The half dozen barefoot children playing with old tires in the vacant field didn’t seem worried. Their main concerns were jumping on the tires, chasing each other, and laughing.
The adults in the nearby forest of crude tent structures, however, knew why they were in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state. And they were quite concerned. They had come seeking relief from Boko Haram, the radical Islamic group that has been waging war against the Nigerian government since 2009.
Because of Boko Haram’s deadly, seven-year campaign of violence, more than 20,000 people have been killed, and hundreds of girls and women have been abducted, held captive, and raped.
Nigeria now boasts the largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Africa. Approximately 3.3 million people have fled their homes to avoid Boko Haram attacks, suicide bombings, and kidnappings. As a result, there are squatter camps scattered all across the northeastern part of the country.
The camps give the internally displaced a modicum of relief, but increasing food shortages and a lack of healthcare have created a humanitarian crisis. Observers say famine is imminent.
Four hours south of Maiduguri, the situation is the same, only on a slightly smaller scale; internally displaced people have set up tent camps in the city of Mubi, but the security it might offer is questionable. In October of 2012, members of Boko Haram slipped into town under cover of darkness, killing 25 students at local colleges.
Today, there is a relative peace in the area. Besides the many IDPs residing in camps, refugees are also slowly beginning to return to their homes.
Biblica is working in the midst of this destabilized atmosphere, providing the comfort and hope of God’s Word. In September of 2016, 7,000 Bibles were given away to the homeless population in Nigeria and to refugees.
“Going through Mubi Town we saw several churches and banks bombed and shattered,” reports a Biblica staff member. “[But the] Bibles were distributed camp by camp. Each internally displaced person was given a copy of the Bible [in English or Hausa]. About 3,000 returnees also received Bibles.
Most of the internally displaced persons are intelligent but lack opportunities. For us, this was a chance to identify with the fatherless, motherless, and the orphans.”
For the future, the plan is simple: keep at it. Visitations are planned for other IDP camps in Northeast Nigeria. A special emphasis will be focused on empowering as many youth as possible. And this will all be carried out in partnership with local and international relief and disaster ministries.
“Our collaboration with EYN Disaster Relief Ministry was an open door into Northeast Nigeria – a place where the insurgency has deeply affected social and spiritual activities.”
According to the Bible, ministering to those who are in need is like ministering to Jesus himself.
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus taught, “whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
The men, women, and children who have been internally displaced in Nigeria are important to Jesus. That’s why they should be important to us.