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Nigerian Pastor and Wife Killed

June 9, 2020

The Banner

Rev. Emmanuel Bileya, a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria (CRCN), was attacked and killed while working on his farm in Taraba state, Nigeria. His pregnant wife, Juliana, was also attacked and killed as part of ongoing tribal conflicts in the region. They leave behind eight children, an extended family, and a grieving congregation.

The CRCN denomination is one of the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s oldest ecumenical partners and continues to be a key mission partner for the CRCNA today.

“Pastor Emmanuel and his wife, Juliana, had a passion for God and the work of evangelism,” said Mike Van Der Dyke, team leader for Resonate Global Mission in Nigeria.

Van Der Dyke explained that Bileya was working as a high school math teacher when the Christian Reformed Church started the Church Planting Partners Institute in the early 1990s. This was a partnership between the CRCN, Resonate (Christian Reformed World Missions at the time), and The Bible League.

“Bileya felt the call of God to leave his teaching job and go into ministry full-time. He was posted to Makurdi, the capital city of Benue State, and he planted a CRCN church there that is a strong congregation today. He continued working as a church planter under the CRCN Missions Department in various parts of Nigeria,” said Van Der Dyke.

Juliana was a composer and singer. She submitted a song to The Banner for its first-ever open mic event and said that creativity made the Bible message understandable.

“We thank God for their lives and pray for God's peace for the children and family during this difficult time,” Van Der Dyke stated.

Jul Medenblik, president of Calvin Theological Seminary, also expressed his condolences on the loss of these lives. Medenblik had the opportunity to get to know Bileya when he came to Grand Rapids, Mich., to attend Calvin Theological Seminary to complete his Th.M. degree in 2014.

“He was a humble servant of the Lord who had a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Medenblik recalled. “I remember our interactions as ones that always overflowed with his appreciation, joy, and faithfulness. As you may know from a Banner article, he was so appreciative of his time at Calvin Seminary that he took upon himself the task of cleaning windows as a tangible expression of his appreciation. As a result, I will never walk by any of these windows again without remembering Pastor Emmanuel and Juliana and their children.

“Windows help us see and provide a way for sight and vision beyond the walls of a building. Pastor Emmanuel helped us see beyond the walls of Calvin Seminary to see and hear of his ministry in Nigeria. Even as he and his church and family faced significant challenges, he always expressed deep confidence in being called by God to live fully before his face and be an instrument of reconciliation.”

Reconciliation is needed now in Nigeria as the current conflicts rage on. Van Der Dyke explained that the attack that led to Emmanuel and Juliana’s deaths was the latest in a series of violent outbreaks that have occurred between neighboring tribal groups in Taraba state. The majority of people in this area are Christians, but recent disagreements over land rights have led to violence and retaliation rather than Christian love and fellowship. This is something that both World Renew and Resonate are responding to. 

"World Renew works very closely with the Reformed denominations in Nigeria in the areas of peacebuilding, trauma healing, support for widows and orphans, and other development needs," said ida Kaastra Mutoigo, World Renew Canada director.  "Following the killing of Pastor Emmanuel and his wife, World Renew has approved use of funds toward trauma healing involving the family, church members, and others in the communities involved in the violence. We have trauma healing facilitators in place and as soon as the atmosphere is conducive, the trauma healing process will commence. Meanwhile we are advocating for appropriate government, traditional, and religious leaders to help restrain the violence. Our staff in the country are also personally involved in these processes."

Please continue to pray for the people involved and for all who have lost loved ones. You can also make a donation towards Resonate's Intertribal Peace Empowerment Fund. (Note: Resonate will be working closely with the Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria and Emmanuel's family to see that the needs of the Bileya children are being met. Arrangements are also being made to assist the children and members of Emmanuel's church with trauma healing counseling. A portion of gifts to the Intertribal peace empowerment fund will be put towards this use).