By Obed Minchakpu
The atmosphere was bustling with concomitant voices as each person in the crowded street market bargained for a price reduction on item(s)/they were buying. Time was running out and it is just a matter of days that the big event would be celebrated. Yes, Christmas, a period everyone looked forward to, as it is time for reunion of families, friends, communities, and a time to thank God for his faithfulness.
This market is named terminus market. Its name is derived from the fact that the spot is right in the heart of the city where travelers in and out of the city converged. The residents of the city also converge here on daily basis either to sell or buy. There used to be a main market close by, but this was destroyed about fourteen years ago when a religious crisis engulfed the city. And so, traders have now been forced to convert the adjoining streets to an emergency market.
And just as the last minute rush for shopping by excited residents of this city was on, a high pitched voice cried out: “Bomb! Bomb!!! Bomb!!! Suddenly, a loud explosion sounded. Body parts were thrown all over. There were shrieked cries of pains and anguish. Debris flew in different directions, just as activities in the market came to a standstill.
Minutes later, sirens wailed as soldiers and emergency rescue workers rushed to the scene of the explosion. Corpses littered all over. So also, wares that were on display were scattered. Gun shots rented the air as soldiers fired shots into the air to restore law and order and to create the enabling environment for rescue workers to evacuate the dead and the injured.
An hour later, death counts by rescue workers at the scene of the bomb attack showed thirty-five dead, and fourty-five injured. Days after the incident many families are still searching for missing relations. Six months earlier, more than two hundred persons had died less than a hundred meters from this present spot, when terrorists bombed traders and shoppers.
Pandemonium and confusion has engulfed the city and tension is in the air. Again, terrorists have stroked at the heart of the people. The excitement of celebrating Christmas with joy has now been turned into mourning. People are moving around wearing gloomy faces. Social activities have now ceased as there is palpable fear of more attacks.
This is not the first time that the city of Jos in central Nigeria is celebrating Christmas at gun point. In the past three years, Churches have been bombed even on Christmas days. In one of the years, bomb attacks were carried out in different parts of the city on Christmas Eve. Terrorists in Nigeria now derive pleasure in carrying out bombings during the Christmas period, just to ensure that residents of the city do not partake in this great event in human history.
However, in spite of the deadly attacks, residents of Jos city have not given up on the purpose and meaning of life. To them, life is not just about celebrating, but in what one is able to do to better his life and that of others. It is for this reason that you find instead of churches being empty, they are full to the brim with Worshipers. Christians fill their churches almost on daily basis praising God for his faithfulness in spite of the incessant attacks by terrorists.
Life in Jos can never be the same again. Churches now appear to be slaughter slaps, as going to the church means signing one’s death warrant. There is no doubt that in Jos, terrorists can come at any time. For Christian Worshipers to hold successfully Sunday worship services, they must protect themselves. Streets that pass by churches have to be closed. Some members of various congregations in the city have to abandon worship services to volunteer to watch over others. While their fellow Christians are in the auditoriums praising God, these watchmen have to risk their lives standing outside in the cold and watching the streets for would-be terrorists.
Inside the churches, preachers have the same and only one message, God has incarnated and dwelt among men on earth. Jesus incarnated in order that humanity would be reconciled to God. That is the essence of Christmas, and that is the mission of Jesus.
One of the passages from the Bible that has been read severally in most churches these past few days in the city of Jos is that from the book of Isaiah.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 KJV).
For the Christian victims of attacks by terrorists not only in the city of Jos, but also in other parts of Northern Nigeria, Jesus Christ, as God, has the power and authority over all of humanity. He incarnated and dwelt with men on earth so we can have a comforter who would stand by us in our travails and trials. Christians believe that the mission of Jesus on earth is to prepare all who believe in him for God’s heavenly kingdom. And more importantly too, is to establish his peace among his people.
These attacks by terrorists instead of dampening the spirit of Christians has brought hope into their lives. Hope of an everlasting peace because of God’s presence with them. This is the spirit of Emmanuel, God with us. The essence of Christmas. So, even when Christians are celebrating Christmas in Nigeria at gun point, the presence of God among his people had ministered peace and healing in the midst of their trials.
One other passage that has received much attention in churches in Nigeria during this Christmas season, is a passage from the book of Matthew. This Bible passage says:
“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1 – 2:2 KJV).
Now, Christians believe that Christmas is a period to worship God. That is the reason churches in the city of Jos and elsewhere in Nigeria, have had to hold Carol services in spite of the state of insecurity. These Carol services have attracted unprecedented attendances. Songs of praise and worship have been rendered by various fellowship groups – Women, Youth, Choristers, and Men fellowships. Evangelism outreaches have been organized and many have come to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
A very important lesson learned from messages preached from the above passage in various churches is that the wise men from the east went out in search of Jesus in order to worship him, even when they were rich men. Their status as rich men is seen from the gifts they brought to Jesus. What this means is that, the Gospel is also for the rich.
But is that the case in our country? Have the wealthy, those in authority, and those in the corridors of power realized that Jesus came for them too? Do they know that it is incumbent on them to live lives pleasing to God? Do they realize that they need to put all they have in the service of God? Are they prepared to humble themselves and submit to the authority of God, instead being power drunk? These are pertinent questions the Christmas message is posing to Nigerian leaders.
Further more, the message of Christmas as preached this past week in churches in Jos, and in other parts of Nigeria, point also to the fact that the mission of Jesus is not only targeted at the rich, but also, on the poor, the less privilege, the fatherless, and the bereaved. One of the passages that was preached from the pulpit to lay emphasis on this fact, is that from the book of Luke.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2: 8- 2:14 KJV).
The Shepherds received the good news about the birth of Jesus as the messiah. They praised God for the privilege of being partakers and heirs of his eternal kingdom. One thing stands out here, the shepherds are from the lower pedestal or strata of the society. They live in the fields and are nomadic. They move from place to place, and this is because of their cattle, and as a result, they do not have decent living conditions. They represent the poor of our society. Jesus too, came for the poor and the lowly.
In Nigeria, there are also shepherds, and church leaders and mission agencies have been working hard to present this very important message about Jesus Christ to them. This group of people who are shepherds in Nigeria are the Fulani Herdsmen. The good news is that, many Fulani men and women have come to Jesus Christ, and thousands of them in Nigeria areChristians. There are even some of them who have made decisions to go into full time Christian ministry and have been ordained pastors.
However, there are millions of other Fulani Herdsmen who are still gripped by evil. That is the reason some of them have been drafted into terror activities by Islamists and Muslim fanatics. These Fulani Herdsmen are involved in the killings going on in some states in northern Nigeria. They invade villages and attack defenseless communities. Even though this is a sad development, Jesus Christ loves the Fulani too. Christ came because of them, and this is the more reason all Christians should pray for them to know the truth about Jesus Christ. It is our responsibility to ensure that we play our part by sharing the Gospel with them, and leave the conviction and conversion to the Holy Spirit.
On the whole, the mission of Jesus on earth is to reconcile the whole of mankind to God. The fall of man in the garden had separated man from God. The birth of Jesus Christ was divine intervention in an effort to bring humanity back into fellowship with God.
So, as we celebrate this Christmas, even at gun point, we must not forget that beyond the celebration, we are tasked to share this good news with all we come across with, even to those who point their guns on our heads.
Have a blessed Christmas celebration!
Together with your generous support, we can reach the goal to alleviate their suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope.
Everyday, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and further His Kingdom! As you have greatly blessed others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support.