The church is still empty. Clothes and Bibles remain scattered throughout the sanctuary. Dried blood stains the floor.
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One month after gunmen opened fire inside Deeper Life Bible Church in Eika-Adagu, a suburb 12 kilometers from the town of Okene in central Nigeria's Kogi state, members of the church have yet to resume worship services and other activities.
"All of us are traumatized by this attack. [There is] no family in this church that is not affected by this incident," Stephen Imagejor, an assistant pastor, told Open Doors News. Imagejor's wife, Ruth, was killed. Their two daughters, Amen, 12, and Juliet, 9, were hit by bullets and hospitalized. In all, 19 died.
Police have played down widespread suspicion that the militant group Boko Haram was behind the attack, and the group itself has not claimed responsibility, as it has after other deadly outbursts. Members of the church, however, say they have no doubt it was Boko Haram that came after them specifically because of their Christian faith. They may have been a target, they say, because some of the dead include former Muslims who had converted to Christianity. And in the aftermath, church leaders say members struggle with the gospel's admonition to forsake revenge.
"Many are now saying that they can no longer come to the church," Imagejor said. "But we will eventually try to see how we can get those of us that have survived the attack to return to the church for worship services. But, I do visit them to encourage them to remain steadfast in the faith in spite of the persecution."
It Happened on Bible Study Day
It was a Monday. Bible-study day.
Deeper Life members and their families gathered at the church in the evening. Pastor Williams Kumuyi, general superintendent of the Church, was delivering a message via satellite broadcast. It was 7:30 p.m.
Outside the building, a Toyota van rolled up. A group of men--some news reports said as many as 10--got out. Some carried assault rifles.
"Suddenly the lights in the church went off," said Faith Isaac Yusuf, who was inside. "A member went out to find out what the problem was and just as we waited for the lights to be fixed, we heard a voice shouting at us to hands up. And then they began shooting us."
The gunfire lasted 20 minutes.
"I ran out of the church. Honestly I cannot say how I got out, but I know I escaped from the church as the guns burst out with fire and bullets," Yusuf told Open Doors News in her house at Eika-Adagu.
Her son, Matthew Isaac Yusuf, a high school student, was killed. Another son, Michael Isaac Yusuf, was injured.
When the shooting began, Imagejor hit the floor. "I crawled out as the gunmen began shooting. I crawled along the wall in the dark until I broke through a zinc sheet used to block a door in the children's section and out of the church. That was how I escaped."
Outside, he looked across the road. His eyes found Jesse, his 8-year-old son.
"His was a miraculous escape as I saw him across the road without knowing how he got out of the place," Imagejor said.
Too many others did not get out: Martha Joseph. Aderuwa Joseph. Lydia Michael. Mary David. Emmanuel Ambe, a senior pastor of the Church, who was visiting for a brief meeting.
"I was hit on the leg, while my wife, Grace, was shot death," said Samuel Ayodele Yusuf, one of the pastors at Deeper Life.
Church member Stephen Isaiah Yusuf survived the attack. His mother, Mary Isaiah Yusuf, did not. Still in shock a month later, he could not recall details.
Seventeen members of the church were killed on the spot. Two died in the hospital.
About thirteen members remain in two hospitals: General Hospital, Okene; and Lokoja Federal Medical Centre.
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SOURCE: Open Doors News