By Masara Kim
A day after Israel’s worst day since the Holocaust, Judd Saul was bending down to hug widows and orphans made homeless by demonic terrorist attacks. Children had seen their parents shot down in front of them. Families had locked themselves into their houses only to be burned to death. Families wept for the loss of more than 1,400 of their fellow citizens. Pregnant women had died as their babies were cut out of their torsos. He had come from Sioux City Iowa to help the survivors survive.
But Saul was not in Israel. He was 2,250 miles away from Israel in the war-torn nation of Nigera. He had come to help war widows the so-called Middle Belt, Nigeria’s band of states with rich soil but where millons of farm families are starving because radicalized terrorists wont let them farm their small-acre plots. He had come to the aid of people we rarely see on Cable News coverage. Saul, 43, was an award-winning film maker, a trained health insurance agent and a savvy political activist in Iowa, but his religious conversion a decade ago was a game changer. “When I dedicated myself to follow Jesus, I determined not to do it halfway,” he says.
Descended from German immigrants who settled in Iowa in the 19th Century, Saul had trained to be a documentary film maker but changed plans after visiting he missionary grandfather in Nigeria a decade ago. As he became aware of the appalling loss of life from Nigeria’s war with terrorists and deaths from banditry, he started a nonprofit that would give basic necessities of life to Christians that were being ignored by Nigerian agencies. In 2019 he opened the aid group called “Equipping the Persecuted.”
“Equipping” means supplying IDP kids with classrooms and teachers, dormitories for whole families, skills training for widows and vitally important: packets of cash.
From his early youth, Saul followed his missionary grandfather as he carried his mission to remote regions of Africa.
He learned about politics and took an interest in advocating for equal rights and Justice. Occasionally, He learned about the insurance field from his partnets and offers consultancy services as an insurance agent. But filmmaking has been his major passion.
Across the United States, Saul is known as an award-winning filmmaker who has produced videos and commercials for national and local nonprofits and community organizations. He is reputed for groundbreaking projects such as Enemies Within the Church (2021), Unfair: Exposing the IRS (2014) and The Enemies Within (2016). As a film producer and director, he has produced many projects for Discovery and HDNet.
For four years ETP has brought food and shelter to the neediest war widows and orphans. Recently, Saul decided to do more: empower the internally displaced people to be a new voice in the marketplace of ideas.
During one of his recent visits to Nigeria on Oct 5 to 11, Saul through his nonprofit reached out to over 200 widows, offering them not just aid, but also hope and a chance to rebuild. It was the latest of a series in recent years, involving thousands of dollars which have helped to ease the sufferings of the survivors of terrorists attacks.
In the heart of Plateau Nigeria, “an area deeply scarred by tragedy,” as Saul puts it, hundreds of thousands have been displaced by years of brutal attacks by terrorists identifying as members of the Fulani ethnicity. The majority Muslim ethnicity has been responsible for more than six times the number of deaths by Boko Haram according to monitoring groups.
In the first half of 2023 alone, Fulani terrorists killed at least 500 Christians in Plateau state according to Intersociety, an international monitoring group in Onitsha, Anambra State Nigeria. Their attacks which are still ongoing killed more than 350 residents on 16 May and the days following alone, town leaders have said.
“Judd Saul provides vital services to persecuted Christians driven from their homes by Sunni Muslim Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria. His organization has provided a home for orphaned children, medical care for displaced adults, and a range of other services assisting the persecuted church,” said Rev. William J. Murray, President Religious Freedom Coalition.
At least 80,000 people were displaced in the 16 May attacks which concentrated in the Mangu county, 42 miles southeast of Jos the capital of Plateau State, officials say. More than 16,000 displaced residents are currently sheltering in the premises of a government school in Mangu town.
From his base in the United States, Saul provided medical assistance to more than 50 injured victims of the attacks and continued to finance investigations into the attacks with a view to creating awareness and attracting interventions.
Four days prior to his arrival in Jos the capital of Plateau State on October 5, a late evening attack just 15miles away killed eight people including infants. Terrorists shouting “Allahu Akbar” [God is great] on October 1 opened fire at a central area in the small town of Du shortly after nightfall, killing eight people. The peaceful residents were marking Nigeria’s independence when they were attacked by a group of ten armed terrorists who included soldiers according to witnesses.
“The trip was both rewarding and deeply moving,” wrote Saul after the visit from October 5 to 11. “I wish I could sit down with each one of you to share the countless heartwarming moments, the faces of hope, and the lives touched because of your generous support,” wrote Saul in a letter of appreciation to his donors.
“The profound experiences are still fresh in my heart,” he wrote as he gave an update on other interventions in different parts of the country.
“The echoing laughter and eager eyes of children at our school near the IDP camp are testaments to the power of education. Last year, we embraced 170 young souls. Today, thanks to you, 300 bright children are unlocking their potential, and learning to read, write, and dream bigger,” he wrote.
“While many of us take the simple joy of reading a book for granted, these children see it as a priceless gift, a key to a brighter future. Then, there are our cherished ones at the Fountain of Hope Children’s Home. 28 radiant faces, each with their unique dreams and stories. The joy in their eyes when they received new clothes, toys, and the rare treat of candy, is a moment etched in my heart,” he added. In recent years, the army which has chiefly taken charge of internal security in the county has been accused of ignoring attacks or arriving late to scenes of attack. This has eroded the confidence of communities facing attacks. With many demanding the army’s replacement with Police and the civil defense corps, a new security unit in charge of national assets, several instances of rivalry among the security forces have emerged.
But Saul brought all of these teams together in one forum to discuss ways forward for the suffering civilians. His efforts dissolved those barriers, forging a new relationship that would see the trio collaborating to secure communities starting with the areas surrounding the nonprofit’s Orphanage, Chapel, and Medical clinic on the outskirts of Abuja.
“Such unity, especially in Nigeria, is a beacon of hope that God’s work guides us to create safer spaces for those most vulnerable,” Saul wrote, crediting western donors for the achievements.
Saul’s visit was not just about offering aid but also enabling internally displaced persons (IDPs) to become a voice against terrorism.
Prior to his visit, he created a conflict reporting website — TruthNigeria.com to bring the root causes of terrorism to Western readers. While in Nigeria, Saul interacted with and encouraged displaced widows of violence to utilize TruthNigeria and bring awareness to the attacks.
His on-ground interactions and research reveal a disturbing trend: the goal of Islamic terrorists extends beyond capturing Nigeria. They are eyeing the United States, the world’s largest democracy. Saul’s reasoning is founded on the terrorists’ tactics, including deliberate targeting of churches, schools, and hospitals, reminiscent of tactics of the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda. Their southward expansion towards Nigeria’s oil-rich south further raises concerns.
Saul draws an unsettling parallel between the immigration crisis in the northern triangle of the United States and the infiltration of ISIS terrorists through Nigeria’s north, which has led to significant harm to local populations.
The recent invasion of Israel by Hamas terrorists, and the support it garnered among Nigerian Muslims as seen in a pro-Palestine protest in Abuja on October 9, underscores the gravity of this threat.
But perhaps the most remarkable intervention during the visit was an unprecedented community event that brought together Nigerian Police, Military, and Civil defense commanders. The government security agencies came together, setting aside differences, and pledging to ensure the safety of local communities.
Yet, while the violence was still raging, Saul decided to come down himself to comfort women who lost everything including their husbands and to offer a helping hand.
Amid the backdrop of chilling alerts from the U.S. Department of State regarding potential terror threats in Nigeria, Saul decided to leave his comfortable life in Sioux City Iowa to shuttle back and forth to the killing zones of Nigeria’s little remarked Christian genocide.
“Every single life we touched, every smile we brought, and every glimmer of hope we ignited, is because of you’” he wrote. “Your support doesn’t just provide relief; it rebuilds lives, educates children, and most importantly, spreads love and hope in the darkest corners,” he wrote, appealing for increased support.
“Our mission is far from over. With every success, we see ten more opportunities to make a difference. And we can’t do it without you. Please continue to support Equipping The Persecuted. Share our story with your church, friends, and Bible studies. Together, we can continue to be a beacon of hope, faith, and love,” Saul concluded.
–Masara Kim is an award-winning conflict reporter in Jos and the senior editor of TruthNigeria.