- Posted October 16, 2012 by
Not Just A Number: The Real People Affected by the Nigerian Church Attacks
A couple of months ago, I was sitting on my couch looking at the CNN news app on my iPhone.
"Wow- only two victims died in the most recent church attack in Nigeria," I said to my husband.
Comparatively, that really was amazing (especially since many of the other attacks had taken the lives of up to 60 people in a single incident). There were more than 600 people in attendance that day and a suicide bomber had driven up to the front of the church to set off a bomb in his car. I was truly amazed that there were not more causalities and was thankful that so many had survived.
Little did I know that less than two months later, I would meet some of the survivors of this attack and others like it.
Afiniki is a 16 year old girl, who runs short distance events for her track team at school. She enjoys science and wants to be a doctor when she grows up.
On the day the attack, she was helping out in children's church. She was holding an eight month old baby when the suicide bomber ignited the bomb.
The next thing she remembers is waking up on the ground to find the child lying lifelessly next to her. She grabbed the baby and clung onto the small body, unable to believe that the baby she was just holding was now dead. This baby was one of the two victims that had died that day.
As she told me her story, in a voice barely above a whisper, I could not believe trauma she had endured at such a young age. A 16 year old should only have to think about school, track events and friends, not a traumatic event like this.
"Is it difficult for you to go back to church after the attack?" I asked.
"No," she said. "God saved my life that day and He can do it again. He has kept me alive for a purpose, I won't live in fear. I will continue to go to church."
I was speechless. If I stayed up too late the night before or didn’t feel the best, I would skip church. She, who had every reason in the world to miss church, continued to go every Sunday.
And her story was just one.
John and Emmanuel are 24 and 26 years old respectfully. Both are avid field hockey players and John is one of the most talented soccer players I have ever seen. And they both almost lost the ability to play the sports they love.
John told us of the day he has personally deemed as "Black Friday," when Boko Haram had infiltrated he and Emmanuel’s town. Boko Haram is an Islamic Extremist group in Nigeria who has been behind countless attacks of churches, Christian – and government property.
On this day, a man was eating a meal at a local restaurant. While eating the soup the waitress had just brought out to him, he began to cry. The waitress asked him what was wrong, why he was not happy with his food. "I am about to do the work of Allah- please leave while you still can." As soon as he said this, he got into his car and drove into an oil drum in front of the police station, creating an explosion that destroyed part of the police station- opening up an area that was once secure. After this, other members of Boko Haram broke into the police station and disguised themselves as police officers. They then entered into the Christian section of town.
John was riding his bike home and was stopped by one the members of Boko Haram. He said that he did not recognize the ‘police officer,’ but stopped nonetheless.
The man asked him his name. "John" he said. The man then said "To Allah I bring glory" and shot John in the arm (because he had a Christian name). John fled from the man as fast as he could, to seek shelter and find help. He eventually got through to his father on his cell phone, who rushed him to the hospital where he stayed for almost two months. He could not move his hand for over a month and was afraid that he might never be able to play the sports he loved. But after a month's time, he regained full usage of his arm and hand again.
On the same day, Emmanuel was playing soccer with some friends, when a member of Boko Haram opened fire on him and his friends (since they were in the Christian part of town). He and his five friends began to run for their lives. The man kept shooting all of them until they all fell down. Within a moment, Emmanuel realized that all his friends were dead and that he was the only one who was still alive. He decided to play dead as the gun man approached, but then saw that he was approaching every single body to shoot one more time (to confirm that they were dead). Even though he had been wounded himself , Emmanuel got up and ran for his life. He jumped into a sheltered area behind a wall and later found a bathroom to hide in. His battery on his cell phone was too low to call anyone, so he sat in the bathroom, continuing to bleed out until someone found him the following morning. It took him over two months to recover in the hospital, but he is still struggling to recover emotionally from these traumatic events.
Finally, there is the story of Esther. Esther is a widowed mother of six. She lost her husband in a violent attack by Boko Haram. She struggles, trying to make ends meet for her six children, but it is difficult to do with her small tailoring business.
Esther is an individual who most would expect to be in a constant grief-stricken state. And while she misses her husband deeply, I do not think I have met anyone who has more joy than Esther. Her warm, inviting smile lit up the room. Her peaceful presence made it difficult to believe that she had endured so much.
I shared the passage 1 Corinthians 12:26 with her: “We are one body, when one part suffers, the whole body suffers.” I told her that we Christians who were not persecuted, desired to be 'one with them' and asked what we could do, to be united with them as the body of Christ. She told me "Share our stories-so more and more people will know about the situation in Nigeria, so that they can pray for us."
If I am honest with myself, I struggle with 'compassion fatigue.’ I am so overwhelmed by all the atrocities happening around the world, that it is difficult to empathize with every event. And in this day and age, it makes sense- we are more globalized than we ever have been before. We did not always hear about every natural disaster or violent attack in the world.
One way to overcome this is by hearing individuals stories- they become more than numbers, they become real human beings. They could be our neighbors, our friends, our families. We need to share their stories with others and let them know that we are advocating for them, so they do not feel so alone. This is why I have felt so compelled to write this article.
The day before I left, a Nigerian Christian had thanked me for coming to Nigeria. "It took courage for you to come here, after reading all of these reports in the news, but you still did. We are so encouraged and so thankful."
I was floored- my ‘courage’ was nothing in comparison to attending church every Sunday, knowing that there was strong chance that the church could be attacked and that I could lose my life. The Nigerian Christians I met were so courageous in every aspect of their life!
These are just some of their stories- there are many who have endured horrific events because of their faith. We must think of these victims as the individuals they are, not merely as numbers. We need continue to pray for each of them and share their stories. We need to be One With Them.
*Photography- OD News