A recent article about Nigeria reminded me once again of how our perceptions about the world “out there” are formed. Here in Benin when I tell people that I am preparing to travel to Nigeria they often express surprise that I would do such a thing. At one time banditry and general lawlessness made travel there inadvisable. While there may still be some of that, things have changed and I feel like I can travel freely there as long as I don’t get too far off the beaten path. But the perception that it is a dangerous place to visit is still prevalent here and around the world. Note for example the advice from the US State Department and the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
Looking over the headlines from international news sources one might be inclined to understand the pessimism. Some of today’s headlines were Six Killed in Tribal Mayhem, Fuel Scarcity Worsens (this in a country that is the eleventh largest producer of crude oil in the world), Tackling Nigeria’s Violent Oil Swamps (where armed gangs seeming abduct people for ransom at will), and Abducted Oil Workers Released. Yet when I travel to Nigeria I find that there is a significant amount of good news, not the least of which is embodied by Nigerian Christians as they strive to provide a sane, hospitable, incarnational presence in the midst of insecurity. A while back I wrote a Prayer Letter about this very thing which you can see here.
Another thing one hears about is the problem of religious violence in Nigeria. Unfortunately there have been instances of Christian/Muslim violence that have included killings and destruction of property. Yet even in the midst of the violence there are those who are being witnesses of the Prince of Peace. Mennonite Central Committee is working in Jos, Plateau State, to decrease religious related violence. See their article Peacemakers help to save a Nigerian city from violence. A recent piece in The Atlantic Monthly gives a feel for the complexities of Christian/Muslim dynamic in Nigeria, God’s Country. The article highlights the work of two peacemakers, Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, who were recently keynote speakers at the Inter-Collegiate Peace Fellowship Conference at Conrad Grebel University College. Their ongoing work is an inspiration to us all.
Thank God for those working for peace in Nigeria and pray for the Mennonite Church Nigeria and all Nigerian Christians as they strive to incarnate God’s love in sometimes difficult situations.