For ten years, a Christian family in Nigeria has faced persecution—sometimes becoming brutally violent—for rejecting the practice of idol worship. In Southeast Nigeria’s Imo State, members of the Okoro* family have been kidnapped, tortured, and threatened with death for turning their backs on religious practices that date back generations in their community.
Adaku Okoro recently told Global Christian Relief that the trouble began in 2013 when the patriarch of her family, who was also the chief priest of the religious sect, died, leaving a leadership vacuum in the religious community. According to tradition, Adaku’s eldest brother Nnamdi was expected to take over the duties of the chief priest, but he declined, saying such rituals are evil and demonic and contradict the teachings of the Bible and the tenets of Christianity.
Idol worship, which involves bloodletting through human or animal sacrifices, is a traditional religious practice in many African societies. Practitioners use areas like forests, hills, riversides, or beaches to offer sacrifices to gods made of wood carvings or trees. Members of the Okoro household say these religious customs have been in existence for ages in their communities.
“We refused to get involved in these practices,” Adaku said. “This did not go down well with the adherents of the tribal religion, and they were very angry with us. Our lives are now in danger. We have been threatened with death should our family members refuse to denounce Christianity and return to these idolatrous religious practices.”
In 2014, Adaku’s brother Kanu was kidnapped by followers of the idol-worshipping sect and beaten and tortured. He was freed by his captors only after agreeing to return home and either accept the role of chief priest or ask another brother to assume the duties. Soon after regaining freedom, Adaku’s brothers fled and have been living in exile since, where they still have not fully escaped threats and danger.
“Neither of them dares return to the community unless they renounce their Christian faith and embrace Idol worship,” said Adaku. “Because our brothers have refused to be involved in idol worship and fled from the community, we, as the women in the family, are now being threatened. Our lives are in danger. Our hearts carry an unbearable burden.”
“We keep praying for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to keep and protect us through his sustainable grace. The world has changed, and therefore, idolatrous religious beliefs should not hold us hostage. We, as Christians, must confront traditions that threaten human lives.
“We all have the fundamental right to choose whatever religion we want to believe in, without fear of violence or persecution. We pray and look forward to a future where freedom of religion is guaranteed in our country, enabling us to live in peace and practice our Christian worship without hindrance.”