Book: Neither Bomb nor Bullet – Benjamin Kwashi, Archbishop on the Front Line

Ben Kwashi’s story is nothing if not remarkable. In this easy-to-read book he charts his life from his typical Nigerian childhood right through to his international leadership in the church today. The context of that story is that it takes place in the years in which Nigeria was plunged into conflict, and violence engulfed his own family in the process.

Nicely weaving his own story of being a happy, if not rather precocious child, onto the wider history of Nigeria; Ben Kwashi invites the reader both into his own world, and into that of his country. His descriptions of his own life are vivid and engaging, while his brief introduction to Nigerian history is fascinating. I was especially interested in his very mixed assessment of the legacy of British Imperialism. Whilst on one hand he acknowledges some of the benefits of education and government; on the other he his scathing about some of the policies the British pursued which have fostered inter-ethnic conflict ever since they left in 1960. One of these was that Christian churches had been banned from fully operating in some of the Northern provinces, which might have disrupted British trade with the dominant Muslim population. Whilst inter-religious tolerance was the norm in other parts of the country and the Christian churches were free to share the gospel and plant churches, it is in these places in the North where the British had prioritised trade, that have seen the subsequent spiralling violence. As a side note, I was fascinated by the fact that whilst Christian faith is often unfairly criticised as being an element of colonialism, here the British colonists actively opposed the church’s mission.

The book moves on to discuss Kwashi’s Army career, and his youthful exuberance; something that was interrupted by his profound Christian conversion as a young man. Almost immediately after finding a real and vibrant faith in Christ, Kwashi felt the call to evangelism and began preaching. Soon ordained in the Anglican Church, he had a reforming zeal which was accompanied by church growth and opposition to his efforts. He also speaks of his remarkable wife Gloria, his difficulty in persuading her to marry him; and what a truly remarkable woman she is. She is now also the subject of a biography in her own right.

The most significant part of this story, and the one which has brought it to the attention of the world however is that as an Archbishop in Jos, he has been in the frontline of the terror attacks upon Christians in Nigeria over the last two decades. First of all, Boko Haram, the militant Islamist Group, which has associations with Islamic State, and is armed and funded from the Middle East, has sustained a targeted campaign of terror, designed to drive Christians from the country. While the fate of the Chibok school girls is well known the systematic destruction of Christian communities in a sustained jihad is not; nor is the complicity of the state in allowing these attacks to remain unpunished. Kwashi’s book is an attempt to tell the world about what has gone on. Secondly, the raids by well-armed Fulani herdsmen are documented. Kwashi traces the roots of this back into historical ethnic conflict, but also demonstrates that the current wave of violence and killing has come from the Islamisation and heavy-arming of the Fulani.

Kwashi himself has had his churches and family home attacked, his wife brutally assaulted, and many parishoners killed. He still doesn’t know why the assassins sent to kill him walked away without finishing their task, as he lay praying on the floor of his office. Helping the church to form a suitable response to these killings has been a key part of Kwashi’s ministry. Alongside effectively adopting countless orphans, Kwashi has worked for peace and reconciliation in Jos – alongside local Imams. He is deeply perplexed about the government’s lack of intervention to maintain peace, safety and the rule of law in Northern Nigeria, and writes extensively about his appeals to them to uphold their constitutional responsibilities. Yet he is also conflicted about what a Christian response should be to unremitting extreme violence. On one hand, he is totally condemning of those from his own community who have resorted to extreme and illegal acts of revenge and violence. While on the other hand, he notes that violence has often been abated when villagers have offered some self-defence, and that Christians offering non-violent resistance have been simply annihilated.

One of the interesting things is that throughout this fast-moving, (and very moving) dramatic story; the core of Ben Kwashi’s life and faith remains his faith in Christ and his call to evangelism. While he has led a global movement in Anglicanism (GAFCON), attended Lambeth Conferences, and spoken to Presidents – he seems far more animated when describing people responding to his preaching and putting their faith in Jesus. The book closes with pastoral concerns, and some serious exhortations for Christians in the UK to take Christ’s call to evangelism and discipleship seriously; and for the US church to disentangle itself from politics.

“Neither Bomb nor Bullet” isn’t a work of complex theology, academic analysis of the human condition, or poetic response to injustice; but it is a rich, raw and extraordinary story which leaves an indelible mark on the reader. It is a gospel-centred narrative, which is something of a wake-up call to those of us in more peaceful parts of the world firstly to pray and support the church in places such as Nigeria; but also to think hard about the apathy that has infected large parts of the western church – and what we can learn from true evangelists like Ben Kwashi.

Neither Bomb nor Bullet is available online here: £8.19 (paperback)