Just as the dust settled, it was flung back up again by the hurried, panicked, quick steps of those who ran for their lives from Boko Haram’s latest attacks. Gathering what and whom they could, they ran from the violence as the insurgency shot at Nigerian militia. Like an ominous mass of demonic monsters, Boko Haram came in droves, shocking the people with their huge numbers, coming to take back what was once so evilly theirs. As the terrorists ascended, they brought with them the very things the Nigerian townspeople were trying to do away with, to forget: panic, incredulous fear, and the deep, haunting emotional trauma that scarred their hearts and minds. Just as victory was imminent, and freedom and relief were becoming a reality, Boko Haram’s vicious attacks upon the Nigerian people expressed one disheartening, somber truth: that though a severely heavy, horrible darkness has been lifted from them, the fight against such a malicious enemy and ideology is never truly over.
In reality, their barbarous enemy goes far beyond the immediate physical evil of Boko Haram. The truth is, their enemy is far more complex– and trouble lies ahead in the long road to recovery, both as people and as a nation. Those who have found refuge in the surrounding cities and countries are now coming home; while this a beautiful victory, lack of infrastructure has caused huge struggle to make sense of what has happened– and to recover what is left. But fragile, ravaged land is not their only obstacle. Alongside having little to no infrastructure, their communities lack the most basic of necessities, such as food, water, and adequate shelter . With no sign of government help coming, those who have courageously decided to come back to their homes will have to forage and fight for their wellbeing. In this saddening, somewhat discouraging myriad of problems, it is clear that for these towns to be rebuilt– and more so, for these hurt and injured men, women, and children to be “rebuilt”– it will take being alert and aware of every prospect of evil. Yet, in the face of such trouble, a bigger Truth must be known: while these men, women and children need to be aware, whoever puts their trust in Jesus Christ never has to be afraid.
While Christ and His apostles stressed the wisdom of being alert and ready for warfare and persecution of every kind (in passages such as 1 Peter 5:8-9), He said to do so with trust in His power to protect us and defeat the enemy, abiding in the safest place possible– His own self. In what was no doubt one of the most emotional, hard-to-hear message of the disciples’ lives, Jesus tells the disciples to hold on to His words in the days to come.
“‘Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.’
…’Do you now believe?’ Jesus replied. ‘A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
‘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.’“
(John 16:20-24, 30-33, NIV, emphasis on “in me” mine)
Jesus, in His Love, is honest with His followers: the trouble will not stop; in fact, it will get worse. But in telling the disciples the truth, Jesus gives His disciples sure words of hope and peace. Jesus asserts– both in telling them the future and stating that He’s overcome the world– that He is on the throne through it all. As if this weren’t enough, He states that He Himself is the resolution to the fear, trouble, and hardship before them, expressing that is in Him alone that peace is found. He Himself will be with them in everything they face. And after all the pain and fear, He will come back physically to them, and no one will be able to take away their joy. It is for these reasons that the disciples can “take heart”; and it was these words with which the disciples were alert. Today, in a world that frightens and discourages us, it is the strong refuge of Christ– who both loves us unconditionally and is for His people, always (Romans 5:8; Romans 8:31)— that we can run to, confident in His ability to guide, strengthen, and fight for us in all things (Isaiah 58:11; Deuteronomy 3:22).
While the dust of their home town may not truly settle for awhile, there is no reason for the men, women, and children of Northern Nigeria to fear. With Christ as their Lord, Savior, and Lover of their souls, They can “stand firm” in His grace (2 Timothy 2:1), held fast and Loved. For it is His dust, after all.
Do you know Jesus?
Jesus’ words came to regular men, like you and me. The twelve disciples were not perfect or especially pious by any means; in fact, many had attitude issues, and struggled with fear and great failure– one was even the slanderous, deceitful traitor of Jesus, selling Him to His persecutors (Matthew 26:14-15). It was not the disciples piety or perfect obedience that made them Christ’s disciples; it was Christ Jesus who called, justified, and eventually saved them from their sin as He died on the cross– and rose again, the next day. This is true of all people who follow Jesus: it is not by our works that we are His or that we have Eternal Life; it is by His calling and grace alone (Romans 8:30; Ephesians 2:8-9).
This is the beautiful news: God sent Jesus, His Son, to save the whole world from their sin– and all people have been called to know Christ, no matter who they are or what they have done (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:3-4). Learn more about this incredible Love of Christ– and how God has saved all those who believe in Christ alone– here.
There has been much pain, anguish, and intense suffering in the lives of the millions of men, women, and children in Northern and Central Nigeria over the past 6 years (since the terrorist insurgency began). In the same, horribly sad vein as Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 16, this is the truth: the suffering, hardship, and weariness may not go away soon, and even has the chance of getting worse. Yet, Jesus’ words rung true in their lives, and still ring true in the lives of all Christ’s disciples– Americans, Arabs, and Nigerians alike.
Right after Jesus’ words to His disciples, Jesus immediately goes to the Source of His Love and Power: the Father. In John 17, Jesus speaks to His father– prays– for Himself, for His disciples, and for His disciples to come. Truly, the most power we have against the enemy– physically, but especially spiritually– is prayer and Spirit-led fasting. May we pray for our brothers and sisters this week, and in the weeks to come, as the seemingly uphill climb to recovery starts (and continues).
Pray that all men and women, specifically those in Nigeria, would come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. Pray that these men and women, as they come to know Him, would be held fast, protected, and strengthened for the long road ahead.
Pray that Christ’s strength would be found– and that those who have found it would use it to stand firm against the enemy, continuing to fight whether it would be their true enemy, satan; their physical enemy, Boko Haram; or their life’s enemies, lack of food, water, aid, and infrastructure. Pray that they would continue to find the strength to not give up, even under the worst conditions. Pray they would continue to find and obtain what they need.
Pray for their physical enemies, Boko Haram. Jesus calls us to pray for those who persecute us in Matthew 5:43-48. Pray that these men and women would also come to know the Truth, Love, and Freedom of Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Pray that Christ would change their entire lives, and use them for an incredible testimony of the power of His grace. Pray that converts to Christianity would continue to “stand firm in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1).
Pray for the men and women coming back to their towns and villages; pray that they would have safe journeys home, and would continue to be protected and encouraged as they rebuild their war torn lives.
Pray also that the infrastructure of their homes and towns would be rebuilt quickly. Pray for immediate aid on their behalf. 1 John 3:16-18 tells us a simple, yet sometimes convicting Truth: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” We must, if we can, provide for the needs of those around us. If you would like to give aid to those caught in the Northern Nigerian war on terrorism, you can give here.
Pray for the Nigerian military. Pray that all would come to know Christ Jesus, and would be given the strength, wisdom, and tools needed to uproot and defeat the Boko Haram from West Africa. Pray for Nigeria’s new leader, General Muhammadu Buhari; that He would come to know Christ personally (as he is a muslim) and would lead the country into peace and victory.
Pray, in all things, that those in Nigeria would stand fast, aware and trusting in Christ as they continue to move forward.
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. …Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”
(2 Timothy 2:1, 3, NIV)