It was the last place anyone imagined it would happen. And yet, it did: in the middle of an Internally Displaced Peoples Camp in Yola, Nigeria, a bomb was detonated, killing seven children and forever changing the lives of countless others. Once seen as a refuge for upwards of 1,000 displaced people, the Malkohi IDP camp spent all of September 11th, 2015 evacuating people from their “home away from home.”
The extent of Boko Haram’s terrorism has not stopped there. In Kolofata, Cameroon, 9 people were left dead after three suicide bombers detonated their explosives. Being near to a market, the suicide bombings terrorized possibly hundreds of people, causing them to live in the fear and anxiety that Boko Haram’s surprise attacks can bring. Yet, Though Boko Haram’s attacks continue to bring terror and grief to Nigeria and its surrounding nations, there is cause for hope: since the beginning of 2015, the Nigerian army, as well as the 8,700 strong multinational army, made up of forces from Nigeria and surrounding countries, have pushed Boko Haram out of many of their strongholds, including much of the Sambisa Forest. It was reported that “scores of Boko Haram militants” have surrendered, in what Vanguard newspaper reported as “mass panic and hysteria among their erstwhile colleagues” as they gave up their guns and traded them for cuffs. These men are men who have raped and terrorized hundreds, if not thousands of innocent women and children– men whose hands have killed, plundered, and kidnapped– and they now lie bound, shaking with terror and dread themselves.
Praying for Those Behind the Flag
The men behind the black, militant flag of Boko Haram have caused the deep sorrow, grief, and heavy darkness that has marred millions in Nigeria for the past five years. Radicalized by Muslim imams (teachers), these men have been brainwashed, sometimes from an early age, to believe that heaven can be obtained by shedding the blood of “infidels” (nonbelievers)– and sometimes, even their own blood. Suicide bombers, perhaps one of the saddest parts of Islam, can be any age or gender, and are usually young or easily manipulated. These pitiful souls are told that their “martyrdom” will ensure them a place in “Jannah,” the islamic version of heaven. Others are completely coerced; told that they will be murdered if they don’t become a suicide bomber, they have little to no choice but to follow their cowardly leaders/oppressors’ commands. Recently, many suicide bombers have been girls as young as 10 years old— one of the most vulnerable people groups involved in this horrific insurgency. Old or young, male or female, these brainwashed bombers and their leaders are in need of more than just arrest; they are in deep need of prayer.
The dark spiritual climate of being apart of such a demonic operation as Boko Haram can easily anger a person, causing them to ask Jesus for His divine Justice– and this is not wrong. They want those who have severely injured them to pay for it; when the perpetrator does not, they feel wronged and are embittered all the more. However, Jesus wants His followers to do things differently.
The Courage to Forgive
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, who wrote almost half of the New Testament, was once a terrorist and persecutor of Christians– until Jesus changed His life (read Acts 7-9 for his story). Though Boko Haram is a ruthless and truly satanic terrorist organization, it is full of men and women who do not know the Love of Jesus Christ. In response to the evil so many have had to endure, Jesus calls His disciples to do something most would find completely impossible. As illogical as it may sound, Jesus has called those who follow Him to forgive their perpetrators, as seen in a passage called “the Lord’s Prayer.”
“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
(Matthew 6: 9-10, 12, NIV)
In light of the horrific acts Boko Haram has perpetrated in and around Nigeria, Jesus’ command here can seem nothing short of deeply insulting. Yet, Jesus’ words speak of great Truth: forgiving others affects a person’s fellowship with Him. To know what it truly is to forgive, one must look at the cross.
Forgiveness in Light of the Cross
The truth is, forgiveness is not merely “overlooking” an offense or calling what happened “okay.” God did not merely “overlook” or call our sin “okay”; in fact, He hates sin, and as a God of Justice, gave mankind what our willful decision to disobey Him was: death, and eternal separation from Him. Yet, He is a God of forgiveness and mercy, taking no pleasure “in the death of the wicked,” but wanting them to “turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 18:23, NIV). Therefore, He did what only a supremely Merciful and Just God could do: take upon Himself our sin and its consequential curse, by dying on the cross (1 Peter 2:24). In this way, He was able to forgive those who believe on Him for the sin that separated them from Him. Truly, forgiveness is looking at the sin for all it is, and choosing to not let it control a victim or what they think of those who wronged them. It is only in forgiveness that a person is set free to truly Love those who have hated them.
Redemption, not Retribution
In the world, this type of reaction to those who so vehemently hate and hurt their victims is unheard of; yet, Christ’s disciples are called to do this very thing. Instead of retribution, Jesus wants redemption; instead of “an eye for an eye,” Jesus calls His followers to respond to hatred and persecution– no matter the depth– with Love (Matthew 5:38-48). This feat of overcoming hurt with blessing is no small one; in fact, it can not be done without Jesus. Without Christ, a person cannot truly forgive and love their persecutors. They may strive to, but it takes Jesus’ Spirit to genuinely change them from the inside out: to see their offenders as the correctly-judged, horrendous, wicked people that they are– but also as people who are ignorantly and pitifully desperate for Jesus.
Paul was changed by the Power and Love of Christ. His hands persecuted Christ’s people; yet, in Christ’s hands, He became the man He was meant to be. The hands of the members of Boko Haram are stained red; but, in the power of Christ’s forgiveness, they too can be cleaned. As one escapee from the Chibok kidnapping once said, “I forgive Boko Haram for what they have done and I pray God forgives them too.” Oh, how they need it.
The men, women, and children of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Benin have been victims of grave and disgusting injustice, perpetrated by the hand of Boko Haram, and arrested members have gotten what they deserve. Yet, it is not in their punishment that victims will find healing. Rather, offender and victim can only be healed by looking to the cross– and more importantly, by looking to the One who once hung there. Truly, it is by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5b, NIV).
Do you know Jesus?
“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.”
(John 1:11, NIV)
Though Jesus, God Himself, came to save the very world He created, it did not recognize Him; not only did it not recognize Him; His very people, the Jews, rejected Him– the One they had called “Hosanna!” to only days before.
He was wrongly condemned, flogged, and hung on a cross. Mockingly hailed “King of the Jews” and killed in the most torturous way possible, Jesus had every reason to abandon His mission and retaliate against those who viciously murdered Him. But He didn’t.
No; instead, while hanging on the cross, Christ said some of the most poignant words ever said: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV). In perfect Love, Jesus saw those whose sin He became: all of mankind throughout every generation, past, present, and future; and asked the Father to forgive them– knowing that it was through His suffering, death and resurrection alone that such a prayer would be answered (1 John 2:2; Ephesians 1:7-8).
Jesus died for all of mankind: from the religious person to the murderer, no one is outside of Christ’s unfailing Love– or His ability to save. Meet your Forgiver here.
*You may print out this prayer in Google Docs.
(pray along, or simply use it as a guide):
Lord Jesus, You alone know the pain and heart of every human being on this planet. You know that apart from You, our hearts are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure,” a thing that no one can truly understand but You (Jeremiah 17:9). Lord King Jesus, we all know that You are the only reason we are able to live; there is nothing we can do (or not do) to spare us from your righteous judgment. It is You alone who chose us; it is You alone who drew us to You by Your Love; and it is You alone who has saved our souls. Whether on this earth, or in eternity, You chose us to Live, and Live abundantly in You (John 10:10; John 15:4). Jesus, we thank You that You died for our Life; we thank You that by Your wounds, we were healed (Isaiah 53:5).
Jesus, we lift up the men and women of Nigeria to You. Only You know the pain and grief in their hearts; not only do You know it, but You have gone through it Yourself (Isaiah 53:4). Lord Jesus, we pray now for those who have been unimaginably hurt. Jesus, You alone know how isolating and unsearchable our grief and suffering can be (Proverbs 14:10), and Jesus, we pray that those who are grieving and hurting emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually would ask you into their hearts, and would be met by You right where they are at. Jesus, as our “Wonderful Counselor” and “God of all Comfort,” we pray that You would indeed comfort and hold Your precious children. Let them find their healing in You; King Jesus, hold their hands and provide them with people who will hold their hands, too. In this moment, Lord Jesus, we pray Your Spirit would be known, felt, and praised by all those hurting in Nigeria, that they might praise You as the God who Heals them (Exodus 15:26).
King Jesus, we pray over those who have been through the atrocities perpetrated by Boko Haram specifically. We pray, Lord Jesus, that they would run to You for refuge and healing; we pray that as they continue to run to You, You would help and enable them to live out Your will for their lives: to forgive and pray for their persecutors. Jesus, we know that this seems impossible to do, but we also know that NOTHING is impossible with You (Matthew 19:26). Jesus, as our brothers and sisters choose to “forgive their debtors,” we pray You would heal up their broken hearts, that their forgiveness would be true and full, as You have forgiven us. Lord Jesus, bless them for this difficult, but ultimately, right decision to trust and obey You, and set them free from the bondage refusing to forgive can bring, that they might love You and everyone around them– even their persecutors– as You have Loved us.
Jesus, touch the persecutors of our brethren with Your Love. Your apostle Paul hated You, King Jesus, but You never stopped Loving and drawing Him to You. As You changed Saul to Paul by Your Power, we now pray that You would change and bring muslims to You, especially those in Boko Haram. Lord Jesus, use Your people in captivity– and even Your people who will be martyred for You– to share Your Gospel of Love, Salvation, Forgiveness, and Peace with those who are killing, raping, kidnapping, and pillaging them. Jesus, plant seeds in their hearts, and Lord, soften their hearts and minds by Your Power and Love, that those seeds would be sown to all of them coming to You. We pray that You would raise up leaders in Boko Haram’s ranks, to both bring Boko Haram to the dust, and to bring the individuals that are in it to You; Jesus, show us Your Glory and Power in such a way, that all men might know and praise You, especially those farthest away from You right now, keeping and torturing those who love You.
Lastly, King Jesus, we pray You would have Your hand and Your Loving Eye on the hundreds of thousands of people kidnapped/in captivity. King Jesus, we pray that, if it’s Your will, You would show those combating Boko Haram where those who are kidnapped are. Jesus, if it’d be Your will, we pray new details would come forth about where the Chibok girls are; we pray that You would keep them safe, and would grant them not only physical freedom, but spiritual freedom as they all come to know You. Jesus, we pray You would fill your children in captivity with Love, Power, and a Sound Mind, that they might be Your witnesses, captive or free. “Set the captives free,” and encourage the hearts of those in captivity, as You have promised to do– in Your will, Your way, and Your timing (Luke 4:18; Psalm 42).
Lord Jesus, more than anything, we pray You would bring those who do not know You to You. Let them know that they are chosen by You; remove whatever is in the way, that may be keeping them from You. Lord Jesus, from the “bad” to the “good,” forgive them and show them Yourself– for truly, in our sin, none of us knew what we were doing (Luke 23:34).
We thank You and we praise You for all of this, Lord Jesus. It is in Your Name we pray all of it. Amen.
*You may print out this prayer in Google Docs.