NIGERIA – Jim Hart Remembers Martyred Friend, Nigerian Pastor, Church Planter Emmanuel Bileya

Juicy Ecumenism | Faith McDonnell | June 25, 2020

On Monday, June 1, 2020, Nigerian pastor the Reverend Emmanuel Saba Bileya, his wife Juliana, and their unborn child were murdered in an attack on their farm in Taraba State, Nigeria. They leave behind eight children, ranging in age from 19 to 1.

Taraba State is in Nigeria’s middle belt, an area in which Christians are continually under attack from Boko Haram, Fulani militants, and others. In the case of the Bileyas, though, the murderers appear to be from the Tiv ethnic group — another traditionally Christian tribe. But an expert of jihad in Nigeria from the Stefanos Foundation pointed out that the Tiv are nomadic farmers that occupy other ethnic territories, like the Fulanis. He says that “when the threat to land space is not properly addressed, they hire Fulani militants as killers to help clear the space.” Anyone — Boko Haram, Fulani, or hostile ethnic groups — appears to be able to kill Christians in Nigeria with impunity.

Named Emmanuel by his parents because he was born on Christmas Day, Bileya was a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria (CRCN) and a church planter. “Pastor Emmanuel and his wife, Juliana, had a passion for God and the work of evangelism,” said Mike Van Der Dyke, who is the team leader for the Christian Reformed Church’s Resonate Global Mission in Nigeria. Van Der Dyke explained that Bileya was working as a high school math teacher when the Christian Reformed Church started the Church Planting Partners Institute in the early 1990s. This was a partnership between the CRCN, Resonate (Christian Reformed World Missions at the time), and The Bible League.

Soon after going into the ministry Bileya planted a church in Makurdi, the capital city of Benue State. That church is a strong congregation today, as is the church in Marraba, that was planted by the Bileyas. Juliana was a composer of worship songs, as well as a singer. According to the obituary provided by the Christian Reformed Church’s website, Juliana said that “creativity made the Bible message understandable.”

Emmanuel also believed in power of worship. At the time of his death, he was in the final stage of receiving a doctorate in worship studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies (IWS) in Jacksonville, FL. Last Friday, June 19, I spoke to Dr. James Hart, the president of IWS about his friend Emmanuel Bileya in the video interview featured here.

The IWS tribute to Pastor Bileya notes:

Emmanuel enrolled at IWS in 2014 and was in the final stage of the DWS program, having taken the 801 thesis course in 2019. His thesis was to be titled, “Promoting a Formative Post-Baptismal Discipleship Class for Learning God’s Word in the Christian Reformed Church, Nigeria.” According to his thesis instructor, “His goal was to help local churches, including his own, but also his denomination form and grow to maturity young Christians in the faith.”

The tribute also assures “We know that at this time, Emmanuel would want those of us who grieve to place our focus not solely on these tragic deaths, but ultimately on the victory over death that Christ has secured for all who place their faith in Him.”