The International Christian Concern (ICC) hosted their annual “Policy Day” event Tuesday, June 5, in the United States Capitol Building. The focus of this year’s event was on human rights and religious liberty in the country of Nigeria, a nation where Christians face some of the most violent persecution in the world.
One of the highlights of the event was the testimony of Joy Bishara and her experience with the terrorist group Boko Haram. One night while she was sleeping, her and her friends awoke to the sound of gunfire and explosions in their village. Many of the girls were captured by members of Boko Haram and taken away in a truck. As she was sitting in the truck, Bishara said she prayed that God would deliver her from these men.
Not long after her prayer, there was a problem with one of the vehicles in the Boko Haram convoy. The truck Bishara and her friends were in came to a stop, and the men who were watching the girls got out to take a look at the vehicle that needed to be repaired. Eventually the trucks started moving again, but this time there was no guard watching Bishara and her friends. Seizing the moment, Bishara and the other girls jumped from the back of the moving truck, the last one in the convoy, and fled to safety. Fifty-seven girls escaped.
Upon returning to her village, Bishara found her school building burnt completely to the ground. She was just about to finish her senior year of high school and graduate.
Bishara’s story is devastating. After that day, she never saw many of her friends again. But her story is also one of reconciliation. In 2014, Bishara left Nigeria to come and study in America. She finished high school in 2017 and earned a full scholarship to Southeastern University with plans to be a doctor after she finishes school.
Bishara’s testimony was a prelude to a morning full of speakers educating all in attendance of the seriousness of the persecution occurring in Nigeria.
Terwase Orbunde, Chief of Staff to the Governor of the Benue State of Nigeria, called the rampant killings and persecution of Christians “the most neglected humanitarian crisis going on right now” in the world. Over 20 churches in his hometown in Nigeria have been burnt to the ground, much like Bishara’s school.
After Orbunde, members of a panel addressed the ongoing issues in Nigeria, examining how this persecution is happening, as well as what others around the world can do to help fight it.
Nathan Wineinger, Director of Policy & Coalitions at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, said, “Of the top 25 most populated countries in the world, Nigeria has the highest level of social hostilities surrounding religion. Nigeria has the third-highest level of terrorism according to the Global Terrorism index, right behind Iraq and Afghanistan, but ahead of Syria, Pakistan, and Yemen.”
These violent attacks on Christians and others happen frequently, with a couple attacks just in the last week. Many have wondered and continue to wonder, “How? How can these attacks against Christians go on, and why is nothing being done to stop the persecution and killings?”
A great number of the attacks are carried about by a militant group of the Fulani people of West Africa. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration continue to turn a blind eye to the rampant persecution because they too identify as Fulani people.
Stephen Enada, Executive President and Co-Founder of the International Committee on Nigeria, said the government in Nigeria does not protect its citizens the way a government should operate, and they should be held more accountable for their actions. He also pointed out that the Nigerian people simply do not have the manpower to stand up against these militant groups.
These persecuted Nigerians are unable to effectively defend themselves against these violent acts, and that means help must come from somewhere else.
Frank Wolf, former U.S. Congressman from Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, and Kristina Arriaga of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom both agreed, claiming the United States has a moral obligation to stand up for and help the people of Nigeria.
Kent Ingle, President of Southeastern University, followed suit, saying, “If the West does not stand up for religious liberty, then who will?”
Toward the end of the event, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas approached the podium and praised ICC for having these speakers come together to shine a light on the horror that is persecution.
“Light is powerful,” Cruz said. “There is power in shining a light. Today, light is stronger than darkness, and truth is stronger than lies. So I commend you for standing and shining a light and speaking the truth, as Scripture tells us, ‘The truth shall set us free.’”
Cruz also told the story of Leah, a 15-year-old girl currently being held captive by Boko Haram because she refuses to renounce her faith in Christ. Cruz urged everyone in attendance to continue to pray for the day she may see the light and be freed from this militant organization.
Looking to the future, multiple speakers urged the audience to be in prayer for the government of Nigeria. They asked all in attendance to pray that God would grip the hearts of the Nigerian leadership, showing them that what is happening is wrong, and that action is needed to protect these persecuted Christians.