“I have forgiven the Islamic militants, because they did not know what they are doing”

Some images are just too awful to publish. It would be easy to scour the internet to find pictures of headless Christian children in Nigeria, summarily slaughtered by Boko Haram for no other reason than that they were not Muslim. Thousands have been and are being tortured and murdered, but our attention has been deflected by the horrors of Syria and Iraq and the rise of the Islamic State. It’s rising in northern Nigeria, too. Whatever happened to ‘Bring Back Our Girls‘?

The Voice of the Martyrs reports the beheading of a six-year-old boy:

Over 100 militants dressed in military uniforms swarmed the predominantly Christian village just as Sunday church services were beginning on June 1. The rebels opened fire on the village and went after people with their machetes. 55-year-old Sawaltha Wandala witnessed the Boko Haram slaughtering children at a church as he arrived for the second service. He saw the men throw one child into a ditch. More concerned for the child than his own safety, he picked up the 6-year-old boy, who had survived being severely slashed, and immediately rushed to take the child to the hospital in Cameroon. Sawaltha was stopped by five insurgents, who grabbed the boy from his arms and beheaded him, before turning to beat Sawaltha with tree branches. They finished their attack striking him in the head with a large rock, leaving him for dead with blood running from his nose and mouth.

After decimating the village and sending residents fleeing, Boko Haram returned two days later in a second series of attacks on several other villages in the Gwoza district. The back to back attacks left an estimated 200 people, including small children, dead. John Yakubu and his family were among those who fled across the border into neighboring Cameroon.

With his family facing starvation in the refugee camp, John decided to make a quick trip back to Attagara to retrieve some of his animals hoping he could sell them to support his family. Though it was dangerous, there seemed to be no other choice. At home, he decided to pick up some of the family’s other belongings, including the family Bible.

Boko Haram insurgents spotted him entering the house, and quickly captured him. “We know you’re John,” the militants said to him. “You must convert to Islam or else you will die a painful death.”

When John refused, the men tied him to a tree binding his arms and legs. The men hacked both of John’s hands with a heavy knife and mocked him. “Can you become a Muslim now?”

“You can kill my body, but not my soul,” John shouted in pain.

Using a machete as well as the knife, the men continued to torture John. They repeatedly cut into his feet and his back, stopping only to ask him if he would give up his faith in Christ and follow Allah. John refused. “We will show you,” they told him. The insurgents used an axe to cut so deeply into his knee that it reached the bone. His head was slashed with a knife.

Eventually, John lost consciousness. At some point, the terrorists left, and John was left bleeding and tied to the tree for three days before someone rescued him and he was taken to a hospital in a coma.

In the hospital, a VOM worker met John. When the worker asked John how he felt about his attackers, he replied, “I have forgiven the Islamic militants, because they did not know what they are doing.”

The words are liberating; they tell of an appalling horror over which love triumphs. Christians are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It’s easy to preach and it’s cheap to believe – until you’re confronted by such evil that every fibre of your being cries out for retaliation and revenge, which breeds mutual hostility and creates a cycle of hatred from which there is no escape.

“You must convert to Islam or else you will die a painful death” is what many thousands of Christians and other minorities are hearing right across the Islamic abyss. How many of us would be strong enough to refuse, as John did? How many of us would refuse to renounce Christ while our hands are being hacked off?

And how many would say “I forgive you” to those who wish to torture and kill our bodies?

We can only be free when we stop allowing the enemy’s strategy and beliefs to dictate ours. We can only find peace when we end our obsession with the threat. We are all children of God, and He lets the sun rise on evil and good; He sends rain on the just and unjust. Anyone who repays evil with evil is doing as the world does. Those who repay evil with good have ceased simply reacting to oppression; they are creating light in the darkness; proclaiming the sovereignty of the Risen Christ over all creation; incarnating the love which nullifies hatred and conquers hostility.

If we are ever to find peace on earth, it will not be through the alienation, exile or extermination of the enemy. It will be through rejecting the ‘rational’ thoughts, feelings and reactions to the evil that confronts us. The Islamic militants who hack off the limbs of Christian children are as spiritually blind as the Muslim gangs who rape the children of Rotherham. Their eyes will not be opened by suspicion, invective and loathing. Their tyrannical rule will not be ended by the sword. They need to encounter the Risen Christ and be renewed from within. And that means we must love them and forgive, because they do not know what they are doing.