How does a Nigerian Christian pastor of a pacifist church deal with Boko Haram militants when they approach him? From 2009 to early 2014, when Boko Haram was burning churches and killing Christians, Rev. Amadu Bello, pastor of a large EYN (Ekklesiyar
Yan’uwa a Nigeria), Church of the Brethren in Nigeria congregation in the city of Maiduguri, lived with the terror and faced this challenge.
Four times groups of men came to Bello’s church, either to test him or to kill him, and asked to speak to the pastor. They admitted to him that they were part of Boko Haram. One time they said they wanted prayer for healing, and he asked, “Why don’t you go to your Imam?” They said the Imam doesn’t pray for healing. So he prayed for them. Then when it was time to go, he told them to leave and not come back again, and had church security accompany them out a back way so Nigerian military would not capture and kill them. He told them, “I do this because I love you.”
“Because I was raised a Muslim,” Bello said, “I know how such men think, how to talk to them to calm them down, to make peace between people. I talked with them with respect, as a human being, trying to understand them.
One day, while speaking with the man who washed his car regularly, Bello shared his concerns for the fighters in Boko Haram. He told him, “If I were in political power, and fighters were captured, I would not have them killed immediately, but have them brought to me. I would talk to them and listen to what they say, try to understand the problems they are angry about, and try to do something about them if possible.” Sometime later he found out that this man was a Boko Haram commander.
Months later, when Bello’s family was driving back to Maidugari, Boko Haram fighters stopped them and surrounded their car. He thought that surely they would all be killed. One of the men looked into his window, and said, “I know you. You are pastor of the church.” The fighter told others, “He is a good man,” and to Bello, “You may pass.” Expecting a spray of bullets at any time, Bello drove on, but none came. When he looked back, the men were gone.
In time, Bello and several other pastors who had been working in the midst of this intense violence were showing signs of trauma and were later transferred to more peaceful areas. In January 2014, Bello, his wife, Juma’a, and their family moved to the city of Jos, where he is currently head pastor of an EYN church, which is helping to provide food and shelter for families who have been displaced by the violence.
By Peggy Faw Gish
(based on interviews with Amadu Bello in Jos, between April and June 2015)