“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering,” exhorts the writer to the Hebrews. And so many Christians do – some in their daily intercessions, and many more at least once a week over a mug of coffee after being prompted by emails, Facebook updates or tweets from Open Doors, Christian Solidarity Worldwide or The Voice of the Martyrs. There is so much persecution of Christians in the world, so much of the Church weeping and suffering, that the burden to remember them all becomes almost intolerable.
And somehow it’s easier to remember those who are dramatically gunned downed in Paris than those who are ritually slaughtered in Baga.
Baga? Where’s that, you might ask.
And that’s the problem.
How is it that 17 French deaths – 12 of whom worked for a magazine variously described as ‘atheist’, ‘disrespectful’ and ‘blasphemous’ – can unite world leaders not only in their political denunciation but also with a short-notice physical presence in a global show of fraternal solidarity, while 2,000 Nigerian deaths are met with shrugs of indifference, if not the torpor of insensible fatigue?
Is it that al-Qaeda is more household, while Boko Haram is cloaked in geo-political mystery? Is it that the 17 were mostly white, rich, enlightened and European, while the 2,000 were black, poor, uneducated and African? Is it that the French attack was on atheists and Jews, while the Nigerian onslaught is against Christians? Is it that the 17 were us, and the 2,000 were them or some other?
Or is it that it’s easier to share in the suffering of magazine cartoonists and shoppers in a deli than it is even to begin to imagine the harassment, violence and bloodshed of our brothers and sisters in a world of fathomless deviance and ineffable evil? Just google Nigeria + massacre and select ‘images’ and you will see with your own eyes the murderous reign of terror: the charred remains of women, children hacked to pieces, babies with their brains blown out. Ian Bremmer tweeted the latest statistics of the numbers killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria:
Last week: 2000+
And only last weekend, 16 people were mercilessly blown to pieces by a 10-year-old girl forced to wear a jacket packed with explosives. She wasn’t a “child suicide bomber”, as some in the media reported: she was an abused child, cruelly coerced by malignant militants intent on purging the land of every spec of Western perception and every droplet of Western enlightenment. Iraq has ISIS/ISIL; Lebanon has Hezbollah; Israel has Hamas; Syria has the al-Nusra Front; South Sudan has the SPLA; Nigeria has Boko Haram. And we have al-Qaeda. Actually, the whole world has al-Qaeda, for some of these groups are affiliates, and there are many others, disparate and divided, but united in their theo-political objective.
According to Roman Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, the West is ignoring Boko Haram violence. Observing the reaction to the Paris atrocities, he said: “We need that spirit to be spread around. Not just when (an attack) happens in Europe, but when it happens in Nigeria, in Niger, in Cameroon. We (must) mobilise our international resources and face or confront the people who bring such sadness to many families.” According to Michael Coren, it is the war that no one wants to talk about. He writes of the 2010 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad, in which 58 worshippers were slaughtered and a further 75 gravely injured. He holds a Bible, “the pages glued together in crimsons and purples by the blood of the martyrs who were slaughtered merely for being followers of Christ”. And as he writes his article, he tells us:
..I am holding in my hand some spent bullets and shrapnel used in that same attack, picked up from the floor of the devastated church. I use them as relics, trying by holding and feeling them to experience just a shadow, a glimpse, of the suffering of my brothers and sisters in Christ that night so far away. It is the least I can do.
If we are to understand this Islamist evil, we need both to confront its geo-political objectives and be honest about its religious inspiration. And if we are even to begin to understand how to pray for Nigeria, we need to listen to church leaders like Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama and broadcasters like Michael Coren. And it might help us as we do to have a picture up on the computer screen or a relic in our hand as we appeal to the Lord to strengthen the suffering souls of the martyrs, and for the forgiveness of their persecutors.