By Jay Wittmeyer
April 14, Good Friday, marks the third year since the brutal abduction of 276 girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria. The Church of the Brethren has been praying for the girls very specifically since the event occurred and we request you continue to pray. To the best of my understanding, there are currently 197 girls still missing and, I believe, many of these are still alive.
I went to Chibok last week. The security is extremely tight, and there is little space to do much, but I felt compelled to go along with three brothers from Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria): Marcus Gamache, Dr. Yakubu Joseph, and the district secretary of Chibok. It was partially for my own understanding, partially to encourage EYN, and more specifically, the local Brethren families who continue to live and farm in Chibok.
Chibok is just over an hour’s drive from Kwarhi, the national headquarters of EYN, and the location of the conference hall where we were attending the 70th Majalisa or annual conference of EYN.
During the Majalisa, EYN president Joel Billi “tasked the federal government to expedite action in rescuing the remaining Chibok girls abductees to keep them steadfast in the Christian faith,” as reported in Nigeria’s Leadership News. He was quoted in the national newspaper saying that EYN would not relent in praying for the safe return of the girls and for their parents, and urging a presidential committee to redouble efforts to fast track the rebuilding of places of worship destroyed by the insurgency ( http://leadership.ng/news/580669/cleric-urges-fg-to-expedite-action-on-release-of-chibok-girls#respond ).
The road from Kwarhi to Chibok is paved through Uba and into Askira, but it then turns toward the Sambisi Forest and it is unpaved and rough into the market village of Chibok. The Nigerian Security Forces have a strong presence in the town and area, and we could only enter with permission. We were not given access to visit the secondary school.
We visited two churches in Chibok: a church on the outskirts, which is in the process of building a much larger building--to my amazement; and EYN No.2 in the center of Chibok where some 100 children were lined up and marching in the boy’s and girl’s brigades [Nigerian equivalent of boy scouts and girl scouts]. The brigades act as watchdogs, informing the community if they are being attacked.
We also visited the home of the EYN district secretary, and met his wife and several families who resettled with him because they were unable to stay out in the surrounding villages.
The Chibok Bible School of EYN is still open and continues to train pastors at the certificate level. There are 13 students at the Bible school and two lecturers. Throughout the town there are water shortages, especially at the Bible school. A water harvesting system was in disrepair.
We spent our longest time with an old Brethren family. The father was baptized in 1958 by Gerald Neher, a Church of the Brethren mission worker, and was trained as a lab technician. We met his family and grandchildren. At one point, the family had to flee from Chibok for six nights and hide in the bush. A second time they left for two nights. Other than that, he and his family have been staying and praying and farming. His family had a good harvest this past year, which included 30 bags of groundnuts [peanuts].
In talking with the Nigerian security personnel, we learned that many have been stationed in Chibok for more than eight tense years. I cannot share the details of their stories, but it was moving to understand how deeply they have been suffering. One soldier asked for a Bible, which we promised to send.
I came away even more burdened to pray for the missing girls, but also encouraged that there is a Christian witness in Chibok. The Nigerian Brethren have maintained their witness, in spite of it all. Last year, 21 of the abducted schoolgirls were released, and asked to be baptized. We pray for the remaining girls.
-- Jay Wittmeyer is executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren. For more about the Nigeria Crisis Response, a joint effort of the Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries with Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria, go to www.brethren.org/nigeriacrisis .