this protector of the weak was forced to flee. It broke something inside of him, I think, to leave the land of his fathers and I do not know if he will ever be healed this side of heaven. I do know that looking at him looking at his eyes I felt such a respect for the man that I cannot express. If there was anything of mine that could have eased his pain, I would have given it without hesitation.

Lord you know the truth. I pray that we would speak the truth to the world. Lord touch the hearts of those with agendas, and let them for once in their lives choose to put others first, and not seek their personal advantage at the cost of all else. Lord, I know that only you can make that happen. But Lord if people try to do business as usual, the killing will not stop until every Christian in the north of Nigeria is dead!

Lord save your people!

Amen