A Heart for Bringing Christ: The Hills Speak About Their Time in Nigeria

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Roxane and Carl Hill at the church planting conference in Richmond, Ind., after their return from completing a term of service as mission workers and teachers at Kulp Bible College in Nigeria.

Newsline interviewed Carl and Roxane Hill shortly after they returned to the United States from a term of service at Kulp Bible College of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). The Hills flew back to the US on May 14, in time to attend the church planting conference in Richmond, Ind., where Brethren videographer David Sollenberger taped a series of short interviews; find them at www.brethren.org/partners/nigeria/news.html .

Following is the Newsline interview with the Hills:

Newsline: What was your work in Nigeria?

Carl Hill: When we went, Jay [Wittmeyer, Global Mission and Service executive] gave us two pieces of advice: go to Kulp Bible College and teach there. And don’t try to change EYN church. The teaching load was light. Most of our down time was to exist, how to get food, water. The first semester we were there it was particularly hot, and I lost 25 pounds and Roxane lost….

Roxane Hill: Fifteen pounds. Just getting food was challenging. We didn’t actually take any food with us that time, and it was very difficult. You could get pasta and rice and fresh vegetables, whenever there was any, but meat…. We could always get eggs. With fried rice, that was our main protein.

We were not supposed to drive outside of the area. We were allowed to drive one stretch of road up to the EYN headquarters, but on the main road we were asked not to drive. So every time we even wanted bread or vegetables or bottled water, we’d have to get a driver. EYN staff didn’t let us go into the real market because it’s too congested and too dangerous. But there was this little roadside area we’d go on not-market-day and buy fruit and vegetables.

Carl: The locals would say, “All these Muslims, you don’t know if they’re members of the Boko Haram or not.”

Newsline: There’s that level of distrust in the community, because you don’t know who’s who?

Carl: That’s why they [Boko Haram] are so sinister. A lot of times they’d be living in the community, and at night they would go and participate in attacks.

Roxane: Or they’re funding it. Or working in it and giving information. You never know which government people are in it. That’s really one of the big problems.

Carl: We didn’t understand all the politics of it.

Refugees pose a real hardship for everyone

Roxane: The area that’s been hit hardest is the Gwoza area. Soon after we got to Nigeria that area started being attacked. That’s where all the refugees have come from. It’s a real hardship for everyone in those tribes, who live anywhere else, because they have to take the refugees in, and they’re already struggling to make ends meet.

The guy who herds goats and sheep and cows for Kulp Bible College is from that tribe. He had 40 to 50 extra people at his house. One of the students saw 20 people eating out of one little bowl of food. He came and said, “Can’t we help them with something?” So we were able to give them food. That’s the same family that we went to with Rebecca Dali’s CCEPI group [Center for Caring, Empowerment, and Peace Initiatives] and were able to help again. Out of those 40 or 50 people there were about 8 different families.

Photo by Roxane Hill
Carl Hill with one of his classes at Kulp Bible College in Nigeria

The administrative secretary is from Gwoza area. So we asked him, if they know the Boko Haram is coming often, why don’t they leave? Why don’t they go find some other place? He says, “How can they? There are 100,000 people still left in that area.” He says, “How do you transplant thousands of people when every other place in the country is crowded and is using the land for their own farms?”

At the school, we didn’t notice the population, how crowded it is. But you leave there and go anywhere else…. Nigeria is the size of Texas and half of Oklahoma, but it has half the population of the US in that area. And they’re all basically subsistence living. Just living off their produce and any little thing they can sell.

Newsline: It’s just so hard to understand from a perspective like the United States.

Roxane: You go there and you can’t explain what the US is like, because it doesn’t translate at all. And you come back here and you can’t explain what it’s like there, it’s just another world.

There are thousands of people who have been displaced and moved. They’ve lost their house, they’ve lost all their clothing, they don’t have their farm anymore, they have no way of making any income. So they’re just devastated, and they have nothing. So even if you give them $1,000, think about that. Could you start over on $1,000? No! And they can’t either. They’re so thankful, but it’s really that much need. Dr. Dali has calculated it, and says that $75,000 is still just a drop in the bucket. They’ve set up a committee to use those funds wisely and make sure it doesn’t get misused.

Carl: About the compassion money that’s going to EYN, you know $10,000 is 1.6 million Naira [the Nigerian currency]. Just like here, a million six is a lot of money! And it buys a lot there. So with $10,000 you really make a huge contribution to their needs.

Newsline: I was going to ask how they’re using that money. Is it basically for refugees?

Roxane: Some of it is given to district executives to distribute, because they know the needs better. But it’s always a problem to know how to distribute it well.

Carl: So they have committees. And whenever you have a committee to do something like that, it slows the process down. And maybe the right people don’t get the aid that they need, or they don’t get it quick enough. So Rebecca Dali started her nongovernmental organization, and she is actually reaching the people at the grassroots level.

‘We want you to come to our church’

Carl: After we were there half the semester, one of the students came to me and said, “We want you to come to our church, I want to show you to my church.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “You come to our church and you preach.” So that was the first [church visit]. It was really exciting for them because some of these people have not seen a white missionary. Their parents had but some of the kids have never seen white people.

We had a relationship with this church in Uba, which is about 13 miles north of Kulp Bible College. We went there about three or four times. Besides preaching, one person wanted me to come and help officiate a wedding. The next time we went, we participated in baby dedications. Twenty-one babies. And then the next time they wanted baptisms. And so we did 21 baptisms.

We ended up going to probably about 16 to 18 churches for EYN. That was really a big eye opener for us because we had been secluded at Kulp Bible College. We got to go see what the churches were like. You know, they’re big. The smallest congregation I preached at was 600, and the biggest in Mubi was about 1,300 in one service.

During their trip to Nigeria in April, general secretary Stan Noffsinger and mission executive Jay Wittmeyer visited with Church of the Brethren mission workers Roxane and Carl Hill, and Carol Smith.

Roxane: A young man we met on the first day, Joshua, was our translator whenever we went to churches. Sometimes I would preach, mostly Carl would. So Joshua would come to our house, first he’d hear the sermon once and try to translate, then he’d write down all the words he didn’t know, and then do it one more time, before doing the final. Every time we went somewhere he’d already invested two run throughs. He is a remarkable young man. He was a huge joy for us, we called him our son and he called us his baturi parents.

Newsline: How large is EYN in total right now?

Carl: They don’t know, totally. But they have 50 districts. And, for instance, Uba alone–which is a good sized town–probably has six EYN churches. We went to four of the six. All of those were between 800 and 1,200 people.

Roxane: I’ve heard about close to a million [total EYN membership]. But you have to pay to get your member card, and some people really can’t afford that. And that doesn’t include children. Children do not come to the service with the families. Children have Sunday school early in the morning. So when you say 1,000, that’s not with any children in the service.

Newsline: The largest congregation in EYN is still Maiduguri Number 1?

Carl: Yes, it would be like 5,000. Some of the smaller churches have gone by the wayside because of all the violence.

Roxane: Many of the churches are walled now, with big metal gates and a metal bar across the gate. If it’s any size city at all they have to have police there at their worship services.

Carl: All over northeastern Nigeria every public building is now fenced and gated with a big safety bar over it. Police stations, schools, banks. It’s scary.

Roxane: When we went to a church we would always ask ahead and coordinate with the EYN headquarters people. Is it okay to go to this place? One time we were going to go and help with Boys Brigade, which is like a Christian boy scouts. Then something happened, it was targeted, and they said it wasn’t safe and we had to cancel.

Newsline: What classes did you teach?

Carl: I was the New Testament guy, so I did the synoptics and John’s gospel and Revelation and Acts and Paul’s letters, New Testament background, and a class in worship.

Roxane: The first semester we co-taught a Sunday school class. Then we presented a class that would be for adults in Sunday school, based on a class on spiritual maturity at Saddleback Community Church in Orange County, Calif. We presented that to all the district secretaries, when 50 of them came in for their annual gathering. I taught in the women’s school some. I tried to teach them English, and I taught some other classes too. Then I started teaching English in the diploma program, and a spiritual formation class.

Newsline: How many students are at Kulp Bible College?

Photo courtesy of Roxane and Carl Hill
Staff of CCEPI and Brethren mission workers help distribute food to refugees. Over the weekend of March 14-16, 2014, the Center for Caring, Empowerment, and Peace Initiatives served 509 refugees around the Headquarters and Kulp Bible College of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria).

Carl: Probably 150, mainly men, but some women in both programs. I had two classes with 36 and 38.

‘We were able to live generously’

Roxane: Some of the other things we did: Carl did some private tutoring. We allowed [cell phone] charging at our house, when we had the generator on, because the electricity is so sporadic. We had solar, that was a service we provided, so they really appreciated us. We encouraged and let people come and go. We had study groups. We did editing for students and staff. I did a women’s Bible study with Rosa, who wants to go to Bethany. We helped people who got a computer and didn’t know how to use it. We helped staff with the Internet, and printed things for people. A couple younger girls came in and did cooking with me. Carl gave driving lessons. The home management class of the women was to bake cakes but they had no oven. So then they’d come and ask me, can we do it at your oven?

Newsline: It sounds like you filled in places where you could, and the needs that you saw.

Carl: We had the ability because it was so cheap to live there. The little amount of money that we had went a long way. If somebody was really down, or their child was sick and they couldn’t afford to take her to the clinic, we would sometimes give the money.

Roxane: A girl got bit by a snake, they took her immediately to the clinic, but then they couldn’t pay the bill, so we helped with that. The need was usually under $20, from $5 to $20. That was a huge joy we had, being able to live generously there. We helped repair vehicles, we paid for medicine, we paid clinic fees, we bought food, we bought petrol, we paid travel costs, we sponsored people to NYC [National Youth Conference], we sponsored Boy’s Brigade, Girl’s Brigade, women’s ministry, we bought Bibles, we got glasses for people, we paid school fees, we bought materials for Sunday school, we got food for refugees, we gave business loans–all those things we were able to do with just a little bit of money.

One time Carl had $2 in his pocket and felt compelled to give it to a student who was in one of Carl’s classes. I was thinking, “Why are you wasting your time giving just $2? He won’t be able to do anything with it.” The next day he came back, almost in tears. He said, “That money put enough gas in my motorcycle that I could go to my farm and pick up all the produce.” He had bagged it all up but he couldn’t get it back home because he didn’t have the transport fee. Two dollars paid for that, and he was so appreciative. You can’t put a price on being able to help like that.

Newsline: Tell me how you think EYN is doing?

Carl: It’s big, you know, and they need help. Your typical church has, say, 800 people, and they have two paid staff–the pastor and the associate pastor. They have some degree of education. A lot of the pastors went to Kulp, and then maybe went to TCNN [the Theological College of Northern Nigeria] and got an advanced degree which is usually a year and a half master of New Testament or Old Testament. And then the associate has maybe a certificate of Christian religion. But with 800, you know, there’s no way they can minister to all those people.

photo by Carl Hill
Roxane Hill with some of the girls she mentored while working in Nigeria

Roxane: EYN has been trying to encourage spiritual maturity, spiritual growth. They’re starting to lose a bit of their young people because the program is pretty traditional. And the young people are starting to pick up different music, they want a different style of worship and want to do things differently. Some congregations combat that with the English service, which allows some of these young groups to do more of their music. But in the cities, it’s hard to keep the EYN youth and young adults interested in the church. So that’s another hurdle they’re going to have to address.

A reliance on faith

Carl: The neatest thing is their typical prayer. They start by thanking God that they are counted among the living that day. It’s so basic that we take it for granted here. But they see every day as a blessing from God.

Roxane: They have a reliance on faith that is very basic.

Carl: Another thing EYN does is giving. They set two big giant baskets up at the front of the church and aisle by aisle they march down and they place their offering in the basket. They dance down the aisle in a certain way, and we kind of learned how to do it. They know what it is to be joyful givers–something that we could really learn here, because it’s supposed to be that way. After you see it once, you’re just really impressed.

At the end [of our time at Kulp Bible College] they had what’s called a “send forth” service for us, and every tribe was represented. They got into tribal outfits, and they danced their traditional tribal dances. We were the guests of honor.

Roxane: We knew so many of the people who were putting it on, that’s what made it so fun.

Carl: It was to show us that they appreciated us. We asked, “Even though you went to all this trouble to send us forth, what if we decide to come back?” They said, “No, no. We thought about that. We’re praying that you do.”

Newsline: Would you think about going back?

Roxane: Not that we wouldn’t. It’s just that we’ve had a heart for church planting for five or ten years. This experience of intercultural living among the people–that’s what we want to take into a new place, and bring Christ, just like we did in Nigeria. We’re just waiting on God. We can go wherever he sends us.

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