Tag Archives: Nigeria

Nigeria #10 World Watch List

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Since about 2009, the nation of Nigeria has suffered steadily increasing violence and barbarism from attacks by Boko Haram, an Islamic terror group whose name means “Western education is sinful.” The group has bombed churches and kidnapped both children and adults. They frequently kidnap women and girls who are raped and sold into sexual slavery.

They have always been clear about their objective of creating an Islamic state within the boundaries of Nigeria, but fears of their plans are much increased after a statement by their leader Abubakar Shekau who said, “We announce our allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims.” Shekau was referring to the caliphate, or Islamic State, that ISIS has been seeking to set up in parts of Iraq and Sryria.

Many analysts over the past few years have insisted that Boko Haram, while violent and supportive of Islam, was not powerful enough to be a threat the world at large should fear. An alliance between Boko Haram and ISIS changes the character of Boko Haram’s activities.

The Nigerian government postponed elections scheduled for February, and they are now rescheduled for this weekend, March 28. If anything interferes with the elections this time, Africa’s most populous nation will be adrift in a political storm that will risk the safety and security of all citizens. Most disturbing is the prospect that Boko Haram will optimize on the unrest surrounding the election to take control of additional territory in the embattled northern regions of Nigeria.

 AN AVERAGE OF 10 PEOPLE ARE KILLED DAILY BY THE ISLAMIC EXTREMIST GROUP BOKO HARAM IN NIGERIA.

 

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PRAY:

  • That the 200 girls of Chibok and the many others kidnapped by Boko Haram will be returned to their homes
  • That the thousands of Christians who have been displaced in northeastern Nigeria will be reunited with their families and receive relief help and trauma counseling from Open Doors workers
  • For the presidential election on March 28 to be conducted without violence

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Flag of NigeriaSource:http://www.all-flags-world.com/country-flag/Nigeria/national-nigerian-flag.php
Courtesy:All-Flags-World

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What God Gets

                       Psalm 16

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
    I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
    As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
    The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
    The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
    The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
    I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
    I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
    Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10    For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11    You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. [1]

Christians who feel as if the world, as reported in the daily news, is spinning out of control, feel disoriented and disturbed. They look for a refuge. Psalm 16 talks about the kind of refuge they can have in a strong relationship with God. The psalms often pray for refuge or testify to finding refuge. In the Psalms, to take refuge in God is to cling to him in faith when trouble strikes. The psalmist expresses confidence in God’s protection and fearlessly calls to the Almighty for help. When trouble creates chaos and confusion, the psalmist calls out to God for guidance and seeks to follow God’s way.

Psalm 16 is this sort of prayer. Yet it has a unique perspective that Christians can appropriate to their blessing. Harper’s Bible Commentary says that Psalm 16 points to a time when Israel was falling away from faithful worship, and even Levites were falling away from their calling to serve God in his sanctuary. This view of the situation is expressed in the words, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.” (verse 4) Contemporary Christians have every reason to feel the same way about the world around them.  US culture is just as prone to run after other gods as Israel was, and Christians who deplore the millions of aborted babies in the US will feel the same revulsion toward that news as this poet who rejected drink offerings of blood.

Christians share something with the ancient Levites who viewed Israel’s apostasy from a place of religious leadership. Christians are part of God’s kingdom of priests, and Christians have the same responsibilities of leadership that the ancient Levites had. Christians are called by Christ to be light and salt, visible, active agents of God’s kingdom in the world around them, just as the Levites reminded the Israelites of God’s claims on their lives.

Thinking about that image, it is important to remember a major difference between the Levites and the other Israelite tribes. The other tribes all received allotments of land in the Promised Land, but the Levites did not. The Levites, including those specifically consecrated to the priesthood, were to receive all the offerings that people brought to the Lord. Those offerings were their living. The Levites got whatever God got in ancient Israel. If the Israelites were feeling faithful, they gave larger and finer offerings. If the Israelites were on a binge of Baal worship, then offerings to the Lord might be few and far between.

To be a Levite could be a major challenge during times such as the early days of Josiah’s reign. When Josiah became king, the temple Solomon built with such fanfare had fallen into severe disrepair, and people had fallen away from worship of the Lord to such a degree that the discovery of ancient writings about God in the temple created a frightful stir. The Levites who lived through those days must have been quite resourceful, because they would not have been living on any offerings to the Lord. If they got what God got in those days, it was a very large NOTHING.

Christians, called to serve in God’s kingdom of priests, also get what God gets. Recalling how Bonhoeffer invites contemporary Christians to read the Psalms as Jesus’ prayer book, it is easy to see this parallel between ancient Levites and the kingdom of priests when the psalmist says, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” God has made Christians a kingdom of priests, and like the Levites in ancient Israel, we do not receive our “portion” as real estate. We lift up the “cup of salvation” as our offering to the Lord, and it is simultaneously the priest’s portion. We are priests who are live on the offerings to the Lord. We get what God gets.

This is an important point. As God’s priests, we get what God gets. The ancient priests endured some very hard times. We tend to think that if we have fallen on hard times, God isn’t taking good care of us, and we tend to believe that we should ask him to take away our hard times.

Yet as those who bear the name of Christ, as the kingdom of priests who receive whatever God receives, we are clearly called to share the opprobrium the culture heaps on God. If we are priests, we must endure. We get what God gets.

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) When we get what God gets, we get the hate of the world. In many countries, that hatred means that Christians are driven out of their homes, their husbands, wives and children are murdered, they are fired from their jobs, and even refused public utilities. They are deprived of any way to fill the basic human needs for food, clothing and shelter. This very thing could be in the future, the near future, for Christians in the USA, if we get what God gets.

When that happens, will we have the kind of faith the psalmist had? Ask yourself, Will I, in want and misery, be able to celebrate God’s presence in my life and say, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”

This is not a hypothetical question. In Mexico, 26 Christian families were driven out of their home town when the local government cut off their utilities. Christians had refused to contribute money or goods to local festivities that worship pagan gods. In Nigeria, Muslins who belong to Boko Haram followed a pastor to his home, then shot him dead in front of his wife and children. In Tanzania, a Christian pastor was assaulted with a machete by an angry mob. His injuries were so serious that he spent days in ICU. When the police chief was asked to come and rescue the pastor, the police chief responded, “I cannot protect every pastor.” These countries all theoretically operate by the rule of law, and theoretically have religious liberty for citizens, but violent activists in these and other countries either overwhelm available law enforcement or else officials collude with the cultural pressure and turn a blind eye to violence.

The same attitudes appear closer to home. In the USA, a family recently sought asylum when their home country threatened to take custody of their children. The reason? The family was teaching the children moral values different from those taught by the government. The family was homeschooling their children and teaching biblical morals. The parents wanted their children to be taught Christian values and morals. The US Department of Justice argued in court that the law the family had fled applied to everyone, not just to them, and because it applied to everyone, it could not be considered persecution. At the same time, business after business is suing the federal government because of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act which do not exempt Christians from the employer mandate to buy insurance that includes the so-called “preventive” service of abortion or abortifacient drugs.

Whether persecution is mounted by a foreign government or by the US federal government, God’s kingdom of priests gets what God gets. If God is not respected and obeyed, then Christians are not respected and treated with courtesy. The Psalmist expresses the victorious mindset that prevails and endures in the face of persecution.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.  (Psalm 16:11)

 


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ps 16:1–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

How Important is Religious Freedom?

 

In the USA we are accustomed to say that we have religious freedom, because the First Amendment to the Constitution protects us. That amendment forbids the Congress to set up a state church and fund it by taxation. It also forbids the Congress from enacting laws interfering with free expression of religion. Our country has a legal foundation of religious freedom.

 

The country of Djibouti likewise has legal protection of religious freedom. In fact, the government has a history of enforcing the protections of religious freedom. The constitution allows citizens the freedom to belong to any religion, but the culture is another matter.

 

The state religion is Islam, and more than 99% of the population of about 700,000 is Muslim. Christians number approximately 15,000, and many of them are expatriates. Few citizens are Christians. The major challenge for Christians living in Djibouti is the cultural response to proselytizing. In keeping with Islamic teaching that conversion from Islam to any other religion is a terrible sin, family and friends exert powerful pressure against any attempt to lead a Muslim to convert to Christianity. In 2009, it was reported that a few small Christian missionary groups were active, but the public view is that Christian evangelism is an affront to Islam.

 

The word “proselytize” is a civil term used to talk about the work Christians call “evangelism.” Christians consider Christ’s command to make disciples and baptize new believers to be the most important work of the church. Non-Christians call this work “proselytizing.” Christian testimony to the good news that Christ died to forgive sinners and reconcile them with God is the central feature of Christian living. Christians in any culture feel compelled as a normal part of living their faith to tell non-Christians about Christ in the fervent hope that they will believe. In Djibouti, the culture forcibly resists all efforts to lead Muslims to Christian faith. The pressure is so severe that Open Doors USA reports that new believers whose former religion was Islam are fearful even to tell close family members about their conversion.

 

The culture of the USA is not immune to the same sort of pressure. For more than two hundred years, Christianity was the dominant religion in the country and the dominant force in the culture. Christian holidays felt natural to everyone, and Christian ideas dominated the language and the moral turf. Today, however, immigration of Muslims and growing Muslim communities around the nation make Islam a more powerful force in the culture than it was as recently as 1992. Even as Islam enjoys the First Amendment protections that have permitted it to thrive despite minority status in the culture, today Muslims are publicly advocating for increased accommodation of Islamic practices such as women wearing headscarves and the provision of footbaths and prayer rooms for students and workers. There is even pressure to prohibit behavior and speech construed as criticism of Islam or satire directed at Mohammed. These trends keep the friction between Islamic culture and Christian culture at a high level.

 

Christians in the US are already under secular pressure to keep their religion behind closed doors. Many secularists maintain a “live and let live” attitude toward religion. For them, Christianity and Islam are equally primitive manifestations, but they don’t see religion as a threat. However, some secularists aggressively advocate not freedom of religion but rather, freedom from religion. This element of our culture would like to remove all public evidence of religious faith and practice.

 

The presence of a growing number of faithful Muslims in the US population puts pressure on Christians in a different way. The cultural resistance to proselytizing in Djibouti is an expression of an important teaching of Islam . Because the US and Djibouti both have a civil law code that allows people to choose and change their religions at will, nobody in either country can be convicted in court and executed for converting from Islam to Christianity. Nevertheless, in either country, family and friends can bring severe pressure to bear on any Muslim who might convert. Muslims in the US do not generally express revulsion toward Christianity, but neither do they welcome effort to win converts from within their communities. The more Muslims in the population, the more pressure for Christians to stop trying to make disciples in obedience to the command of Christ.

 

Religious freedom is important. Every human being has the right, granted by God at creation, to choose whom he will serve. The culture of the USA has always been a blend of many faiths and many ethnicities, and our nation has benefited from all the different contributions. Under the stress of international tensions created by terrorist acts perpetrated by Muslim adherents, both Muslims and Christians have heightened sensitivity rooted in their very different world views. Christians teach that we are to love all people, but it is easy to forget that teaching and get caught up in pejorative rhetoric. We cannot in good conscience advocate full freedom of religions expression for all citizens if we are simultaneously engaged in vulgar name-calling instead of reasoned public discourse.

 

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in ancient Rome, a real crucible of cultural blending, and said, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18) It was people who were shaped by that sort of teaching who wrote the First Amendment. They did not write it in an attempt to impose Christianity on unwilling converts. They wrote it to assure that people of all faiths could live in peace together. The First Amendment pushes back against secular pressure to shut down all faith expressions or against the pressure by one religion to shut down the faith expressions of other religions or against pressure by any religion to shut down rejection of all religion by any individual. For more than two hundred years this constitutional protection has prevented the kind of oppression and even violence that plague many nations. Nigeria, for example, is beset with ferocious, deadly violence as an expression of a desire by Boko Haram to eliminate Christians from the population. Bhutan is beset with similar violence by Buddhists.

 

The USA has hitherto been a model for religious freedom while keeping the public dialogue about the details of that freedom open and active. Our religious freedom is an integral element of the climate of freedom in this country. The freedom to live and speak and teach our most fervent convictions has been a magnet to people all over the world who yearn for that freedom. In countries where a single religion or ideology suppresses all other ideas, the yearning for freedom drives people to extreme measures to escape suppression and flee to freedom. How important is religious freedom? It is profoundly important. The men who wrote the US Constitution believed that if a power had not been ceded to the federal government, then it remained with the states and with the people. However, in recent years the federal government has made numerous creative inroads on that constitutional principle. By means of creative rhetoric, aggressive federalists have eroded even rights specifically granted to states. The history of our Supreme Court, documented in numerous cases, makes it clear how important the First Amendment is to the climate of religious freedom in which American citizens thrive. How important is religious freedom? Ask the citizens of Nigeria and Djibouti.