When Pastor Andrew’s village was attacked by Boko Haram, the church was burned down, and his congregation scattered. Violence against Christians is growing in Nigeria and across West Africa – but that didn’t stop Pastor Andrew from rebuilding his church. Your prayers and support are instrumental in helping our church family in West Africa to persevere in their faith.
Pastor Andrew vividly remembers the attack on Guyaku, his village in Nigeria. “At about 7pm, the treasurer of my church ran to my house to tell me to run,” he recalls. “Fire was consuming the entire village. That was how they entered our community – killing one of my church members who was there listening to the news on the radio.
“Boko Haram are trying by all means to wipe us out.”
Everybody fled. From a mountain hiding place, Pastor Andrew could see Boko Haram militants banging on the door of the church, and of his house. As he hid with members of his church, not knowing the fate of people he loved, Pastor Andrew prayed a specific prayer. It wasn’t for safety. It was for faith. “During the time of the attack, my prayer for my church members was that God would strengthen their faith,” he says. “And even if they are abducted, they should not deny Christ but hold firmly to their faith.”
“The persecution was so much that I never imagined we would come together again to worship in the church.”Pastor Andrew
In the morning, everyone left their hiding places and tried to find missing friends and family members. Not everybody could. Several believers had been killed, and all but six of the houses in Guyaku were burned down. Boko Haram had stolen their possessions, and what they couldn’t take, they burned.
“The persecution was so much that I never imagined we would come together again to worship in the church,” Pastor Andrew says. “We lost everything.”
This is far from an isolated incident. Attacks like this – by Boko Haram, Fulani militants or other Islamic extremists – are growing in severity and in number. Last year, 4,650 Christians in Nigeria were murdered because of their faith – more than in the rest of the world combined.
On top of killings, there are abductions, assault, sexual violence and widespread destruction of homes and churches – simply because of a community’s faith in Jesus. Extremist groups like Boko Haram want to stamp out Christianity, and use any means available to destabilise and deter the church.
Nigeria is the epicentre of this trend of violence, but it’s not the only place where it’s happening. Neighbouring countries are also witnessing devastating attacks, and it’s spreading across West Africa – with militants emboldened by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. It’s one of the main reasons that Burkina Faso, Mali, Cameroon and Niger are on the Open Doors World Watch List. These sorts of crises seldom make international news – but they can cause loss that impacts generations.
Despite what he has seen, Pastor Andrew’s faith stayed strong. Many Christians left for nearby towns, but Pastor Andrew and other church leaders decided to stay in Guyaku – to help the villagers who remained, to rebuild the community and to re-establish a church. Pastor Andrew takes seriously the biblical command to ‘rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Even in the initial shocking days, he was determined that the community of Christians would keep praising their God.
“When we came back, we had to think of where we will be worshipping,” says Pastor Andrew. “I called the attention of some of the church members, and we brought all our burnt zinc together and some sticks to make a worship place.”
What a beautiful metaphor for turning destruction into worship! In the midst of the devastation caused by Boko Haram, Pastor Andrew and his church chose to praise the Lord. His resilience is astonishing, and his faith is inspiring.
You were there alongside Pastor Andrew. As soon as Open Doors heard about the attack, local partners rushed to serve the church with emergency relief and food aid, as well as trauma counselling and support for the longer-term. Christians in Guyaku didn’t just need to keep going for a few days – they need to survive for the next generations. And your gifts and prayers, and God’s mercy and grace, mean that can happen.
“After the attacks, you were the first to come and help each family with food support,” Pastor Andrew says. “We received both spiritual and physical support from you. You have strengthened our church, and the members who had lost hope completely. God brought you at just the right time.
“If you didn’t come, I don’t know how our community would have been.”Pastor Andrew
“If you didn’t come, I don’t know how our community would have been. A lot who lost hope and had nothing were able to receive support and are back on their feet.”
That’s what God does: turn despair into hope. “A crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3).
If you go to Pastor Andrew’s church today, you can see that in action. As you walk through the door of the church, you see a crowd of believers worshipping. But before you’ve even entered the building, you know a service of thanksgiving is taking place – the noise can be heard far and wide.
There is loud singing, clapping, steel drums and joyful music. There is no doubt that God’s praises are being proclaimed by this grateful, joyful congregation.
Boko Haram thought they were wiping out Christianity in Guyaku. But God had other plans. The exact opposite has happened: the church is growing and they’ve had to build a bigger place to worship. “Those who fled started coming back,” says Pastor Andrew, “since they saw that people had returned and were rehabilitating. Honestly, to me, these attacks brought a lot of positive change.”
Pastor Andrew has moved to a new church now, to share his skills and training with a new group of believers. He often visits his previous church, and sees that it is a community of hope bringing relief and spiritual support to the most vulnerable in the community. Your gifts and prayers are equipping the church to demonstrate the life of Christ to those around them.
When Pastor Andrew is asked if the attack has weakened his resolve or made him fearful of following Jesus and leading his people, he gives a simple but powerful reply: “Come what may, I won't turn back because I know there is a reward that awaits me. Jesus promised He will not leave me or forsake me – and I can testify that.”
Attacks like this one will almost certainly happen again. If not to his village, then to others like it – across Nigeria and West Africa. Boko Haram and other Islamic extremist groups still want to wipe out the Christian presence in the region – but you can help stop them.
“Because of you, my church is living hopeful, thinking of the kingdom of heaven.”Pastor Andrew
Your gifts and prayers will help maintain the resilience of so many churches like Pastor Andrew’s. You can play a vital role in ensuring that the next generation of believers in West Africa is able to persevere – with everything they need to survive, thrive and equip others around them. It’s a battle, but it’s one that God has promised His people will win. The worship of Jesus won’t be stamped out – rather, ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea’ (Isaiah 11:9).
Pastor Andrew knows his God is faithful, and he is moved and thankful that the worldwide church is standing with him and other believers like him: "My heart is filled with joy to express my gratitude," he says. "If there were a word greater than thank you, I would have said it. But, because of you, my church is living hopeful, thinking of the kingdom of heaven."
You can write a message of encouragement to Pastor Andrew – he’d love to hear from you! He so appreciates the worldwide church family standing by him and his church, and a letter will help him know how many Christians are supporting them with prayer.
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Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.