By Donna Parcell
In August, a group of seven Church of the Brethren members traveled to Nigeria with the goal of building relationships, encouraging, praying with, and physically standing by our brothers and sisters of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).
I served as a volunteer in Nigeria in the spring of 2015, and I was so impressed with the faith and resilience of the EYN church that I was anxious to return, to reconnect with friends, and to see the progress that had been made.
Our tour visited Masaka IDP (internally displaced persons) camp near Abuja. In 2015, this camp was just starting construction. Not only is construction complete, but it is fully occupied. It was nice to see the little touches that each family did to make their houses into homes. We were warmly welcomed by excited children who were eager to play games and sing songs. The women shared with us that they were hungry, but were proud of their crops that would soon be ready to harvest. Concern was expressed over the church, which was a simple stick structure with so many holes in the roof that it was impossible to worship during rainy season. I am pleased to say that a donation has provided a solid tin roof for the church.
We visited Favoured Sisters school, which is a boarding school for children orphaned by the Boko Haram attacks. Many of these children witnessed the murders of their parents. While the trauma will take years to heal, there was a noticeable change in the children from last year. In 2015 they were very quiet and obviously traumatized. This year they were smiling, laughing, and singing. When they drew pictures, there were many pictures of houses and families, and fewer pictures of traumatic events. There was much less shyness and many more smiles. The children are encouraged to memorize Bible verses, and can choose which verses they memorize. They were excited to recite for us. One young boy had memorized the entire book of Jonah!
While in the area of Jos, we visited the skills center sponsored by the Center for Caring, Empowerment, and Peace Initiatives (CCEPI), a nonprofit organization headed up by Rebecca Dali. Here people are taught computer skills and sewing skills. They also make soap, perfume, jewelry, and other products to sell. CCEPI does an amazing job at providing care for the people affected by Boko Haram. We were also able to participate in a food distribution. We registered and talked with the widows, and were impressed at how patiently they waited and how grateful they were for everything they received.
Our tour was honored to be able to travel to Kwarhi to visit Kulp Bible College and the EYN headquarters. In 2015, I was able to travel to this area, but it was with a military escort and we needed to be several hours away before dusk. This year, we traveled without an escort and actually stayed overnight for two nights. While still at heightened security, it felt much less intense and signs of progress were everywhere. Although there are still broken windows and other signs of damage, Kulp Bible College is back in session, and the students are so happy to be there. Additionally, EYN leadership was in the process of moving back to Kwarhi from their temporary headquarters in Jos. Exciting times!
While in Kwarhi, we traveled to Michika to worship in one of the destroyed churches. There was so much joy in the service! The congregation is excited to rebuild, and has begun raising funds to do so. It was so inspiring worshiping with the congregation in the temporary church, right next to the destroyed church. The roof of the temporary church was made from the charred tin of the destroyed roof. After the service, the pastor showed us his destroyed parsonage and told us the story of the Boko Haram attack. The choir van full of bullet holes was still parked there. The church building was reduced to rubble. The only thing remaining intact was the baptismal, which is still being used.
Our last stop was the Gurku Interfaith IDP camp where Christians and Muslims live together. In 2015 this camp was about halfway completed. Now it is fully occupied. In Gurku, each family has to make the bricks used to construct their home. This gives them a sense of pride and ownership. The camp also has many innovative ideas. It has a fully operational clinic. There is a large oven for the widows to bake bread to sell. Problems with the water source being too far from the camp were solved by solar panels that pump the water to the middle of the camp. There is a church, and donations have been received to begin construction on a mosque. Fish hatcheries have been added, as an added source of income for widows. There is a teacher, but there is still the need for a school.
Throughout our time in Nigeria, we were graciously hosted by so many people. Even those who had little to give opened their homes and hearts to us. It was overwhelming and humbling. I continue to be inspired by their generosity, graciousness, and hospitality.
While the trauma that our brothers and sisters of EYN have faced will take generations to fully heal, progress is being made. There was such a sense of hope and faith. Their resilience is inspiring, but there is still much work to be done. The focus shifts now to rebuilding homes and churches, getting children back to school, and providing the people with enough food.
Let us continue to support, encourage, and pray for each other.
-- Donna Parcell was a volunteer with the Nigeria Crisis Response in the spring of 2015, and also has been a volunteer photographer on the news team for Annual Conference in recent years.
There are several opportunities to join a workcamp trip to Nigeria in upcoming months. Workcamps are planned for the following dates: Nov. 4-23, 2016; Jan. 11-30, 2017; and Feb. 17-March 6, 2017. Find out more at www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis .