A Christian pastor who was rejected by his family and imprisoned in Nigeria after leaving Islam has shared how a number of his cellmates have converted to Christianity as a result of his testimony.
Persecution watchdog Open Doors shares the story of Bulus, who until his mid-twenties, lived a semi-nomadic life that is typical of Fulani Muslims living in Nigeria. Growing up, Bulus was taught to fear Allah and participate in the customary ritual of praying five times a day.
One day, however, a group of Christians visited his village. "An outreach team came to our village. After I heard their message I gave my life to Christ," Bulus explains.
Unsurprisingly, Bulus' devout Muslim relatives were furious at his newfound faith. "In their minds being Fulani means being Muslim. The two are inseparable and they had an obligation to do whatever they could to make him return," he said.
When Bulus refused to reject Christianity, his father disowned him, taking away his inheritance, every day support, and the status of his clan. Eventually, his relatives threatened to kill him, prompting Bulus to flee to Jos. There, he enrolled in Biblical training.
"I completed the training in four years," he said. "In that time I learned a lot about Christ and experienced His provision in my life. But it was a very lonely time. I had no friends, no family and no support network. I was angry at my family for how they had treated me. But during the course I learned a lot about forgiveness. After I graduated I wanted to go home to see if there was any way my parents and I could be reunited."
But when Bulus returned home, seeking reunion, he was met even more opposition.
"Their hatred had increased, especially when they heard I had become a pastor," Bulus said. "Before I could leave, relatives trapped me and started beating me. I thought I was going to die, but they dragged me to the police station and accused me of stealing some of their goats.
Despite the fact that there was no proof, the police locked me up. Five days later they took me to court. I did not have the opportunity to defend myself but was kept in prison anyway."
Today, Bulus remains in a shared Bauchi prison, where the conditions are horrific: "Bulus and the prisoners' bodies are emaciated from terribly insufficient nutrition and regular bouts of diarrhea," notes Open Doors.
"I wasn't happy when I first got here," said Bulus. "The allegations of theft against me were very disheartening."
However, Bulus began to remember how Jesus Christ Himself was tortured - and even died - for sins He didn't commit.
"Jesus, who didn't sin, suffered. He died a painful death on the cross alongside criminals," he said. "I realized I had to live as He did and take up my cross. From the moment I decided that, my burdens were lifted and I saw the sufficiency of God's grace in my life.I decided to use my time in prison to preach the gospel."
He added, "Many people don't like it, but I continue anyway. I have received hope and strength from God to keep doing the work which He has called me to."
Since Bulus' imprisonment, many prisoners have since come to believe in Christ because of his testimony, and his fellow prisoners regularly come to him for advice and prayer. One warden told Open Doors, "Bulus is different. He seems at peace even when he faces difficulties."
The persecution watchdog says it has an advocacy program that has provided a lawyer to defend Bulus' case. However, because he is a former Muslim, there will be a lot of pressure on the system to have Bulus tried in Sharia court, but Open Doors' appointed lawyers are working hard to have this case heard in secular court.
According to a 2001 report from the CIA's The World Factbook, about 50% of Nigeria's population is Muslim, 40% are Christians and 10% adhere to local religions. However, Nigeria is ranked 12th on Open Door USA's World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most persecution, and has received the maximum score in the violence category.
Over the past year, predominantly Muslim Fulani herdsmen have launched numerous attacks on Christians in northern and central Nigeria; last month, armed herdsmen kidnapped a pastor as he and his driver were traveling in central Nigeria's Plateau state. This year alone saw 18 Christians injured and two villages seized by the extremist group.
Open Doors notes that while most of the persecution against Christians is carried out by the herdsmen, the government has shown little interest in responding to the continuing violence.