Adeoluwa F. Olanrewaju, PhD
We are certainly witnessing one of the most difficult times in the history of world missions. Besides, the difficulty of presenting the gospel to closed hearts, the challenges of breaking through cultural differences, raising resources, managing interpersonal relationships and unintended perceptions, etc; we are profoundly faced with the challenge of advancing the gospel in the midst of terror.
This paper attempts to proffer biblically-based instructions that will keep us going amidst the prevalent challenge of terror currently experienced in most parts of the world and especially on the frontiers where the unreached and unengaged abound.
A Brief Biblical Retrospect on Terror
In this session, we trace the experience of terrorism in the journey of the people of God and how they have remained a major challenge to the advancement of the gospel. Foremost, Merriam Webster defined terrorism as: “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” In the context of mission, terror would mean well-coordinated enterprise and intentionally focused on challenging every effort at advancing gospel labours. Let us consider a few examples:
- Pharaoh vs Israel Exodus 1:6-11
- The Amalekites Deut. 25:17-19
- Daniel and his friends (Daniel 3:1-23; 6:1-17)
- Tobias/Sanballat Vs Nehemiahic Restoration missions (Neh. 2:19; 4:1-3, 4:7-8)
- The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 26:66-67; 27:26-44)
- The Early Church (Acts 7:57-60).
The church through the ages have experienced one form of terror/persecution progressively since the stoning to death of Stephen, James beheading, Nero’s terror onslaught against the church, Domitian emperor worship, burning at stakes of early believers, North African hostilities of AD 211 – AD 214, to the Great Persecution of AD 303, etc.
Experience of Terror Today
Using Nigeria as a case study, the experience of terror launching and directly targeted at the gospel existed a long time ago. Such experiences manifest in what is unfairly described as “religious conflicts” traced back to the Tafawa Balewa uprising in 1948. Following the civil war that ended in 1970, it would later prepare the ground for full-blown terror against the Christians manifested in the Maitatsine terror of the 1980s.
The enrolment of Nigeria into Organisation of Islamic Conference by the Ibrahim Babangida-led military government in 1989 would only make matters worse. And as Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, the core Northern States instituted Sharia law.
Ten years later, Nigeria would be plunged into a full-blown terror launch spearheaded by the Boko Haram terror group and later on, the ISWAP. In all of this, Christians have been the main target and have suffered severe losses of lives and properties. A recent report by Open Doors, a Christian persecution monitoring group, reveals that the number of Christians killed in 2020 alone increased by 60%, and mostly due to Islamic violence against Nigerian Christians.
It added that more than 2,200 of 4,761 Christians killed around the world in 2020 died in Nigeria because of the activities of radical Islamists. In the same vein, International Christian Concern disclosed that 50,000 to 70,000 Christians have died in violent attacks in Nigeria over a period of 18 years particularly from the terror activities of Boko-Haram.
Of late, activities of bandits, kidnappers, and unknown gunmen have increased with Christian workers being major victims of their onslaught. Several millions of naira have gone into payment of ransom for kidnapped victims while very many have been unlucky, and having to pay the supreme price. A recent survey of death and kidnappings in Nigeria reveals that a total of 2,943 persons were kidnapped between January and June 2021, making an average of 16 persons kidnapped per day. Meanwhile, 5,800 deaths linked to all forms of terror and violent acts were recorded within the same period, making an average of 32 deaths per day.
Advancing in the face of Terror
The task before us in this discourse is to proffer biblically-based instructions that will enable us to advance with gospel engagements even amidst terror acts. Here, we consider three key points to muse on.
- It is nothing new: Tracing the experience and development of terror and even from the Bible, we see clearly that what we are experiencing today is not new. We are not the first set of people to go through terror and persecution and certainly, we will not be the last.
- Christ’s Prediction: In Matthew 24, Jesus gave an unambiguous description of the last days. Replete in his descriptions are pictures of terror acts that will be meted against the disciples and the Church at large.
- It would probably not get better: Expecting that the situations might improve? That will be antithetical to Jesus’ foretelling of how these times will be. It is in the crescendo of this that God’s purpose will be accomplished and the end shall come.
- Obeying Jesus: The Master’s instruction is very clear, it is at the height of this that the gospel will be preached to all nations and the end shall come. The tragic reality is that we are not close there with about 7,400 people groups still waiting to be told, and by population, over three billion souls. In Nigeria, we are talking about 45 people groups, who are yet to be sufficiently reached with the gospel numbering not less than 55 million souls. The good news is that the gospel is still prospering against all odds and we just have to re-commit to proclaiming and demonstrating it.
- Facing the reality: As shared above, we have got to face the reality that the situation might not improve! Therefore, we are left with two options, advance with the power of the gospel or perish. It is the set time to put on a wartime mentality and disposition. This brings to mind the strategy of Hernán Cortés leading an army of 600 Spaniards, 16 horses, and 11 boats. He landed on a vast inland plateau called Mexico. Their singular mission was to conquer an empire that hoarded some of the world’s greatest treasures. He, however, had just 600 men, none of whom had encumbered themselves with protective armour – conquering an empire so extensive in its territories could only be undertaken by a man with a death wish. For more than six centuries, no one who attempted to conquer the land succeeded. This made the task twice impossible. Hernán Cortés was well aware of this fact. And it was for this reason, that he took a different approach when he landed on the land of the Mayans. Instead of charging through cities and forcing his men into immediate battle, Hernán stayed on the beach and awoke the souls of his men with melodious rhythms – in the form of emblazoned speeches. He ensured that his men put on the spirit of adventure and were ready for a daring task. As they marched inland to face their enemies, Cortés ordered, “Burn the boats.” The rising and thick smoke made the troops look back and saw the boats that conveyed them to the Island on fire. It was then it dawned on them that they had got just two choices: die or ensure victory. And fight they did. We know today, how Cortés’ decision to burn his boats panned out. Hernán Cortés became the first man in 600 years to successfully conquer Mexico.
- Paying more sacrifices: Missions is about sacrifices and in the face of terror, we are talking of multiple sacrifices. As Paul Akin says, “Global mission requires an inescapable element of sacrifice for the sender and for those sent.”Since the commencement of God’s mission and passing down the same to the Church, the Great Commission has proven to be a doable but very difficult task, the key to breakthrough is unarguably in unrelenting sacrifices. The realities of the frontiers today, and talking in terms of advancing in the face of terror makes it more important to consider multiple sacrifices.
- Providing Back-up: The frontliners are usually more prone to terror attacks. Within the last three years, the Nigeria Missions Movement under the umbrella of the Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association has witnessed attacks in various degrees. This has made many missionaries withdraw from the frontline asides from others who had to pay the supreme price. It is not just about the gospel workers alone; converts on the fields have probably been the worst hit. In such situations, it is desired and right to stand with affected brethren. The least we can offer is to provide heartfelt and body-felt support. Trauma healing, relief, and rehabilitation have proven very helpful for survivors of terror acts while holistic support for families and congregations that have lost their loved ones inestimably sustain their faith.
- Holistic Missions: Missions is unarguably about proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel. To advance in times of terror will require a perfect blend of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Focusing on one at the expense of the other will only leave us with more challenges to deal with, but where gospel workers and the church, in general, show unflinching commitment to proclamation and demonstration, terror only ends up helping to advance the frontiers.
Knowing that it is in the rise of adversity that the gospel prospers, we are reminded that our hope remains in the revelation of Christ and His ultimate triumph over every shade of evil. With human permutations, advance is difficult and retreat is inevitable, but with the Lord of the harvest leading the battle, we are assured of victory. He is certainly not managing evil but defeating it.
Adeoluwa F. Olanrewaju holds a PhD degree in Intercultural Studies. He currently heads the Research and Strategy Department at the Nigeria Center for Global Harvest. He can be reached via email@example.com.