By Kucheli Shankster Beecham
I grew up feeling like the Nigerian people were a part of my family. When I was young, both my Shankster grandparents and my Royer grandparents were still living and serving in Nigeria, so I was pretty familiar with their food, clothing, crafts (think etched calabash bowls and leather goods!) along with a few words and expressions. Plus, I share a name with a few of the Bura women of Nigeria. Now as an adult, my life is pretty far removed from theirs, but I still feel a kinship with them and their culture.
Every time there has been something about Nigeria in the news, it grabs my attention. I’ve followed the stories about kidnappings and the destruction of villages in a way that someone truly concerned but far away and personally/physically unaffected by the urgency and destruction might follow, and I’ve prayed for them over the years.
So what a privilege to visit some of the camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) recently and look in the eyes and shake the hands of these people who have been through so much! The personal connection does a lot to move us to pray and move our feet to “go,” as Jesus commands us.
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As I looked around and took in the conditions and the people in their new villages, it was hard to tell how they felt or in what condition their spiritual lives were. We didn’t have time to talk much, and we often did not share a language.
There were some counseling programs discussed, which seem very important right now. I don’t know how the people whose homes were burned and loved ones killed feel toward their persecutors. Do they have a deep enough faith and strong relationship with God that they are able to forgive and even pray for their enemies? Do they carry a lot of hate around with them? Indeed, many of these people have a long road of recovery ahead of them. Drawing close to God along with Christian counseling will be key in healing.
Another key to the healing process are the accommodations provided for them in the camps. I was impressed with the way their lives seem to have taken on a new routine in their temporary homes. For some it’s become a new permanent home. It was evident—in some places more than others—that the people were putting to good use the provisions they had been supplied with and putting their own industrious ideas to work, as well. Where land was available, crops were being planted. As it was the beginning of the rainy season and thus planting time, we could see evidence of this as we traveled to different areas. In one place they said were even planning to grow enough to sell the surplus. It was amazing to see the transformation from dry brown earth to green rows of crops once the rains came.
Other attempts at creating routine and facilitating healing were the efforts to teach the children, although they didn’t have a lot in the way of school supplies and didn’t always have enough qualified teachers.
Places we visited like the orphanage and the Headquarters Women’s Center have skills acquisition programs where they also supply the tools at the completion of the programs. These seemed like useful endeavors with potential to start some of the young people out with the means to provide for themselves.
I loved seeing the huge group of women gathered for a church conference. I pray God will use them mightily to build up their fellow believers and be the light of Jesus in their communities since they came from many different areas. I brought back with me a desire to encourage—though I can’t imagine how—and determination to pray for those I was able to connect with.
—Kucheli Shankster Beecham is a descendant of Church of the Brethren Nigeria mission workers. She made a trip to Nigeria earlier this summer with Roxane Hill, coordinator of the Church of the Brethren’s Nigeria Crisis Response, to see Disaster Relief Ministry work.