Pastor John Ali Doro lost his wife, four children and two grandchildren in an attack against Christians in Nigeria. In the midst of terrible grief, the story of Job has taught him to continue trusting God and to pray for those who killed his family.
On the morning of 7 July 2012, Pastor John Ali Doro heard shouts and gunshots near the compound that included his house and church. “The Fulani are coming!” people yelled.
The Fulani, a mostly Muslim ethnic group who raise cattle in Nigeria, are becoming increasingly radical. Dressed in black and armed with automatic weapons, they were attacking Pastor John’s village of Maseh, in Plateau state, and other nearby Christian villages. The Fulani wanted the Christians to leave so they could take their land.
Moments before the Fulani arrived, Pastor John dived into a ditch to conceal himself from the armed attackers who were surrounding the church. They were shooting any Christians they saw outside the building, including those trying to flee. Others huddled inside the church, screaming for help.
Pastor John lay in the ditch, shocked and terrified by what he was watching. “I was confused,” he said, remembering the tragic day. “I didn’t know what to do. It was like a dream.” Pastor John knew that if he ran to the building to try to save those inside, he would be running to his death. He could do nothing but pray and endure the screams of those who had taken shelter inside the church.
Pastor John watched in horror as the attackers began to set the building on fire. “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” [God is great!] shouted the Fulani attackers over and over. Mingled with their chants were the screams and cries of the believers trapped in the burning building. As the church burned, Pastor John heard one of the attackers say, “Let’s see if their God can save them now.”
The Fulani attackers were forced to retreat when Nigerian Special Forces arrived. But it was too late for the 44 people who had died inside, including Pastor John’s wife, four of his seven children and two of his grandchildren.
Trusting God in Suffering
The depth of Pastor John’s suffering is hard to imagine. Yet even in the midst of terrible grief, he prayed for the men who had killed his wife, children and grandchildren. “I just threw everything back to God,” he said. “I prayed God would help them to understand that this is evil so that they can stop. I also asked God to help me to be able to use my life to propagate His Gospel, because I knew that I could have died in the attack.”
It was only by God’s grace that he could pray such a prayer, because the temptation to grow bitter toward his family’s killers was great. “It’s painful, and it’s hurting,” he said. “When they did all that and I lost all my family, it’s very painful. But there’s nothing you can do to change the situation once it’s already happened, apart from lifting it to God.”
Although Pastor John was angry, he chose to act out of love rather than spite. “I left it all for God,” he said, “not to do any bad to them but to change them. It’s only in their change that the world will be better.” Pastor John drew strength from Scripture, especially from the story of another man who lost his children suddenly. “Job lost everything – wealth, children – everything except his wife,” Pastor John said. “Yet he did not turn his back on God. That story has helped me, not only to deal with the situation but even to remain who I am. But throwing it all back to God and reflecting on the stories in the Bible, especially that of Job, has strengthened me to be who I am today.”
Pastor John related so closely to the story of Job that he preached several sermons from Job in the months following the attack. He is especially drawn to Job 2:9–10. “Job’s wife told him to curse God and die,” Pastor John said. “But his reply was that in the days when there is good from the Lord, we accept it. When there is difficulty, how will we refuse to accept that? That verse encourages me. I draw strength from that.”
Pastor John continues his ministry work, and his prayer is for the future. He prays that the Lord will provide for his congregation, many of whom are poor and have been displaced by violence. He also prays that God will help him to remain faithful. “My request is that God should help me in my life as a Christian and as a pastor, to be able to do what God has called me to do well and to fulfil the purpose that God has for my life.”
In addition to prayers for his congregation and himself, Pastor John prays that the Fulani Muslims who attacked his church will come to know Christ.
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