Rev Fred Williams has experienced first hand the terror of persecution by Muslim terrorists whilst living in Nigeria. He shares his experience with Keep The Faith
Shouts of “Allah Hu Akbar” and gunshots filled the air, and the only thing on my mind was to get to my family. I knew the Islamic militants were definitely going to attack the church, because our location was just a stone’s throw away from Bauchi Road, a section in the City of Jos Plateau State, Nigeria, that did not have a single church standing. The faster I drove, weaving through makeshift roadblocks and barriers, the more frantic were people’s attempts to stop me, yelling at me that a church was under attack ahead of us. The smoke rising from the church location confirmed my concerns: they had indeed attacked the church, and my family was in the parsonage. I screamed out the names of my children, as some neighbours helped put out the fire in the worship auditorium. For some reason, the attackers had fled before they could get to my family and some members of the choir, who had taken refuge by hiding in the living quarters a few yards away. My children came out as soon as they heard my voice.
I honestly cannot imagine how parents feel when their children are kidnapped, raped and killed. I know I was willing to do anything to save my family. I did not mention earlier that, on one of the roadblocks I was unable to smash through because it was too heavily fortified, there were plain-clothed armed men, who had threatened to shoot me for daring to be on the road. One of them actually put a pistol to my head, but I simply told him to get in the car and help me rescue my family, or get out of my way. During a crisis, people usually react in two ways: they are paralysed by fear or fuelled into action by rage. I think I fell into the latter.
The attackers returned later with their numbers swelled. The whole road was filled with a blood-thirsty mob, chanting: “Allah Hu Akbar”, while the mosque nearby kept announcing they had arms, and that the infidels should not be spared. They kept on saying this was jihad and that Allah was with them. The whole experience was like a nightmare. We had no choice but to stand our ground, because we noticed that any time people fled, they were chased and brutally cut down. I quickly mobilised the youths around, and asked for everyone able to stand to get whatever they could lay their hands on for protection. If we didn’t defend ourselves, they would kill everyone. I remember clearly we had about 25 of us against at least 100 Islamic militants. The mob filled the road, chanting “Allah Hu Akbar”, but we stood our ground in front of the church, shouting “Hallelujah”.
I remember asking the young man beside me if he was ready to die. I asked him if he had given his life to Christ, because it was very crucial at this time. We stood our ground and something miraculous happened. One of the elders in the Muslim community next to us stood in front of the advancing mob and stopped them. To cut a long story short, he prevented that particular mob from attacking us. I have to note here, however, that the attacks continued all around us for several days, and many lives were lost.
On one occasion after we were attacked, I was determined to lead a counter attack against an Islamic school two blocks away. I rationalised that, since they kept attacking us, the best form of defense was to attack them back, but the Spirit of God spoke to my heart that if they burn your church and you burn their mosque, there’s no difference between you and them. I believe the war on terror cannot be won by hatred and violence. There is one thing more violent than terror, and that is love.
There are people in northern Nigeria, who are the unsung heroes, laying down their lives as missionaries and followers of Christ, and who are willing to LOVEBACK and build lives, instead of picking up arms. These are the people we need to support and learn from. They are fearless people, who are willing to pay the ultimate price for the Gospel. A good example is Dr Emmanuel Razack; he was the leader of the Christian Faith Ministries’ Bible School in Jos, who was shot dead a few days ago by Islamic militants that regularly engaged in armed robbery. His mission group told me they believe the way forward is to reach out in love and to build bridges, so they have built a computer centre in a Muslim community around Jos. They said if they can get to the youth and help educate them, there will be no foot soldiers for Boko Haram.
As the anguish of the parents, and of many other families thrown into turmoil due to Boko Haram going on the rampage in Nigeria, continues unabated, what can we do in practical terms to help and respond creatively in defiance to terror?
These and other piercing issues are what we hope to address with the LOVEBACK initiative. We believe corporate bodies, artistes, charities, and anyone who really cares can make a difference, if they are really willing to step out on a limb. We can all reach out – one person at a time.
Fred Williams is a co-founder of LoveJustice, human rights advocate and film producer with UK-based Christian Concern. LOVEBACK focuses on engaging people in creative and constructive ways of responding to terror.