Christians in Nigeria are paying the ultimate price for sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, reports Kenneth Harrod of Release International.
Reverend Ibrahim Isa had won many people for Christ. It had earned him death threats. Despite that, he was determined to continue preaching.
Ibrahim and his wife Laraba lived with their five children in a village near Jos, in Plateau State, Nigeria. Mercifully, Laraba and the children were away in the city the morning Fulani militants murdered her husband.
Ibrahim had just told Laraba over the phone that he was planning to plant some wheat on a friend's farm.
Just 15 minutes later, a church member called Laraba and told her to come home immediately.
Fearing the worst, she rang a friend who confirmed her husband had been murdered.
Lying in wait
Even while she had been speaking to Ibrahim, his killers were lying in wait for him.
'They attacked him in the room,' she said. 'He tried to escape through the window – and as he fled, they shot him dead. I saw his body lying where he was shot.'
Like many Nigerian Christians in rural areas, Ibrahim had taken to sleeping outside at night. Knowing their homes could be targeted at any time, sleeping outside was considered safer.
Ibrahim was a pastor from a Fulani background. He served as an evangelist near Jos, working among Fulani Muslims. Many had become Christians as a result.
A community leader said, 'He had been warned several times that he could be a target for killing by the Fulani militia. But Ibrahim said he had a duty to preach and bring the gospel to his people.'
His widow Laraba said, 'As long as you are a Christian, you know that someday
we will leave this world. I know my husband is at rest with the Lord. I know also the Lord will be with me and provide for these children's needs.'
Another church leader was also targeted for killing. Matthew Tagwi had been serving as a pastor near Miango for just three months when Fulani militants attacked his village. They went to his house, called for him by name and shot him.
His pregnant wife, Rose, was in another town at the time for an antenatal check-up.
Rose said her prayer today was that her husband's killers would come to know Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord.
Release International's partner has been supporting Rose and providing pastoral counsel. He said there were many like Rose and Laraba living in villages under constant threat of attack.
Other church leaders and pastors have also been specifically targeted by Islamist extremists in central Nigeria. Some have been killed and others kidnapped for ransom.
The aggressors are Fulani militants, Boko Haram, and Islamic State terrorists. But the danger has not deterred these Christians from sharing their faith.
Release is helping to train church leaders and evangelists to take the Christian message into areas most ravaged by Islamist violence. Despite the growing risk, these courageous leaders remain enthusiastic and committed.
'In April, Boko Haram executed 20 Christians in an online video,' said the Release International partner. 'The attacks and killings are ceaseless now. The situation for Christians in Nigeria today is dire.'
He added: 'We ask for prayers for God to raise up men and women who will continue to stand for the Church and be voices for the vulnerable. Please pray for God to raise up those who will fight for justice for the victims of this religious carnage and slow the genocide that is unfolding in northern Nigeria.
'With government complacency and rising terrorism Christians are likely to face persecution for a long time to come.'
The alarming ineffectiveness of the authorities to prevent the violence was highlighted in May. Police stood by while a mob stoned to death a Christian college student in Sokoto state after falsely accusing her of blaspheming Islam's Prophet Mohammed. After killing Deborah Emmanuel (also known as Samuel), the mob set her body on fire.
Local media reported that militants protested after Deborah gave thanks to Christ on her class WhatsApp chat for passing her exams. When they demanded that she retract the statement and apologise, she refused.
According to other sources, she was targeted because she refused to date a Muslim.
After two suspects were arrested for her killing, rioters attacked Christians, started bonfires, damaged churches, and looted Christian-owned shops.
Release International's partners say they were 'shocked but not surprised' at Deborah's killing.
Police stood by
'More than a dozen policemen watched as Deborah was battered to death, but did nothing to prevent her murder,' said a partner.
'The Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari simply pointed out that "Muslims demand respect for Islam".' And many prominent politicians, Islamic scholars and imams publicly declared their support for Deborah's killing.
'That disdain for Christians in Nigeria by militants continues to grow,' said the Release International partner.
2023 is presidential election year in Nigeria. Previous elections have seen an upsurge in violence. Release International's partners are calling for prayer.