By STACY MILLBERG - firstname.lastname@example.org
He has been to the United States many times to visit, but for the Rev. David Bridling, his visits are more of a way to escape the trouble he lives in because of his religious affiliation.
Bridling comes to the U.S. from Maiduguri, Nigeria, located in the northeast region of the country. He is visiting the area, as well as other areas within the Diocese of Youngstown. He is sharing his story and asking for prayers.
Maiduguri has a vast Islamic population and for hundreds of years, Christianity was not welcome, Bridling said.
“Christians were looked on with disrespect,” he said. “It was very difficult to buy land, to build schools and to build churches.”
Bridling said in some areas, being Christian exposes people to danger. People were persecuted for their religious affiliation, he said.
“In 2006 that persecution took on a new dimension,” he said.
On Feb. 18, 2006, riots broke out in the city and in less than 14 minutes, several people were killed and a number of churches were destroyed, Bridling said.
An anti-Christian group, known as Boko Haram, formed and began recruiting young people in the city and eventually became a very strong force, he said.
In July 2009, the Maiduguri became the scene of major religious violence. The violence, led by the Islamist group, was centered on Christian attacks, leaving more than 700 people dead.
“Hundreds and hundreds were killed,” he said. “Churches were attacked and homes were attacked.”
Bridling said the attacks happened over the course of five days.
“People left in big numbers,” he said.
By 2010, many people had returned and the city began rebuilding, but by December, the attacks started again, he said.
“By Christmas Eve, people were being killed,” he said. “It became a daily event by 2011.”
Bridling said in June 2011, his home was bombed twice within five days. Luckily, no one was home at the time, but the home was destroyed.
By the end of November, seven churches were bombed and about 200 people were killed.
“Nothing was left to remember by the end of 2011,” he said. “When (the Boko Haram) couldn’t find Christians at work during the day, they would sneak into their homes at night and kill them in their sleep.”
Bridling said not only were people being killed, but young girls were kidnapped. People were ambushed while they were traveling and forced to become Muslims, he said.
Bridling is pastor at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Maiduguri.
“Before now, we used to have five masses on Sunday and people would struggle to find seats,” he said. “Now we have two masses with many pews empty.”
Bridling said his mission while in the United States is to share his story and ask people to pray for the people of Maiduguri so they can rebuild the city and sustain their faith.
“Our hope is to make sure the church is present and the faith is sustained,” he said. “We want to rebuild the churches and schools that were destroyed.”
The religious attacks are still prevalent in the city. On June 18, Boko Haram militants attacked a school while students were taking an exam killing nine students.
“When I go to bed I hear gun shots all the time,” he said. “Sometimes they are so close. People fear they will be killed in church on Sunday.”