It was early in the evening, around 6pm, and we’d just finished our student fellowship leaders’ meeting. There had been trouble in the city that day. We felt the tension in the air as we walked quietly back to our dormitories, talking in low voices. The road looked deserted. But then we noticed some boys following us. We picked up the pace. And suddenly we were running. In all directions. The boys were in front of us too, and they had knives. I threw off my bag and ran into the bush, fear pumping around my body like never before. The boys were hunting for us. I hid there for five hours, terrified. I managed to make some whispered phone calls and eventually some security men from the army came to rescue me. It was a miracle I survived. But I don’t want to remember that experience.
This is Emmanuel’s story. He’s a Christian. He lives in the north of Nigeria, an area known for its recent attacks against Christians by Muslim extremists. Though much of the violence has been directed towards people in rural areas, Christian university students are targets too. They often experience the sting of injustice, discrimination and hostility.
The sting of injustice
One of the biggest challenges for Christian students is finding a place to gather for fellowship meetings. NIFES groups applying for permission to hold meetings on campus will be refused. They are forced to meet outside on football pitches or under trees, sitting on stones, exposed to the rain or the scorching sun. Even then, meetings will often be interrupted by university officials threatening them with expulsion if they don’t stop the meeting.
In some universities, chapels have been burned and Christians can’t get permission to rebuild them. This kind of treatment is even harder to accept when they see new mosques being built on campus around them.
Christians are also prevented from participating in student councils. Some find that their grades are changed by lecturers who don’t want Christian students to do well. Even getting admission to the university is a challenge for some, despite having good entrance exam results. Some resort to changing their name, or adding an additional Muslim name to their own, in order to find favour with the registrar.
This is everyday life for Christian students in the north of Nigeria. As one staff worker put it: “Justice for Christian lives never comes.”
Praying for big fish
In this context, it’s remarkable to see the students responding with courage, perseverance and faith-filled prayer. When asked how we can pray for them, one student responded:
“Pray that God fills us with His Spirit so that we can be bold to witness to His name as the Apostles did. Pray that God gives us grace for effective witnessing and opens the door of salvation in the north of Nigeria. Pray that we would love our Muslim classmates. Like the Apostle Paul, they are big fish, and must be won for Christ.”
Another student reflected:
“I think that this suffering and persecution gives us a sense of what the Apostles went through. These experiences test our faith and help us to depend on God at every moment.
We would love you to pray that we would be more committed in our worship and fellowship with God, irrespective of the challenges we are passing through. Thank you for praying. I know that we are part of a bigger body.”
Indeed, we are part of a bigger body. Let us be those who stand alongside our suffering brothers and sisters, confident – as they are – to approach our sovereign, merciful God in humble prayer.