Over the last few months, scores have been killed by suicide bombings in Jos. The most recent attack occurred last Sunday on the Lord’s Chosen Church along Rukuba Road. Attending mass in Plateau State’s capital city has become a challenge for Christians as well as their leaders, now more than ever called to practise what they preach.
By Kingsley Madueke, Jos
Pastor Abraham Ekeneh loves his wife and two beautiful daughters. He also cares for his “larger family”, the parishioners at God’s People Assembly in the city’s Tudun Wada area.
He says: “My first prayer every Sunday since the bombing at Church of Christ in Nigeria Headquarters in February is for God to keep watch over my wife, children and the larger family. I always sense the fear in the atmosphere during Sunday services, but we still don’t relent.”
But, in the pastor’s opinion, staying home is not a solution. “We cannot stop attending Sunday services because if we do, it means we have helped them to achieve their objective,” says Ekeneh, referring to violent groups, such as Boko Haram. “I encourage all Christians to be security-conscious, but not to stop attending Sunday services.”
Peter Gweng lost his cousin in the 2010 Christmas Eve bombing in Angwan Rukuba, where over 30 were reported killed. Although the 44-year-old government clerk sometimes attends mass at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church along Bauchi Ring Road, he definitely does not want to share the fate of his relative.
“I didn’t go for service last Sunday because, since Saturday, I had a funny feeling that a church may be attacked – and it happened,” he says.
Among other reasons, Gweng does not want to die because he is the breadwinner of both his and cousin’s families. “I’m the sole provider,” he says, “so nothing should happen to me – I’m careful.”
Others skip church not for fear of being attacked, but due to the inconvenience of driving through the many military checkpoints on the way. “My church is in Bukuru, and it takes me over two hours to get there because there are security agents checking long queues of vehicles every few metres,” says 38-year-old Jedidah Sambo. “Even if I try to go, I end up arriving very late.”
Gates and God
A recent drive through Jos reveals that a majority of churches are taking extra security measures since suicide bombings have become alarmingly frequent. Many have fortified their fences and erected concrete and iron barricades to prevent potential attackers from gaining entry. Armed security personnel now stop motorists and check the trunks of their vehicles.
As Pastor Ekeneh points out, gesturing to the steel gate at God’s People Assembly: “We now have a heavier gate to prevent any unauthorised vehicle from coming into the church premises. We also don’t allow even our members to park their cars anywhere near the church.”
And yet, in two of the last three bombings, security reinforcement didn’t stop attackers from manoeuvring to their targets.
Despite the fear in the air, local church leaders, like Pastor Ekeneh, continue to officiate at Sunday services.
“These are some of the measures we have taken, but God remains our protector,” says Ekeneh.