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PersecutionNigeria | 22 June 2023
5 lessons from Africa's persecuted church
Show: true / Country: Nigeria / Nigeria
“God knows about my pain, and I am not alone.”—Blessing in Nigeria
Blessing lost her husband to an extremist attack in Nigeria’s Kaduna State. Fulani militants killed him in March 2023.
She is one of numerous Christians living in sub-Saharan Africa who knows suffering firsthand. Repeatedly, the stories of our African brothers and sisters show us what it looks like to suffer for their faith—and just as important, what it looks like to walk faithfully with God in our hurt and pain. Jesus called it “trouble” and said we would all eventually face it.
“… in this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
Knowing that we will inevitably encounter suffering and that our persecuted family in Africa is well acquainted with it, what lessons can we learn from them when we hurt?
1. Prayer is powerful.
Repeatedly in the stories of our African family, we hear how prayer sustained them in the lion’s den. Five years after Amina lost her husband in an attack, she was kidnapped by Boko Haram while traveling home from a funeral. She remembers the words she prayed in Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest as a captive of the group that repeatedly told her they would enslave her.
“I always told God: ‘God, I don’t know the devil. It’s You that I know. So, take charge. I will not say that I don’t know why You kept me [here], because there must be a reason. Help me to fulfill it.’”
Persistent, often silent, honest prayer gave Amina the strength to endure until she was eventually released. Even then, she recalls making prayer part of her celebration: “I went into the room ... I knelt and prayed before I came out. … I started singing a song that says: ‘By His grace I am alive, that is why I am singing. Jehovah saved my life.”
When we’re hurting, talking to God can bring us comfort, perspective and courage.
2. God's Word helps us stand strong in faith.
For some 2,000 years, the words of Jesus, the prophets, the apostles, etc.—have been a mainstay, a source of comfort and hope, for God’s people. We see repeated scenes of God’s followers drawing on His Word in suffering.
Fati, a young wife and mother in Burkina Faso, has relied on the Bible’s wisdom and promises to help her endure five violent extremist attacks. Today, she and her family live as displaced persons, forced to flee their home. Life has been full of pain for Fati and her family. When we met with her to hear her story, she was wearing a T-shirt with Exodus 18:11 printed on the back: “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for He did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”
Fati shares how important Scripture is to her as a reminder that God has been with her and her family every step of the way: “The Bible says that we will face trials in this world. But He says He will make a way for us. We believe these words written in the Bible. And this gives us life. It strengthens our faith and brings joy into our lives. When I think God has forsaken us, I remember His words in the Bible. He tells us that He will be with us no matter what.”
In our suffering, we can cling to God’s promises in His Word.
3. God's Spirit provides perseverance and strength.
Even when we don’t know how we’re continuing to walk through the fire, Scripture assures and shows us that God’s Spirit provides strength to endure and perseverance to continue the journey.
We don’t have to look far to see a living example of this truth. Our sister Gertrude in the Democratic Republic of the Congo holds fast to God in her pain. In one day, Gertrude lost her husband and her son. Islamic extremists [AT LEAST 69 CHRISTIANS KILLED IN THREE ATTACKS IN DRC] killed her husband and took away her young son.
She says that if it were not for God, she wouldn’t have made it this far alive. “If I went far away from God, I would already be dead, and the danger from which God saved me,” she says. “I have hope that God is present. I had many questions, but as He is good, I just consoled myself. I told myself we all are sojourners on this earth. It is God alone who gives me the strength to be able to bear this pain.”
We can count on the Holy Spirit to come alongside us to help us endure our pain.
4. We all need help sometimes.
The Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit shows us how important relationship is to our Creator. He didn’t design us to live life alone. Throughout Scripture, we see how He weaves together people’s lives to bring them someone who will stay and stand beside them when pain comes. When we admit we need help, God works through the presence of others in our lives to bring His comfort and healing.
Like so many traumatized Nigerians who have found compassion and help through Open Doors’ trauma care center in Nigeria, our sister Ijaneda came to the center broken and devastated. At age 14, Boko Haram kidnapped Ijanada from her home and forcefully married her off to one of their fighters. At 16, she gave birth to a boy. When she became pregnant with her second child, she managed to escape after nearly four years in captivity.
Ijanada shares how God used the individual workers and counselors at the trauma care center to help her overcome the suffering she had endured: “I found new life here,” she says. “They encouraged us and taught us about genuine forgiveness and how to let go … I learned how to forgive those who have offended me and have forgiven those who have mocked me, because they don’t know what they are doing.
“If I hadn’t allowed others to minister to me, I would have still been full of bitterness and unforgiveness. I didn’t understand the importance of forgiveness, but now I do, and I have let those feelings go.”
Reaching out to others, allowing them into our suffering, can make a life-changing difference.
5. God is with us in our pain.
This truth may seem obvious but think about the magnitude here. The creator of the universe— the omniscient, omnipotent God whose name is above all names—is present with you when you hurt. Let that sink in.
At age 33, Pastor Jean* has seen and lived through more tragedy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo than most of us will see in our lifetime. He is vividly remembers when extremists attacked the village where he pastored and killed 15 people, including six of his church members.
Like Blessing (mentioned above), Pastor Jean knows that God is present with him in his pain. “The Bible tells us not to be afraid because God is with us,” he says. “And that is my consolation. I often say to our church that even if we are persecuted, our tears will be wiped away. Like our brothers who died by the sword, thrown into the fire, into the lion’s den … we will stand firm in our faith in Christ.
Knowing that God is with us in our pain today brings hope for tomorrow.
Praise God! Jesus didn’t just end his statement about inevitable pain without giving us invaluable hope. Read John 16:33 in its entirety:
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Jesus assures us that He has already won the war. But through His Word, presence and the faith of others in our daily lives—and even our African family clear across the world—He also acknowledges and encourages us for the battles we face today. As our sisters and brothers in Nigeria, Burkina Faso and the DRC show us, our Savior is with us when we hurt.