‘Grief and Love in the Same Place’: A Communication from the Church of the Brethren General Secretary and the EYN President

“In my grief I saw myself being held,
us all holding one another in this incredible web of loving kindness. 
Grief and love in the same place.
I felt as if my heart would burst with holding it all.”
(A Zimbabwean woman)

This quote from Margaret J. Wheatley’s book, “Perseverance,” has been riding in my soul since I returned from Nigeria.  The circumstances of the Nigerian conflicts happening around the gathering of the church at the Majalisa provide me with enough incongruence to feel grief and love in the same place.  Adding the bombing in Abuja, followed by the events of the Chibok girls’ abduction, however, put me in a place I have never experienced before, as Love Feast on Maundy Thursday and Easter worship became part of the experience for me.  I just could not shake the feeling that I had one foot at Golgotha (Hebrew for The Place of the Skull), and one foot at the empty tomb, torn by the grief and love of what I saw and experienced with our Nigerian family.  Intellectually and spiritually I understood, but the horror kept drawing me to the place of crucifixion – and there I realized that the atrocities continue today.

This past holiday weekend it was grand to be with family and friends enjoying time together; celebrating graduation accomplishments; and taking care of my personal need to clean the car.  How refreshing! Yet the news came fast Sunday afternoon that part of a family of which I am a member cannot rest, for violence awaits them.  By Facebook, email, and texts, news arrived that five more EYN churches had been bombed, with 500+ houses were destroyed, many people killed, and 15,000 people displaced – many of them running to Cameroon.

Dr. Rebecca Dali wrote, “Every day we are mourning.”  Markus Gamache wrote to say that he had just arrived at the Abuja airport and received sad news from his village. Twenty-one of his brothers had been killed in an attack on that very day, and he was told he should stay away.  Markus pleaded “God have mercy on Wagga Village!” Annual Conference secretary Jim Beckwith responded to Markus with these words, which speak for us all:

“We are so very upset to hear this tragic, terrifying news.  May God indeed have mercy on you and your family and your neighbors in Wagga village.  And may the Lord confront Boko Haram in their innermost souls, stopping them in their tracks and turning them inside out like happened to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.  May powerful prayers arise to earnestly seek a breakthrough of God’s peace. 

We continue to pray.  May you know that you are not alone in your grief – may you be comforted to know that we are praying with you. You are our brother in Christ.  And the Lord is with you.  May you be aware of the presence of the Risen Lord Jesus to lead your loved ones into God’s Kingdom and to strengthen and renew your spirit within you.  May the Lord hold onto you and empower you with the Holy Spirit.

With faith in God’s love for you and with our love for you,

–Jim Beckwith and the Annville Church of the Brethren

Almost simultaneously, I wrote to Dr. Samuel Dante Dali, President of EYN, because I heard in his voice growing weariness from the violence and losses.  I asked Samuel what more the US Brethren might do to support EYN, and when speaking to our government and the United Nations, what would he want us to share.  His response came quickly and clearly:

“Dear Brother Stan,

Thank you very much for your concern, prayers and words of encouragement and comfort. I feel we are not alone. Also, thank for your promise to walk with us in this most difficult time in the ministry. Concerning the questions you raised let me respond to them as best I can.

First, you are already supporting us . . . by praying for us and sending funds to help the victims. You are also sharing our stories with others, which is receiving a series of positive and encouraging responses. There is no more manner of helping more than this. We will only continue to be very grateful to you as you continue to walk with us.

The response of the US government which I think will be appropriate and helpful in providing lasting solution to the Nigerian crisis is, in addition to identifying and rescuing the missing girls, the US security experts should also screen the Nigerian security service men – both military, police, SSS, past political leaders, and rich business men – with the aim to identify supporters and sympathizers of Boko Haram. After identifying such people, the US government should help to freeze their overseas accounts and deny them any visa to USA and other European countries.  The US government can also help the Nigerian government with equipment that will assist the government in indentifying criminals wherever they are hiding. The US should reject business and relationship with any government in Africa that is supporting or hiding terrorist organizations.

photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
A cloth worn by the ZME women’s group of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria

To the members of the United Nations, stop playing politics for selfish interest with the lives of citizens of other countries that have been attacked by terrorist groups by watching and leaving terrorist activists in other countries just as internal problem or matters those countries must deal with. Mercy, compassion and the importance of every human life should guide the thinking, the activities and action of the United Nations in responding to crisis in any nation. The United Nations is not a platform for displaying power and pride but an organization for empowering the weak, liberating the captive and the oppressed, and a place for justice. Finally, it should be a united force against terrorists.

Finally, the role of the Christian Church in the situation we are facing today is to continue to pray together for God’s mercy and justice, encouraging the victims that they are not alone in their suffering, and sharing material things with the victims – especially those who have lost their source of living. Christians should feel and act together against any form of evil injustice, terrorism, and any form of religious fanaticism. The Christians across the world should strongly speak to the government of their nation to take strong action against evil, and stop supporting or having relationship with any government that is irresponsible for the life of its citizens and is supporting or hiding terrorist groups.

I believe these to the best of my knowledge will help in addressing the current terrorist situation we are facing in Nigeria and across the world.

Thanks for the questions again. Yours, Dr. Samuel Dante Dali.”

Samuel is calling us to engage in the spiritual discipline of prayer and fasting as a response to the violence they are witnessing.  Other EYN leaders and members have been writing to me with resolve in their voices that nothing can shake them from their commitment to Christ and the Church.  Through Samuel’s letter we can recognize additional ways for the US Brethren to be faithful to God and faithful to our family in Nigeria.

It seems to me that it is now time to engage more of our resources.  In the midst of their own losses, EYN is reaching out not only to EYN families, but to neighbors and friends.  Just like the church in Haiti following the earthquake, leadership is plotting a course of accompaniment, support, sustainability, and restoration of wholeness.

The season of prayer and fasting has reached US churches across the country – Brethren and others – and the stories of this “on your knees” discipline is reaching Nigeria. It is a blessing.  The call to prayer has also spirited other denominations to support the EYN Compassion Fund.  And most recently, the Wakarusa (Indiana) Elementary School accepted a challenge to raise $4,000 for the Chibok Girls and their families – an amount for which there is a matching grant. They chose to support the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, knowing we have trusted direct partners in Dr. Rebecca Dali and CCEPI.

Now it is our turn to get up off our knees and, in the heart and spirit of Jesus, serve.  As the number of displaced people rises in Nigeria and in refugee camps in Cameroon, food security is at risk.  EYN is serving the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the mourning . . . . and the list goes on.  So we must respond generously with our resources to help empower EYN in their mission and service.  It’s time to give!

We can also encourage our congregations to create cards and write letters to EYN.  The messages can be sent with your Annual Conference delegates to Columbus.   Cards will be gathered on Saturday at the beginning of the afternoon business session during a time of remembrance and prayer for EYN.

We are in the final stages of securing transportation for one of our Nigerian sisters or brothers to be present at Annual Conference and share their story.  At the same time we meet in Columbus, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Dante Dali will be representing the Church of the Brethren at the World Council of Churches Central Committee meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, as my proxy. He will have opportunity to share first-hand experience with the Central Committee, and tell of the global Brethren response.

Our grief and our love are being held at the same place.  We, like the Nigerian church, must not be overcome by this great darkness, but rather, walk forward in the light of Christ.  The darkness will not overcome us.  Love is stronger than grief and will overcome this time.

My sincere thanks is sent to each of you as members of the Church of the Brethren Leadership Team, Mission and Ministry Board), Council of District Executives, and every pastor and congregation who took to their knees in prayer.  Your support of this season of prayer and fasting has been so meaningful for the Brethren in the US and in Nigeria. It makes a difference.  Thank you for being faithful followers of Jesus and coworkers with Christ.

May God, Christ and Holy Spirit be with you.

Stan Noffsinger, General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

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