Before Boko Haram began growing into a prominent terrorist force in northeast Nigeria in 2009, its members were trying to kill a highly effective evangelist to ethnic Fulani Muslims.
One Boko Haram member pretended to be a Christian in order to kill Habibu Adam Mohammed, 49, an Islamic teacher who had longed to die as a Muslim martyr before he became a Christian 21 years ago. The group once sent a member to infiltrate his ministry and kill him, the evangelist told Morning Star News.
"The man stayed with me and pretended to have converted to the Christian faith," said Mohammed, who has helped lead hundreds of ethnic Fulanis to Christ. "However, after some time, he confessed to me that he was sent to kill me, but that I was a good man and so he would not kill me. He asked that I should move him away from the area, or else both of us would be killed."
Mohammed smuggled him out of the area, and the man later rejoined Boko Haram when it tried to seize Borno state's capital city of Maiduguri in 2014, he said.
"The shocking thing is that this terrorist had never attended even primary school, yet here he was having in his possession military, police, and other paramilitary uniforms," he said. "He had identity cards indicating he was a serving personnel in these security agencies. I was baffled as to how he obtained them."
The hatred for his work among the Fulanis in northern Nigeria was such that he was beaten several times, on one occasion left for dead, his house has been burned down, and Boko Haram has not ceased scheming to kill him, he said. A politician who resolved to kill him announced it publicly to area Fulanis the day he planned to carry it out, he said.
"Having offered prayers in the mosque, he picked up his double barrel gun and drove towards the village where I was with the intent to kill me," he said. "A miracle happened on the way; the gun exploded as he was driving, and the gun went off, and he was shot by the bullets from his gun and he died."
Upon hearing of the accident, Mohammed went to console the politician's family, he said.
"This incident in Mallam Fatori town brought about 130 Fulanis and Kanuris to the saving knowledge of Christ," he said. "That day I baptized many of these converts into the Christian faith until I got tired."
At the time Mohammed was working with a team of evangelists in Mallam Fatori, in Nigeria's far northeast, as part of a seven-year stint in the early 2000s in which 500 Fulanis gave their lives to Christ, he said.
Director of the United Faith Tabernacle Fulani Radio Program, Mohammed continues to reach Fulanis with the gospel - and continues to flee persecution as a "lifestyle," moving two or three times a year, he said.
More than 200 Fulanis from various communities recently put their faith in Christ, primarily through the radio program, he said. Converts are located in places ranging from Mubi state on the eastern border to Kaduna state in north-central Nigeria, and his teams are discipling the largely nomadic people.
"It is only when we are convinced about their decision to receive Christ that we make personal contact with them," Mohammed said.
A network of committed Fulani Christians are scattered throughout northern Nigeria to proclaim Christ to the largely nomadic Fulanis, disciple them and establish congregations, he said.
"But mind you, ours is an underground ministry," Mohammed said. "So you may not find standing facilities housing Fulani congregations, but you find living churches moving from place to place to the glory of God."
An Unlikely Convert
Before coming to Christ at age 28, Mohammed in the early 1990s had fought Christian tribes alongside other Muslim Fulanis seeking grazing land for their cattle and territory for Islam.
"The desire to go to heaven was what prompted my involvement in so many religious crises in southern Kaduna state," he said, adding that missing a ride that would have taken him to jihad in Zangon Kataf, where all his colleagues were killed, upset him. "I cried my heart out - I mourned that I was not one of them. My desire then was to die a martyr in these conflicts fighting for Islam, because I believed that it was only through this way that I can go to heaven."
Resolving to be killed in jihad, he sharply rebuffed attempts by Christian co-workers to persuade him of Christ's love. He was raised in a family that didn't allow sons to marry unless they studied the Koran enough to become preeminent teachers of Islam. Growing up, he had memorized the Koran, read the five foremost theological books of Islam and studied the sayings of the Muhammad (hadiths).
He was also an ardent reader of South African Muslim cleric Ahmed Deedat and admired his attacks on Jesus Christ and Christians. Mohammed was thrilled to meet Deedat when he visited Nigeria in the mid-1990s.
Then a Christian woman, as the wife of an army officer, was in position to request that his father help take care of her three cows. She frequently visited his family to check on her cows, and as she and Mohammed became friendly, she spoke about Christ to him. Mohammed said he used Deedat's arguments to shoot down everything she said.
"She got tired of the arguments with me, and eventually resolved that she was no longer going to talk about Jesus Christ to me, but would instead pray for me," he said. "She confidently told me one day that she asked God to save only one soul through her efforts, and that one soul was me. So she was not going to give up praying for me. She pointedly told me that I was too good to be allowed to go to hell."
One Sunday morning he went to her house to borrow money, and as she was in a hurry, he saw no problem in accompanying her to her church service. He soon regretted entering the service, fearful of friends or relatives seeing him. He also quickly recognized the preacher as someone he had seen at the woman's house and intensely disliked.
"Not that he did anything bad, but because he was a pastor - here was a man I hated very much coming to preach," Mohammed said.
He preached on Noah's ark as a foreshadowing of Christ's salvation, and, much to Mohammed's surprise, the message seemed "sound and authentic" to him, and he began to like the pastor. Then, he said, came a powerful work of the Holy Spirit.
"I was so carried away by this thought-provoking sermon that, in the middle of the sermon, I jumped to my feet and shouted that I want to receive Jesus into my life," he said. "The ushers restrained me, as the sermon was still on, but I insisted that I should be allowed to meet the pastor to pray for me. I pushed them aside and walked over to the pulpit and asked the pastor to lead me to Christ."
This salvation was what he had been longing for, he told Morning Star News.
"This is what I desired but could not find in Islam, and so, I was not going to let the opportunity pass me by," he said. "The points raised by this pastor in his sermon destroyed all I heard or read from Ahmed Deedat. The sermon opened my eyes to new understanding of who Jesus is, better than what I heard preached from the Koran."
It was Sept. 15, 1996.
"That was the day I gave my life to Christ, and my whole world, my whole life, was turned upside down," he said.
After the service, he did not return to his friend's house for the loan, and he felt he no longer had a home to return to. He stayed in the sanctuary, which had no windows or doors as it was only partially finished, and spoke to his Savior.
"Having been left alone, I felt the presence of Jesus, and I spoke to Him," he said. "It was not a prayer, but I know I spoke to him. And this is what I told him: 'Jesus, I know you're right here with me, and this is where I met you. The pastor, his family, and church members have all returned to their homes, but me, I don't have a home to return to. I used to have a home, but now trouble, pains, bitterness, and persecution are awaiting me at home. I want to say this to you, don't let me die in their hands as you'll be ashamed. But don't let me deny you because of pains, instead, take my life before I deny you.' I forgot to ask Jesus to take me away from me persecution or shield me from their troubles; I did not ask for this. This is how I ended my discussion with Jesus. After this I went back home."
Soon his family heard about his conversion and confronted him.
He told them he was now a believer in Jesus. They gave him the option of either recanting and returning to Islam or facing the consequences of apostasy.
"I told my parents, uncles, and grandfather, who was still alive at the time, that it was a difficult option they offered me, as I did not choose Jesus as my Lord, but He chose me as His redeemed," he said. "I told them, 'I did not enter to dwell in Him, but He entered into me to dwell in my heart. I don't have the power to recant.'"
His parents asked how much money he had been offered to change his faith.
"I told them, 'If I told you I was not offered anything, I would be lying, but the truth is that the Christians promised me a reward,'" he said. "My parents wanted to know what the reward was as they'd double it. I told my parents that these Christians promised me life in eternity. They offered me a new life in Christ Jesus."
As they grew angrier and asked what had happened to him, he told them that the Habibu they knew was dead, but that Jesus Christ lived in him.
"I apologized for causing them inconveniences, disgrace, pains, and embarrassment, because I know they love me," he said, "but I told them that they should know that it is God who has ordained that I will be called to receive Jesus as my Lord and Savior."
They reminded him of what Islam prescribes for those who take the route he had taken, and he responded by saying he was not ignorant of the consequences. They asked whether he was ready to pay the price, and he told them, "My heart is ready; God is with me."
As Mohammed began to recount the violence that followed to Morning Star News, he broke down in tears.
Each of his relatives reached for whatever they could lay their hands on - sticks, clubs, knives, and machetes. They beat and clubbed him and stabbed him in the thigh. He struggled out of their grip, and they chased him out of the house, he said, his father's voice echoing behind him, "A reward of three hefty bulls awaits anyone who brings me the dead body of Habibu, my son, who has now become an infidel."
His wife and two children were taken away from him. He was thought to be a mad man for embracing Christ.
For 14 days, Mohammed hid in an unfinished building with no roof, doors or windows in an area of Jos known as Tudun Naira. He went without food.
"I was unable to go outside to look for food because my father had sent people out to look for me and kill me," he said. "I only sneaked out at night to a small stream close to the area to drink water."
The search for him expanded to other towns, and announcements were made in the surrounding area mosques that he was to be killed on sight for the reward of three bulls.
Bleeding, unable to reach a hospital and starving, Mohammed on the 14th day was at the stream when a woman approached him. She offered to help him, but he told her his family would attack her if she did so. He left her, but she spied him as he returned to the building and later brought him a meal.
She pleaded with him to sneak to her house, and he did so under cover of darkness. After eating he collapsed from exhaustion, waking the next morning to the blaring of the Muslim call to prayer.
The woman gave him all the money she had in the house, 300 naira (less than one US dollar), which at the time was enough for a taxi collective to Abuja. The next day at 4 a.m. he snuck through the wilderness to the Old Airport Junction in Jos to board the vehicle. In Abuja, he took shelter in a primary school in the Mararaba area.
Some churches were using the school. He joined their Bible studies and eventually got a job as a driver for a pastor. Mohammed slept in the car at night; no Christian could risk the dangers of taking him into their homes.
When Mohammed returned to Jos eight months later to thank the woman who had sheltered him, a pastor who had heard of his conversion took him in. After listening to his testimony, he told Mohammed he wanted him to stay in Jos, and he discipled him. After several years, Mohammed returned to Abuja and enrolled at the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) Theological Seminary, Karu, earning a diploma in theology.
Loving the Fulani people as he does, the uptick in Muslim Fulani attacks on Christian communities of the past few years is especially troubling to Mohammed.
"I don't believe that a typical Fulani man who's looking for a place to graze his cattle would want to fight a community," he said. "But there are other criminal-minded hoodlums who might not necessarily be Fulanis, who might have conspired with some bad Fulanis who have a different agenda, to fight these communities."
His prayer is that the international community and Christians in particular would understand that there is an element of deceit in the attacks. The influence of Satan and Islamic extremist groups is present but not always readily evident.
"Peter cautions us on this: 'Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,'" he said, citing the King James Version of 1 Peter 5:8. "These attacks are the devices of the enemy."
His message to Muslim Fulanis who persecute Christians echoes the last words of Stephen, he said: "Father forgive them, for they don't know what they do." He also has a message for persecuted Christians from Scripture: "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee, Hebrews 13:5 says. So also, the Apostle John wrote that Jesus said: 'No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.'
"What this means is that no matter what happens to us, we have the enabling grace to see us through our trials. No one can kill us, until Jesus who has the power allows them to do so. This is the promise of God, our lives are safe in Him. We are hidden in Christ, and we are the apples of His eyes. So, no one can do anything to us, no one."
The church in Nigeria must remain connected to Jesus to withstand the spike in attacks, he said.
"We must note that allowing the flesh to come forward would be resolving issues of persecution through human understanding, and that means taking up arms and fighting," he said. "Would Jesus have taken up weapons to fight for his followers? Our major task is to pray to overcome these difficult times. When Peter and John were captured, the disciples went to the Upper Room to pray for their release. We must be a praying church and not a fighting church."
A New Family
Having lost his family in 1996, Mohammed married anew in 2002 and has a new family - along with the family of the persecuted, he said.
"I support this persecuted family and encourage them to remain steadfast in Christ Jesus," he said. "I understand their predicament and bear the cross with them. Many have come to know Jesus Christ as a result of our decision to embrace Jesus as our Lord. Many from Islamic background have embraced Christ because they believe that if we have overcome our travails, they too can withstand persecution."
In some cases, his team has seen whole Fulani communities putting their faith in Jesus Christ, he said.
"We have seen people who are persecuted; we have seen people who have become homeless just like me for their decision to receive Christ," he said. "Right now, in addition to my three kids, I have adopted six others because of their decision to embrace Christ."
He adopted one of the boys after learning that his father had taken him to a farm to slaughter him for his decision to receive Christ.
"Myself and some Christians rescued this boy from his father as he was bleeding," he said. "The boy, in our presence there in the bush, where his father took him to kill him, told his father, 'I love you as my father, but I cannot be a Muslim like you.'"
The boy further told his father that he had seen Christian parents continue to show love to their children after they became Muslims, but that he could no longer stay with his father because he no longer loved him. "All you want is to kill me - I cannot be your son," he told him.
"That was how the boy left his father and walked away," Mohammed said. "I had to adopt him because he had no place to live."