THE NEWS BLOG OF ADRIAN AND WENDY HELLEMAN, ACADEMIC MISSIONARIES
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Who we are
We serve with Christian Studies International (CSI), the Canadian affiliate of International Institute of Christian Studies (IICS). CSI and IICS send Christian professors to teach at public universities overseas. For more about these two related organizations see www.christianstudiesinternational.ca and www.iics.com. You may send financial support through either of these web sites. Please mark: "In support of Adrian and Wendy Helleman."
"Praise awaits you, O God, in Sion ... O you who hear prayer. ...You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior." Psalm 65. 1-5
Praise God for an awesome answer to the prayers lifted up for the peace initiatives in Bukuru yesterday, Thursday. This morning we received a remarkable account of what happened there from our IICS colleague Danny McCain, who participated in the talks. As we had suspected, and also heard through Bishop Kwashi's appeal in January, youth on both sides, Christian and Muslim, were a big part of the troubles of the past weeks in and around Jos ( Plateau State, Nigeria). And those troubles were not minor. Danny speaks of genocide like conditions in the villages. In Bukuru itself the main market with hundreds of shops was completely destroyed, hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed and dozens of people were killed. We do not wish to overemphasize the atrocity, but only when we realize how bad things are can we properly appreciate what happened. It was nothing short of miraculous.
On Thursday (yesterday) Rev. Yakubu Pam, the chairman of the North-Central zone of CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria, the umbrella organization of all Christian denominations in Nigeria), had called a meeting as an effort to bring peace between the Berom Christian youth and the Hausa/Fulani Muslim youth.
The event, held at the main Cinema of Bukuru, close to an area of severe fighting during the January crisis, attracted over a thousand people attending. Critical to the success was participation of the leaders of the warring factions, men responsible for so much death and destruction, Ishaya for the Christian youth and Magaji, the Muslim youth leader.
Aside from prayers, speeches and appeals, the occasion was used to honor these leaders for restraint in a recent encounter, averting another serious crisis; in turn they were asked to pledge themselves to a new role as peace makers, so that when they learn of trouble, they will go to intervene, also to "encourage others to be peace makers until peace is restored to Plateau. So help me God.”
This is clearly not yet the end of the story! But it is an extremely significant step in the right direction, and the first truly good news story that we have heard in quite some time. In his own speech Danny spoke about the need to forgive, if the cycle of vengeance is to be broken.
*** So let us continue to pray: ** Forgiveness is not something that can be manufactured, but we can pray that such a spirit of forgiveness will begin to take root, to undermine the spirit of hatred and bitterness.
** Let us also pray for meaningful employment for these youth. If these young men are to turn to a new life of positive contribution to their communities it is also vital that there be opportunities for meaningful work.
** And let us pray for a solution to another big problem, endemic in these communities - as indeed in so many cities around the globe – especially among young unemployed or underemployed youth, the attraction of drugs. We also need to pray that such issues can be addressed.
** But above all let us thank God for such a gracious answer to prayer. Danny writes, "I just wish that I could somehow communicate what happened in that old cinema hall yesterday. I do not have words and I am quite sure that pictures and even videos cannot adequately capture the emotions and potential good that will come out of that meeting."
** Thursday's meeting was the second of the kind organized by Yakubu Pam and his organization for peace: ³Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Inter-Faith Foundation. The week before on 23 March he had arranged an amazing meeting between the Christian and Muslim youth in the Kwarafa Cinema almost in the heart of the Muslim area in Jos. Let us pray that God will continue to bless these efforts with much success.
** Thank you for praying with us. As you share in the pain of these people, so far away, but close to our hearts, you will also share in their joy, as new directions take hold.
We have just received word of a special prayer meeting to support peace efforts in the Jos area, PlateauState (Nigeria), to be held in Bukuru, just outside Jos, on 1st April, and would ask that you join in prayer for these efforts for peace.
A terrible massacre took place close to Bukuru, home of the Theological College of NorthernNigeria (where most of the students we supervise are on faculty), during the night of March 6. Three Christian villages of the Birom, the largest tribe in the Jos area, were attacked by what are reported to be Fulani (nomadic Muslim) herdsmen. Hardly a week later there were more killings in another village not far away. In these incidents men, women and children were brutally slaughtered, some 300-500 in the first, 13 in the second. From eye-witnesses we hear of merciless use of weapons of violence, machetes and guns.
The killings were supposedly a taking of revenge for Berom attacks on Muslim villages during the January riots, when Muslims attacked Christians and burned churches and property in Jos. "Christians," especially those from the Birom ethnic group, retaliated.
Jos itself remains quiet, if tense, under strict curfew since the January troubles. The city has a considerable police/military presence. Outlying villages cannot be protected in this way, and are far more vulnerable to retaliatory attacks.
*It is vital that we pray for both Christians and Muslims in these conflict situations. The current troubles are not just an expression of religious hatred and intolerance; the causes are complex and deep-seated, involving ethnic rivalry, competition for land, and political allegiance.
*Pray for continued peace, for all efforts to maintain peace, and to work for reconciliation; pray that somehow the cycle of violence can be broken.
*Pray that the Christian community will remain watchful and careful without resorting to retaliatory violence. Pray also that church leaders will not feed into the desire for revenge, but will set an example in wise behavior, refusing to act on rumor or tribal agenda.
*Pray that the truth may get a hearing in these contexts. There is so much suspicion, mutual distrust and fear. Often it is fed by the circulation of hasty text messages and rumor-mongering, passing on information which only foments jealousy and hatred.
*Pray for the safety of our colleagues at the university and at the seminaries, missionaries, faculty and students. Pray especially for safety in travel in and around Jos.
*Pray that a sense of justice and fairness may return to this situation. Pray that police and military intervention may be vigilant, impartial, acting with integrity and justice in dealing with perpetrators of violence.
*Pray for our colleagues, as educators; we ask special prayers for IICS/CSI colleagues, the McCains, Wiebes, Lillos, Yilpets and Katrina Korb. It is difficult to concentrate on meaningful academic work in a context of tension and violence.
*Pray especially for political leadership, for the state governor Yang, and for acting President Goodluck Jonathan as he seeks to install responsible leaders. There has been so much confusion about Nigeria's President Yara'dua, who has hardly been seen in Nigeria these last weeks and months. Pray for his health and ability to help bring healing in this situation.
*Pray for both Muslim and Christian families who have been affected by all the troubles of this year. So many have been killed in interreligous and tribal attacks these last weeks. So many are suffering the after-effects, in loss of life, possession and community. May the Lord provide comfort also through those who are working for peace.
As we remember the suffering of our Lord on our behalf, we would ask you to pray with us for those who are suffering in Nigeria, and specifically in the Jos area.
“But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.” Psalm 10.14
Dear praying friends,
Thank you for praying with us! Since writing you last week we have heard from numerous friends and colleagues who testify to the power of prayer to give peace in the midst of violence and suffering.
*Praise God for a degree of normalcy that has returned to Jos. Federal troops moved into Jos in large numbers to help bring the situation under control, to restore order and enforce the curfew, which is now relaxed to 6pm to 6am.
*Pray for those who have lost so much. The numbers of those known to have been killed are more than 300, probably closer to 400. The number of those injured or displaced, traumatized through the loss of loved ones, their homes and possessions are far higher. Pray for speedy help for refugees in the thousands, without adequate food, water, or blankets, with no place to return to. Many are too afraid to go back.
*Pray particularly for the English-speaking congregation of the Reformed (NKST) church in Anglo-Jos, where we and many NKST students from Unijos have worshiped. The parsonage was badly damaged; the photo attached with this represents many other homes destroyed. One of our Unijos students, Abel, lost everything in the crisis when his house, next to the parsonage of the church, was set ablaze along with it. He was thankful to escape with his family and a few vital papers before the attack came. But we are also sad to hear of destruction to the Muslim neighborhood in retaliation for attempts on the church. Pray that Christians will not forget to model the behaviour which Jesus taught, and that Christian leaders will encourage a way that makes for peace and good relationships.
*Pray that violence will not spread further in a radius from Jos to the lower Plateau State and neigbouring states. We received horrific stories of massacre from outlying villages, where it is far more difficult for troops to bring order. There has also been significant conflict at the college of education in Pankshin where the Wiebe’s are teaching. Most of these communities have a relatively small cluster of Hausa Muslims, mostly traders, at the center of town, while mainly Christian local people, “indigenes”, live on the outskirts. Through the use of cell phones and texting the news of violence spreads quickly; over the past years those who hear of trouble have inclined to taking matters into their own hands, retaliating against the group perceived to be responsible.
*Please pray that those responsible can be brought to justice, and an attempt be made to address the underlying causes. This week more than 300 were arrested in connection with the violent attacks, and some taken to the capital Abuja for questioning. The amazing discovery was that those who perpetrated the present crisis are for the most part the very same ones arrested last year, but set free on bail, and never prosecuted.
*Pray that the real causes for the violent attacks can be addressed. It appears that the crisis started with a clash over the redevelopment of some land by its owner in Jos; opposition to the project escalated into a religious crisis, with ‘suspected’ Muslim youths attacking Christians and churches. But the truth is hard to come by, because Muslim authorities are at pains to deny such allegations, for the simple reason that it almost inevitably leads to reprisal against Muslims in other communities. So the blame is placed on Christians, which has the opposite effect, resulting in identifiable Christian communities or institutions, and particularly churches and seminaries being targeted. There is a high price for exposure of true motives and actual perpetrators. As a nation Nigeria can be compared to a tinderbox; it seems to take the smallest provocation to set off a vicious cycle of reprisal.
* Pray that God will bless the various efforts to address the underlying issueswhich are certainly not just religious, but represent a struggle for ethnic and political superiority in Jos. The latest crisis clearly resulted from resentment for last year's rioting, and desire for revenge.Pray for those who attempt to bring reconciliation betwen the Hausa/Muslim and local tribes/Christian communities. With a series of riots between 2001 and 2008 the city has steadily divided into Christian and Muslim areas, the southern part comprising mostly Christian “indigenes”, with the northern part (where the university is located) mainly Hausa-speaking Muslims, who are still classified as settlers and thus are restricted politically and in other ways, though they have lived in Jos for decades. But the “indigene” restriction has worked in the favour of Hausa/Muslims in northern cities like Kano, where traders from other states, mostly Christian, are similarly restricted, and church buildings are probably more vulnerable than are mosques in Jos. Until the "settlers" in the northern states are granted rights, any modification of settler status in Jos is rather unlikely, particularly because in the last years Jos has taken in many who fled the northern states over imposition of conditions of shari’ah there. We close by quoting the prayer of the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin A. Kwashi (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/januaryweb-only/14-21.0.html): “We must also pray for our state government, our Houses of Assembly at state and federal levels and our law enforcement agents, that they may choose the path of truth and justice, and deal with crime by its proper name, so that no-one, no matter how high or low, no matter of what faith or creed, should be exempt from facing the law. The national leadership should be lifted up to God, that they may rise beyond a concern for political success and seek to do good and right in all things for the benefit of all people. This is a most urgent prayer request, because Nigeria as a nation has a large and ever-increasing army of leaderless, lawless, unemployable, unemployed, demoralized, and near hopeless youth. This, to my prophetic mind, is the big security issue which the governments at local, state and federal levels are not taking seriously. For example, every crisis in Nigeria in the last ten years has been executed by this generation of young people. With each passing year, they perfect their skills, and when they run out of a supply of money—or when they become bored with any situation—then any opportunity for action gives them satisfaction. This army has no religion, but can choose to go under the name of religion to achieve its motives. They are uneducated, and so their values are totally different, as are their ways of handling weapons or choosing how issues are settled. Please pray for us.”
From personal contact and internet reports we are learning that there is once more a serious crisis in Jos. At the university students were halfway through final exams on Monday when the university was closed. Jos is under a 24-hour curfew, which means that there should not be anyone in the streets at all. But the gunfire is ongoing, and reports tell us that more than 200 people have died. This is so sad.
The university area is only one of those where the tensions run high. We have been in touch with the McCains on the Unijos campus where we used to live, and they are alright, though the gunshots are rather loud and close. There has also been a lot of trouble in Bukuru, south of Jos, where the Theological College of Northern Nigeria is located. We know of one student who was killed. The Wiebe's, who just returned to Nigeria from Canada, were on the road back to Jos, but were not allowed to proceed when within less than an hour away. They had to go back to Abuja until the curfew is lifted.
We have no clear idea of what sparked this latest round of violence. The reports seem to focus on a Catholic church on the east side of Jos, which was burned down. There are typically many more rumours during such a crisis, and as soon as some are killed, the revenge killing can start a vicious cycle. Additional troops have been sent into Jos, and one hopes that this will lead to the city becoming calmer today, Wednesday.
Please pray with us, that peace may be restored to the city, and that the Lord will keep in safety our many colleagues and friends in Jos. May our they find comfort in the Lord's protection, love and sovereignty. Pray that government intervention and reinforcement of troops in the area may be effective. Please pray for efforts toward a more lasting peace. One of the significant reasons for recurring violence is that those who perpetrate are not called to account, and indeed the reasons for violence are complex. Pray for a sense of justice, so that there will be some hope that the never-ending spiral of vengeance and reprisal can be broken. May the Lord guide and prosper all who seek peace.