By Larry Alex Taunton
Published October 15, 2017
“Don’t go. I swore I would never go back there,” came the voice of my friend Jay Smith on a trans-Atlantic Skype call. “I’ve been in
over sixty countries. I’ve been all over Africa. I lived there, and I’ve never felt unsafe the way I did in that country. There is
something especially terrifying about that place.”
“Good to know,” I replied. “Alan said that he goes there all the time. He said he even takes his children.”
Alan was a British politician who had recently attended one of my lectures in London. To hear him tell it, Nigeria was like Club Med.
“Alan?” Jay was incredulous. “Did Alan also tell you that when he goes he’s traveling with the British government and is
accompanied by heavily armed guards? You? You’re going to have an entirely different experience.”
This was my introduction to Nigeria. Jay’s opinion was not acquired from Trip Advisor. He had been there more than once. During
a 2008 visit, he spent nine hours hiding in the wheel well of a car while a mob went up and down a blocked highway looking for
Westerners to victimize. Nigeria was, in his view, unique to the African experience. It wasn’t that terrible things didn’t happen in
other countries; it was the sheer magnitude of them in Nigeria. Even other Africans are afraid of Nigeria and its well-earned
I had been invited there by my friend, Jwan Zhumbes, the Anglican bishop of Bukuru. Jwan and I had done our doctoral work
together. He had asked me some years ago to come and teach the members of the diocese on issues of faith and culture. Jwan is
shepherd to a diocese that has been attacked by the Boko Haram and another Islamic group, the Fulani Herdsmen Militia. He was,
in my estimation, a great man doing a great work.
Now, months later, the mission was complete and it was time for me to leave the country. My time in Nigeria had been one of great
blessing. The experience defies a simple description or even a simple narrative. These are Christians whose churches, homes,
families and friends have been bombed, burned, and persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, just last month, 20
Christians were slaughtered by the Fulani only a short drive from where I was staying. This is not uncommon. And yet, optimism
prevails with them where self-pity and a spirit of defeat might rule a lesser people.
Packing-up for the journey ahead, I noticed Jwan at my door. He looked upset.
“What is wrong?” I asked.
“It took the housekeeper a long time to answer the door,” he began. “For a moment, I feared something had happened to my friend
during the night.”
“I’m fine,” I reassured him. “I slept well.”
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