Updates on Nigeria

“Tuesday, June 3: What a day!” wrote Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger after spending 35 minutes on Skype with second graders at Wakarusa (Ind.) Elementary School. After hearing about the girls abducted from Chibok, Nigeria, the school challenged their students to gather change to aid the girls and their families. At the end of the challenge, Noffsinger spoke via Skype with the class that collected the most change, explaining the situation in Nigeria and the Church of the Brethren connection with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria. “These courageous young people gathered about 400 pounds in change totaling $1,700!” Noffsinger reported. “This will be matched dollar for dollar by a matching grant which makes their effort total $3,400. Incredible. Preston Andrews came up with the idea because he cared so much about the girls. They all want them to return safely.” Noffsinger is making plans for Andrews to meet Rebecca Dali at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference this summer, as “two of a kind with hearts for the victims of violence.” Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

Here are various updates on Nigeria and current events affecting Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), as well as continuing expressions of support from Brethren in the United States and ecumenical partners:

Cards for Nigeria will be collected at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference, which takes place July 2-6 in Columbus, Ohio. All congregations are invited to send with their Conference delegate a card of encouragement and prayerful concern for Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN, the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). Cards will be gathered on Saturday, July 5, at the beginning of the afternoon business session during a time of remembrance and prayer for EYN. The cards will be delivered to EYN by staff at the next available opportunity.

Under the subject line, “A trying moment,” the EYN staff liaison sent an e-mail to Global Mission and Service executive Jay Wittmeyer reporting on continuing violent events in Nigeria. The Gwoza area near the Cameroon border has suffered repeated attacks by the Boko Haram insurgent group, in an area where reprisal attacks by communities against Boko Haram and bombings by the Nigerian military have begun as well. Christians are no longer able to live there, the EYN staff member reported, and are fleeing to nearby towns and even as far away as Lagos in the south of the country. He told the story of a retired minister and EYN trustee who also is a traditional ruler and district head in one of the areas that were attacked more than a week ago. “God speared his life through a Muslim who whispered to his wife about the terrorist group arriving in Ngoshe in large numbers, and he should not come out of his house and he should try by all means to hide because there will be a major operation of killing Christians in Ngoshe area by the terrorists. He managed to take a handful of his clothes, Bible, and hoe…. He left over 50 bags of grain, more than 35 goats, sheep, and cows behind, and many other things. He said he is grateful to God for his life despite the fact that he lost everything, but he is happy to be alive. He said no one remembers to take his wife or children when the fire is hot. He is urging all believers to please run for their lives.” In the attached picture, the retired minister stands with another young refugee who has been sheltering with the EYN staff liaison’s family for over a month. “My house became a small refugee camp but we are happy to have people alive in another way. We have only two bedrooms and a sitting room but we can still make it with the help and His grace. Feeding is becoming my major concern,” he wrote. His e-mail added details about areas where Muslims as well as Christians are in danger and need help, and the fact that neither Nigerian security forces nor government agencies have been coming to aid those communities. “Relocating Muslims and Christians together will build a stronger understanding for their future life,” he noted. “Both faiths are in pains…. May peace prevail on earth.” His note closed, “We thank you for your prayers also.”

More women have been kidnapped from the Chibok area by Boko Haram, in media reports from Nigeria. Gunmen reportedly kidnapped 20 women and 3 men who tried to help the women, from a village of the Fulani people near the place more than 200 schoolgirls were abducted in mid-April. The abduction reportedly took place last Thursday. The Nigerian military claims to have killed more than 50 of the militants last weekend, after an incident last week when the insurgent group reportedly killed hundreds of people in three villages in the Gwoza area, Nigerian media said.

Bryan Hanger of the Office of Public Witness has written an insightful blog post reflecting on a Subcommittee on African Affairs hearing in May with testimony from the State Department, USAID, and Pentagon about the nature of Boko Haram and what the United States may or may not be able to do in response to the kidnapping of the Chibok girls. “By the end of their testimony it was clear that although the concern was great, there are many tangible realities limiting any effective outside response to the kidnapping,” he writes, in part. “As Brethren are all too aware, life in northern Nigeria is tough, and it has been that way for a while. This kidnapping did not happen in a vacuum, but rather is a grotesque manifestation of the insecurity that exists there all the time. The lack of good governance, quality education, reliable infrastructure, widespread peacebuilding practices, and stable local policing has created a region in northern Nigeria where corruption is rife and many Nigerians are left to fend for themselves. Especially children. We heard in a separate Congressional briefing the day before that 10.5 million of the world’s 57.5 million primary school aged children that do not attend school are Nigerian. And of those 10.5 million Nigerians, 9 million are from the North. According to A World At School, these figures mean Nigeria has the largest number of out of school children in the whole world.” Read the full blog post, titled “#BringBackOurGirls: Zooming Out But Staying Focused,” at http://blog.brethren.org/2014/bringbackourgirls-zooming-out-but-staying-focused .

Lower Miami Church of the Brethren flies the Nigerian flag in solidarity with the kidnapped schoolgirls. Photo courtesy of Nan Erbaugh.

Lower Miami Church of the Brethren in Dayton, Ohio, held a prayer service for the Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram on May 21. Gale Stephenson and Clarence Griffith read the names of the girls, reports Nan Erbaugh, who wrote: “Toward the end of the service, each person was invited up to choose a bead to take with them as a reminder of the girls, as we sang ‘Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying.’ I encouraged everyone to keep the bead with them, perhaps in a pocket, as a reminder to pray. One person put the bead on a piece of yarn hanging from their purse. Another strung the bead and hung it on their rear view mirror. Another took several beads and made a necklace which she wears all the time.” The wooden beads were shared out of Ugandan and Kenyan dishes, placed on green cloth from Sudan. “We have decided to keep the Nigerian flag flying until the situation is resolved,” she added.

Names of the kidnapped girls are read in a prayer service at Lower Miami Church of the Brethren in Dayton, Ohio. At the podium reading names is Gale Stephenson. Photo courtesy of Nan Erbaugh.

Dranesville Church of the Brethren in Herndon, Va., is including prayer for Nigeria in its “Sweet Hour of Prayer” during June, July, and August. A time for silent prayer in the church sanctuary is scheduled from 9:30-10:30 a.m., with the congregation invited to come and pray for the whole hour, or for whatever time they wish. Other prayer ideas shared in the church newsletter included prayer for the church, for other crises in the world, and for personal and family needs. “You are also encouraged to thank and praise God for who He is and what He does!” said the newsletter. “It will be a sweet time of communion with the Lord.”

Recent statements on the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls by ecumenical partners of the Church of the Brethren include a statement from the African Methodist Episcopal Church Council of Bishops. Their official statement dated May 7 and presented by Jeffrey N. Leath, 128th Bishop, and acting president, reads in part: “While we are experiencing many emotions, from outrage to grief, we are united in prayer and loving concern for these young women, their families, and those who live in insecure communities. We support the efforts of President Obama, other world leaders, and the international community in seeking the return of those abducted. We join the cry, ‘Bring Our Daughters Back!’ In our tradition of advocacy for liberation and reconciliation, we affirm the importance of a world order where all people may live in peace. We also assert that human trafficking and gender based violence are unacceptable as God has endowed all of humanity with intrinsic value.” Find the full statement at www.ame-church.com/statement-on-nigeria-abductions .

The Board of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church also has made a Proclamation for a Day of Fasting and Praying for the Abducted Nigerian Girls. Among other “whereas” statements that start off the proclamation, the bishops note that: “Whereas, this horrific action takes place during this period of history when exploitation of women, children, the poor, and the otherwise vulnerable is accepted by many as sound perspective, the justifiable use of strength, and even aligned with Christian principles; and Whereas, we applaud the efforts of the Obama administration and other world leaders to lend support to the Nigerian government in their attempt to rescue the girls; but Whereas our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ taught us that to dispel some evils requires more than power and might, but are not affected ‘except by prayer and fasting’ (Matthew 17:21)…. NOW, THEREFORE, we petition all communities of faith who call upon the one Sovereign God, to join us in a day of fasting and praying to petition the Almighty to visit us with God’s amazing power and grace to effect the resolution of this grave insult to the humanity of the Nigerian school girls and the wretched grief of their families, and to give us a witness that will urge upon the hearts of humankind the cessation of exploitation, abuse, and other wickednesses toward disenfranchised people all over the world.” The document proclaimed May 30 to be a day of fasting and prayer “in the name of the one God who is in us all and above us all.”