February 8, 2012

04CN: Nigeria's Rising Religious Conflict Takes Toll on Adventist Church

Nigeria’s Rising Religious Conflict
Takes Toll on Adventist Church

Open-air meetings curtailed, churches fast, pray for peace (Posted Feb. 9, 2012)

BY GILBERT WEEH, West-Central Africa Division, reporting from Abidjan, Ivory Coast

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Nigeria is seeing a drop in church attendance and some church closures amid worsening religious conflict in the country.

An upsurge of attacks against Christian churches by the extremist group Boko Haram beginning late last year has led to ongoing sectarian violence between Muslim and Christian groups in northeastern Nigeria.

Adding to the tumult, the country’s government recently eliminated energy subsidies, doubling the price of gasoline and inciting nationwide strikes and demonstrations. News reports indicate that Nigerians are living in fear of continuing unrest.

Meanwhile, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called on religious leaders in her country to speak out against the violence, the Guardian, a British newspaper, recently reported.

“Christian leaders must continue to preach peace and togetherness so that Christians do not retaliate,” Adichie told the Guardian. “Muslim leaders must strongly and repeatedly condemn the violence against Christians and make it clear that Boko Haram does not represent Nigerian Islam,” she said.

The Adventist Church in the country has devoted recent days to fasting and prayer for the ongoing situation. Church administration in the country is encouraging membership to work in small groups and avoid large public religious gatherings. Open-air evangelism efforts have been put on hold because of a curfew and the fragile security situation, church officials said.

Also, a January 2012 opening ceremony for the Benjamin S. Carson, M.D., School of Medicine at church-owned Babcock University has been postponed, in part over concerns about the current climate in the country.

According to a report by North East Nigeria Conference president Stephen  H. Bindas, the Adventist Church there has not suffered property damage or loss of life. However, some individual members have had their property looted or burned.

“The situation in northern Nigeria shows how a lack of religious freedom can affect the life of churches, and why we must promote and strongly defend this essential freedom before it is too late,” said John Graz, director for the Adventist world church’s Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department.

Church attendance in northeast Nigeria has dropped drastically, leading to church closures in some regions where most members are traveling businesspeople who have returned to their homes. In other churches, pastors have left their congregations for fear of being killed.

The situation has produced a wave of small-group evangelism, church leaders said. As Nigerian Adventists funnel their efforts to spread the Adventist hope on a smaller scale, church officials in the country are soliciting the prayers and support of the world church family.
                                                                                                                     —with reporting by Adventist News Network

Abuja’s central mosque