PICTURE EDITION 36: THE CHURCH IN NIGERIA: HUGE BUT WILL IT REACH ITS 80 MILLION MUSLIMS?

Why Nigeria?

Although Nigeria is not technically a majority Muslim country, it has 200 million people, over 80 million being Muslims, I have therefore decided to include it in our prayer list.

1. History

Nigeria is an amalgam of three major ethnic groups straddled together by British colonialism. Recorded history began in this region as long ago as 1500BC as trade kingdoms flourished on the north-south and east-west African trade routes. Islam arrived in the north around 1000AD via trade between the Kenam Empire and Egypt.

With the outlawing of the slave trade in 1807 Britain stationed soldiers in the region to stop local slave traders. This led to interference within the region to stop slave-trade friendly local kings and chiefs.

By 1885 Britain was in control of most of Nigeria, and with the British came large numbers of Protestant missionaries. For all its faults, without this colonial Christian influence Nigeria would be another vastly Muslim country similar to all the former French colonies in this region of Africa.

Independence came in 1960. Corruption led to coups, counter coups and a civil war between the three major ethnic groups in 1967. Eventually true democracy emerged at the end of  the first decade of this century.

2. Today

Nigeria is the giant of Africa with over 200 million citizens, making it the seventh most populated country in the world.  One in six Africans is a Nigerian (by the way, half of all the world’s children now Africans!!!!!). Staggeringly, the population of Nigeria is projected to reach 400 million by 2050 and Lagos will be on its way to becoming the largest city in the world. This country, and this continent, will matter to the whole world in the near future!

Unfortunately Nigeria relies on oil for 90% of its foreign exchange, and most of this wealth is squandered in cesspool of rampant corruption. The country is therefore poor, but not absolutely poor like its neighbour to the north, Niger. The Christian south of Nigeria is wealthy compared to the Muslim north, with its depressing love of feudal/sharia Muslim political systems. Life expectancy is around 50 years but literacy is relatively high at over 70%, mores so in the developed south.

Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups are split along religious lines. The northern Hausa and Fulani are 95% Muslim and 5% Christian. The western Yoruba are 55% Muslim, 35% Christian and 10% Animist. The south-eastern Igbos people are 98% Christian. The middle of Nigeria is where the two religions mix uneasily.

Needless to say there is religious and ethnic friction. The Fulani Muslims in the north are losing their pasturelands to desertification. They in turn prey on Christina farmers further south. Thousands have been killed, hundreds of thousands have fled still further south and flood the already overcrowded cities. The Muslim/Christian conflict threatens to eventually split the country both geographically and spiritually. Compounding the climate crisis is the resurgence of Militant Islam with Boko Haram being its poster child because of its ongoing violence.

3. True Christianity

The 1963 census indicated that 47% of the 50 million Nigerians were Muslim, 35% were Christian, and 18% members of local Animist religions. Today the picture is very different. Most surveys now suggest Christianity constitutes just over half the population and Islam 45%. Both have grown at the cost of traditional indigenous religions. Christianity has made little inroad into Islamic areas because of its Westernised structures and teachings. Some 31% of the entire population of Nigeria, over 50 million people, are now evangelical, and almost all of these were charismatic or Pentecostal. This makes Nigeria one of the most powerfully Christian countries in the world while simultaneously having one of the highest number of Muslims. It’s a paradox!

Like America but more so, Pentecostal mega churches in Nigeria now own whole suburbs and cities, banks, entertainment precincts and even infrastructure such as water and power. Their tax-free status has led to much corruption and it will probably lead to their demise in the future. This blatant Westernisation and commercialisation makes it almost impossible for these churches to reach out to the Muslim community.

Nigeria still awaits the rise of Christians who can decisively penetrate the spiritual darkness that pervades its Muslim countrymen. That is why I have included Nigeria in this series of newsletters.

4. Prayer Points

Pray against corruption inside the church, this is the greatest danger of all

Pray for true discipleship, not just attendance

Pray for Muslims, they are not being reached in significant numbers

Pray against second generation Christian nominalism, a real problem

Pray for the many churches that mix Jesus with Animistic practices

Pray for the salvation of Islamic militants

Pray for multiplication of the few with a heart to reach Muslims

Pray for unity among Christian leaders, sadly lacking as they seek their own empires

Pray that the Islamic militants will unite Christians in prayer and a sense of mission

Pray for northern underground church planting networks to spread even faster!

Pray for the Fulani Muslim tribesmen, some are now responding to the gospel

Pray for the northern Maguzawa people. A turning to Jesus has started

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