A deadly church bombing related to an Easter service held in Nigeria has once again prompted a persecution watchdog to ask for prayers aimed at helping Christians in the country respond to the violence appropriately.
"It's obviously deliberate when on Christmas Day and on Easter Sunday you have these violent attacks against churches and Christians. It's not coincidental," Open Doors Senior Communications Specialist Paul Estabrooks told The Christian Post Monday. "The big challenge is how do you overcome evil with good biblically and non-violently?"
At least 38 people were killed Sunday as a suicide car bomber detonated powerful explosives on a busy road outside a church that was holding a morning Easter service.
The bomber apparently wanted to target All Nations Christian Assembly Church in Kaduna, the capital of Kaduna state, as churchgoers worshipped. ECWA Good News Church in the neighborhood was also affected.
In 2010 and 2011, more than 120 people were killed in separate bombings at churches in Nigeria during Christmas Eve and Day.
While no group claimed responsibility for the Easter attack, local Christians suspect it was launched by the local Islamist terror group Boko Haram, the same group responsible for the other attacks.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sin," has been seeking to exploit tensions between sections of Muslims and Christians to make a case for the secession of the north from the south.
Estabrooks said that Christians in Nigeria are really struggling with how to respond to the attacks. Some fear Christians will lash out with their own violence and others are fearful that Christians will become too passive.
"As we ask for prayer for Nigeria, a specific prayer request would be that Christians in Nigeria learn how to respond to these challenges neither just passively – turn the other cheek and not doing anything – or violently," he said. "There is a third way and that is what is called 'just peacemaking.'
"There's more to this issue than just religious intolerance," Estabrooks explained. Issues of land ownership, tribal disputes, and poverty are mutual problems for people of all faiths and culture in the country.
"The concept is that when Christians reach out to help their Muslim neighbors this is a transforming issue even though they have been violent against you. It is a process that will ultimately help them to realize that you're not interested in retaliating, but in reducing the violence and providing human dignity for all people in the area.
"The aggression is on the love side, not on the violent side," he said.
Open Doors USA President Dr. Carl Moeller released a statement Monday that included his own prayer request.
"The increasingly intentional activity of Boko Haram has taken on the characteristics of a real war," he said. "These are not random attacks, as they're often characterized in the media. They are intentional, and they're designed with one purpose in mind: the elimination of Christianity.
"Christians are particularly at risk on Christian holy days such as Christmas and Easter. Last Christmas a suicide bomb attack at a church in Madalla killed 44 church members. Please pray with me for the violence to come to an end and for comfort for those mourning the loss of loved ones."
Nigeria is ranked No. 13 on the 2012 Open Doors World Watch List of 50 countries which are the worst persecutors of Christians. According to the list, Nigeria had at least 300 martyrs in 2011, although the actual number could be doubled or tripled. That number is the most in any country, although the number for North Korea could be even higher, but is unknown because of the limited information available from the communist country, Open Doors stated.