Church of the Brethren general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger has visited Nigeria to attend the Majalisa or annual conference of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), accompanied by Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer. They met with EYN church leaders including president Samuel Dante Dali, as well as Brethren mission staff working in Nigeria. Noffsinger wrote this e-mail report yesterday, April 14, from the capital city of Abuja on the last day of the trip:
Time has passed by so very quickly here and tonight Jay and I begin our journey back to the United States. We have been richly blessed by our visit with the sisters and brothers of EYN, although at times, the context of the visit was in the midst of the deeply troubling realities of daily living in northeastern Nigeria. We give thanks for the extraordinary concern for travel and hospitality extended to us by EYN church leaders.
The Majalisa was well attended by over 1,000 members and was convened in the well-designed conference center built at the EYN headquarters. Church members are pleased with the new center, and with the progress on the final work to complete it. They also are building an adjacent two-story administration building. Work continues on the basis of the giving from local congregations and members of EYN. At the Majalisa it was decided to ask every member to give 200 Naira for completion of the building, which began with receiving donations at that very moment! This special request for funds is in addition to the 25 percent assessment made on each congregation, from which 10 percent is used for the district and 15 percent goes to the national office.
While fear of attacks by Boko Haram are a daily occurrence, church leaders repeatedly professed their faith and hope that peace will come. The theme of the Majalisa was, “I Have Heard Their Cries of Distress…” from Exodus 3:7 and the messages were all focused on encouraging members to not lose hope, to not waver from the ways of Christ’s peace, to not respond to violence with violence. These are simple words, easy for us in the US to recite while we live in relative peace, but imagine their impact spoken by those who witness the threat of death, not just because they are Christian, but because they do not believe in violence or the cause perpetrated by the opposition. They are courageous words!
I hope you hear in these paragraphs, the great hope of EYN as they “Continue the Work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together.” The underlying reality can easily distract attention away from this people of great faith. But daily reality is also part of the narrative that gives context to the profound witness of EYN.
Samuel Dali, EYN president, reported that 17 of the 50-plus DCCs (districts) have suffered from the violence. Within these DCCs 12 churches have been burnt down and over 11,050 residential houses belonging to members have been burnt down, 383 EYN members have been killed, and 15 kidnapped. More than 5,000 EYN members have fled to Cameroon, Niger, and other neighboring countries to seek refuge. Thousands also have moved into neighboring Nigerian states as internally displaced citizens. These totals are a mere fraction of the total Nigerian (Christian and Muslim) population so affected.
During the Majalisa itself, two additional kidnappings of EYN members, one a DCC leader, were announced. Likewise on the closing evening news came of 217 Nigerians killed in and around Dikwa, in Borno State. While not an imminent threat, the heightened anxiety and fear was palpable.
Rebecca Dali has been interviewing, recording stories, and collecting pictures from families of the lost. Her current data includes the stories of almost 2,000 people killed or kidnapped. She is working in some of the most dangerous places to “be with” families, and addressing the care and needs of a growing orphan population. Her’s is such courageous and important work--of which you will hear more of as we gather at Annual Conference.
As we prepared to leave EYN headquarters, President Dali expressed to us how grateful the leadership and members of the church were for our presence with them, in the midst of this crisis. He said, “We know the great risk you have taken to be here, and we give thanks to God for your courage and willingness to come. To walk with us.” Continuing on he said, “We have prayed for the Mission and Ministry Board and your families that they might have peace during your travel. We have prayed and done the very best we humanly could to provide for your safety and by the grace of God, we have been grated peace during your visit. We now are certain, that the Brethren family around the world walks with us. We are not alone.”
It is a transformational moment when one experiences the violence in the context of church family. Last night we met with board members of Lifeline Compassionate Global Ministries who shared about their interfaith peacemaking work in Jos.
Today we visit the Nigeria National Mosque in Abuja accompanied by Marcus Gamache, EYN liaison officer, and prepare for the journey home. Jay and I thank each of you for your support and for your prayers. We ask you to continue daily prayers for God’s shalom and Christ’s peace to prevail in this country. Hold the leadership and members of EYN in your prayers, and be challenged by their witness!
-- Stanley J. Noffsinger is general secretary of the Church of the Brethren. He wrote this report from the capital city of Abuja, Nigeria, at the close of a trip to attend the Majalisa or annual conference of EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria--accompanied by Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer. On the final morning of the trip, a commuter bus station on the outskirts of Abuja was bombed killing more than 70 people. EYN staff reported by e-mail yesterday that Noffsinger and Wittmeyer and the Nigerian Brethren with them in Abuja are unharmed, but prayer is requested for Nigeria and for the members of EYN.