Updated on February 7, 2015.
Adventists in Nigeria are relying solely on faith to rein in the Islamist militant violence that has killed at least six church members because they won’t have a say in crucial national elections scheduled for a Sabbath, local church leaders said.
Church leaders also are asking Adventists worldwide to join them in praying for God’s guidance and in assisting the scores of people who have been displaced by the fighting.
The African country will vote on March 28 in an tightly contested race between incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, both of whom have promised to stop the Boko Haram militant group.
Both houses of parliament are also up for vote on March 28, and the country’s 36 governorships will be elected two weeks later, on Sabbath, April 11.
A large swath of northeast Nigeria controlled by Boko Haram, which has killed thousands of people in a six-year insurgency to create an Islamic state, will not participate in the elections.
Adventists also will not vote because the elections are scheduled for the Sabbath despite church leaders’ written requests to the government to change them to another day, said Uzoma Nwosi, communication director for the church’s Eastern Nigeria Union Conference.
“Adventists are not partisan,” Nwosi said. “We trust God and will not even go to vote because the elections are held on the Sabbath day.”
He noted that the elections were going forward even though Adventist Church leader Ted N.C. Wilson personally appealed to President Jonathan during a visit to Nigeria last year. Wilson asked that the government avoid holding both elections and state exams on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, thus allowing Muslims and Christians of all faiths to worship as they wished.
“But nothing has been done up until now,” Nwosi said.
As recently as Thursday, Feb. 5, senior government officials insisted that the elections would go ahead as initially planned on Sabbath, Feb. 14. But on Sabbath, Feb. 7, they announced a six-week delay, citing the fighting. The gubernatorial elections were moved from Sabbath, Feb. 28, to the date in April.
The country’s 200,000 Adventists together with the rest of the population of 177 million have a lot at stake in the elections. Many of the 35,000 Adventists in northeast Nigeria have fled as militants have seized towns and villages, forcing the church to abandon 16 church buildings and halt evangelism and other outreach activities. Only one ordained Adventist minister is left to cover the five northeast states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, and Taraba.
“Life has been tough for him, but God has been helping him,” Nwosi said.
The chaos has made it difficult for church leaders to keep track of members, but six Adventists are known to have been killed in Maiduguri, capital of the Borno State. The deaths were confirmed by a pastor who escaped from the area and are being reported for the first time in the Adventist Review. The pastor said some were killed by stray bullets, while the others were kidnapped and later killed or shot dead during Boko Haram raids of the suburbs of Maiduguri.
The Adventist Review is withholding the identity of the pastor and several other people who provided information for this article to protect them from possible repercussions.
Some Adventists who were unable to flee the violence apparently have been forced to adopt Islam.
“Life has become difficult and tough for those who escaped, while others who got trapped and could not run away — especially older people — have been forced into Islam against their freedom of worship,” Nwosi said.
It is unclear whether any Adventists are among Boko Haram’s ranks. Reports from the region indicate that young men captured by the group have been forced to become members.
Worship services have been discontinued in the abandoned churches, but all appear to be standing intact except for the Magar Church near Maiduguri, which Stephen H. Bindas, president of the Northern Nigeria Union Conference, earlier announced was burned to the ground on Sabbath, Aug. 23, 2014.
Read the report: "Islamic Militants Destroy Adventist Church in Nigeria"
However, Bindas’ initial understanding that militants were behind the attack might not be correct, church leaders said this week. Reports have emerged that the church might have been attacked by a group of local Christian young people who were angered that their own church was destroyed by the militants.
Adventists displaced by the violence have fled to other parts of Nigeria and across the border to Cameroon, leaving church members scrambling to help.
In one example, a surge of people fled to Yola, capital of the Adamawa State, overwhelming Adventist members there. So church leaders arranged for a bus to move some of them to the larger city of Jos, capital of the Plateau State.
Boko Haram members attacked the bus when it stopped at a gas station to refuel, forcing all the passengers to run into the bush.
“The bus and all other valuable items inside were burned,” Nwosi said.
The passengers, however, escaped uninjured.
In Jos, Adventist members have opened their homes to all internally displaced people.
“These nice members have received Adventists, non-Adventists and even Muslims, and have been providing food, clothes, accommodation and fellowship,” Nwosi said.
Bindas, president of the Northern Nigeria Union Conference, confirmed that many internally displaced people have also been provided lodging at the Global Mission Building at the conference’s headquarters in Bukuru, near Jos, and at two other sites.
Church members have brought food and clothes, and a physician is offering free medical care. A pregnant woman recently gave birth there.
“She was very happy, as the members rallied around her by giving all the support that she needs,” Nwosi said.
Some Adventists who have fled to Cameroon have it far worse, said a pastor familiar with the situation.
“Other members who managed to escape into Cameroon are living in difficulty: a lack of food, health care, security and shelter,” he said. “Some others are living in bad conditions in mountains and caves and cannot be reached by their families since there is no electricity to recharge their cell phone batteries.”
Back in Nigeria, the efforts to provide shelter are a temporary solution, and church leaders are considering what to do next. They say the displaced people may not be able to return home even if the government regains control of those communities because most of their houses have been burned down.
Among the other issues that church leaders are grappling with:
Nwosi said any donations of money or supplies would be welcomed and he called on philanthropic-minded individuals and organizations to lend a hand quickly.
“Anything is good and will be of great help to these unfortunate helpless people,” he said. “God will remember it.”
The church in northern Nigeria is low on money after tithe and offerings dried up amid the violence.
Looking ahead, Adventist leaders in Nigeria are asking for prayers from the worldwide church for God’s hand to be seen in the upcoming elections and the country’s future.
“We ask everyone to join in prayer for God to intervene in the case of northern Nigeria, for it is when we have peace and security that we can freely preach the good news,” Nwosi said.
Contributions for displaced people in Nigeria can be sent by check to the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904. Mark in the memo line, “Displaced people in Nigeria.’” Credit card donations can be made by calling +1 (301) 680-6228.
"Nigerian Church Leaders Pray for Kidnapped Girls" May 27, 2014