I recall the beautiful plateau of Jos as we descended into the city while coming from Abuja. A city, many have fallen in love with because of its coolness and pleasantness, a place to work and for others a space of respite from daily grind. For these and many other reasons it is the home to many a mission agency.
However, today, the news is not filled with the reminiscences of Jos or its tranquility but with mindless killings and destructions. To capture some of the raw horror I have drawn excerpts from the write up of Dr Lani Stephens:
“On Friday morning of November 28, 2008, we were woken up in the city by the chanting of the Jihadists echoing ‘Allau akbar’ repeatedly. Smokes of the houses they had burnt filled the skies so thickly as if it was going to rain. The fanatics were so organised that some were shooting guns at us, some were chanting, some were climbing walls to the roofs of the houses they burnt, some were breaking doors, some were packing properties of owners that had fled for their lives. As they kept advancing towards my house, we kept calling the Police to come to our aid but no help was forth coming…
At the gate of my church, before they gained entrance, a young Yoruba-Muslim in the neighbourhood, by the name Fatai, cautioned the Jihadists not to break through the church since it was not a religious but a political matter. Surprisingly, Fatai was fired on the forehead by a fellow Muslim brother and they carried on their operations, yet shouting ‘Allau akbar.’ My resident Pastor was able to escape with his family. They burnt my church, burnt our classrooms, and burnt our church buses and many cars including that of my driver. They had killed my church members, friends and some of my close associates in the ministry. My Organ Teacher and my driver lost their cars to the perpetrators of evil. They had killed ministers at ECWA Nasarawa and his corps was brought to my area. They axed evangelist Timothy Adetona brutally and carried his body to hide until a small Hausa boy showed us where it was. They burnt and burnt and burnt without any governmental intervention most of that Friday morning. They had started burning and vandalising Life & Power Assembly at Abattoir and Word of Truth at Yan Trailer before intervention came. The destruction continued till after 11am before we were able to summon courage to chase them back.”
Parodying the ‘West Wing’ series has allowed us to make some sense out of the crises. In the midst of the unraveling reports our prayers are with the hundreds who lost their lives, both Muslims and Christians. While some are not struggling with the loss of lives many are with a terrible truth. As human beings we find ourselves in times like these casting about for someone to blame. We could blame the government, the Muslims and some Christians for retaliating to the unwarranted and severe provocations. We could rightly claim to blame everyone we can think of and be filled with rage. But then we must pause and try and find the grace to forgive which must emanate from our compassion for humanity.
Forgiveness for the Muslims we blame, compassion for the people we do not understand. We maybe tempted to suggest that forgiveness does not always seem to work so well. However, the lessons of Jesus Christ from scripture reminds us of forgiveness on the cross, forgiving those who had wrongly accused and crucified Him. For it is at and in times like these we find the compassion to forgive and expressing and living it could heal the fractured communities in Jos so much more than any vengeance could. We could demonstrate that Christians through the gospel can bring reconciliation to the most intractable of situations and circumstances. We could be advocates for the setting up along the model of South Africa, a truth and reconciliation commission, which Nelson Mandela explained:
“…..the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has showed us, beyond what anyone could have foreseen, the power of the truth to heal.”
What we must learn today in the midst of all the reporting, both accurate and inaccurate, is that more of a spirit of forgiveness and compassion is required of us and an even greater effort is required of Christians. While many of us are tired, tired of understanding, tired of waiting, tired of reasoning why we as Christians are not safe in Jos, the home of missionaries, tired because our efforts to make ourselves safe seem to fail with time. We must, however, realise that Christians as agents of reconciliation hold the key to the transformation and peace of Jos.
We must speak and live the gospel even where there is fracture and violence visited upon us in the name of religion. Vengeance will not take us to where God wants us, it will destroy, reignite the same round of bloodletting again. Revenge will breed more violence and we have had enough of that. Hatred will not rid Jos of the fear of mercenaries from foreign countries and we have had enough of that. Retribution will not strengthen our Christian communities, our churches, our missions, for we have had enough of that. Blame will rob of us peace and space to reflect and rebuild and surely we have had enough of that. And so through the setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission we must ask those who have suffered unbearably today to dig down deep with all and find that forgiveness within their hearts because it will keep us on the road and we will, Christian and Muslim walk and work together and slowly society will be transformed and healed.
STEPHENS, LANI: REAPPRAISAL OF JIHAD: A LASTING SOLUTION TO GENOCIDE & TERRORISM IN NIGERIA