VOM’s Todd Nettleton was interviewed by a reporter from Mission Network News earlier this week for a story about persecution in Nigeria. Here is the resulting story:
Nigeria (MNN) — There’s good news and bad news coming from Nigeria regarding al-Qaeda-related Boko Haram.
What does this group of Islamist extremists want? Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs USA, answers, “They want Nigeria to be an Islamic state, so they are trying to eliminate the so-called ‘Western culture’ or ‘Western thought.’”
As a result, adds Nettleton, “Boko Haram targets churches, they target Christians, as well as government installations, as well as schools, as well as other places that would represent–in their minds–the West.”
Most recently, more than 300 teenagers (#bringbackourgirls) were abducted from their school in the town Chibok on April 15. Nettleton says the latest news is a mixed bag. “One of the Nigerian military officials said, ‘We do know where the girls are, but we can’t tell you. And no, we can’t go in with a military-styled assault and free them because that would probably result in killing too many of them.’”
Police say 53 escaped on their own and 276 remain captive. Although a senior U.S. defense official could not independently confirm the reports of the girls’ finding, the news provides a ray of hope.
On another note, Nettleton says, “[There are published reports that] there was a deal in place to exchange the kidnapped girls for releasing Boko Haram prisoners. However, the deal was nixed by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.” The motives for scuttling the deal are unclear.
Yet, the human interest aspect of the situation has shed light on the insurgency. “The international community is finally, finally, finally paying attention to what’s going on in Northern Nigeria with regard to Boko Haram attacks,” Nettleton notes, confirming the United Nations has imposed sanctions on the terror group. The Boko Haram will now be added to a list of al-Qaeda-linked organizations subject to an arms embargo and asset freeze.
Will it make any difference? It might be more of a symbolic act, considering this is not a group that operates in the normal channels. “They are kidnapping people for ransom, they are robbing banks, they are stealing vehicles rather than working through the financial system in such a way that it can be traced or really that these sanctions will have a direct effect on the way that they do business.”
While the government has yet to end the mutiny, they have begun to station police and set barriers at church entry points, preventing a number of attackers from reaching their targets. But that also means the situation has directly had an impact on outreach. “It affects everything the Church does in Northern Nigeria because the simple act of holding a worship service potentially is a case of being targeted by Boko Haram.”
VOM provides tools for evangelism, medical care for riot victims, and job training for widows and other affected Christians. “We have direct connections with the churches in northern Nigeria. Part of our work is to come alongside them and encourage them, give them the message that the world is aware of what’s going on here, and that there are Christian brothers and sisters who are praying.”
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with nearly 115 million people, and approximately 470 languages are used in the country. Yet, more than half of the population has not heard of salvation through Jesus Christ. Nettleton says that’s exactly why there are those who are still sharing God’s story. They’ve told Nettleton, “‘Our calling didn’t change because there was risk and danger. Our calling is still to serve the Lord. Our calling is still to reach out to the people around us, to share the love of Christ with them.’”
The VOM team is providing aid, medical help, and more. Recently, “We’re now helping eight girls who have been previously kidnapped by Boko Haram and subsequently escaped or been released. We’re helping to provide them with recovery and a safe place where they can heal.”
But Nigerian Christians also need more resources, both for their personal growth and to share with others. Nettleton acknowledges financial needs, “but I think the first and most important thing for people to do is simply to pray for our brothers and sisters who are in Nigeria who are facing these challenges, because they live in an area where Boko Haram is so active and where they have specifically said, ‘We don’t want Christians to be here.’”