BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN What is Boko Haram? Who are the members of Boko Haram? How are they funded? How are they affecting Christians in Nigeria, and how is the church and community at large responding?
These are some of the questions Dr. Ibrahim Bitrus will explore during a presentation at 7 p.m. Monday, May 16, at Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Delano.
Bitrus was born and raised in northeastern Nigeria, a stronghold for Boko Haram a terrorist organization with allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.
Bitrus was rooted in Christianity from an early age.
“I was born and raised in a Christian family,” Bitrus said. “My dad was a pastor. He raised us in the faith and knowledge of God. That probably explains why I have a passion for training pastors.”
Bitrus is living out that passion.
He studied theology at the Theological College of Northern Nigeria and received an associate degree in Christianity and social studies.
He then taught Christianity, social studies, and government classes at a high school for seven years. He also served as a volunteer coordinator for Fellowship of Christian Students, but believed he was called to do more.
“I felt God was leading me to go to seminary, and that confirmed my decision to receive my Master of Divinity and Master of Theology,” Bitrus said. “I was hired by the church to teach at Bronnum Lutheran Seminary. I taught several classes there for four years . . . I was also associate dean at one point.”
Coming to Minnesota
Bitrus found himself with a decision to make: attend seminary in South Africa or at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
He chose Luther, and moved to St. Paul in 2010.
His wife, Julecy, and four children joined him in October of 2012.
Julecy is studying biology and chemistry at Metropolitan State University.
Bitrus defended his thesis in July of 2015, and is graduating May 22.
While waiting to graduate, Bitrus has worked with six or seven different churches, including Light of Christ.
“I have been leading adult forums, preaching, assisting during worship, and any other opportunity to serve,” Bitrus said.
Boko Haram’s influence
In Bitrus’ homeland, Boko Haram is taking hold.
The group established itself in 2002 and became visibly violent in 2009.
“They are targeting both Christians and Muslims,” Bitrus said. “They fight in the name of Islam. They don’t make a distinction between Christians and Muslims. They tend to attack Muslims that are in opposition to their mission or they suspect they are betraying them to the military forces.”
Boko Haram has killed 20,000 and displaced 2.3 million. The Nigerian government established a state of emergency in 2012. The Global Terrorism Index has ranked the group as the world’s deadliest terror group.
Bitrus’ family was affected by Boko Haram, as the group took over the college where Julecy was studying, and turned it into a bomb-making factory.
Responding to Boko Haram has been difficult for the church, Bitrus said, but they have had limited success.
“What the church has been able to do is call on the government to defend its members and innocent people from Boko Haram attack,” Bitrus said. “The church has also been involved in taking care of internally displaced persons . . . feed them, accommodate them, and provide for their health care.”
Church members also volunteer to stand guard outside churches during services to prevent suicide bombers from attacking them.
Despite the unrest Boko Haram has caused, Bitrus would like to return home someday.
“When my wife, who is a junior now, is done with her studies, I hope to return to Nigeria and resume my position as a professor at Bronnum Seminary,” Bitrus said.