Eric Black with some of his students and staff
Nigeria can be enchanting and confounding, often at the same moment. I was returning to Jos from Biliri in Gombe State in northeastern Nigeria, riding shotgun in a pickup driven by fellow Serving In Mission missionary Mark Redekop, when horsemen appeared. Not just any horsemen either. These were elaborately clothed Muslim horsemen, somewhere around 40 of them, parading through the main thoroughfare of the city of Bauchi.Trotting to a steady beat of drums, the Muslim men drew scores of onlookers in the Islamic city. We crawled along in the scrum of people and kids cheating death by flitting across the highway. Battered cars and trucks, drivers leaning into their horns with gusto, jockeyed for position. Motorcycles with passengers aboard – I saw one motorbike on the highway in the Nigerian bush with a man and six boys on it -- spewing thick exhaust and darting through traffic and horses, sometimes into the oncoming lanes. Three-wheeled motorized buggies that serve as taxis sped around us and between the horsemen. As near as I could tell, there had been no warning of a parade, perhaps because in the current state of affairs in Nigeria events like this might attract terrorists from Boko Haram. The Islamic insurgents do not discern between Muslim or Christian targets; the day before in the city of Kano scores of Muslims were slaughtered in a Boko Haram bomb blast and shooting timed for the afternoon prayers. Other times they target Christians, particularly churches and bombings and massacres are not uncommon here in the north of Nigeria.
We squinted into the low late afternoon sun at the horsemen ahead of us, fruitlessly hoping to see the display of horsemanship conclude. I later learned it was apparently something along the lines of a “Durbar” parade. These are events unique to Nigeria that commemorate the days past when guards in magnificently colored and adorned robes and turbans and armed with swords would travel on horseback in protection of the Muslim emir. I asked a Nigerian about the men and was told that back in the day if there was trouble or some sort of aggressiveness or violence directed toward the emir, the horsemen would “slaughter you.” I believe the tradition of emir protection has passed. At least I hope it has, but you never know and I rather furtively snapped some photos and video on my iPhone.
We eventually passed through Bauchi safely, perhaps culturally enriched but deprived of precious daylight. You don’t want to travel Nigerian roads at night because motorists have little regard for traffic rules – I wouldn’t’ even call simple rules such as driving on the right even guidelines or suggestions -- and deadly accidents are the norm. The delay meant darkness loomed, a harrowing thought as we passed the hulk of a smashed up truck that had recently hit something head-on. “That couldn’t have been good for the driver,” Mark said. As we traveled west toward the setting sun, dodging goats, cattle, oncoming motorists and people, we passed through a predominantly Muslim village. Inside a small mosque I glimpsed a man in a flowing white robe bowing toward Mecca, his forehead pressed to the floor.The oppressive poverty and hopelessness is overwhelming in Nigeria, as well as the rest of Africa. Every day is a struggle. I’ve talked to many young people here and hope of a better is elusive. There’s a resignation to a hard life. Many have asked me to take them back to America, one smiling young man offering to stow away in one of my bags.
But in my talks there’s been one consistent glimmer of hope. In Jos and in Biliri there’s a hope in Jesus Christ. The hope springs from a deep abiding faith in Jesus, a trust forged through perseverance and an understanding that to suffer is to walk alongside Jesus. Peter writes that various trials test our faith, acting as a purifier the way heating gold to melt it filters out the impurities, resulting in something much more precious. The result is “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” Peter writes.
Out in Biliri at a school started by American missionary Eric Black, who uses our Transformational Education Network computer outreach curriculum, I met a young man named Gideon as he was about to lead a group of students on an outreach. Just before they squeezed into a van bursting with people, luggage, musical instruments and Bibles, Gideon gathered the group in front of the school for a brief message. “If you really love Jesus with all of your life,” he said in his accented English, “then sacrifice your life to live for Him. Whatever it may cost you to live a righteous life, then do it.” Then he paused, looking intently at the students. “For that is a great, great gain.”
Gideon described how the journey to a distant city would be tough, the devil doubling his efforts because he knows who he is up against. “Put on all of your armors,” he said. Then he challenged the students.
“As we go out on outreach, if you’re passionate for Jesus then go out and preach the word,” Gideon said. “If you are not then I will advise you that you will stay back home. The place we are going we are really taking the message of love. The message of peace. The message of unity. Some will say that it is like we are going on vacation. That is not what we are going for. So be ready to lay down your life, whatever it may cost. It cost Jesus His life to bring you back. So be willing to lay down your life.”
He closed by telling the students that in whatever persecutions they face, to endure them without complaining. He told them that he loved them and that his prayer is that as they head out from the school they would transform the world.
My prayers are with them. As I left Biliri on Saturday afternoon with Mark and two Nigerian passengers seated behind us in the pickup, I thought back to Gideon and the students at Biliri Educational Center. It called to mind one of my favorite scriptures. It is Isaiah 9:2 and it speaks of Jesus Christ, the Messiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”In my travels through Nigeria over the past week, I have seen this verse played out. Despite the crushing poverty, the daily struggle simply to put food on the table and the lack of opportunities such as education and jobs, there’s something different in the lives of many of the young people like Gideon I’ve encountered. The difference is the illuminating light of Jesus Christ in their lives. They believe a better life awaits, and it may not even be on this earth. They are passionate about their faith, intent on spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and believing that Jesus elevates lives. I believe there is hope in Nigeria.