Published: 00:01 GMT Standard Time - Wednesday 17 March 2010
Praying for the Persecuted Church in Lent - Nigeria
Project(s): 39-808, 39-838, 39-970
The north of Nigeria is around 93% Muslim, while the southern states are about 80% Christian. The population of the Middle Belt states is more evenly mixed. In the total population there are roughly equal numbers of Christians and Muslims.
According to its constitution Nigeria is a secular state with freedom of religion. Since 1999, however, the leaders of twelve northern states have introduced sharia in their territories, and the federal authorities have proved reluctant to resist this change. Although Christians in these states were promised that they would not be made subject to sharia, they find that they too are required to conform to it, including the separation of the sexes in education, health care and public transport. Islamist militants have expressed their aspiration to Islamise the whole of Nigeria.
The country has a long history of tensions between Muslims and Christians, and in recent years these have developed many times into violent large-scale rioting, usually initiated by Muslim mobs. Christians in the north have suffered discrimination for many years, with restrictions on church buildings and poor treatment of their children in schools. Since the introduction of sharia, however, there have been more and worse incidents of hostility. In the last year hundreds of Christians have been killed and dozens of churches burned by Islamists in serious rioting in both the north and the Middle Belt.
Although parts of Nigeria came into contact with Christianity as early as the fifteenth century, the principal phase of mission activity began in the nineteenth century. Both Western and African-American missionaries were involved. In the colonial period the mission agencies established rural networks of education and health care, some of which still exist. Despite the challenges that it faces, the Church is dynamic and growing rapidly in numbers.
Three pastors from Maiduguri, Nigeria were beheaded by Islamists on 27 July 2009 for refusing to convert to Islam.
- Give thanks for the courage of these and other Nigerian Christians who have remained faithful to Christ even in the face of death, and pray that they may be an example to their brothers and sisters.
- Pray that progress towards the introduction of sharia throughout Nigeria may be halted, and that the authorities will restrain the violence of Islamist groups.