When a faction of Muslim rioters in northern Nigeria posted leaflets in late February warning Christians to leave or be killed, five missionaries with Christian Reformed World Missions and the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee left, together with 15 Nigerian Christian families.
CRWM’s Dave and Jan Dykgraaf of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Larry and Rose Van Zee of Pella, Iowa, along with CRWRC staff member Jeremiah Yongo, braved a six-hour drive through the mostly Muslim regions of northern Nigeria on their way to a temporary safe haven in the central Nigerian city of Abuja.
Dave Dykgraaf wrote an e-mail to his coworkers in which he described the weekend’s horrors.
“The Catholic compound is nearly destroyed [in the northwestern town of Kontagora]. . . . reports are that many people were killed and burned last night,” he said. “As we came back, we stopped in the village Gulbin Boka and saw the letters that had been attached to the houses or shops of non-northerners.”
The letters, written in the Hausa language, read: “You Christians go back to your land. If you do not go back we will kill you.”
A few days later, Dykgraaf reported things had improved. “Four people have been arrested for the church burning and threats,” he wrote.
On March 7, the missionaries were able to return to their homes. “This is really good news, and has happened more swiftly and definitively than I had dared to imagine a week ago,” Nigeria field leader Albert Strydhorst reported.
In Nigeria there is a closely matched population of Christians and Muslims that share a history of conflict and fierce competition for political clout. Geographically, most of the residents in the north of the country are Muslim. Most Christians in Nigeria live in the south.
Christian Reformed World Missions has been in Nigeria since 1920 and has assisted Nigerians in developing a national church that today includes several denominations with a total membership of more than 300,000.