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Responding to the unthinkable

He comes from a small town.  The people there know him well.  And he knows them.  Many are friends; others are acquaintances he sees at weddings and other community events.  He is not an outsider there; this is where he calls home.

Though he is only one of very few Christians in his hometown, this is still his home.  Most could not fathom the strange step he took when he chose to follow Jesus, but for many years no one has stood in his way.

So, when he heard a few hours ago that violent demonstrations have erupted in a nearby city and targeted churches and believers, his world began to rock.  His young adult daughter just escaped those attacks and is fine, but now he is nervous.  There is talk of attacks tomorrow in his own peaceful town.  His son’s classmates have taunted him with this same threat.  What will the morning bring?

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The next morning, attacks did break out in eastern Niger.  When E, a pastor of the small local church, saw three separate columns of smoke rising above the town (from his church, SIM’s mission compound, and SIM’s youth center) , he realized it had begun.  Events escalated quickly, as believers alerted one another and E ran from house to house of church members.  Screaming crowds of youth chased his family down a side road, with the family eventually finding safety in the local police compound along with most all other local believers.

Meanwhile, E and his son were still on the run.  After seeking refuge in a house and hiding under the bed in a back room, he sensed God’s Spirit urge them: Leave!!  They did and fled the town, over small fences, through thorny gardens, and into the open bush.  Cell phone contacts kept them informed of the location of their pursuers, always staying just beyond their reach.  Some time later, the two joined the others at the police compound, no one having been injured.   

For the next week, the group remained on the police compound.  “We were all together, eating together.  It was very difficult, but at the same time, we experienced joy.  God’s Word encouraged us, and we were in prayer and fasting.”

One week after the attacks, the Christians returned to their homes.  Most had lost homes and belongings to the crazed mobs.  Beds, clothing, grain, motorcycles…all were gone.  When asked how the believers are processing these events, E responded, “God is good.  Above all, we have learned to continue to love [those who attacked us].  Jesus loves them; he died for them.  It is traumatic, but in spite of it all, God has glorified His name through it.”

What is the future of this church in the wake of this violence?  “This is an occasion for the church to grow, for love among the brothers to grow strong.  There are those who will come to Jesus.  God wants people to know who Jesus Christ is, who the Christians are.  He has a larger plan.”

In the two weeks following that vicious Saturday, two local young people have chosen to follow Jesus.  One, a teenage girl who had stayed with the homeless believers at the police compound, expressed her thanks to God that she is “now among His children.” 

How do we respond when the unthinkable happens?  For Christ’s disciples in a small town on the edge of the Sahara, the answer is to shine brightly in the darkness, trusting in God’s love and His larger plan.