They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death
“T hank God for everything,” said Pastor Lawan Andimi in a video message released on 5 January 2020 by the Boko Haram terrorists who had kidnapped the prominent church leader in north-east Nigeria. A convert from Islam, Pastor Lawan led many other Muslims to Christ, including his father-in-law who was a famous mallam (Quranic scholar). Pastor Lawan had been repeatedly targeted by Islamist extremists, and survived attempts on his life in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
In the video he urged his loved ones not to cry or to worry about him and described his awareness of being in God’s hands, whether he was to be reunited with them on earth or whether he was to be killed:
I have never been discouraged because all the conditions that one finds himself is in the hands of God. By the grace of God, I will be together with my wife, my children and my colleagues. If the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God.
On 20 January 2020 Boko Haram announced that they had killed him.
Pastor Lawan was one of at least 11,000 Christians in northern and Middle Belt Nigeria who have been martyred since 2015, but the anti-Christian violence began in the 1980s and only God knows the total death toll. Church leaders are one of the primary targets of the Islamist extremists.
Dying well: singing, praying and encouraging
Another who died bravely and, with a true pastor’s heart, seeking to strengthen and encourage other believers to the end, was George Orjih. On 27 July 2009, as he and other Christians, tied up and lying on the ground, waited for almost certain death at the hands of the Islamist militants who had kidnapped them, Pastor George said to the others,
Tell my brothers that I died well and am living with Christ. And if we all die, we know that we die for the Lord.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
The kidnappers asked him to convert to Islam, but Pastor George refused. He preached Christ to the leader of the kidnappers and continued singing, praying and encouraging the other Christians to stand firm ‒ until he was beheaded. Another pastor in the group, Sabo Yakubu, was also asked to convert to Islam and also refused: he was likewise beheaded. But some of their companions lived and were able to take Pastor Orjih’s final message back to his congregation in Maiduguri, Borno State.
“You need Jesus”
“Is there any pagan amongst you?” demanded radical Muslims, posing as police officers, when they pulled over a van in Bauchi State on 18 April 2011.
One of those travelling in the van was Isma Dogari, a Nigerian missionary pastor. “I am not a pagan but a servant of the living God. You need Jesus in your life,” replied Pastor Isma. They took him from the vehicle to a mosque, gave him a Quran and told him to renounce Christ. But he refused, saying, “I have since passed that level a long time ago. You need Jesus in your life.” They beat him and gouged out his eyes, then asked him again to renounce his faith. But he persisted, “You need Jesus.” They stabbed him and set fire to his body.
It seems that the Lord had prepared Isma for his martyrdom through a dream, not long before he died, in which he was warned about men being killed and women being left as widows. He repeatedly reminded his family of the dream and urged them to stand firm in their faith no matter what happened. The day before his death he had preached, in what turned out to be his final sermon, that Christians must stop living carelessly and must be prepared, if the Lord willed, to lay down their lives for Christ’s sake.
You can read more about these and other modern Nigerian martyrs who had been active in ministry in Patrick Sookhdeo’s books of daily devotional readings on Christian martyrs, Heroes of Our Faith, Vol. 1. pp. 2, 6, 119, 127, 147, 151, 170, 198, 353 and Vol. 2, pp. 10, 40, 117, 155, 230 (Isaac Publishing, Vol. 1, 2012, second edition 2021, ISBN 978-1-9524501-2-9, Vol. 2, 2021, ISBN 978-1-952450-15-0). To purchase these books please go to barnabasaid.org/resources/books or contact your nearest Barnabas Aid office (addresses on inside front cover) or write to firstname.lastname@example.org