The 2012 United Methodist General Conference paused on the afternoon of May 1 to remember those killed in a wave of late April violence in Nigeria and to pray for peace in that country.
The uncle of a Nigerian seminary student present in Tampa was killed in a bomb blast in the city of Jalingo on April 30. The student is enrolled in a seminary on the U.S. East Coast.
Delegates to the conference from The United Methodist Church in Nigeria were deeply concerned about family and friends in both Jalingo and Kano. The church is headquartered in Jalingo, in the northeastern part of the country. A suicide bomber attacked a police convoy there on April 30, killing at least 20 and wounding others. The day before, a gunman invaded a church service on the campus of Bayero University in Kano. At least 20 persons were killed there as well.
"This is a very serious situation," said Bishop Arthur Kulah, the current episcopal leader in Nigeria. He said information he received indicated that twice as many people were killed in Jalingo than the 10 originally estimated by news media. He also said that some of the other victims are United Methodist.
The seminarian whose uncle was killed was in Tampa with a student contingent observing the General Conference, meeting in Tampa from April 24 to May 4.
Bishop Charlene Kammerer of Virginia was in the chair when a delegate announced the death of the student's relative. She asked the nearly 1,000 delegates to pray for peace in Nigeria and to ask God to comfort the families of those killed: "Hold them in your hands in this time of impenetrable horror."
Bishop Kulah said in a telephone interview that the outbreaks of violence in Nigeria has a strongly negative influence on The United Methodist Church, which in recent years has sought to model reconciliation among ethnic and political groups.
"We hope that the General Conference and United Methodists everywhere will pray for us. We look forward to a conference to elect a new bishop in October of this year, the culmination of a process of peace-building in the church. If the violence around us continues, we may have to move the conference to another country."
Those responsible for the April attacks in Jalingo and Kano were unclear; no group claimed responsibility. However, news reports on May 1 said that in response to the Kano shootings, Nigerian troops had raided the headquarters of an unnamed militant group. The Voice of America also said that the attack resembled those of Boko Haram, a militant Muslim group that opposes Western-style education.
The Kano massacre was in a university lecture hall used on Sunday by the Church of Christ. The BBC reported an attack "on another church in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where Boko Haram is based."
Nigeria has for years suffered from interethnic and religious conflicts. Muslim groups such as Boko Haram are held responsible for numerous attacks on Christians. There are also political factions that resort to violence.
*Elliott Wright is an information consultant working with the Board of Global Ministries.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Tampa, Fla., (813) 574-4837, through May; after May 4, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470, or [email protected].