The other week I attended an extremely moving meeting on the persecution of Christians in northern Nigeria. This was organised by Open Doors, an international network that supports and strengthens Christians who have been persecuted throughout the world. This meeting heard from a pastor from northern Nigeria. He shared harrowing stories about how members of his congregation had hidden after hearing gunfire outside their homes and their churches.
In the past few years, thousands of Christians have been killed, many have been forced out of their homes and churches have been burnt down. The terrorist group Boko Haram has been largely responsible for between 9,000 and 11,500 Christian deaths since 2006 and more than a million people have been affected. Just over 2 years ago 276 girls, mainly Christians, were kidnapped from their school in Chibok by Boko Haran. These innocent girls have been killed, married off to extremist soldiers, sold as slaves and many face violence on a daily basis.
The Christians of northern Nigeria just want to worship in peace and they are being denied this. Many are afraid to attend open church services and so a large number have withdrawn to worshipping in private. In spite of this, many have said their personal faith has increased and those who have refused to be driven out have even more commitment to their beliefs and their churches.
In the face of such persecution, Open Doors has urged the British Government to expand on its humanitarian aid. They also believe MPs should conduct investigations and press the Nigerian Government to implement equality and freedom of religion and speech.
We live in a country where people of beliefs and faiths can co-exist peacefully. Many of our friends and family may have different views to us, but this does not change how we feel about them. In northern Nigeria social cohesion between Christians and Muslims has been affected. Mutual trust has been breaking down and feelings of suspicion and fear have risen. Separation of religions and cultures will only increase hostility in the world. It is only when people fight extremism together, that we can achieve long lasting and permanent results.