Displaying Love in Times of Trouble
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN NIGERIA
SUNDAY, January 27, 2002, was called Black Sunday in Lagos, Nigeria. An explosion in an underground armory sent violent tremors throughout the city and lit up the evening sky. For several hours explosions rained shells and debris over a radius of two miles [3 km], causing panic in the city.
Wild rumors fueled fear. Throngs of terror-stricken people poured onto the streets, not knowing what they were fleeing or where they were heading. In the evening darkness, hundreds of people, including many hysterical children, ran into the murky waters of a canal and drowned. Houses, schools, and business establishments were destroyed or severely damaged, rendering thousands homeless and jobless. An estimated 1,000 people lost their lives in the tragedy. Later estimates were even higher.
Some 1,350 unexploded bombs, rockets, and hand grenades were later recovered from residential areas around the military installation where the explosions had taken place. One man found a metal object inside his living room. Not realizing it was a bomb, he picked it up, put it in the trunk of his car, and returned it to the authorities.
Upon hearing news of the explosions, the Nigeria branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses immediately contacted an elder in Lagos and directed the 16 traveling overseers in the area to evaluate the situation of the 36,000 Witnesses in Lagos. One million naira (about $10,000 U.S.) was sent by the branch, along with instructions to form a relief committee to administer aid.
Among the Witnesses, one man was seriously injured by shrapnel; tragically, two young women lost their lives; and two Kingdom Halls and the homes of 45 families suffered damage.
Six days after the munitions explosions, on February 2, 2002, an ethnic feud broke out in a different area of the city. According to the Red Cross, the fighting left 100 people dead, 430 injured, and 3,000 displaced, as well as 50 houses burned. The relief committee that had been caring for the needs of the “Black Sunday” victims quickly sought out their Christian brothers in this area.
None of the Witnesses lost their lives at this time, as most of them were away attending a circuit assembly when the fighting started. However, many members of the five congregations in the area did not have homes to return to. Readily, their Christian brothers took them in. One Witness doctor and his wife provided lodging for 27 displaced persons.
The Witnesses in Lagos who were unaffected by the blasts and the ethnic fighting generously contributed food, clothing, and household items. The city overseer reported: “What is being contributed by the brothers in the Lagos area is far more than what is needed by those affected.” The branch office had to write to the congregations asking them to hold off from making further contributions. Three truckloads of leftover items were sent to the branch office for storage.
Congregation elders visited many victims and the family members of those who had died. They endeavored to give Scriptural comfort. The relief committee organized repairs on the homes that had been damaged. They supplied victims of both disasters with household items, clothing, and foodstuffs and assisted the displaced to secure accommodations. A total of 90 families and individuals were assisted by the committee.
Many victims were overwhelmed by the help that they received. One Witness exclaimed to the relief committee: “As long as I am alive, I will make Jehovah my ‘refuge and strength’!”—Psalm 46:1, 2.
Non-Witnesses observed the way Jehovah’s Witnesses cared for one another during these crises. An uncle of one of the deceased Witnesses told the elders of the congregation she was in: “I will come back to really thank you and to learn more.” To his family he said: “What I saw in Lagos was wonderful. Even relatives did not do what these people did.”
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A truck loaded with relief materials
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Some who were helped
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This couple provided lodging for 27 displaced persons
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Witnesses working on a damaged home
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Top: Sam Olusegun-The Guardian