For more information about the Nigeria Crisis Response go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis . Shown above: displaced women and children who received food and relief supplies at one of the distributions organized by the Nigerian Church. Photo by Carl and Roxane Hill
By Roy Winter
How can we find ways to find hope in this crisis in Nigeria? The core leadership of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) is safely settling into temporary homes and establishing an annex or temporary headquarters for the church. In our many meetings with EYN leadership the challenge is clearly daunting, but we found time to laugh and rejoice in God.
We expected to find gloom and heartache, but we found a team working hard to get organized to assist EYN members through this crisis and maintain the church. Even though they are displaced and frustrated by the situation, they are working on a new vision for EYN that will make the church stronger.
As associate executive director of Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries, I am leading a team of experts to provide training, tools, resources, and support to EYN.
Dan Tyler has joined the team as a special consultant. He brings 30 years of experience in relief and development in Africa, most recently spending 21 years with Church World Service.
Cliff Kindy comes with a great deal of experience working at peacebuilding in conflict zones and in disaster response. This expertise will support many of EYN’s effort during his three-month stay until the first of March. He is endeared to EYN because of his statement--made at the 2014 Annual Conference--of willingness to give his own life that the Chibok girls could go free. It seems his commitment to peacebuilding, nonviolence, and service has created a bond and deep respect with EYN leadership.
A report from EYN president Samuel Dante Dali titled “The Lamenting Story of EYN in Nigeria” updates the impact of this crisis on the Nigerian church. It is startling that only 7 of 50 districts in of EYN are fully functioning at this time. This means that 278 local church councils (of 456) and 1,390 local church branches (of 2,280) have been destroyed or abandoned during raids by the Boko Haram insurgents. This represents 61 percent of all EYN churches or worshiping centers, and many of largest EYN worshiping bodies.
Dr. Dali continues that the church leadership knows the general location of more than 170,000 displaced church members, and 2,094 displaced EYN pastors or evangelists, but the whereabouts of thousands and thousands more displaced members are unknown. Sadly he reports 8,083 members including 6 pastors have been killed, and expects many uncounted others also have died.
When a crisis is this large and when those providing aid also are displaced and have unmet needs, and the violence keeps expanding, it makes for a very complex and challenging environment. However, today a large multifaceted response is well underway working with EYN and other partners.
With guidance and support from the Church of the Brethren, EYN has appointed a Crisis Response Team under the leadership of manager Yuguda Z. Mdurvwa. The team of six church leaders are charged with managing the whole of the crisis response, regional staffing, and other matters as needed. In the four weeks of their tenure, they have made significant progress and completed a good deal of planning. The resources for all the programing has been made possible through generous donations to the Nigeria Crisis Fund and the Emergency Disaster Fund.
-- Completed bulk distributions of food at camps or distribution locations around the cities of Yola, Jos, and Abuja. There were several distributions around each city. The distributions included bulk corn meal or rice (family choice), noodles, cooking oil, sugar, salt, seasoning, tea, body soap, laundry soap, lotion. A special second distribution of small packets of crackers were given to the children. Some distributions progressed very well and were orderly. Others were more difficult with people that are not displaced but wanting free supplies.
-- Established a temporary location for Kulp Bible College near Abuja. Classes are being held for upper level students so they can graduate on schedule.
-- Purchased two used trucks for transportation of relief supplies and building materials, and purchased an office building with warehouse for EYN relief operations.
-- Set up temporary offices for EYN national staff, which included building temporary walls to add more offices and purchasing office furniture for the site. Now key national staff and officers have private office space. This support is critical to help EYN stay together and organized in this time of incredible crisis.
-- Progress made on care centers. A number of properties around Yola, Jos, and Abuja are being evaluated for purchase as locations for Care Centers. This entails the building of a new community of homes, church, public space, and some farmland for the relocation of displaced people. This will be a major effort to help people move out of the temporary camps of internally displaced people, and to help Nigerian refugees in Cameroon relocate back in Nigeria.
-- Planning for trauma healing. With about two thirds of the church displaced, many with tragic experiences and the loss of loved ones, healing from the experience is critical. The Peace Program of EYN already has provided two different three-day workshops held with pastors in the Yola area in mid-December. Ongoing workshops and other peace building activates are planned for 2015.
These examples give an idea of all the different projects that EYN is undertaking. These represent amazing accomplishments considering so much of the church and leadership are displaced and in mourning.
The response includes a number of partners with strengths and capacity that extend beyond EYN. What is most surprising is how few international relief organizations are working in Nigeria, considering how many people are displaced. Current partners are:
-- Center for Caring, Empowerment, and Peace Initiatives (CCEPI). This organization will be familiar to many US Brethren because executive director Rebecca Dali spoke at the 2014 Annual Conference. Focused on the most vulnerable in the crisis--children, pregnant mothers, families with young children, and older adults--CCEPI is providing direct aid. Church of the Brethren funds have helped CCEPI provide food and nonfood distributions in the areas of greatest need. CCEPI also is working with the International Rescue Committee helping with their aid work.
-- Lifeline Compassionate Global Initiatives (LCGI). This interfaith program focuses on peacebuilding between Christian and Muslim groups. As part of the crisis response, LCGI has worked to relocate around 350 people, both Christians and Muslims, together near land for farming. Water wells and worship centers are part of the planning. A ceremony on Dec. 4 initiated the construction of homes. The goal is to complete simple mud brick and tin roof homes by March 2015. Half of the funding for this program came from the Nigeria Crisis Fund.
-- Women and Youth Empowerment for Advancement and Health Initiative (WYEAHI). This program has submitted a proposal to work with displaced persons, building on the organization’s strengths in livelihood development.
An important part of my trip to Nigeria was developing as many connections and relationships as possible with potential areas of support for EYN. The success of this major response effort will hinge on how effectively we can network, and even more importantly, how effectively we can communicate.
The US team was able to share, problem solve, and develop budgets and programs together with the EYN Standing Committee and Crisis Response Team. This extended to a short presentation focused on encouragement to the Executive Committee of the Majalisa (the annual meeting of EYN). We also met with Mennonite Central Committee representatives, a local Anglican staff, and the US Embassy.
A delegation of three EYN staff and three US team members had a very productive meeting with the US Embassy staff. In a unusual turn, the Embassy wants to be in relationship with EYN to share information and to connect the church with the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Embassy also is working with the Nigerian congress to create a way for displaced persons to vote in the upcoming national election in February.
Another important relationship is with Mission 21. Formerly known as Basel Mission, Mission 21 has been supporting EYN for many decades. In an unplanned meeting, staff from Mission 21, the Church of the Brethren, and EYN started working together to imagine a three-way partnership.
I really felt God working through us as we planned to work together through this crisis and help EYN find new strength in the years to come. At the April Majalisa (annual conference of EYN) we plan to celebrate this partnership and extend the love of God to many hurting people... together.
-- Roy Winter is associate executive director of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries.