A few years ago Nigerian Baptist leaders welcomed me at the airport with these words: “Thank you for sending Thomas Jefferson Bowen to bring us the gospel.”
The Nigerian Baptist Convention, the fourth largest Baptist denomination in the world with more than 8 million members, traces its founding to Bowen — a missionary sent by Southern Baptists who arrived in Nigeria in 1850. Southern Baptists and Nigerian Baptists have a deep connection because of this shared history.
That’s one reason persecution of Christians — including Baptists in Nigeria — strikes a dissonant chord with Southern Baptists. Brothers and sisters are suffering and we ache for them. Sadly, while recent news reports summarize new attacks, they were not isolated or unusual incidents.
A person who worked in Nigeria among tribal people helped me develop a broader perspective on the situation.
Tribal warfare, terrorist activity and paramilitary attacks are part of the everyday life of many Nigerians. The reasons for the conflicts are convoluted — tribal allegiances, economic depravity, criminal activity, religious differences — all of which combine in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of attacks and counterattacks. Which makes sorting out solutions extremely difficult.
Christians caught up in these conflicts suffer — some for their faith and others because of additional factors coinciding with their religious identity. Persecution has been happening somewhere in the world in an unbroken line since the first century.
We are fortunate the American church is not being persecuted, and we embarrass ourselves when we claim we are.
Believers in other parts of the world are dying for their faith and we should be humbled by their example and motivated to help them — not claiming we are experiencing something similar.
How we help
What can we do for Nigerian Christians and other persecuted believers?
Pray for them. Send financial gifts through organizations working among them. Elect government leaders who will insist on aid policies conditioned on protections for religious freedom.
Mostly, we can send more Bowens! We need to send more people with the message of the gospel to encourage believers and reach more around the world.
A few years ago I asked a Christian government worker in Africa, “Don’t you think the gospel is the ultimate solution to the problems you are trying to solve?” He replied, “Of course, but you people are just too slow. Until you pick up the pace, we will just keep doing the best we can to manage the symptoms.”
What an indictment!
We are just too slow. We need to strip away frivolous distractions and get much more serious about sending more gospel workers around the world. People who have never heard the gospel deserve the opportunity to receive it.
Believers struggling to sustain their faith need the encouragement of leaders who will buttress them against persecution. We can do more, and we must.