Culture is up for grabs. And the forces competing for the coveted prize – fear, hatred, violence,…hope – are making it quite an ugly battle.

The force seemingly in the lead in Nigeria? Terror.

Since independence in 1960, Nigeria has seen instability in one form or another – a three-year civil war, multiple coups, low literacy, staggering poverty. And now it is gaining international notoriety as home to Boko Haram, the newest name on the United States Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

The name Boko Haram means “western education is a sin.”[1] Their very name rankles our sensibilities.  But simply labeling this organization as the enemy masks a lot of other complexities and issues that also cause suffering and block the spread of God’s good news to millions in Africa’s most populous nation.

James Verini, in the most recent edition of The National Geographic captures this complexity brilliantly. He writes:

“The insurgency’s gravest toll on Nigeria isn’t physical. It’s existential. Boko Haram has become a kind of national synonym for fear, a repository for Nigerians’ worst anxieties about their society and where it’s headed. Those anxieties touch on the most elemental aspects of Nigerian life—ethnicity, religion, regional inequities, the legacy of colonialism—and not least is the anxiety that Nigerian leaders are wholly incapable of facing this insurgency, indeed unwilling to face it, much less the social fissures beneath it. Or worse, that the leaders are no better than the insurgents. That the state is Boko Haram.

It’s not an entirely unreasonable supposition. Of the more than 4,700 killings associated with Boko Haram to date, almost half have been at the hands of security forces, according to Human Rights Watch. Many of those killed have been civilians who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”[2]

For some of the survivors, there are surprising acts of kinship: a man left unconscious in an attack on the city of Kano woke up to find himself being cared for in a hospital. A stranger had picked him up and carried him to safety.[3]

That “Good Samaritan” in Kano has the same opportunity to influence society as a Boko Haram recruiter does. African Leadership’s Common Grounds Academy[4] is a new name for a long-running program that equips the culture-makers of the church to infuse society’s moral underpinnings with the truth of the Gospel. With your support of $108, one student can receive one year of pastoral education, and together we can raise up leaders who matter in towns across Nigeria, and in the battle against the “existential threat” exposed – not posed – by groups like Boko Haram.

[1] Boyle, Joe. (31 July 2009). Nigeria's 'Taliban' enigma. BBC News. Retrieved 26 November 2013 from

[2] Verini, James. (November 2013). Northern Nigeria Conflict. National Geographic. Retrieved 26 November 2013 from

[3] Verini, James. (November 2013). Northern Nigeria Conflict. National Geographic. Retrieved 26 November 2013 from

[4] More on this in the weeks to come. For now, consider this a “sneak preview” of our ever-increasing focus on “leaders who matter in the hard places.”