By Lois Grove
In December 2014 Larry and Donna Elliott, former Church of the Brethren mission workers in Nigeria, attended a concert at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, Colo. While strolling through the art gallery before the concert, a big piece of artwork caught their eye--many tiny gingham dresses--and they saw the caption, “Bring Back Our Girls.” They discovered this piece was telling a story that was near and dear to them: the abduction of the schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria.
They called me and my husband, Bill. We were visiting in Fort Collins at the time, and we then went to view the picture. It was very emotionally engaging as we thought of all the initiatives our denomination had gone through--prayer and fasting, visits by Rebecca Dali, shipment of books to restock the Nigerian libraries, sending lists of the girls’ names to churches, and also each congregation upholding one girl in prayer--and a seed was planted. Somehow we had to secure this artwork for the wider church. Donna and I took pictures of the piece--and then found out later that pictures were not allowed at the gallery, so those stayed on our cameras....
Until! I was attending a pastor’s retreat in Western Plains District, visiting with persons who had served the church in Nigeria. I showed them the picture on my phone and before long it was decided to project it on the big screen. Following a time of reflection, silence, and a Spirit-filled prayer by Carolyn Schrock, the “Spirit” said the picture needed to be purchased and given a home in the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.
This was an impulsive, but not inexpensive decision. Several of those in attendance immediately offered to help with the purchase. A subsequent call to general secretary Stan Noffsinger to see if the denomination was even interested affirmed that the “Spirit” had nudged us in the right direction.
The Elliotts and Groves were privileged to visit with the artist, Sandra Ceas, of Littleton, Colo., and find out her motivation for creating the picture. She has master’s degrees in fine arts and religious studies, and finds herself drawn to social justice issues. She teaches online courses, and in the course of online searches she discovered the story of the Chibok girls. She is delighted her work has found a “home” where it will resonate with those who view it.
-- Lois and Bill Grove are former mission workers in Nigeria, and have been active in leadership in Northern Plains District. Earlier this week they drove from their home in Iowa to Elgin, Ill., to personally deliver Sandra Ceas’ piece of art to the denominational offices. They invite anyone who is interested in helping with the cost of this inspirational artwork to donate by sending a check to the Church of the Brethren General Offices, 1451 Dundee Ave., Elgin, IL 60120. Find out more about the artist at www.sandrajeanceas.com .