Church leaders in Nigeria: 'We will stand first for Christ'

A Kaduna church caught up in attacks by Boko Haram in JuneAP

A group of church leaders in Nigeria have begun fasting as Islamist extremists continue to attack communities across the north-eastern region of the country.

President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three Muslim-majority states and authorised increased military powers to tackle the violence last May, but attacks have nonetheless escalated. Most are attributed to Boko Haram, a militant group with ties to Al-Qaeda.

Earlier this month, 135 people were killed in three separate attacks in Borno state on 9 and 10 April, while an explosion at a bus station in Abuja - Nigeria's capital - during rush hour on 14 April resulted in at least 75 fatalities and a further 141 casualties, although these figures are expected to rise.

Around 100 young women were also abducted from a secondary school in Borno state by armed militia on 15 April, with several able to escape. Members of Boko Haram are known to abduct women and force them into sex slavery and domestic servitude.

The relentless violence is having a devastating effect on communities right across the northern states, with towns and villages being torn apart by fighting.

Open Doors reports that over 200 pastors in Maiduguri, Borno state have either fled, been forced to close their churches, or have been murdered as a result of Boko Haram's activity in the region.

In response to this violence, however, those that remain have committed to fasting and praying for one week each month.

"We have to stay and uphold the name of Christ in this state," one pastor named only as James told Open Doors.

"We are willing to pay the price for our calling. We don't only share the Gospel when things are rosy. It is to be done in every situation. Hunger and want will never discourage us. Swords and guns, even the roar of the devil, will only encourage us to stand first for Christ.

"If we die, our blood will speak about Christ to our killers."

Another pastor, Reverend Pona, told Open Doors: "We are seeking the face of God in this situation. Brethren are being killed all over the state. Thousands of homes have been destroyed. Our churches have not been spared. We are being struck from every direction.

"Only Christ can deliver us from this trial."