I recently opened my e-mail to find a newsletter from an old friend from our Mozambique days whose husband had recently returned from consulting for a Bible translation team in Nigeria. You’ve heard the news stories about Boko Haram, the extremist Islamic group that kidnaps schoolgirls to serve as slaves and slaughters Christian villagers. Boko Haram is active in the northern part of Nigeria and pushing aggressively south in hopes of turning Nigeria into a fundamentalist Islamic state. (Not all Muslims agree with them by any means, and those who disagree are likely to be slaughtered as quickly as Christians.)
The church in Mozambique in our day faced a similar (although not so extreme) challenge as communism fell apart there in the late 1980s. People who had denied Christ during Marxist-Leninist days in order to get ahead economically, educationally or politically, now wanted to return to the church they had grown up in. Some thought they should be allowed to step back into positions of leadership such as they had held before communism arrived in 1975. After all, they were better educated and had more administrative experience than those who were currently running the denomination. But we didn’t always see signs of real repentance or a renewed relationship with the Christ they had denied so glibly for material gain.
As far as I know Mozambicans never had a gun pointed at their heads as they were told “Convert or die.” Persecution was a matter of being denied educational opportunities and job promotions or spending time in jail because of holding illegal worship services or teaching children the gospel—tough stuff that few of us have ever faced, but not the gruesome death at the hands of Boko Haram that threatens Nigerian Christians.
I remember one of my daughters asking when she was maybe a pre-teen, "If someone threatened to kill you, wouldn't it be okay to lie and say you weren't a Christian when you really were?" I am not prepared to answer that question for Nigerian Christians, but I am asking it of myself.
How would I respond to the kind of violence they face? Is a faith in Christ that pretends to be non-faith still faith? Would I have the courage to affirm that nothing—even death by the stroke of a machete—can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord? Or would I tell a "small white lie" and deny my Lord, not to protect my comforts, but to save my life? What would I want my children and grandchildren to do?
It's a hard question being faced by our Nigerian brothers and sisters. What would you tell your children to do when Boko Haram bursts through the door?
[This article is several months old, but it gives good insights into the concerns of the Nigerian Church. Pray for them. And here's a new article on my daughter's question about telling a lie to save your life.]