At least five churches of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) were damaged or destroyed in Maiduguri, Nigeria, during riots and protests of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, according to an e-mail report received this afternoon from Robert Krouse, Nigeria mission coordinator for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Five EYN members were seriously injured in the rioting on Saturday, Feb. 18, in addition to the damage to buildings.
The Associated Press reported that at least 15 people were killed as Muslims attacked Christians and burned churches in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, in “the deadliest confrontation yet in the whirlwind of Muslim anger over the drawings,” the AP report said. The cartoons that are considered offensive for their depiction of the prophet first appeared in a newspaper in Denmark in Sept. 2005, but have been reprinted in other European newspapers. Recently the cartoons have been protested in many places around the world, sometimes with violence. In Maiduguri, 15 churches, including those of EYN, were burned as thousands of rioters held a three-hour rampage, the AP report said.
The five EYN churches that have been damaged are EYN Farm Center, which was completely destroyed; EYN Polo, which was burned but not completely destroyed; EYN Gomarigana, which was burned but not completely destroyed; EYN Bulunkutu, which has steel beams that could not be burned, “so all the pews and other furniture were put in a pile and burned,” Krouse said. EYN Dala, which was destroyed in similar violence in 1996, also was completely destroyed, Krouse said. Maiduguri No. One church, which is EYN’s largest congregation with thousands of members, was not affected by the violence, Krouse said.
“There is no (loss of) life involved in the crises in Maiduguri in EYN churches, but many people died from other denominations,” reported Markus Gamache, a business manager for EYN, in an e-mail to Church of the Brethren representatives attending the World Council of Churches assembly in Brazil. EYN’s president, Filibus Gwama, is currently at the assembly.
“Unfortunately there may be additional things to report,” Krouse said, adding that the rioting may have affected more EYN churches. “As of late afternoon, Monday, Feb 20, the situation had not been contained,” he said. “In addition to the violence in Maiduguri, Katsina saw a flare up as well, but no church buildings were destroyed there. There have also been outbreaks of violence today in Gombe and Bauchi. There are EYN churches in both of those cities.”
There is the potential for similar episodes of violence in other places in northern Nigeria, Krouse said. “At this point all Church of the Brethren staff are safe and secure,” he reported.
Krouse asked for prayers for peace in Nigeria. “Pray that leaders within the Muslim community will call for peace among their people. Pray that the violence will not continue to escalate. Pray that Christians in Nigeria won’t react to the acts of violence that have been committed against them by going on a rampage themselves,” he said.
“We need to be remembering our Nigerian church leadership in the quest for bringing about interfaith peace in these times, and for the members of each EYN community affected, as they reach out to the families who have lost loved ones in this round of violence,” said Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the General Board, in an e-mail note from Brazil where he also is at the WCC meeting.
Noffsinger reported that EYN recently created a Peace Education Committee at its headquarters in Mubi, in northeastern Nigeria. “Times like these test the fibre of newly founded program, and understanding of the gospel,” Noffsinger said as he called for prayer for the Nigerian church.
“We continue to pray for…God’s intervention,” said Gamache.