Our dear beloved Brethren,
I am standing here on behalf of the leadership and the entire membership of EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, to express our sincere heartfelt appreciation to the leadership and all the members of the Church of the Brethren, our founding parents. We sincerely thank all of you for your Christ-like love which you are demonstrating to EYN in tangible ways during her time of misery and hopelessness.
As you might have heard or read, the radical Islamic terrorist group, commonly referred to in the media as Boko Haram, was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002. He himself was influence by the teaching and preaching of a Jamaican immigrant in the United Kingdom who preached hatred against Jews and Christians and Hindus and Westerners, in general.
Yusuf’s group first started as an anti-corruption, anti-government establishment and its associates, namely Christians or any other group of persons that did not agree with their own version of Wahabi Islam. There vicious attacks on the communities in northeastern Nigeria started in 2009, particularly in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. These are the states where EYN, since her founding in 1923, has been operating as the predominant Christian denomination. These were the three states that were placed under a state of emergency because of the severity of the terrorist attacks.
Since 2009 the communities, particularly the Christian community, in these three states have gone through horrific suffering for six years with little or no help from the government, and, then, on 29 November 2014, the terrorists swiftly advance their attack from Michika to Mubi at which time EYN headquarters were taken over Boko Haram. EYN leaders had to flee immediately in every direction.
As a result of the perennial attacks since 2009, about 70% of EYN members have been completely uprooted from their traditional homeland and displaced. They lost everything they owned, both their houses and property. In the process of these attacks, EYN sadly lost over 8000 members. 1,674 church buildings have been completely burned down. In addition, most of our educational and medical institutions have been destroyed or closed down. As a result, all the Bible school teachers, community development staff, including medical clinic staff, and 1,390 pastors, assistant pastors, and evangelists are now without work and income. They are only surviving on the relief materials that are distributed to displaced persons.
While we were going through these attacks and sinking deep into the Boko Haram valley of death, we were cried out loudly to the government of our country for help. We presented the seriousness of our case to the government both in writing and in person, but the only response we received was flattery and empty promises. The government said that they would help us as long as it would not backfire on them, fearing repercussions from Boko Haram.
When we realized, that there was no help coming from the government, we attempted to seek help from the international community. However, we were shocked as we were bluntly told that our case was not big enough to attract the sympathy of the international community. This reminded me of the Rwanda massacre where the international community were there watching people being massacred, and they did not act to save the lives of thousands of innocent civilians that were killed.
With these responses, we felt very discouraged and nearly lost all hope in human effort. We decided to rely completely on God, the creator, and owner of the world. Then, you the Church of the Brethren suddenly and dramatically came to our rescue beyond expectation. You rescued EYN from the burning misery of Boko Haram. Since then you have been crying and groaning together with us. You have held our hands, walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death.
This to us is similar to a resurrection from the dead, because we were almost dead to the point of losing all hope, but you came and strengthened our hope to live. We were too weak to stand and walk, when you came and gave us strength to continue with the ministry. And we were blinded by too much crying and the cloud of suffering, but you came and wiped our tears and opened our eyes to see a clear and better future. Now we are recovering faster than we thought with a brighter future.
So Brethren, it is right and imperative that I am standing here before you this day on behalf of the entire members of EYN to say thank you very much for your memorable support. We are very happy and proud to have you as our founding parents with all our limitations. EYN for generations to come will continue to be very grateful to all of you for your unconditional Christ-like love and care.
In light of all these, allow me to express special thanks to the following people without prejudice: Jay Wittmeyer, the executive director of Global Mission and Service and Stanley Noffsinger, the general secretary, for their outstanding leadership, encouragement, and compassionate heart for Nigeria.
We thank Stanley and his family in particular for taking the time to travel to Nigeria to be with us at the Majalisa 2015. We thank him for taking the responsibility of sharing the word of God with us and for conducting a special holy communion service in a dramatic way at the Majalisa. It was touching and inspiring feet-washing service. Stan and his nephew, John Andrews, went to be with us in Nigeria when it was very risky to travel to Nigeria. John, in particular, went the extra mile by sneaking to Chibok with my wife Dr. Rebecca to see for himself and to comfort the parents of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls.
Jay, you are a wonderful and visionary leader. I remember around early October 2014 when you called me at midnight Nigeria time and asked if we had a place where we could evacuate our members for safety? You also asked me if we had a place where we could use as an annex headquarter. My answer to these questions was a simple “no.” Then you ask again. Would you like if we could get someone with skill in disaster management to help you plan for the disaster. I immediately responded, “Yes! Just send us anyone that is willing to help us.”
Jay, without delay, you sent a team comprising of Roy Winter, Rev. Carl and Roxanne Hill and another brother from Kenya, who came to Nigeria under the leadership of Roy. They met us in Jos when it was not even a good time to travel to Nigeria. Together we met and planned a disaster relief program for EYN. We formed a disaster management team that is now running the program which today is doing a wonderful work of relief for EYN members and non-EYN members.
In view of this, let me also extend our special thanks to Roy, Carl and Roxanne, and also to Peggy Gish, Cliff Kindy and Donna Parcell, who sacrificed much to visit us in Nigeria when it was not safe to travel to the country. I also give a special thanks to Rev. Monroe Good, who since the beginning of the crisis has never ceased to call me or to ask how we are doing. Monroe’s hearts and prayers have been with EYN since we were swept into the bush by this tsunami of Boko Haram. He kept contact with me day and night through the crisis. Rev. Monroe, thank you very much.
My appreciation will be incomplete without recognizing and appreciating the contribution of the children of the Church of the Brethren, who, as we have heard did different things to raise money to support EYN. We will not forget the children of COB who have forfeited their own personal interests and went the extra mile to raise money to help EYN members. Particularly, the little girl who we heard forfeited getting a pair of special shoes and took all her money and donated it to EYN victims of Boko Haram. Also, we thank John Andrew’s son who raised some money to assist the parents of the abducted Chibok school girls, and many others who have done different things to raise funds to support EYN.
Our dear children, your effort is more than a help to EYN. Your thoughts, your love for the EYN members in Nigeria and your sympathy as young as you are, which led you to do extraordinary service to rescue the sinking EYN members, is a God-given spiritual inspiration and challenge to EYN members, as well as the entire world community of faith. It is my sincere prayer that the Lord who created you in his own image will keep you safe and protect you as you grow up to be his instruments of blessings to this world.
Now, our dear brothers and sisters, let us together praise and thank the Lord because he has taken control over Nigeria. God has rescued Nigeria from total disintegration and chaos. We had prayed sincerely together with other Christian communities for peaceful elections and the unity of our country. God heard and answered that prayer in the elections, which many feared, went well and peacefully.
Now we have a new government which we hope and believe with high expectations will make a big difference. The new president, Mohammed Buhari, is expected to wage war against the terrorist group, as well as against corruption and lawlessness, and help in the reconstruction of the destroyed communities. We believe that our God who changed Saul, the persecutor of believers, to become an evangelist and church planter, the God who used King Cyrus of Persia to restore the people of Israel back to their fatherland, will also use the present government of Nigeria to restore the internally displaced people back to their homeland and provide security in the better life to the people.
So let us continue to pray with us as we are going through the process of healing and recovery. Pray for Nigeria and the new government, so that they can listen to God and follow God’s directive in serving the Nigerian people. We must thank God because the security situation is not as bad as it was before. Although, there are still sporadic attacks and bombings, but, by and large, things are improving and some people are beginning to return back to their homeland.
However, there are still a lot of challenges. We heard that the first people who attempted to go back home, especially in the Waga area, were slaughtered like sheep. Also, some women who return to their place in Madagali area were kidnapped, and, as mentioned, there are still some sporadic attacks in some villages. Also the destruction of the home villages are so much that some IDPs who returned and saw the destruction, decided to return back to the camp because there was nothing left for them at home. However, a large number of them remained in the villages trying to pick up the pieces to rebuild their lives. There are some who may never go back to the village again.
For us at the leadership level in EYN, with the support we are getting from you, are very busy trying to implement the plans we have made. As you may hear from the disaster team, several pieces of land have been bought in Massaka, Jos, Jalingo, and Yolo. The construction of residential houses, schools, medical clinics and worship centers is going on at each of these sites. Also, the distribution of food materials and seeds for planting is going on at the IDP centers and for those who are returning back home. Some of the displaced pastors have been assigned to some of the camps to continue with the ministry of the church. The teaching on trauma healing and peace is an ongoing activity throughout the camps.
Kulp Bible College is continuing with their classwork at Chinca temporarily, while we wait for a clear security situation in Kwarhi. We are also trying to establish new churches in different areas where some of our displaced members are located. With all these we believe that the future of the church will be better than where we were before. I am sure that we will gradually recover some of our old churches and institutions, while we are building new ones. As a lesson from what we have experienced, we have deliberately decided not to keep our resources or spend our effort in one place. Instead, we will diversify our resources in areas of operation across the whole country.
To avoid dependency on offerings from the members, we are strongly pursuing our dream of operating microfinance banking in order to provide a strong economic base for the church and empower our members and institutions to grow stronger, so that the church can provide better and effective service through all our institutions. So thank all of you for walking with us. Thank you again and may God keep all of us safe throughout the conference and God bless us all.
-- Samuel Dante Dali serves as president of Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).