This communiqué is intended for new missionaries who are planning on coming to Nigeria and also for those in SIM offices who are called upon to advise them. It relates to the increasing insecurity here which may mean that it is difficult to decide whether to proceed with these plans.
Insecurity in Nigeria
Like many countries in Africa and elsewhere, Nigeria is subject to several hazards such as armed robbery, kidnapping and inter-ethnic conflict. These are more prominent in some regions of the country than others. Kidnapping for ransom has long been a serious problem, though not in areas where SIM is currently working. However, a few expatriates (not missionaries) have been kidnapped in the past few years from areas where we work.
Over and above those “normal” risks, there has been a lot of tension in Jos and surrounding areas of Plateau State in the past eleven years. For example there was a major crisis in Jos in January 2010. Several churches were attacked and many people killed. Since then, many outlying villages have been brutally attacked during the night. Altogether, hundreds of Nigerians, including women and children, have been killed. (To add some perspective, the population of the Jos area is more than one million.)
Further to that, religious extremists have become prominent over the past two years. There are now frequent bombings and related attacks throughout Northern Nigeria, including some areas where SIM missionaries work. Dozens of churches have been bombed or otherwise attacked around the country, but many other institutions and Nigerian individuals have also been targeted. There have been a number of car bomb attacks on government targets, news media, and churches, including a recent one on a church only a few hundred meters/yards from where SIM missionaries live and work.
It should also be noted that all the above does not necessarily apply to all parts of Nigeria. In Egbe (Kogi State, southwest area of Nigeria), the situation is so far quite different and free of conflict.
Understandably, all this has created an ongoing sense of tension, uncertainty and fear among the local people and sometimes among our missionaries. Rumors and text messages, though mostly unfounded or misleading, sometimes unnecessarily heighten the tension and fear.
International media reports vary in their accuracy but often add to the problem by exaggerating the situation or giving misleading information, particularly with a bias against Christianity.
Effect on Missionaries
How does this affect us as missionaries? So far expatriate missionaries have not been specific targets in these disputes. Some of the conflicts relate to positions of authority in local government, with religious and ethnic implications; others are more generally directed against government or Christian institutions. We also have an effective communication network to alert us to trouble spots so we can avoid them. In fact on a day to day basis, we missionaries and our Nigerian colleagues usually go about our regular activities—work, family life, church, and fun, albeit using extra caution and avoiding potential danger spots.
Having said that, however, anyone can be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Furthermore, the dynamics of this conflict could change at any time in respect of who is targeted. We do hear rumors that Westerners may be targeted. The inter-mission school in Jos (Hillcrest School) has been the subject of threats of bomb or other attacks, as have a number of other mission and church institutions.
Should New Missionaries Come to Nigeria?
We feel that it is important that people coming here be prepared for such a situation. Some people, because of their family makeup, character and personality, or background and past experiences, would find it very unsettling to live and work under this sort of tension. That is totally understandable. To these we would say: don't come here, but find another area of service. You will be more effective.
We are happy to welcome short- or long-term missionaries here, but if they are going to be significantly adversely affected by the situation it will have a negative impact not only on them but also on the SIM administration, on other missionaries and on our Nigerian partners; this is better avoided.
There are others who might be content or willing to live and minister here, accepting the unsettling conditions while knowing that they personally are not usually in great danger. To those we say: come and join us, provided you understand the situation.
If you are considering coming to work in Nigeria, you may want to plan a visit first in order to see the situation first hand. Though this involves some additional effort and expense, many have found such a trip to be quite valuable
We do want missionaries to come here, and our programs and ministries are continuing. However, we need to be realistic and ensure that those who come know what to expect and are prepared for the situation. They will receive every help, support and fellowship from us here, but we do admit that in many ways it can be hard to live and work here right now.
I hope this information is helpful as you serve our Lord in recruitment for the extension of His Kingdom.
Dr. Phillip Andrew
SIM Nigeria Director
PMB 2009, Jos
Plateau State, Nigeria