Brethren staff visit Nigeria, assess crisis response with EYN and mission partners




Giima church
Photo by Glenn Zimmerman of Christian Aid Ministries

Giima church

Global Mission and Service staff have made a trip to Nigeria to meet with Nigerian Brethren leadership and mission partners, and to assess the Nigeria Crisis Response. Executive director Jay Wittmeyer and associate executive Roy Winter, who also heads up Brethren Disaster Ministries, attended meetings and traveled with Nigerian Brethren leaders to visit various sites.

In related news, on Tuesday, Nov. 17, a bomb blast in the city of Yola in northeast Nigeria killed more than 30 people and injured at least 80 others. The bomb was detonated by a suicide bomber in a market area, according to a report on AllAfrica.com. The bombing happened a few days after the two Church of the Brethren staff had been in the Yola area to visit a camp of displaced people among other visits.

Partnership meetings

The partnership meetings were held with representatives from Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), and Mission 21, a longterm mission partner based in Switzerland (formerly known as Basel Mission).

Wittmeyer and Winter also visited the EYN headquarters near Mubi--which had been evacuated last October when the Boko Haram insurgents took over the area.

A long road home

Winter provided the following reflection on the trip:

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The bomb blast in Yola just a few days after our departure from this northeastern Nigeria city is a stark reminder of just how difficult the road back home will be for our Nigerian sisters and brothers. Even with this blast and many other suicide bombings in this part of Nigeria, we can still see the security situation has improved.

EYN members are moving back into their homes or land in Mubi, Kwarhi, Biu, and other villages closer to Yola. The further north one travels, the less safe it becomes, with Boko Haram still hiding in the Sambisa Forest. EYN staff share it may be years, if ever, before families from Gwoza, Madagali, Gulak, and other villages can safely to return home.

We were very pleased to finally return to the EYN headquarters in Kwarhi after the October 2014 take over. A bomb or missile believed to be targeting a Boko Haram controlled tank destroyed much of the new clinic and the computer training facility at the headquarters and did shrapnel-like damage to some other buildings and the large conference center. Amazingly, most of the rest of the damage at the headquarters and Kulp Bible College looks more like vandalism. Many broken windows, damaged doors, small amounts of looting, and the pulling down of the ceiling are seen in many buildings. Still, I am amazed that church offices and a seminary library remain unburned. It really appears less repairs are required than we could have hoped.

Students in a newly reopened EYN Secondary School in Kwarhi
Photo by Jay Wittmeyer

Students in a newly reopened EYN Secondary School in Kwarhi

Our travel included visiting one of the temporary schools supporting IDPs [internally displaced people] in the Yola area, visited the land where construction is beginning for a new relocation center, and went to the American University in Yola. We also visited other partners supporting job development and education. In all points, we left encouraged by the work.

While we ended our time in Yola, this journey started at the EYN temporary headquarters in Jos. A two day consultation with EYN staff and Mission 21 staff centered around supporting EYN and northeast Nigeria through this crisis. Out of this meeting came the focus on the road home... some staff moving back to Kwarhi, some families returning home to rebuild, people harvesting crops, and learning to recover from the trauma. But this is a long road that will be different for each community as the safety allows.

Out of these meetings came a joint focus of the three partners:

  • Continuing limited feeding programs.
  • Providing building materials for home repair in communities returning.
  • Completing construction on three more relocation camps in Jos, Jalingo, and Yola. This is for those that can never go home.
  • Repairs of the Kwarhi headquarters and Kulp Bible College.
  • Trauma healing.
  • A new focus on trauma healing for children with Children’s Disaster Services and EYN Women’s Ministries.
  • Working with the EYN Integrated Community Based Development Program to support the long term recovery in these communities.
  • The Church of the Brethren response also includes partners focused on children’s education, additional feeding programs, and livelihoods.

I leave Nigeria feeling more encouraged and hopeful. Even with a new bombing there is a sense of moving forward and recovering from this crisis. It will take years and years, but there is more hope now than on other trips. I found hope in learning that many EYN churches and schools have been helping with the crisis. In the US we don't really hear much about all the activities of EYN churches, and I now believe they are doing much more than we realized. I found hope in seeing all the crops being harvested around Mubi and Kwarhi. I found hope in seeing schools at Kwarhi functioning and full of children. I found hope in the resilience of the EYN members and Nigerian people.

Recovery will be fraught with setbacks, but God’s people are finding hope and strength to reclaim their land and trust in God. For all this we can be thankful.

A moment of encouragement

Markus Gamache, EYN staff liaison, also provided a report on the encouragement that the Nigerian Brethren received from the visit of the Global Mission staff:

Brother Jay and Roy were here for about eight days and it was a moment of encouragement to the church and communities to see them visit Yola, and travel through Gombi, Kwarhi, and Mubi. The combined visit with Mission 21 has added more and more courage to leaders and members of EYN.

The effect of Boko Haram destruction on the people of the northeast may last for years. The church and the community are still passing through so many difficult challenges that is difficult to explain. From Yola to Michika is a bit more safe, but from Michika to Madagali and Gwoza is a “no go” area.

Giima temporary church
Photo by Glenn Zimmerman of Christian Aid Ministries

Giima temporary church

The Brethren in the United States have showed to the Nigerian people and other parts of the world that we are of one faith and even extending the true love to the Muslims. The interfaith camp at Gurku is growing, though with challenges, but the challenges are meant to keep us strong in a time like this.

Your prayers and all other sacrifices are yielding a lot of results both spiritual and physical. There is a very good harvest this year for those few people in areas that were able to plant crops, but we still have at least another year to feed many families in terms of health, rent (housing), water, food, and psycho-social support.

The EYN comprehensive secondary school has begun classes, and Kulp Bible College also is in session, as is the John Guli Bible School in Michika, the TEE (Theological Education by Extension) program in Mubi. Other church districts that were displaced have started collecting their members gradually. We still have many churches empty, pastors without work, schools in various communities yet to resume, and needs for drinking water, transport for the returnees, food for the returnees, shelter for the returnees, and much more. These are unlimited details that the church and communities have to pass through.

EYN leaders are working hard to manage the situation with all your support. I personally, and Muslims from different communities, want to say thank and may the Lord give you more strength to continue in good health to the glory of the Lord.

— For more information about the Nigeria Crisis Response go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis.

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