Nigeria: One publisher’s quest to curb religious violence and promote reconciliation

When sectarian violence in Nigeria first flared in 1999, Africa Christian Textbooks (ACTS) created tracts and pamphlets to soothe afflicted Christians and Muslims alike. But over the last two decades, thousands of people have died and attacks by militant Islamic groups such as Boko Haram and Fulani tribesmen have resulted in many Christians losing homes, property and livelihoods.

Today Nigeria is the second-most violent country for persecuted Christians (behind only Pakistan) on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List. ACTS has continued to produce unique books, articles and resources to help reconcile a divided nation. We interviewed managing director Rev. Luka Vandi Uti about its quest to promote peace.

Your publishing house’s goal is to help train pastors and missionaries across Africa, including providing textbooks to seminaries. How did you get involved in war-time literature?
In 1999 when violence erupted, we decided to help calm the situation.  We started by distributing small pamphlets and tracts on the love of God and forgiveness. We distributed thousands of these and heard many testimonies as a result.

It’s hard to find numbers on the toll of this conflict. How many people do you estimate have died in the last two decades?
Everyday church leaders and Christians are dying—this year more than 50 people have been killed in northern Nigeria. Since 1999, the estimated number of people who have been killed is 30,000 to 40,000.

In the face of escalating violence and persecution several Nigerian states created segregated communities of Muslims and Christians, who had previously coexisted as neighbors. How did ACTS respond?
This development in Plateau and Kaduna States created suspension and fear on both sides. We decided to publish My Brother’s Keeper, a small book of true stories describing how Muslims and Christians had sacrificed to help each other. (It is not safe to include our authors’ names in print.) Reading it gave relief and hope to both sides.

How have you helped both sides understand each other’s religious beliefs?
We published Christianity and Islam: Plea for understanding and tolerance, a side-by-side presentation of the Bible and the Quran coauthored by a Christian and a Muslim. The book helped Christians to understand an Islamic worldview and Muslims to know the Christian Bible. It also helped them appreciate their common ground. We have distributed thousands across the country and continue to do so.

How have you responded to Boko Haram’s persecution in the Northeast?
The Christian community’s question was “Do we have another cheek to turn?” So, we published Turn the Other Cheek and then No More Cheek to Turn to, asking whether there are limits to pacifism.

The Nigeria Dilemma explores pacifism in Nigeria using the historic example of Church of the Brethren. This tradition of a pacifist church has helped the modern Brethren community escape unimaginable destruction since 2011. Most members have escaped and never retaliated. With the Brethren Church’s model and our study materials on the Book of James, persecution and forgiveness, we’ve made a great impact on the Christian community in the Northeast.

How have you encouraged reading among the many displaced people?
We imported large numbers of children’s books and easy-to-read Bibles to distribute into various camps, schools and churches hosting displaced children and adults. Through reading Bibles, stories and other literature we’ve heard many testimonies of healing and forgiveness.

How have you been equipping church leaders and communities who’ve lost their homes and resources?
We put together booksets of 15 to 25 books which were distributed to 2,000 pastors. Most pastors in the Church of the Brethren lost all their belongings including their libraries, so we partnered with the denomination to pay for the books. We also put together sets for Lutherans, Anglicans, Christian Reformed Church, Evangelical Reformed Church, Church of Christ and others.

We visited the Northeast in February and desire to attend the upcoming national pastors conference of Church of the Brethren. We intend to help with books for rebuilding lives and churches. We need your prayers for these helpless communities of believers and our staff as we move through the region.

Have you or your staff ever felt endangered?
Oh yes, several times our staff have been caught between violent clashes on the road. We have run into dangerous crises unknowingly, but God has continued to save us all.

How can we pray for Christians in Nigeria and for you and your team at ACTS?

  1. Christians in Nigeria are facing the most difficult time in history. They are taken and killed like chickens. Pray for courage, perseverance, help and God’s intervention.
  2. Pray for our government to come to the aid of Christians and administer justice for all.
  3. Pray for church leaders faced with little way forward as their members are helpless.
  4. Pray for safety as most roads are not safe for Christians to travel. Pray for ACTS staff as they deliver books that give hope to demoralized populations.
  5. Pray for peace and God’s help for ACTS to survive.
Left to Right: Rev Luka of ACTS (left) with MAI-Africa Trustee Lekan Otufodunrin and Pusonnam Yiri of Nachau Turomale. By Jeam Wong, Singapore.

This week in Nigeria, Ramon Rocha III, MAI’s Director of Publisher Development, is giving consultative assistance to ACTS staff and also meeting with publishers and writers in Lagos. Please pray for fruitful meetings, good fellowship and results that bless the Church in Africa:
-March 2-4, Jos. Consulting with African Christian Textbooks’ (ACTS) Management Action Team led by Rev. Luka Vandi Uti.
-March 6, Lagos.  A reunion and training for participants who attended our 2016 publishing workshop in Lagos, and for LittAfrica 2019 attendees from Nigeria, hosted by MAI-Africa trustee Lekan Otufodunrin.
-March 7, Lagos. Consulting with Pusonnam Yiri, who recently launched Nachau Turomale publishing house.
-March 9, Lagos. Consulting with other MAI contacts.

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