Christian Reformed Church officials are prayerfully waiting and watching developments in Jos, Nigeria, after more than 400 people were killed and hundreds injured in violence triggered by a disagreement over a recent local election.
This week, the church has sent out a letter to all CRC congregations, giving an update on the situation.
"On Monday, we received a report that some 30,000 people have been displaced as a result of the crisis," the letter states. "CRWRC and CRWM are working jointly to provide medical, food and clothing assistance to some of those who are sheltered in camps. Starting already on Tuesday, we were able to provide assistance to many people – both Muslim and Christian – who are struggling to cope in the aftermath of the events."
"This is serious and complex," said Gary Bekker, Director of CRWM. "God's people need to continue to reach out and seek to build a civil society. People need to find ways to live together as Nigerians."
Nigeria's 140 million people are split between Muslims and Christians and the two communities generally live peacefully side by side. But the situation in Jos has highlighted tensions between the groups.
The agencies of the Christian Reformed Church in North America have had a presence in Nigeria since the 1920s. CRWM has more than 15 staff persons in Jos while the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee currently has about a half-dozen staff people located in Jos as well as other staff spread throughout the country. Back to God Ministries International also has staff in Nigeria. The agencies partner with many churches and Christian development organizations.
Right now, CRC missionaries are calling for prayers, asking people to pray for peace and calm in Jos and that the Christian church will demonstrate Christ's love to their neighbors –both Christian and Muslim.
More than 16 international Protestant Missions agencies work in Plateau State, where Jos, home to about 800,000 people, is located. Personnel from these missions teach in schools. They are also involved in medical work, rural development, economic empowerment, church planting, and leadership training.
Dirk Vander Steen, a long-time CRC missionary and teacher in Nigeria, says that it saddens him to see the violence, especially following last summer's Theological Education Conference, which was held in Jos and brought together Christians from many different tribes and ethnic groups. CRWM helped to sponsor the conference.
"We have seen progress. From the various voices and evaluations of this past summer, it was unanimous that we should repeat the conference in 2009," said Vander Steen.