Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
Psalm 116:15

In Memoriam

Rev. Emmanuel Saba Bileya (Dec. 25, 1968 – Jun. 1, 2020)
Juliana Bileya (Aug. 5, 1974 – Jun. 1, 2020)
Child (d. Jun. 1, 2020)

It is with a broken heart that IWS announces the deaths of D.W.S. student Emmanuel Bileya, his wife Juliana, and their child in utero, whose name is known only to God. Emmanuel and Juliana are survived by eight children. 

Their martyrdom was the result of an ongoing ethnic war in their home country of Nigeria. Two weeks ago, Emmanuel wrote the following explanation of escalating tribal conflicts:

This war has been going on for about a month now in my area, since April 2020. Another tribe has destroyed our churches and rumoured that they plan to come to destroy the church where I am working at, which is in a town called Mararraba located in Donga LGA of Taraba State in Nigeria. For some time now, many people have fled the town for safety including my family but I have remained in Mararraba praying and hoping for God’s restoration of peace and protection of the town and church….

The truth is that the war started from a farm dispute. One man, a member of my branch church kindly gave part of his farmland to a man from another tribe to farm. But this year, 2020, the man encroached more into the farmland, of which the owner disagreed. A farm dispute resolution committee with a membership of both tribes was set up to resolve the issue. Although yet to be resolved, the man from the other tribe invited 200 other people who came with guns and forcefully went ahead to farm on the land. When the owner saw them and tried to stop them, they beat the life out of him to the point of death….

While we were trying to calm the situation in town, youths retaliated by beating a man on his farm. After this, 4 of my church members who decided to leave the village and go to different peaceful village to look for a job were shot: 2 were killed, 2 survived. I buried the 2 boys. In summary, the people from one tribe attacked my village 2 times without success but succeeded on the 3rd attempt, they killed some of the villagers and burnt down the whole village with our branch church and the pastorium.

On June 1, 2020, Emmanuel and Juliana were attacked by insurgents while tending their farm. Their bodies were recovered and will receive Christian burial on Friday, June 5. A fellow Nigerian and IWS student who had spoken with Emmanuel five days before his death writes, “He mentioned that he sent his children to the Headquarters town of his church, but that he and his wife had stayed back.” This decision almost certainly saved the lives of their eight children, who range in age from 1 to 19.

Rev. Bileya was an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church of Nigeria. Born on Christmas Day of 1968, his family gave him the name Emmanuel, “God with us.” For all in the IWS community who were blessed to meet Emmanuel, share a class with him, or enjoy a meal alongside him, it can truthfully be said that “God with us” was an apt name for him. Emmanuel’s humility and gentleness, his kindness and compassion, and his love for God’s Word and God’s people spoke to all of the voluminous love of God in His Son, Jesus Christ.

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.”

Without fail, any email or letter from Emmanuel would begin the same way: “Calvary greetings.” This constant reminder of Christ’s death was, as Emmanuel well knew, also a reminder of Christ’s victory over the grave. 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.

IWS has received many requests for information on how to help the children. We have reached out to our contacts in Nigeria to inquire about the best ways to support them during this unthinkable time. When we have more details, we will share those with you.

You are invited to share your prayers and memories below, or on Facebook (where you can also include photographs you would like to share).

Emmanuel’s video testimony explaining why he came to IWS

Emmanuel participating in his final doctoral practicum on campus, proclaiming the good news from the Scriptures

Emmanuel’s heartfelt testimony at a worship seminar last year

A Prayer from IWS Chaplain Nancy Nethercott

Almighty and everliving God,

We pray today for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are being oppressed, persecuted, abused, and killed for their faith just as Jesus was.

Comfort, protect, and give courage to Christians in countries such as Nigeria, Eritrea, Pakistan, Egypt, and India where many are experiencing physical harm, intimidation, and unjust imprisonment at the hands of their oppressors.

Our heavenly Father, thank you for welcoming into your arms all Christian martyrs who have given their lives because they refused to stop sharing the gospel and living out their faith. We especially commend to you our brother, Emmanuel Bileya, his wife, Juliana, and their unborn child who were martyred just this week.

Heal the hearts and minds of Emmanuel’s eight children who lost their parents because of senseless tribal rivalry. Comfort them and provide for their every need in the days and years to come. Use us to minister to them as you lead.

For those who murdered our brother and sister in Christ, we pray that their hearts will be touched by the exemplary faith of those they attacked. We pray also that they will open their hearts to your love.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.