‘God is bringing water today’
DONO-MANGA, Chad — “Water, please.” That’s the most common phrase…
ABA, Nigeria — “We pray that you will bless us through our enemies, as we see you doing so often in Scripture.”
Hearing this prayer stirred my heart, especially considering the context.
First, this prayer was offered in Nigeria, a country plagued by increasing violence in general and religious persecution in particular.
“We pray that you will bless us through our enemies, as we see you doing so often in Scripture.”
Second, this prayer was offered during a church service in Nigeria, immediately following announcements — announcements that were unlike anything I’ve heard at the close of church services back home.
A young man stood up and reported that a brother in Christ at a nearby congregation had been snatched from his home by the Nigerian army, accused of being part of the Biafran insurgency, which is growing in the southeast of Nigeria — more than 50 years after the terrible Biafran War.
Church leaders went to the army commander, attempting to vouch for their brother’s nonviolent character, but they were dismissed, unable to see him, hear from him or even confirm that he was still alive.
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In his prayer, the young man moved on to the nine girls from Churches of Christ in northern Nigeria who were kidnapped by the militant Muslim group called Boko Haram six years ago. They are still captives and likely were forced into marriages to these terrorists, or worse. I got the sense that this congregation (and many others) pray for these girls each week. That’s more than 300 worship services, 300 prayers.
They haven’t forgotten.
And they pray for God to “bless us through our enemies.”
We worshiped in a simple church building, full of vibrant song. Children were dressed in their most beautiful clothing. Smiles were the default facial expression.
No one seemed in a rush to leave the stifling-hot room, even though the intermittent electricity caused the fans to cut off repeatedly.
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At the back door stood a Nigerian army special forces officer. He was assigned by the local army commander for my protection in these unstable times.
I wondered how protected the rest of the congregation felt with his presence. The local army regiment, which has somehow fully displaced the local police force, is just a mile down the road. Its leader is an officer from northern Nigeria, where Christians endure violence and persecution from militant groups, including Boko Haram.
International Christian Concern estimates that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria in the last decade, and the inaction of the government and the inability of the army and police to respond promptly to attacks threaten the stability of Africa’s most populous country, home to 201 million souls.
You would not sense it during the joy-filled assembly of the saints, but our brothers and sisters in Nigeria are despairing unlike anywhere else in the world.
I think about my recent study of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. The language of captivity and release permeates his prophecies, many of which foretell the life and ministry of Christ. So many of our modern worship songs talk about release, about freedom, about chains being broken, about being set free.
These Scriptures and these songs have blessed me greatly. The metaphorical application to the struggles that we face in life are beautiful, inspiring and necessary. Christ has come to set us free from all of life’s struggles! Praise be to him!
But for many of our brothers and sisters around the world, there is no interpretive leap necessary when they read these Scriptures. They are literally facing bondage. Captivity. And they are living in the presence of their enemies. They are even so bold, in the presence of their enemies, to pray that God will bless them through these very enemies.
The situation in Nigeria seems to be getting worse, but this simple prayer illustrates that faith in Christ is not shackled here. It will continue to set people free — friend and enemy alike.
KEVIN LINDERMAN is executive director of African Christian Hospitals/International Health Care Foundation, a nonprofit associated with Churches of Christ that works with Christian hospitals and health outreach programs in Nigeria, Ghana and Tanzania.
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