Six members of a family belonging to the Fulani tribe — a predominantly Muslim, nomadic, cattle-herding people frequently in the news over violent conflicts with farmers — recently became Christians after Jesus revealed himself directly to them in a village in Nigeria’s middle-belt Plateau state.
This was disclosed to Gateway News in a telephone interview with Rev Koppah Seboh Shiktuún of Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) church in Panyam, Plateau state, who has been reaching out to Fulani people for over 25 years.
Normally introducing Fulani people was a lengthy process of making friends, building a relationship, providing practical help in times of need, demonstrating that you were different because of God living in you — and then only beginning to talk about Jesus, said Sebo Shiktuún.
But according to reports reaching him, the family of six had come to Christ without the assistance of any Christians. However they were now being discipled by Christians with the help of a New Testament in the Fulani language, and consideration was being given to establishing a church for them.
Seboh Shiktuún said he had not yet personally interviewed the family members, so he did not have details of their conversion.
“God has been doing many wonders among the Fulani’s,” he said.
At an annual conference for Fulani converts at the end of April he disclosed that 400 formerly Muslim Fulani people had become Christians and that seven had been ordained as ministers and were serving in churches in various different denominations in different parts of Nigeria. Others had been equipped to share the gospel of peace with their people.
The annual conference was held to provide fellowship for Fulani believers from many different parts of the country, to encourage them and to renew their vision, he said.
According to media reports in Nigeria the Fulani people, who traditionally frequented the predominantly Muslim northern region of the country, have been moving south in search of grazing land due to drought and desertification. This had brought them into conflict with middle-belt farmers and there have been many reports of armed Fulani herdsmen launching destructive, murderous attacks on Christian villages in the north and middle belt — so much so that the Fulani’s have been described as a bigger security threat than the Islamist terror group Boko Haram.
Last week a group of armed Fulani youths kidnapped a pastor on the highway from Jos to Abuja in Plateau state, releasing him five days later, in an incident that according to observers may be as a result of escalating crime aided and abetted by corrupt police turning a blind eye, or due to Islamist radicalising of Fulanis.
Rev Seboh Shiktuún said that he and many others who have been reaching out to Fulani people for many years were determined to continue reaching out to them, as well as to other people groups such as Muslim Hausas, and various animist tribes.
Sometimes opportunities to share the gospel of Christ came about through teaching adult Fulani people to read and write, or starting schools. Sometimes those discipling nomadic herders would move with them, travelling 50 to 60km before reaching a place where they settled for longer periods. And sometimes it was necessary to relocate new converts to protect them from attacks.
He said much of the conflict between Fulani herdsmen and Christian farmers could be avoided if Christians responded with love rather than taking them to court or the police station when they grazed their cattle on their land. He said that if approached correctly it was sometimes possible to negotiate payment for grazing. The herders were well armed and would often use their weapons against communities who displayed aggression towards them.
“Love is the greatest weapon but most people do not have the love of Christ and when someone offends them they do not respond with love. And so we still have problems because it seems we do not want to go by law of loving your enemy and praying for them. It is a very simple law that Jesus put out. But sometimes we do not want to accept it. But it is the reality,” he said.
He said lack of finance was a barrier to evangelism in Nigeria’s vast rural areas. “Sometimes we need a motorcycle, a vehicle and even sponsorship as the logistics are very hard.”
But he said people were prepared to invest their money in buildings but did not seem to be interested in investing in the things they really needed. Building church buildings was not the priority at this time– they would just be burned down. The priority was to go out and reach the lost with the gospel.